This is not supposed to be a satirical rant. So excuse me if at times I come across as getting my knickers in a twist.
It's because it gets my knickers in a twist.
Lets dig in.
The textbook example is a guide
The humble squat is one of the big bad three - Squats, Deadlifts and Bench press - So it is not to be taken lightly. (Pun intended)
If you were to find a single action which can achieve the following two objectives separately, and brilliantly -
#1 Create fantastic strength, definition, motor control, power, endurance, self confidence and general awesomeness.
#2 Explode your lower back all over the weights room.
The squat (and deadlift for that matter) can achieve both of these objectives more than sufficiently. There are a multitude of possible considerations with respect to which direction you may end up going in, however, today I want to tackle the butt wink.
In truth, the mechanisms and subsequent manifestations of the butt wink do not lead to acute-back-exploding-sydrome. Rather more chronic. Having said that, if you already suffer from the following key issues, this can very quickly become a blatant issue -
- Chronic lower back pain
- Hip misalignment, which directly affects the SI Joint <--- One complicated bad boy of a joint
- Historical injuries
My, my. That's one complicated joint. Not something you want to mess with if you want to avoid walking like you've been constipated for 7 years.
But but, what even is a 'Butt Wink'?
I'll tell you, and I'll tell you why it is best avoided, AND, I'll even tell you how to rectify it so you're squatting like an absolute gem.
Avoiding the butt wink will prevent loading that SI Joint and lumbar vertebrae in ways you really do not want to.
The butt wink sends the lumbar spine into an extension-flexion-extension cycle. So you're effectively wedging your back during every rep.
Under load? We all know our backs shouldn't move in this scenario. If you're just squatting down to pick up your Pokemon cards then this matters very little.
Some people will butt wink under intense load until Elon Musk lands on all the planets of the solar system, and never have problems. I appreciate that. Though it isn't really worth waiting to find out if you're that one individual or not.
Right, check this out.
I don't wish to get into the super technical fancy pants stuff, I just wish to simplify it and deliver actionable solutions. However, a few technical terms may be thrown about.
The last image shows us what it looks like. Dropping a few inches lower than the left side position, pushes the hips and tucks the tail bone underneath.
So what's going on? What's causing this?
Many fitness professionals usually say it is because your hamstrings/hips are tight and you must stretch them till the cows come home. Or it is 'neurological programming'.
It isn't, it is normally always because we fail to consider our own personal bony hip structure.
Flexibility/mobility is important and shouldn't be disregarded from the overall sea of considerations when programming for a client, please don't think I am suggesting it.
But to miss the structural anatomy? That's modern day gym heresies. What if you have cam deformities and you're trying to 'stretch them hips out'.
You'll be there all year.
Here you can see how the bony structure can effectively push the hips back towards the bottom of your squat.
Point made? Then there's symmetry.
Not only are we not symmetrical - Which further endows my point of not living in a textbook* - But we have different hip socket depths, different positioning of the hip socket (Anteverted/Retroverted) and different angles of the femoral neck.
All of which, dictate that we must all squat differently in order to extract the most efficient movement patterns, lift the most comfortably and avoid the gym plague that is the butt wink.
It behooves us to understand it.
*It really makes me want to cry when I see every single client under a given trainer, coaxed into the same squat position because a textbook says so.
Y'know, all nice and neat, cute and tidy.
Here is a powerlifting guide to foot positioning. Now unless you're aiming to be a powerlifter, also possessing the requisite hip structure to suit this particular set up, and you're perfectly symmetrical. You're probably not doing yourself many favours.
More likely than not, most of us do not fit two of the criteria and it is highly, highly unlikely we are perfectly symmetrical too.
Have you ever seen a symmetrical face in the gym?
Weird, ain't it?
I get really upset, when a client is forced into textbook symmetry and they already have existing back problems. Further, no attention has been paid to the weakness of the glutes.
When I am finally out of ear shot this tends to happen.
Squatting weighted loads, with under-active glutes and pre-existing back injury is NOT COOL.
So, by power of logical deduction, our squats can be optimised in both safety and efficiency, by playing around with different foot positions. Such as -
Parallel feet, shoulder width.
Shoulder width, toes out.
One toe further out than the other in any of the above combos.
Wrap both legs behind the back of your head, around and back on the floor again.
Mine? Approximately one and a half shoulder widths wide at the heels, toes out. The left not as much as the right.
Let's look at some bones, man.
Here are some fantastic images I found on themovementfix.com which really shed some light on what's really going on. This guy is a genius in his field, click the link to get even more detail about the images below.
You can clearly see the variances in structure, so it seems insane to make everybody squat the same.
No wait, it is.
How to figure out your squat position
I'm not diving into anterior/posterior balance or flexibility today, they need to be considered with respect to front versus rear loaded squats, and what stretching you may or may not need to do.
From a structural point of view, and getting people out of the butt wink and into a lower-back-SI-joint-healthy position? Let's see what we can do.
There are 1 of 2 ways.
Stand side on from a large mirror, assume your usual squat position. Squat down lo 'n' slo until you see your hips tuck underneath.
Make a note of this depth, you may also feel a slight pinching sensation in your hip. That would be the tissue being squished between the bony structure.
From there, play around with different foot and toe positions, repeating the process until you find the lowest and most comfortable squat for you.
You don't want to always feel like you're going to fall forward in the squat, let me tell you, the butt wink makes you want to do exactly that.
Drop me a message and I'll help you find your perfect squat :)