Friday, March 25, 2016

Getting Rid of the "Butt Wink"

The "butt wink" is a term that has puzzled personal trainers and other movement practitioners. Some people attribute it to tight hamstrings, others have mentioned ankle mobility, some say it's hip flexor strength, or even hip/femur anatomy. My two cents? Motor control. Everyone I've met who had a "butt wink" was able to eliminate it with some proper cuing and movement sequencing.

If you're not sure what a butt wink is, and if you have one, let me enlighten you: this is a term used to describe lumbar flexion in the bottom of a squat (pictured below).

Now, let's first touch upon some other theories contributing to this fault...

Dr. Quinn Henoch mentions that the hamstrings cannot be responsible for the butt wink: "The hamstrings are a two joint muscle.  When you descend into a squat, the hamstrings are being lengthened at the pelvis, but shortened at the knee. So it would seem to me that the net length change is negligible." The hamstrings are not a likely culprit.

Hip anatomy makes the most sense out of all theories. Some individuals are just going to be better at squatting, out of sheer, genetic fortune. If you have the right anthropometry (limb length), you're gonna be a better squatter, plain and simple. 

Anatomical factors aside, though, it is possible to eliminate the dreaded butt wink with a little bit of practice and tweaking.

I'm not going to get too much into the hip and femur anatomy here, because I think Dr. Ryan DeBell covers that nicely. If you want to read his article on it, check out the works cited below. What I will say, though is that factors like your acetabulum (hip socket) alignment, femur length, and tibia/fibula length will all influence your squat stance. Some people have to squat wider than others, so playing around with your stance will greatly help your bottom position.

You want to work through a range of motion where you can maximize the integrity of the movement. If, initially, that means that you're squatting just to parallel, then so be it. Over time, the goal is to get progressively lower.

I usually start out my clients with a quadruped rocking drill. This will teach them how to hinge at the hips without load and minimize any lumbar flexion. If you find yourself reverting to the butt wink on this drill, move slower and focus on keeping the core engaged.

Once they grasp this concept, I would then progress them to the assisted squat drill. The goal here is the same as that of the previous drill, but now we're upright and preparing for a load-bearing squat.

Congratulations! Now you're ready to try an air squat without assistance! A couple of things to keep in mind: if my core isn't engaged, and I shift into an anterior pelvic tilt (hyperextension), then it's impossible for me to avoid lumbar flexion. If, however, I maintain a nicely braced position and descend straight down, I should be just fine. You want to imagine "pulling through your hip flexors" as you lower yourself.  If you're squatting high bar or front squatting, you will descend straight down, and if you're squatting low bar, then the hips need to come back more.

With a little bit of reverse engineering, even the most troubled squats can minimize the "butt wink." Sometimes you need to regress in order to progress. When you lay a solid foundation for quality movement, you can get a squat PR without looking like Quasimodo.

Works Cited:

  1. DeBell, Ryan. "The Best Kept Secret: Why People HAVE to Squat Differently." Why People HAVE to Squat Differently. N.p., 08 Jan. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
  2. Henoch, Quinn. "The Bottom Position of Your Squat: A Defining Characteristic of Your Human Existence." Juggernaut. N.p., 05 Feb. 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
  3. Somerset, Dean. "Butt Wink Is Not About the Hamstrings" N.p., 07 July 2014. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.