GGS
26 Comments
May
7
2014

Ask Ann: My Butt Is Doing What? Squats and Butt Wink

(Note from GGS: Hey GGS Community!  We have a real treat for you today with another awesome installment of Ask Ann, our monthly column with Physical Therapist and Athletic Trainer, Ann Wendel.  Enjoy!)

 

“Hi Ann!  I try to squat to full depth, but I can’t seem to do it comfortably or with good form. I keep hearing the term “butt wink.” What is it and what causes it?”

 

Hi there!  Thank so much for submitting your question.  It’s a great question, and ties in nicely with last month’s column. Let’s start by defining the term “butt wink.”

Butt wink is a common term for losing proper spinal positioning when squatting to depth (in gym terms, “in the hole” or “ass to grass”). Instead of maintaining a neutral or slightly extended lumbar spine, the lifter experiences posterior pelvic tilt and lumbar flexion at the lowest point of their squat. This makes the butt “wink” or tuck under (the photo below left shows proper form, photo on the right shows butt wink).

 

Butt Wink Picture 1

Image Source: here

 

As with any other dysfunctional movement pattern we see, there are many factors that contribute to this compensation. I’ll just state for the record that not everyone should be squatting to full depth from the start.

It is far more important to groove proper motor patterns and develop joint mobility and stability in a progressive manner than to be able to brag that you squat to full depth.  I like to quote Senior Strong First Instructor Franz Snideman when I say to my patients,

“You have to earn the right to do the next progression of the movement.”

 

Some possible causes of butt wink are:

1. Lack of hip flexion due to bony articulation or abnormal growth of the femoroacetabular joint, commonly called Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI).

In the healthy hip, the ball (femoral head) fits perfectly into the socket (the acetabulum):

 

Butt Wink Picture 2

 

Image Source: here

 

Bone overgrowth can lead to three types of FAI: Cam, Picher, and Combined:

 

Butt Wink Picture 3

 

Image Source: here

Many people have this condition and don’t know it; but, in very active people who lift heavy weights, the condition may become painful over time as the bony overgrowth can cause cartilage degeneration and labral tears.

FAI can be problematic when the lifter attempts to go to full depth in the squat and the bony anatomy of the joint prevents full hip flexion. This leads to lumbar spine flexion as a compensation, and we see the butt wink.

One way to test hip range of motion (ROM) is the quadruped rock back test, as described by Tony Gentilcore.

“I’ll have someone start in the quadruped position with a neutral spine.  Slowly, I have him or her sit back towards their heels to see if or when their spine hinges. As you’ll notice, as I sit back, my spine stays relatively neutral the entire time. As such, it’s safe to assume that squatting “deep” probably won’t be an issue.”

See a demonstration here.

Conversely, if you notice the client going into thoracic and lumbar spine flexion as they rock back, it may indicate issues with hip mobility. As Tony says, “if it’s this bad with no spinal loading, can you imagine how much of a ‘walking ball of fail’ they’d be if I placed a barbell on their back?”

See here for demonstration.

2. Lack of ankle dorsiflexion.

In order to perform a full depth squat with good form, the lifter must not only have full hip ROM, but also full knee and ankle ROM.

If you lack the necessary 10-20 degrees of dorsiflexion at the ankle, you will not be able to squat to depth without compensations, one of which is thoracic and lumbar spine flexion.

 

Butt Wink Picture 4

Image source: here

Using plates or a block under the heels is one way that people get around this; but, like everything else, that only works until it doesn’t.

Many people favor Olympic Lifting shoes because the raised heel compensates for some loss of ankle dorsiflexion, but when it comes down to it, t’s much better to address the cause of issue.

Mike Reinold, PT has some great information about assessing and addressing ankle mobility in this article.

3. Lack of motor coordination.

Even though the squat may look simple, it requires a high level of motor coordination to execute with good form. The glutes, quads, hamstrings, adductors, and deep central stabilizers must all work together to keep the ball centered in the socket (see here for more info), the spine in an upright position, and to balance the body to prevent falling.

Certainly strengthening the glutes is an important part of this equation; but, equally important is developing proper coordination of the deep central stabilizing muscles: the diaphragm, the transversus abdominus, the multifidus, and the pelvic floor. (You knew I had to mention the pelvic floor, right?)

I wrote an article here recently about the importance of pelvic floor and deep central stability, with a video on how to begin to coordinate your breath with your activation of the pelvic floor (this is important for both men and women, and even for those lifters who do not experience incontinence).

If you do not have hip pain or signs of FAI, then working on hip and ankle mobility drills may benefit you.

Starting to groove proper squat mechanics with box squats, basic TRX assisted squats or goblet squats can help clean up your issues with butt wink. If you have hip pain or any issues with incontinence, your first step should be an appointment with a physical therapist for a  full assessment and treatment of these issues, and referral to a physician if necessary.

Have you struggled with butt wink in your squats? How did you improve your form?

 

 Ann Wendel Headshot

 

 

Ann holds a B.S. in P.E. Studies with a concentration in Athletic Training from the University of Delaware, and a Masters in Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She is a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) licensed in Virginia, a Licensed Physical Therapist, and a Certified Myofascial Trigger Point Therapist (CMTPT).

Over the past two decades, Ann has continually developed as a health care professional. She started her career working with high school, college and professional athletes, and later went on to work at an area hospital treating patients with a wide variety of Orthopedic and Neurological conditions.

Ann received her CMTPT through Myopain Seminars in 2011 and now utilizes Trigger Point Dry Needling as a treatment modality, along with Pilates, weight lifting, and nutrition/lifestyle consulting in her holistic physical therapy practice.  Ann owns and operates Prana Physical Therapy in Alexandria, VA. She can be contacted at 571-527-9192 or through her website: http://prana-pt.com/

 


  • Abi Goldberg

    Awesome article! I will most certainly be referring to it to help improve my squat form.

    • Ann Wendel

      Thank you, Abi!

  • Whitney Lawson

    Great article! I don’t know why everyone and their mother has suddenly become super concerned about getting to full depth when they are far from being ready for it. (I blame a certain workout style…but maybe that’s just me).

    • Ann Wendel

      Thank you, Whitney! As I always say “The right exercise, at the right time, for the right client, at the right intensity.”

      Ann

  • Jojo

    Now to record myself in the gym so I can see how I’m doing…love information :)

    • Ann Wendel

      Jojo,
      Taking video of yourself doing the squat is an excellent way to evaluate your form and make any changes necessary!
      Ann

  • Olivia Ragno

    Really great article. I have suffered from hip pain for the last almost 6 months. It has progressively gotten better after seeing a sports chiropractor and implementing hip flexor stretches and glute strengthening exercises. It started after doing squats back in November and was very painful, even just to move my leg to step out of the car. Now I can pretty much do everything without pain, for the exception of one-legged deadlifts, straight legged deadlifts, and certain poses in Yoga. I’m still being careful with how heavy I go but I’m back to running and doing leg workouts every week. Doctor checked for FAI and said he saw no abnormal bones structures so it’s possible I had a slight tear in the cartilage. Thanks for the very informative articles!!

    • Ann Wendel

      Olivia,
      Thank you, and I’m glad you are getting some relief. Please take a look at my last article on Femoral Anterior Glide Syndrome as well:

      http://bit.ly/1pvUfUJ
      Ann

  • http://www.myjewelpearl.blogspot.com Ronni

    How very informative. Thank you!

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  • Amelia

    Hi Ann! This article could not have come at a better time! I have recently ventured back into weight lifting, and as a fellow PT (yahoo!) I have been trying to make lifting with proper form a priority. Needless to say, I am super bummed to be struggling with butt wink! What do you think about functionally weak psoas and tight adductor magnus muscles? Do you ever see this combo with butt wink? Based on some of my tests and assessments, I think these are some of my primary impairments leading to my compensatory butt wink – but I’m an acute care PT who loves neuro, and ortho is not my strong suit! Let me know if you think I could be on the right track. Thank you so much, and I enjoy reading your articles!

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  • Mitzi

    Wonderful article! Thank you for the much needed reminder! I had way more of a wink than I realized! Does this continue to be true as you move deeper into a prisoner squat?

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  • Alex

    I use folded floor mats to raise my heels. You says this may eventually stop working. Could you elaborate? What would cause raising the heels to stop working?

    • Ann Wendel

      Hi Alex,
      What I mean is that there is a reason that you’re lacking the necessary amount of dorsiflexion or hip flexion to get to full depth. Using mats to raise the heels is a compensation, which works for a while, unless you start to get pain or dysfunction because you aren’t dealing with the root cause of the issue. It’s always best to keep working at your joint mobility (or have an evaluation with a physical therapist if you have pain and limitation) to address the cause of the problem, rather than compensate for it.

  • Heidi Hoffman

    Can you have butt whink even though you are not losing a proper ‘flat back’? It is obvious in the picture of the guy above he is not contracting his back/glutes. Sometimes it’s hard for me to recognize the difference between the mass of glutes going down (if your butt is well endowed) or if it’s true butt wink. Thoughts?

    • Ann Wendel

      Heidi,
      Have someone videotape you doing a few squats and then watch to see if you are keeping your lumbar spine in neutral, or if you are getting lumbar spine flexion at the bottom position. Even with a strong mass of glutes, you should be able to keep the spine in neutral.

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  • Elizabeth

    Thanks for the article. I’ve considered switching to shallow squats and haven’t been able to go deep while maintaining neutral spine, even with a PT working with me. There were a few instances when I came close, but it required so much effort even without a weight and was extremely uncomfortable, so I suspect it’s something structural. I also believe I have that anterior glide syndrome as my hip flexors become very painful when I’m squattng regularly and there’s frequently ‘popping’ sounds with hip extensions, toe raises, and flutter kicks. But I love lifting and lifting heavy! Is it ok to keep squatting just not as deep? Lunges are much more comfortable for me, I can lunge far more than I can squat but I’m worried about missing out. Thank you!!

    • Molly Galbraith

      Hi Elizabeth!

      If you’re cleared by your PT to squat, and it doesn’t cause pain, then I think you’re fine squatting shallow. The goal would be to get strong in that limited range of motion, and then over time, work on increasing your range of motion. :)

      Just make sure you’re cleared first!

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  • GG

    Beautifully written and informative article from one PT to another. Way to put our strengths to the forefront Ann!