Do you want to get the most from your gym workout to improve your overall condition and advance your sports performance? Then it’s important that you have good form throughout your workout, including when squatting.
The squat is a fundamental compound exercise that targets both your lower limbs and the muscles supporting your spine. It’s a great exercise to strengthen your bones, muscles and joints. But it’s also a complex and unfamiliar movement that most of us in the Western world now only perform during a workout.
One of the most common squat errors is the butt wink. Despite its cheeky name, butt wink is actually quite serious. It can lead to disc injuries, stress fractures and sacroiliac joint problems.
So, what is butt wink?
Are you guilty of it?
And how do you squat properly?
Let’s take a look.
What is butt wink?
At the bottom of your squat, your hip joint is hopefully lower than your knees and your back is in a nice, straight line. It takes stability, flexibility and strength to hold this position and, if it all seems too hard, your body may look for a shortcut.
The butt wink is one of those shortcuts. Instead of keeping a straight back, your pelvis tilts and tucks underneath you, making your lower back curve towards your calves. That’s called the ‘butt wink squat’.
Now, remember that you’re repeating this incorrect movement many times over, often while loaded with weights that add extra pressure to your overstretched lumbar spine. It’s a recipe for disc injuries, stress fractures and ligaments that have strained under increased stabilisation demands.
Even if you don’t end up with an injury, doing butt wink squats wastes your time. You can’t lift as much weight with poor form so a butt wink squat often leads to a frustrating plateau and fails to strengthen your glutes, legs or back.
Are you guilty of butt wink?
Maybe. You can find out by:
- Standing side-on to a large mirror and observing yourself as you squat – are you maintaining a straight lower back or is your bottom curving underneath you?
- Asking a gym buddy, trainer or physio to observe your squat and see if they spot a butt wink.
If you’re proved innocent of butt winking, then you can confidently get on with your workout. If you’ve been found guilty, then it’s time to correct your squat.
How to fix butt wink
You need to understand why butt wink is happening so that you can use the right strategy to fix it. Butt wink may be purely a matter of your squat technique or it might stem from weaknesses in other parts of your body.
There are a few possible explanations for butt winking. It could be due to:
- Mobility issues that limit the range of movement in your ankles, hips and, possibly, flexibility issues relating to your hamstrings
- Stability issues like weak core muscles that don’t allow you to brace and hold your lower back and pelvis in the right position
- Structural issues relating to the depth of your hip sockets.
Here are a few ways to work out why you’re butt winking when you squat.
Check your squat technique
Sometimes, the answer to butt wink is as simple as mastering the right squat technique. Many gyms run technique classes to help people with this and there are plenty of training videos online too.
Key tips are to:
- Begin with untilted hips and a straight spine. Beginning in the right position makes it easier to continue in the right position
- Breathe deep into your belly and push the breath down even deeper to engage the muscles that stabilise your lower back
- Keep your core engaged as you squat
- Imagine that your pelvis is a bowl that you don’t want to tip over
- Use a lighter load of weights for a while so you can build your strength and master correct technique.
Did the butt wink disappear with the right squat technique? If so, then keep practising the correct movement until its ingrained. Then begin adding or increasing weights.
If your form is good but the butt wink is still there, then it’s time to explore other issues such as your mobility.
Perform a horizontal squat to test mobility
A horizontal squat resembles an upright one because it uses the same ankle, knee and hip movements you use when going down into a squat. It’s a good way to test your movement without pressure.
Kneel on the floor with your feet flat against a wall then roll backwards so your hips are above your heels. Do this a few times and see if your pelvis tilts. If there’s no tilt, then you probably have enough mobility to do a proper squat without a butt wink.
If there is still a tilt, then you may benefit from doing other exercises to increase mobility in your ankles, hips and upper back.
Perform a counter balance squat to test stability
Perform a few careful, controlled squats without weights. You might want to film it on your phone or get a friend to watch you. Was there a butt wink?
Now, get a weight plate and hold it in front of you while you do some squats. The weight plate acts as a counter balance and provides some extra stability.
If holding the plate makes your butt wink disappear, then it’s worth spending some time improving your lumbo-pelvic stability.
Get advice on underlying structural issues
If you’re struggling to address butt wink, it could be due to your hip joints themselves. No amount of stretching will alter these. It’s best to discuss these issues with a professional.
How does physiotherapy help to address butt wink?
Physiotherapists are highly trained in the complexities of the human body and its movements. By harnessing this knowledge and examining your body and squat technique, we can help you address butt wink.
Being able to squat deep depends on many factors but primarily your pelvic alignment and hip flexibility. There are many ways to work on these areas and on your core strength and overall mobility in order to improve your squat and prevent injuries.
How can The Brisbane Spine Clinic help?
The Brisbane Spine Clinic’s spinal consultants can assess your squat and determine what’s causing your butt wink. Then we can develop specific exercises to help you improve your mobility, flexibility and stability so that you can squat with the right form.
Book an appointment today.
All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.