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HomeBoundlessThe Right Way to Squat (And Solve The “Butt Wink” Issue)

The Right Way to Squat (And Solve The “Butt Wink” Issue)

Born Fitness

The Rules of Fitness REBORN

Some things you can’t debate, such as whether it’s a crime to hide a raisin cookie in a batch of chocolate chips. Other acts are a little less certain. And, when it comes to exercise movement, there’s no shortage of disagreement about what movements are safe and which should be limited. 

Squats are one of the most controversial exercises. Some people suggest they are the best movement (period), whereas others – most notably, respected coach Mike Boyle – suggest they are oftentimes abused and unnecessary. 

At Born Fitness, we work with our online coaching clients to determine what movement is best for them. We love squats, but not everyone needs to do them. Blanket recommendations are dangerous. One person’s path to better performance can be another person’s path to injury.

And, if you do, it certainly doesn’t have to be on two legs (you can do 1-leg variations) or with a barbell on your back. 

Let’s assume you want to squat (remember, it’s still a primary movement). All you need to do is figure out how deep you should go, and what is dangerous for your body. 

Many people will suggest any type of “butt wink” – a rounding of your lower back – is dangerous. 

It’s not quite that simple, but we can offer an easy way to help you figure out what’s best for your body. 

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Some coaches want you to squat ass to grass (ATG). While others, notably Dr. Joel Seedman (screenshot from below), claim that you should stop your squat around 90 degrees. 

The two camps primarily disagree about what is dangerous for your spine. And, the movement most often in question is the “butt wink.”

As you lower into a squat, there’s a moment when you get so deep that your lower back (lumber spine) starts to round. 

If you want to see what this looks like on your own body, find a mirror and it’s easy to assess. Turn sideways to the mirror and then slowly lower into a bodyweight squat. As you reach the bottom of the squat, watch your lower back. If you’re like most people, you’ll see this area slowly “wink” as you go deeper.  

This rounding of the spine, called spinal flexion, isn’t inherently dangerous. Our spines are made to flex, extend, and rotate as human beings. That’s why you likely don’t need to worry about this rounding during movements like that bodyweight squat.  

So, what’s the big deal? Rounding with no weight on your back is not much of a problem. But, once you start adding flexion with weight on your back – and doing it for many reps – such as during a heavy back squat, that’s when the story changes.

Most spine experts consider rounding your low back with load (such as a barbell) to be a risk for your lumbar spine, which means you’re at higher risk of disk injury and back pain. 

Here’s why: Between each bone segment (the vertebrae) of your spine is a gel-filled disk that helps absorb shock. This means when there’s weight on your back, you can transfer it safely throughout your spine. 

When you load your spine, you create a compression force that pushes the vertebrae together and squeezes the intervertebral disks. This isn’t dangerous if you have a healthy spine. (Fun fact: your spine is quite resilient to compression.) 

The issue is when you compress and flex your spine at the same time. This combination of load and flexion increases another force (shear) on your spine. And shear plus compression could increase your chance of injury. 

We all have different anatomy, so for you, that injury might not happen for years. But, flex your spine under load for rep after rep, and eventually, you might have a problem on your hands. 

That’s why a butt wink while squatting under load isn’t a good idea for the vast majority of us. 

People love to blame “tight hamstrings” for difficulty squatting. It’s likely not the cause of the butt wink, so stretching them out before your lifts isn’t going to help you avoid it. 

As Dr. Aaron Horshig breaks down in this video, your hamstrings attach to both your pelvis and your knee, which means they don’t actually lengthen much during your squat.