Updated November 2017: Pretty much everyone calls “butt” tuck” butt wink now.
To start, I wanted to say that I plugged the words “butt tuck” into google to get some good images to put along with this post and what I ended up getting was not anything related to squatting. Man am I naive.
Anyway, we’ve all heard it, squatting is going to hurt your back. We get screamed at every day to keep our backs flat at the gym and we understand it well, right?
Well ya, we want the lower back (lumbar spine) in a neutral(ish) position during squatting. Loading the spine into end range flexion has been associated with creating increased stress on the lumbar intervertebral discs. Our goal should be getting our motion coming from the hips when squatting. Here’s a quick refresher on that concept.
I’m really picky about my squats though and despite us knowing how important keeping a flat back is, I still see people’s spines rounding at the bottom of the squat all the time. Here’s what I mean:
Do you see how at the bottom of Brian’s squat his butt tucks a bit underneath of him and his lower back rounds slightly? It might not seem like much, but Brian has a history of lower back pain and correcting this movement is most likely going to pay dividends in his lower back health. This is referred to as “butt tucking” not to be confused with anal winking (a real medical term).
After showing him the video and going over this check out his squat now:
Better right? Now all it took for Brian was me showing him a video of himself and giving him some cues on how to correct this. For other people it could be a number of things:
- Tight hips (limited hip flexion)
- Tight ankles (limited ankle dorsiflexion)
- Poor thoracic spine extension
- Poor lumbar and thoracic spine stability
That’s going to be your job to figure this out, but if you’ve got this issue going on, especially if you have a history of low back pain (flexion intolerant back) it would be smart to fix it fast.
I don’t want to start scaring people into thinking that if you have any amount of lumbar flexion (rounding) in the bottom of the squat you will automatically start blowing discs out of your back. Some flexion is inevitable and probably safe. I just think excessive flexion (especially at end range) isn’t a good idea to load excessively. Whether or not heavy loaded squats are a safe movement for the lower back is another argument and discussion altogether.
Side Note: The same goes for the opposite direction, too much loaded spinal extension can also create extension based low back pain.
I wrote a lengthy article on this type of low back pain you can find with the links below:
- 5 Common Causes of Extension Based Lower Back Pain
- 6 Step Guide to Treat and Prevent Extension Based Lower Back Pain
Want to learn more about how to assess your athletes with this problem and find the best exercises to correct it? Check out my product with Dr. Dave Tilley:
The Ultimate Guide to Understanding and Fixing Technical Flaws in the Handstand, Muscle-up and Olympic Lifts
Your back will thank you later,
Dan Pope DPT, CSCS
- McGill, S. (2007). Low Back Disorders. Champaigne, IL: Human Kinetics.