It could be you, a training partner, or the random person three squat racks down. As you toil away at building a stronger squat, you may notice your hips taking on a mind of their own. Just when you’re putting all your focus into squeezing out one more rep, this strange movement starts to develop in your technique — but what is it? Chances are, you or someone you know will experience the dreaded butt wink while they’re getting low in the squat rack.
As with many subjects in lifting — sumo versus conventional deadlifting, anyone? — the butt wink is controversial. Some lifters shrug it off as something that you can essentially ignore, while others insist that it’s a fatal flaw that will immediately lead to permanent injury.
You’re just out here trying to figure out if your squat is just fine, fixable, or doomed for all time. If you’re not sure who to listen to, it helps to know what butt wink is and how you can fix it.
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
What is the Butt Wink Squat?
The butt wink is when your butt tucks down underneath your body instead of staying neutral with your spine at the bottom of your squat. From your back’s perspective, what happens during a butt wink is that your low back goes from extension into flexion and back during your squat — specifically, as you’re hitting the bottom portion of the lift. To picture it vis a vis your hips, it’s when your hips shift from either an anterior tilt (an arched low back) or neutral position to a more posterior tilt (hips tucked under you) as you move through the squat pattern.
This inadvertent movement can blink into existence seemingly out of nowhere. It can be alarming to see for the first time, especially if you’re used to having a dialed-in technique. However, all is not lost if and when it appears. The notorious butt wink is an extremely common occurrence in nearly every lifter’s squat pattern at some point in their development. Usually as you get stronger, you’ll start to notice some compensations. The butt wink is one such example.
What are Potential Causes of Butt Wink?
There is a laundry list of factors that can contribute to the butt wink appearing in your squat technique. When you’re performing a complex barbell exercise that uses pretty much every single muscle and joint in your body, you can bet that there’s any number of potential causes.
Potential form breakdowns can be due to improper bar placement, lack of mobility in your hips or ankles, inadequate core and back strength, or not enough stability in your hips or spine. Once you figure out what factor or factors are at play for you, you can address the issues as needed.
What are the Risks of Butt Wink?
Depending on how severe your butt wink is — and how much weight you’re trying to move — the risks can run from impairing your lift efficiency to increasing your chances of getting hurt.
Lift Less Weight
One risk of your average butt wink is lack of movement efficiency. When you have unwanted movement during a big lift like the squat, you’re leaking force that could have gone into a heavier lift. When your squat starts to have technical breakdowns — even if you didn’t realize they were happening — it usually means you’re not staying in your strongest position possible. The less efficient you are with your movements, the less weight you’re going to be able to lift. Correcting those flaws is one of the biggest ways to lift heavier immediately.
It’s not just about the amount of weight you’re lifting. Moving less efficiently can also mean putting your body in some compromising positions. Spinal flexion, especially in your lower back, is a constant worry area for many lifters. Unless there’s a catastrophic breakdown of all other bracing components of your squat, such as in your core, upper back, and hips, you likely aren’t in mortal danger from the odd butt wink.
But if your lumbar spine (lower back) is consistently being put into unintentional flexion, you might be risking tweaking your lower back in the short term. It also serves as an advanced warning of potential risks to come. When you see one start to develop, begin addressing it as soon as you can to stave off potential risks in the future.
How to Fix a Butt Wink
Fixing the butt wink is all about isolating exactly why it is happening within your personal technique. There are a number of entry points as to how and why the butt wink may occur. Checking for obvious technique, strength, or stability breakdowns in your individual technique can lead you to the correct fix. Bar placement, upper back hyperextension, torso stiffness, hip mobility and stability, and ankle mobility are all common reasons that people develop a butt wink.
- Bar Placement
- Thoracic Hyperextension
- Torso Rigidity
- Hip Mobility
- Hip and Spinal Stability
- Ankle Mobility
Bar placement during your back squat has a big impact on the technique you’re going to have to adopt. High bar squats will generally put the bar on top of your traps. Low bar squats situate the bar by pinning it to a “shelf” closer to your rear delts.
The butt wink can arise if you end up placing the bar far too low down your back (well beyond either of these landmarks). It can also happen if your squatting technique isn’t letting the bar travel in a straight up and down path.
In a high bar squat scenario, focus on pushing your hips back just the right amount while trying to maintain as upright of a posture as possible. Conversely, in the low bar position, you can utilize a more hip-dominant style of squatting. There, you will intentionally adopt a much more bent-over posture. Especially in a “too low bar” situation, you may not be able to avoid a butt wink due to the inability to bend over far enough to keep your body in a straight line.
- Maintain a more stacked, upright posture for high bar squats.
- Assume a more hinged posture for low bar squats.
- Do not place the bar too far down your back in either scenario.
The main goal of finding the right position for your torso in your squat is to avoid spinal flexion. In an effort to stay as upright or neutral as possible, you may experience an unknowing level of thoracic (or upper back) hyperextension. This is very common in squatting due to cues such as “chest up” or “chest to the front of the room.” As your focus on extension increases, sometimes you forget to balance yourself by actively engaging your core.
Your spine is a long chain of linked vertebrae that is stabilized by all the muscles of your torso. If you begin your squat with upper back hyperextended, your lower back is more likely to go into flexion at the bottom of your squat. Promote a neutral spine posture as you squat by thinking of pinning your rib cage down over your pelvis and bracing your entire core.
- Neutralize the spine by pinning your rib cage down.
- Engage a full circumferential abdominal brace (involve your obliques, not just the front of your belly).
- Allow your torso to naturally bend over during the squat.
Not keeping your torso rigid — throughout the length of your back and core — may also contribute to the butt wink. Unless you use a strong bracing technique and lock yourself into a specific position, your body will likely follow the path of least resistance to accomplish the squat.
The path of least resistance might sound great, but it’s likely against your best interests. You’re looking to have the most braced and rigid posture possible to control the bar path. That will also help you best transfer force from your legs through your body and into the bar. If somewhere along the line, your muscles lose bracing tension — from your traps, lats, core, or pelvis — a butt wink is a likely outcome.
Start each squat descent by performing a full-body bracing sequence — each and every time. This should begin from the moment you grip the bar all the way through the repetition. Grip as tightly as possible with each hand. Make sure your traps and lats are engaged prior to setting the bar on your body.
Lock your core brace and hips in place just before you descend. Control your range of motion to the greatest extent possible during each of your repetitions.
- Develop a consistent set-up routine.
- Make sure every muscle is tight before unracking the bar.
- Lock in your core brace and hip stability before each descent.
Your hips play a big role in whether or not your butt will wink. That’s primarily because they are hugely affected by your stance choice and subtle flexibility changes. If you walk into a session with tight hips or are using a stance that is too wide or too narrow, you might very rapidly discover a butt wink.
Given their size, role in the squat, and location on your body, small changes in your hip position can produce big movement restrictions. When your hips aren’t able to go through their full range of motion, something else — in this case, your low back — will likely try to compensate.
Addressing issues with hip mobility is fairly straightforward — work on making your hips more mobile. Using loaded stretching (for example, a rear-foot elevated split squat) as part of your warm-up routine should help determine and help mobilize any issues on squat days.
If your hip mobility issue is more structural — adjusting your stance width is a fix you can experiment with in your warm-up sets. Your femur, AKA your thigh bone, has to rotate within your hip socket and has a unique structure for every body. If you haven’t found the right stance for your body, you may experience butt wink when you run into bone-on-bone pressure. Subtly adjust your stance width and toe angle to find the right position for you.
- Use stretches such as pigeon pose and a couch stretch during your warm-ups.
- Use loaded stretching exercises like rear-foot elevated split squats during your warm-ups.
- Find a stance most ideal for your body type and limb length.
Hip and Spinal Stability
Hip and spinal stability are intimately linked through your core brace. There are a lot of moving parts to a proper core brace for lifting heavy weights. It’s easy to confuse proper bracing for heavy lifts with just “squeezing your abs.” Without a locked in core brace, your mid- to low back and pelvis will have too much freedom of movement during the squat pattern. This could lead to the development of a butt wink, as the muscles responsible for holding everything in place aren’t tuned in.
Learning to utilize a proper muscular and intra-abdominal air-pressure brace is critical to maximizing your squat. It does so by helping you stabilize your spine. The ability to breathe in the proper amount of air before sealing it behind a rigid core brace is a skill you’ll want to develop early in your training.
Here are some sequential steps to performing a proper core brace during heavy barbell exercises.
- Slowly breathe out all your air through pursed lips.
- Brace with your core musculature to lock in this position.
- Slowly breathe in air through pursed lips to fill in pressure behind your core brace.
- Bear down on this muscular and air-pressure brace and hold it throughout the squat.
Ankle mobility is another subtle issue that can translate into your butt wink appearing seemingly out of nowhere. Your ankles — and feet for that matter — can be the starting point of a ripple effect for the rest of your muscles and joints in the squat.
If you are too far forward with your foot pressure or lack ankle mobility due to tight calves or other issues, you may find that your butt starts winking during your squat. If your ankles are the root cause, the lack of mobility there will cause you to rely on hip mobility to take up the slack. When that runs out of room from pulling double-duty, the butt wink will likely emerge.
Make sure you’ve trained for adequate ankle mobility during your warm-ups. You’ll also want to work toward improving your calf mobility if your ankles are tight. This can be as simple as performing calf and toe raises with a full range of motion within your warm-up or workouts.
Beyond that, make sure you have a balanced weight distribution between your forefoot and heel. Being biased too far towards one way or the other will dramatically affect the dynamics of the rest of your body.
Finally, if you do have some form of structural limitation at your ankle, consider squatting using an ankle wedge, Olympic lifting shoe, or any other method of subtly elevating your heels. This should help assure proper range of motion and alleviate an ankle-related butt wink.
- Use loaded calf and toe raises to improve your ankle mobility.
- Evenly distribute your weight across your full foot (not leaning more on your toes or heels).
- Squat using an Olympic lifting shoe or ankle wedge if necessary.
There are a ton of potential hard-to-spot reasons for why a butt wink may emerge. But when it rears its head, you don’t have to stop squatting. You just have to know what to look for and how to fix it. Knowing where to look may be tricky, and the reason on any given day may be different as you continue to train. Maybe you haven’t adequately warmed up your hips or ankles. Or maybe your bar placement was a little off in your last set.
Paying attention to your body can help make addressing a butt wink a quick fix. With a few simple stretches, technical cues, or improvements in strength, you should be back on track in no time. Next time you see your hips rounding out in the squat, look to these potential causes and get back to squatting — minus a butt wink.
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