Q & A: Fixing the “Tuck Under” When Squatting – Part I

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NOTE (from August, 2014):  I wrote this article back in March 2012. When I was an idiot. I still hope you read what I have to say below, because most of what I say still applies.

However, I’ve changed my thought process significantly since I originally posted this article. For a more up-to-date, um, update…check out the following article I wrote on T-Nation titled How Deep Should I Squat?

I.e., the hamstrings have little to do with the tuck under or “butt wink.”

Q:  Hey Tony,

Just read this old article over at T Nation – Squat Like You Mean It:  Tips for a Deeper Squat.

I’ve been trying to improve my mobility for a deeper squat and eventually got there ( I can sit in a squat position all the way down with heels still on the floor) but my problem lays in lumbar flexion at the bottom.

Obviously I’d need an assessment in front of you to pinpoint the issue but is there anything you can recommend for neutral spine. It’s driving me nuts that I cant keep a neutral spine. I’ve been retracting my shoulder blades, squeezing my lats and activating my core but still no cigar. Any common issues you see in this area?

A: Notably, it is completely bat shit crazy to say that everyone should squat to the same depth. Some people picked the right parents, have awesome levers, and are able to squat ass-to-grass with no issues at all.

PS:  I hate you.

Conversely, there are others out there who try to squat deep and, well, bad things happen.  Not everyone is the same, and it’s important – especially as a coach – to understand this.  While admirable, the end goal for every single trainee shouldn’t necessarily be to go ass to grass from the get go –  just because some meat head on a random forum who doesn’t know any better told you so.

Instead, the goal should be to teach proper squat mechanics and groove proper technique in a safe range of motion that won’t be overly deleterious to the spine.

As my good friend, Kevin Neeld, has mentioned prior:

Someone with limited hip flexion that attempts to squat deeper than their anatomy allows inevitably tucks their hips under at the bottom.  Invariably this leads to lumbar flexion under a significant load.

The question then becomes:  how can we remedy this issue?  Can we ease our way to a respectable depth without the ol’ butt tuck?

Of course we can!

Since it is a fairly common occurrence in the general training population, to start, we should discuss  what causes the tucking in the first place? While there are several things that need to be ruled out which are outside the scope of this particular post (nasty adductors – specifically with regards to sports hernia, and femoral acetabular impingement), one of the major points I want to hit on is that a vast majority of people (not everyone) are sitting in posterior tilt all day, and as a result the hamstrings tend to get stiff(er) relative to the anterior core.

It’s no secret that we spend a lot of time sitting.

In an ideal sitting posture, the pelvis is level or has a slight anterior pelvic tilt. With a posterior pelvic tilt, the PSIS are lower than the ASIS.  A posterior pelvic tilt is accompanied by an increased kyphosis. In addition, the ischials travel forward and new pressure points are created at the sacrum and the spine.

For those who are a bit glassy eyed from reading that, try to visualize how you sit in your car, or on the bus, or even at your desk…..right now…..as you read this.

Chances are, it looks very similar to the picture to the right.

Not surprisingly, and as noted above, the hamstrings become short or stiff relative to the anterior core.  Because the anterior core can’t counteract the pull of the hamstrings (and adductor magnus for that matter), the force couple on the pelvis is compromised and squatting may become problematic.

With that, I’m going to stop with the technical talk now because it’s making my brain hurt. Besides I’m sure many of you would rather swallow a live grenade than listen to me go on and on and on about PSIS and ASIS shenanigans.

Of course, the issue could be more far more reaching than just looking into the hamstrings/weak anterior core – but for simplicity sake, we’re going to focus our attention there.  And, just a heads up, in Part II, I’ll discuss training modifications that can be implemented…..so be sure to check back then.

In the meantime…..

Here’s What I’d Do If I Were You

Incorporate more multi-planar hamstring mobilizations.  I MUCH prefer these drills over just telling someone to haphazardly “go stretch.” Moreover, I find that these drills have much more of an effect since they address the hamstrings from multiple angles and not just “what’s easy.”

Note:  this last one will be a doozy for most.  The key point to consider is to make sure that you rotate through the hip and NOT the lumbar spine.

Other Stuff to Consider:

1.  Notice how I don’t flex my lumbar spine when doing these drills? You should do the same.

2.  Another thing that can’t be appreciated because of the camera angle is that the toes of my standing foot are pointing straight a head as I perform all the drills

I like to incorporate all of these as part of an (extended) dynamic warm-up, or they’re something that could easily be performed throughout the day in your office or home – all you need is a counter top or desk and you’re all set.

Bonus points if you bust them out during a business meeting!

And that’s it for today.  Tomorrow (UPDATE:  actually, it’s going to be on Monday.  Had too many things to catch up on in the meantime) I’m going to discuss how you would differentiate between whether it’s a hamstring issue or weak anterior core (Hint:  it’s usually the latter more than the former), as well as discuss some simple training modifications that can be done to help alleviate the “tuck,” and (hopefully) groove a more conducive squatting pattern.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  • Krista

    This made my day. I have FAI and arthritis in my hips, so I just don’t have the mobility to squat ATG. I’ll try the drills to see if they help, but if they don’t, I’m going to stop feeling like a loser with my parallel squats and just work within my limitations. 

  • Peter Caisse

    My god. I thought I had good hamstring flexibility because I always did well at the ol’ sit-and-reach test, but these are killer!

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, that test waaaaaaaaaaay archaic. Doesn’t necessarily test your hamstring flexibility more than it tests your lower back flexibility.

  • Suzi

    These look great, but the height of the table makes it look as if you’re still pulling the ischium of the raised leg posterior. What if you lower table height, then actively maintain lordosis (by resisting the posterior tilt)?

    • Anonymous

      Good call! I know I could have used a lower table (and to be honest, those vids were taken four years ago)……but what you suggested is spot on! Thanks.

    • Kevin Gibbs

      could you maybe make that a bit clearer? I’m not sure I understood (english isn’t my mother tongue).

  • I like these, they do well to open up the hip capsule. I’d also RX some stretching in the the deep squat position (i.e. hip flexion, knee flexion, and hip external rotation). I’d also make sure to foam roll the thoracic spine to make sure that there aren’t issues there, which there probably are.

    • Anonymous

      All stuff I’ll be addressing tomorrow….;o) You beat me to the punch

      • Peter Caisse

        Question: I remember reading that you guys stopped stretching your athletes’ hamstrings a year or two ago and since then I started focusing more on stretching my quads and my hip flexors to improve hip mobility… What’s the deal?

        • Anonymous

          Well, these are more mobilizations and not stretching. And it’s not that we completely stopped telling people to stretch their hamstrings, it’s just. more often than not, it’s not the hamstring that are the issue moreso than crappy pelvic positioning.

  • Dean Somerset

    I have clients do a variation of this, where their torso remains stationary and they go through pelvic tilting, going from neutral to anterior as far as possible and back to neutral. Definitely the fast track to hating life.

    • Anonymous

      Ouch! I may have to play around with that myself. Literally, torso doesn’t move and you just go from neutral to APT and back again?

      • RS

        Tony,

        Ain’t THAT the truth. Thanks primarily to you, EC and Brian. 

  • Nicholas St John Rheault

    yeahhhhhhh boyyyyyy i’d say 90% of the people i’ve seen/worked with have this issue…..  good stuff TG….

  • Tyler Wall

    Dude, I needed this.  I’ve had the tuck for a long time but up until about two months ago, I’ve been trying to re-learn the squat and do some mobilization and stretching to help with this problem.  I attended an Oly seminar about a month back, and the coach showed us a hip socket stretch which he said should help with the issue as well.  I’ll do my best to describe it.  

    Set your body up like you’re going to do the basic hip flexor stretch, kneeling on one knee and the other bent in front of you.  Rather than have that foot straight in front of you, you’re going to angle it out slightly as you would in your squat stance.  Also, that front leg should be off to the side just a bit.  Next you’re going to slowly push your hips back and you should feel the tension in your hip socket of that front leg.  Don’t push to the point of pain, but rather slowly work through it for a few minutes on each side.

    Does this sound familiar to you at all?  Prior to this seminar I’d never heard of this stretch but I’ve found it to be quite effective.  I hope my description was accurate enough!

  • Alicia

    Hooray for reminders and stretching techniques like this!  As I ease back into exercise and lifting so much of my inspiration comes from people who mean well (and are gifted in their own right) but are definitely not promoting a plan that would be specifically right for me.  I finally got under a bar recently and had a well-meaning counterpart suggest I ‘get down there well past the crease’.  It was something I would have reminded myself of many times before but not something I had any business enforcing in my newbie state. 

    Your blog helps counteract my meathead tendencies and this was just what I needed to get my rear in gear and find a pro that will review my current physical state and my lifting form so I can safely be squatting well into my granny years.

    Most of the time I feel you write for other S&C coaches and pro’s in the field but I really appreciate all the great information you put forth (for free!) that regular folk like me can benefit from.  Thanks Tony!

    • Anonymous

      Glad I’m able to help Alicia. This isn’t to say I don’t advocate that people squat to proper depth (I DO!!!)…..but I also realize that not everyone can do so on day one. So long as you’re taking the proper progressions to get there (safely), that’s a step in the right direction.

  • David

    Thank you so much for this… can’t wait for part 2. This issue has been plaguing me for many months, and I’ve seen some mild improvements with hamstring stretches. I’ve also seen it suggested that tight/short hip flexors (e.g. as a consequence of sitting) might be partly responsible – is that something you have found?

    • Anonymous

      Absolutely! But, I also feel a larger issue is general core stability. If the anterior core is weak, and can’t offset the pull of the hammies, the tuck happens. Hopefully part II will make sense in that regard.

  • RS

    Tony,

    Simply uncanny that this post shows up today: I went to the gym with the express purpose of hammering SSB Box Squats (below parallel, medium-wide stance) today. 

    I use the hamstring drills that you show above, in addition to other hamstring and hip mobs I have stolen from you and Dean Lightsaber. I also hammer t-spine. My hips are FAR better, and my adductors don’t hate me so much after I squat anymore. What I’ve noticed is that at the point in which I tuck, it’s when I’ve exceeded the mobility of my ankles, which is an issue EC has had me work on since 2009. 
    That doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Hope you address the ankle issue and its relation to squatting FAIL in a future post.

    RS

    • Anonymous

      Hmmmm, that’s something I may have to tackle down the road Ronell. Either way, you’ve come LEAPS AND BOUNDS since 2009, and you never make excuses, which is a quality I wish more people had.

  • Ben

    I know you guys are big on the PRI  stuff now. When they teach squatting aren’t they looking for the pelvic tilt?

    • Anonymous

      Full disclosure: I’ve never been to any of the PRI seminars personally. Eric has been to two or three, so he may be the better person to ask.

  • Good ideas! I have been working on improving my squat for years and now can get good depth but still just a slight tuck happening. Today is light squat day so perfectly timed post 🙂

  • Sangita142002

    Blew my mind…not ruined my day…just for the record. Also do things like the bird-dog help?

    • Anonymous

      Birddogs can absolutely help in the sense of building some rock solid spinal stability!

  • Molly Galbraith

    Tony…it’s not a “Tuck Under” it’s called “Butt Wink”… duh!  You should know this by now! =)

    • Anonymous

      Dammit!!!! That is a waaaay cooler name. I may have to re-think things for part II.

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  • Donovan

    Tony-

    These exercises look pretty friggin sweet. I appreciate the “keep the foot forward” detail, but I  wonder; for those who have knee issues, I’d imagine keeping their foot forward would create quite a bit of pain in the supporting leg when they begin rotating. Not sure if I missed it, but do you think the individual should adjust the footing for a more “comfortable” stretch? OR omit the stretch all together and find an alternative that’d match the effectiveness of that particular stretch?

    • Anonymous

      Hmmmm, to be honest, I’ve never really come across anyone with knee pain complaining for this bothering them when keeping the foot pointing forward.

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  • yes! the best information 

  • Jonathan Ross

    I love gold.  This is gold.  Part 2 is also gold.  Thank you bald man.

  • Michellehawkinson

    I have a question. While I don’t sit in a posterior pelvic tilt but an anterior pelvic tilt all day, how would you suggest a person fix that? I have found by doing wall squats that I get better recruitment of my quads and I don’t have a tendency of “falling forward” as much when I squat. 

    Are you going to address this issue in your blog?

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  • Rob

    TG, I’ve used some of the mobility drills used by Kelly Starrett to increase flexibility and they’ve definitely helped.  I will immediately add your drills to further increase the mobility.  Several hammy strains as a youngster has led to horrendous mobility and terrible squats.  Thanks for addressing this, keep preachin!

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  • Chris

    I’m sorry to disagree with you, but I must. I agree with Kevin Neeld about people just having different anatomy and therefore different ranges in hip and lumbar joint range. Longer and shorter Femur is also going to change the dynamics of the squat as well, but for the most part hamstrings are NOT going to limit squat. 1 big thing to remember is the hamstrings (like all muscles) stretch and under a load like that of a back squat or front squat they are going to undergo stretch.
    Secondly, the hamstrings produce hip extension and knee flexion, therefore when we squat the hamstrings are lengthening at the hips but shortening at the knee and thereby not changing length by any significant means, definitely not enough to be the thing responsible for pelvic tilt.
    When a person reaches the end of their hip flexion range of motion they will inevitably tilt their pelvis posteriorly. Lengthening hamstrings will barely assist this, if at all.
    A good experiment to perform to understand how hamstring length is not the sole contributor to posterior tilt is this is this. (By the way I believe I have ‘tight’ or shortened hamstrings)

    — Stand in a neutral position and flex one hip fully, bringing the knee to the chest. Notice how the pelvis tilts posteriorly at the end of the range? (As in a squat position)
    —-Place your hands on your hands on your hips to feel for movement and then start to straighten the knee that is close to the chest.
    —-Notice how you can lengthen or stretch the hamstrings of that leg without changing the amount of tilt in the pelvis?

    Those who lose lumbar extension in deep squats have to increase overall hip joint range of motion and lumbar range and strength or just accept that they cannot squat to full depth without posterior tilt.

    • George Bourgeois

      Wow I was thinking the same thing but you articulated it much better than I could’ve. So what do YOU think the most common contributors are for posterior pelvic rotation at the bottom of the squat r.o.m.? I have had success gaining mobility by foam rolling and stretching the adductors. I keep reading that glute flexibility affects the squat depth but I don’t understand how. If you could explain that in a way similar to how you explained things in this post of yours I would be really thankful.

      • TonyGentilcore

        This was an old(er) blog post, and I’ve since changed my viewpoint somewhat. I actually submitted an article to T-Nation that should go up soon on why I feel the hamstrings ARE NOT the culprit and it has more to do with hip anatomy, ankle mobility, and lack of core control

        • George Bourgeois

          Thank you for the quick response Tony. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that article. It sounds like you’re of the same school of thought as Brett Contreras in his youtube video on this subject. The adductors can still be a culprit though, right? (Because they don’t relax where they attach by the knee joint like the hamstring would at the bottom of the squat)

          • TonyGentilcore

            I’ll be sure to post the article on here once it goes live in T-Nation, but Bret’s video was a HUGE inspiration into me writing it in the first place.

            The adductors could enter the mix for sure, but I still find the go to culprits are the ankles and/or lack of core control.

  • Melissa

    I am so glad I found this. Sadly, while testing out a new pair of pants in front of the mirror, I discovered I have a butt-tucking problem.

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  • Jonny

    you have got to be the first intelligent trainer ive ever read on the internet! Solid article, you knew your kines which is rare, great read!

  • Derry Brown

    This is pure gold! I feel like I have found the keys to the kingdom!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Glad it helped Derry!

  • Amanda

    Ok I am now getting ridiculously confused… I’m in massage therapy school and from what I’m getting everyone is flexion dominant from sitting all day as said above except I’m told we have tight psoas and possibly quads from flexion. In turn hamstrings, adductors, calves too are all over stretched and “taut” pulling on the origins of the ischial’s etc. So most everyone has more anterior tilt. At least this is what I’ve understood as well when we evaluate the ASIS to the PSIS its seems to be the case. Even with myself which here I thought I was pretty neutral and I do not have any kind of curvature to my lower back. I do tuck under with my squat and I also go to far forward which is another issue which makes sense if Im being pulled into flexion from bad posture or not stretching out my quads/psoas/ hipe flexors etc. I’m really confused now are you telling me everyone is actually posteriorly rotated or only when sitting?

    • TonyGentilcore

      I’m not saying everyone is in PPT Amanda. At the end of the day it comes down to assessment. For many people who sit all day in front of a computer they’re going to be n PPT, and have truly “tight” hamstrings. From Eric Cressey:

      “In order for hamstrings to really be short, one would have to spend a lot of time with the knee flexed and hip extended – so just imagine the position you’re in at the top of a standing leg curl. That’s a hard pose to hold for an extended period of time, much less do so on a regular basis.

      That said, some folks do get somewhat close to that on a daily basis in the sitting position, and are therefore the most likely to really have “tight hamstrings.” They have to be in posterior pelvic tilt and knee flexion for a considerable chunk of the day – and even then, it’s still pretty tough to be truly short, as they are still in hip flexion.

      These folks usually can’t distinguish hip flexion from lumbar flexion, so if you do a standing hip flexion assessment, rather than maintain the neutral spine we see in this photo, they’ll go into lumbar flexion (butt will “tuck under”).”

      Not everyone falls into this category, of course, but it just gives some food for thought.

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  • Jacob

    Excellent stuff, I should really add your blog to my reading list alongside cressy, dean and a few others. I wrote an article myself about squatting not long ago (http://movementfirst.co.uk/how-to-squat-like-bad-ass-baby) – I’m thinking to update it, might borrow your idea – I’ll have to give it a try, was using the quadrupled rock & hill sits to pattern that so far but always nice to find new useful tricks.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I actually work with Eric and Dean I have hosted workshops together several times. I’m hurt that it’s taken you this long to add me to the “to read” list…….;o)

      Just kidding (and thanks for stopping by).

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  • Chris

    The connection points of the hamstrings makes them a two-joint muscle, meaning that in the bottom position of a squat, the hamstrings lengthen near their connection to the pelvis, and simultaneously shorten near their connection at the knee. This means that they don’t undergo a major change in length all the way from the top to the bottom of a squat, basically discounting the “tight hamstrings” theory of a cause of posterior pelvit tilt in the bottom of the squat.

    The main issue is likely the range of motion of the ball and socket hip joint, which is predominantly determined by genetics, and to a lesser degree motor control in the muscles directly surrounding the joint. Joint mobility can be increased to a degree, and may increase by pointing the toes outward more and taking a wider stance, but it is not unreasonable to posit that not everyone will be able to squat deep without some degree of posterior pelvic tilt.

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  • Poyraz Goksel

    This wont work becouse hammys doesnt get stretched during squats as pelvis goes away from knee hammy insertion knees insertion comes near pelvis insertion and in the end hammys stay in a stable lenght…