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