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

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For those who missed it, last week I opened a discussion on how to go about addressing/fixing the “tuck under” when squatting.  For the record, the tuck under (or butt wink as it’s more commonly known) is not some new move that all the youngsters are raging on the dance floor nowadays – similar to the Dougie or the Stanky Leg.  Rather it’s a condition that’s infinitely less sexy and hip and basically refers to one losing proper spinal positioning when squatting to a certain depth.

See?  Not nearly as cool.

Literally, due to any number of reasons (discussed in the link above and more thoroughly below), the butt “tucks” underneath the pelvis when attempting to go into deep(er) hip flexion.  As a result, it causes a boatload of compressive load on the lumbar spine, and to a lesser degree, which I can’t prove with any science, makes my cat cry.

Because, if there are two things in this world she hates:  it’s going to the Vet and people who tuck under when they squat.

You don’t want to make my cat sad, do you?

I didn’t think so.

Before we continue on with the show, let me be clear:  I WANT people to squat to proper depth. It’s just that, given many people move about as well as a one-legged pirate, it’s not necessarily mandatory one squats to depth (or ass-to-grass if we’re speaking in Bro-science terms) on day one.

I was reading through the comments from last week and noticed that some people were saying how squatting deep is something they’re reluctant to have their clients perform.  Just so we’re all on the same page, my “end game” is to work with what I have and to (hopefully) get every single one of my athletes or clients to squat to depth.

It’s just that, sometimes, it’s not always a good idea to “force” someone to squat deep when they just don’t have the ability to do so safely. Hammering a square peg into a round hole isn’t going to accomplish anything, and it’s certainly not going to help the client. As coaches and trainers, it’s crucial that we recognize one’s limitations and try to work with what we have.  And, with a little work, maybe….just maybe, we can improve their squatting technique.

With that said, a good starting point – and something I should have touched on in part I, but only thought of after the fact – is how to go about figuring out where proper depth is in the first place for certain individuals?

While it’s something I only use occasionally, one screen I like is the kneeling rock back assessment.  Here, I’ll have someone start in the quadruped position with a neutral spine.  Slowly, I have him or her sit back towards their heels to see if or when their spine hinges.

Here’s one that doesn’t suck:

As you’ll notice, as I sit back, my spine stays relatively neutral the entire time. As such, it’s safe to assume that squatting “deep” probably won’t be an issue.

Conversely, lets look at this train wreck:

Oh boy.  Not good.  You almost immediately notice a lumbar hinge, and unfortunately, if this were some random person, I’d probably refrain from having them squat past their point of no return. I mean, if it’s this bad with no spinal loading, can you imagine how much of a walking ball of fail they’d be if I placed a barbell on their back?

Either way, the quadruped rock back assessment will undoubtedly help you better ascertain whether or not it’s safe for someone to go into deep hip flexion without their spine hating them.

Taking it a step further, though, I still like to watch someone in a more dynamic environment, and will ask that they perform a standard body weight squat. Doing so can help me distinguish whether it’s a hamstring issue or a lack of core stability issue.

While I covered the hamstrings in part I – and that’s definitely not a bad place to spend your time – it’s my experience that the larger culprit is lack of anterior core engagement and stability.

Remember what I noted previously – 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.

How can you tell if it’s an anterior core issue?  If I’m working with someone and I see a tuck under when they perform a body weight squat, I’ll simply hand them a 10 lb plate and have them hold out in front of them with their arms fully extended and perform the squat again. More often than not, the tuck goes away – like magic.

It’s like I’m Gandalf or something!

Okay, not really, but there IS a logical explanation for why this happens.

Think about what happens when you hold a plate out in front of you – what happens?  Your anterior core HAS to engage/fire so as to prevent you from tipping forward.  In short, you’re MORE STABLE, and better able to control the pelvis.

So, if someone performs a squat and I see the tuck under, and it corrects itself when I force them to engage their core, I can generally surmise that it’s probably a core stability issue. Not always, of course…..but it’s a start.

How To Fix It

While it’s easy to assume that fixing the issue is complicated, it really isn’t.  Long division is complicated. Keeping track of all the characters in Game of Thrones is complicated.  This?  Not so much.

While everyone is different and I don’t like making gross recommendations, I’ve found that the following seems to bode well for most trainees:

1. Of course foam rolling is going to be part of the mix here. I’m not going to belabor the point:  just do it!

As well, addressing any deficits in the thoracic spine is going to be kind of a big deal as well: read THIS and THIS for ideas on how to address getting and maintaining a neutral spine.

2. One of my favorite drills to help groove squat technique and help “open up” the hips is the Rocking SUMO Squat Stretch:

While I like the mobilization option (as shown), it’s also efficacious to use this as a standard stretch and just hold the bottom position for a desired time – say several holds throughout the day for 30-60 seconds.

3.  As far as grooving proper depth is concerned, again, if someone is tucking under it’s because they don’t have the stability/stiffness in the right areas to pull off a deep squat safely.  Overriding this would be the logical recommendation of squatting to a box which will prevent the tucking under in the first place.

Have them squat to a depth where they’re successful and work from there.  Below is a video a shot a few weeks ago on the difference between box squats and squatting TO a box.

Whatever ROM elicits proper spinal alignment is what I’m going to use.  If I have to resort to squatting at or above parallel, than so be it.  Focus on the ROM they DO have, and work down from there. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.  No big deal. Sometimes we have to set our egos to the side.

4.  Finally, and more pertinent to today’s post, add in more core engagement/stability work (NOT CRUNCHES…..as a lot of direct rectus abdominus work will only pull you into MORE posterior pelvic tilt).

Like I said, almost always, if you notice someone tucking under when they squat it’s probably a relative stiffness issue, and it stands to reason that their core is weak or unable to stabilize the pelvis. To that end, I’d make a concerted effort to hammer Pallof presses, various planks, stability ball rollouts, as well as half kneeling/tall kneeling chop and lift variations.

And that’s about it, really. Like I said, addressing the issue doesn’t take anything too fancy. Assuming we’ve ruled out more elaborate root causes (FAI, for example), I’d garner a guess that everything covered in both posts will cover most everyone’s bases when addressing the butt wink…..;o)

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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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • Matt

    Hey Tony, Have you ever had issues with beginners not getting even contact on the box when squatting to a box? As in, one cheek touching before the other.  I have a weird asymmetry when I squat ATG that one hip is lower than the other, but standing upright all seems normal.

    March 26, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      Totally! You have to remember that you have two hip joints, and if you look into some of the PRI philosophy, it's not uncommon to have one hip in APT, and the other in PPT. I'd look into getting some manual therapy done if you can. Also - and I'm in no way trying to alarm you - it "could" be FAI. When you see something present like that (veering to one side or one hip lower than the other), it could be an impingement on the problematic side as there's no "clearance" for the joint when squatting. Most likely in your case - and especially if there's no pain present - it's a soft tissue issue and all you need is a few sessions of aggressive ART.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Warren Hebert

    Hi Tony. I love your website-always entertaining and informative. You and Eric's stuff has really helped accelerate my training... I think it may be helpful for some people to define anterior core. The word "core" means something different everywhere (as in my world, it refers to the diaphragm, transverse abdominus, multifidi, and pelvic floor musculature). When they read this, they may think "anterior core" and assume they need to go strengthen their rectus abdominus, when in fact, that would actually reinforce the incorrect force coupling on the pelvis. A strong (or overactive) rectus abdominus will actually pull you into MORE of a posterior pelvic tilt and reduce the lordodic curve. I think that in this article, you must be referring to the anterior core as iliopsoas, which will help you maintain your lordodic curve at the bottom of your squat (if you are able to activate the iliopsoas in that range). With that said, I absolutely LOVE the sumo squat rock when you focus on iliopsoas activation at the bottom and attempting to anteriorly tilt the pelvis at the bottom. 

    March 26, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Warren - Some VERY solid points, and I went back and re-worded a few things so I'd make my point more clear.  You're correct in that the RA would pull someone more into posterior tilt, but all I'm really referring to is improving core stablity........nice necessarily strengthening the RA.

      March 26, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      Warren - You're COMPLETELY correct, and I went back and re-worded a few of my sentences to hopefully clear the air. You're indeed correct that an overactive RA will pull someone into more PPT. But really, all I'm referring to in this context is just some dedicated core stability work to better control the pelvis. Too, I'd definitely be looking to add in some more hip flexor work to offset the force couple of the stiff or short hammies. I just find that using box squats and adding in some dedicated core stabilization work tends to bode well for most trainees as well. But again, good call on your end to help clear the air!

      March 26, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply to this comment

  • P. J. Striet

    Great topic here Tony. Adding to your point about how poorly people move, I've noticed the vast majority of general/adult fitness clients, upon starting with us, will show "butt wink" squatting to a 20-22 in. box. My goal, over the course of months, is to get them to a 16 in. box, which, I've found, is pretty doable. That being said, if it's "just not happening", I have no problem just keeping them at 20-22 in. I just don't try to force this issue. Keeping them healthy, safe, and training hard "trumps" any added small benefit of squatting 4-6 in. lower. 

    March 26, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply to this comment

  • Liz

    What are your thoughts on a connection between *the wink* and lack of ankle dorsiflexion? Or inability to engage external rotation torque at depth?  Is there a rotation component that can be explored here because I'm running out of saggital and frontal plane issues to address in my own squats/snatches.

    March 26, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply to this comment

  • Tim

    Tony, I noticed you didn't mention ankle mobility as a factor in lumbar rounding?

    March 26, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      Liz already called me out on it....haha. This was something I wanted to touch on (and have in the past). We need roughly 15-20 degrees of ankle dorsiflexion in order to perform a proper squat (or lunge). If it's not there, as you noted, the body WILL compensate for it. Hence, the tuck under. That said, including some dedicated ankle mobility drills like wall ankle mobs, knee break mobs, etc would be wise. As would some dedicated SMR on the peroneals and tib anterior (both of which are also HUGE trigger points for those will chronic knee pain).

      March 26, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Collin Messer

    Tony, did you notice that you had to concentrate in order to do a "poor" rock back assessment? I notice that sometimes when I try to show a client how they're moving poorly I have to really concentrate to make myself move like that.

    March 26, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      hahahahahahahahahahahaa. I had to perform like four takes of that "bad" kneeling rock back drill in order to make it look the way it did. I'm so "programmed" to demonstrate things correctly, that it's oftentimes hard for me to do things wrong on purpose. I can't believe you brought that up!. LOL

      March 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Barath

    Most of the "tuck" and other problems arise because people have either a weak back or don't pay enough attention to the back while squatting - the latter is understandable, as the movement entails more thought of "getting up" than "squatting" anyways. In my case (and I am no expert, of course), squatting became more correct as I deadlifted more, perverse as it may seem. This improved my back strength, and drilled in proper spine position. So while squatting, I went from paying no attention to my back (because of ignorance) to paying a lot of attention to my back (once I started deadlifting seriously) to again paying no attention to my back (because it's now second nature). Like always, I feel most problems in life can be solved by deadlifting more. :)

    March 26, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Reply to this comment

  • RS

    Tim and Liz, I'm right there with you. Hammered all of the other stuff over the last two years (and still do) but had NO idea how poor my ankle mob was until I'd eliminated just about everything else. RS

    March 26, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Lawrence Bowers

    Tony, Mark Rippetoe advocates really forcing your knees out as fixing most problems on squatting to depth. What is your take on that?

    March 26, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Donovan

    TG- I generally like to use the Squat to Stand (with heel elevation) as a means of creating better hip mobility and squat patter as well as, but I also use it as an assessment during their first session. Once they get to that "point of no return", they begin to lose it: spinal curvature, rounded shoulders and low chest. Even though the Squat to Stand technique/Rocking Sumo's are great for grooving good patterns, does it become nullified when they begin to lose proper spinal alignment or keep them going until they get better at it?  After having said that, I immediately have them on goblet squat or box squating to proper height, with a KB or plate held out in front no matter what they're assessment says, and more often than not they squat better. What say you good sir?

    March 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Reply to this comment

    • Anonymous

      I like the squat to stand too......I just thought I'd throw this one in there for a little variety. With that said, goblet squats or plate loaded front squats are definitely not a bad place to start most trainees. To me, both variations are "idiot proof" ways to teach someone solid squat technique.

      March 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Chris

    What is your lower body approach when dealing with clients/athletes with FAI? How do you address the mobility deficiencies in regards to hip internal rotation and hip flexion and any other serious issues that may be problematic when dealing with FAI?

    March 26, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Reply to this comment

  • sangita b

    Cool ..stuff...and how much you help! And no I would never hurt your cat!

    March 27, 2012 at 3:33 am | Reply to this comment

  • Kennet Waale

    As always; great material TG:) How did you even come up with that 'your-cat-doesn't-like-tucking-under-when-squatting? Haha..EPIC! -K

    March 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Reply to this comment

  • George

    Great stuff Tony!  Thanks for the "enterTRAINment!"   Extra kudos for the using the word "efficacious".  I'm going to borrow that giving you full credit!

    March 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Scott

    Hi Tony, What are your thoughts on using hip flexion with and neutral spine movements, like stability ball and band resisted jackknifes to correct wrapping? I know Mike Robertson recommends them to assist with it.   

    March 30, 2012 at 4:09 am | Reply to this comment

  • Scott Brady

     Thanks for these two articles Tony. Def gonna give these exercises and drills a go. The Rocking Sumo Squat Stretch I first saw via Jason Ferruggia here (called a KB Bootstrapper Squat): http://youtu.be/2vAxmC5e0Yc - it works well with a KB and seems to help perform the movement better as you have a slight counterbalance with the weight to ensure better form. Cheers Scott

    April 1, 2012 at 4:32 am | Reply to this comment

  • Good Reads of the Week: Edition 5 | LaVack Fitness

    [...] Smitty Which Side Are You On?  – Martin Rooney Build a Better Body – Martin Rooney Q & A: Fixing the “Tuck Under” When Squatting Part 2  – Tony Gentilcore Push-Upalooza – Tony Gentilcore New Research on Ankle Taping – Dan Lorenz 6 Specialty [...]

    April 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Mike

    Hi Tony, Just wondering if wearing a belt could be used to solve the problem of the tuck under? Assuming the problem is tight hamstrings would the belt allow for an active stretch when squatting to below parallel, over time leading to an increase in flexibility of the hamstrings?

    April 2, 2012 at 8:11 am | Reply to this comment

  • Performance Article to Read (3/26/12) « Andrew Hamel Training

    [...] Fixing the “Tuck Under” when squatting, Part 1 & Part 2 – Tony [...]

    May 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Vilnius

    Hi Tony - the reason the tuck disappears when the client is given something to hold, is not logically explained by the activation of their anterior core. Alternative explanation: The undertuck during a pure bodyweight deep squat is either caused as you have mentioned by: - either, tightened posterior hip muscles - or, as you gave credit to Liz for her mentioning, the inadequate forward range of motion in the ankle (likely caused by short / tight m. soleus (m. gastrocnemius simultaineously shorten at he knee during the squat)) - or, by a compensation in flexion of the spine so as to move the center of gravity (COG) slightly forward to retain from loosing balance and falling backwards. When the client is given something to hold, especially if held out in front of them, the COG is moved slightly forward, extending the possible depth of the squat without losing balance. Thus a deeper squat can be reached, without needing to flex the spine in order to move COG forward. This shift of the centre of gravity given by the weight in the client's hands, also allows for a more upright positioning of the spine, which also decreases the stretching of posterior mucles/tendons acting as hip extensors. I can agree on how holding something in front of you increases the demands for stability work in the spine, but of little importance concerning the undertuck, or the lack of it, in your example. Another way to lower the tension in the posterior muscles of the hip responsible for extension, could be to by conscious activation of the hip flexors in the descending phase of the squat, although not needed for the hips to come into a flexed position with gravity as always being active, increased muscular activity on one side of a joint can result in reciprocal inhibition on the opposing side - here being the posterior hamstrings, gluteal and m. adductor magnus. I doubt it will help a lot though. Interesting note is that if the client is holding a weight in front of him, this natural reciprocal inhibition might decrease, because the handweight is helping gravity with the hip flexion, and at the same time increasing the needed muscular activity for extension of the spine, and with this increasing the activity in the posterior hip muscles. Which, even if inadequate to create a visible undertuck again, will lead to increased forces of compression on the spine. I completely agree with you on the appraoch to how deep a client should go, goal being nice and deep, through gradually increasing range of motion doing the actual excercises, and let this be determined by the weakest muscle or the least flexible tissue. Gradually it will improve. Patience is a virtue, as is temperance.

    September 14, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Paul

    Tony, should the foam rolling be on the back?

    February 5, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Slik korrigerer du bekkentilt i knebøy - Fitnessbloggen

    [...] Tony Gentilcore – Q & A: Fixing the “Tuck Under” When Squatting [...]

    February 12, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Reply to this comment

  • body proportions and hitting squat depth - Page 12 - Ausbb - Australian BodyBuilding

    [...] there is more to hamstring flexibility that just touching ones toes. Some googling turned up a pair of articles by Tony Gentilcore - I'm going to take what I can from there, and see if there is an improvement over time [...]

    April 1, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Spartan Strength and Conditioning » Thursday 18th April 2013 – Removing The Butt Wink in the Squat!

    [...] Resource: http://www.tonygentilcore.com/blog/q-a-fixing-the-tuck-under-when-squatting-part-ii/ [...]

    April 18, 2013 at 4:02 am | Reply to this comment

  • Dan

    How do you recommend progress on the box squat? would you lower the box each month, as long as I can maintain proper spinal alignment?

    September 8, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      It depends. I think for most the obvious answer is to start in a ROM where you're NOT tucking. Whether this is using a 14 inch box, 15, or higher, that's just going to vary. Either way, you can still groove a proper hip hinge pattern while you work on a few things (ankle dorsiflexion, stiff hamstring, weak anterior core), and then start to inch your way down with a lower box.

      September 10, 2013 at 9:42 am | Reply to this comment

  • Good Reads of the Week: Edition 5

    […] Smitty Which Side Are You On?  – Martin Rooney Build a Better Body – Martin Rooney Q & A: Fixing the “Tuck Under” When Squatting Part 2  – Tony Gentilcore Push-Upalooza – Tony Gentilcore New Research on Ankle Taping – Dan Lorenz 6 Specialty […]

    September 12, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Reply to this comment

  • shawn

    Hey Tony, my legs are very bowed and my hips are extremely tight. When I squat I look like a frog with a round back . How can I fix this?

    September 19, 2013 at 4:18 am | Reply to this comment

  • Matt

    Hi Tony, I keep coming back to this article, I really got a lot out of it. I'm curious whether the strengthening of the 'core' is enough, or whether any work needs to be done on re-learning to active the core (and presumably the order in which things should happen) - similar to when learning to engage the glutes properly?

    December 4, 2013 at 8:30 pm | Reply to this comment

  • B-Town Barbell ClubMarch 2014 Newsletter | B-Town Barbell Club

    […] We just addressed the issue of “butt wink” at our squat seminar last weekend, and this article goes into a number of ways to combat the problem.  If you need a refresher about some of the things we spoke about, this is it.  http://www.tonygentilcore.com/blog/q-a-fixing-the-tuck-under-when-squatting-part-ii/ […]

    March 20, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Reply to this comment

  • byrde

    Hey tony. how would you diagnose whether its a hamstring, back, or abdominal issue causing a butt wink?

    July 15, 2014 at 8:21 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Hi Byrde - My stance and opinion has changed a bit since I originally wrote this blog post. I had an article go up on T-Nation a few weeks ago which may shed some more light for you with regards to the butt wink: http://www.t-nation.com/training/how-deep-should-i-squat

      July 15, 2014 at 8:32 am | Reply to this comment

  • byrde

    Hey tony. I read your post on t-nation about squatting four days a week for one month and I had one question. How much weight did you put on your max. Thanks. Oh and I didn't know where the best place to reach you was so I just decided here was good.

    July 25, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Kevin Gibbs

    Hi Tony. I was wondering.. I only get a VERY small tilt, so I'm not overtly worried about that, but what's bothering me is this: My erectors are KILLING me afterward (in a "good" way, I suppose) whilst my quads hardly feel a thing. What's going on?

    July 28, 2014 at 10:53 am | Reply to this comment

  • James

    Hi Tony, I've been lifting for some 17 months, I did about 6 of those on 5x5 and focused on form form form. Back squats I thought were decent and I've continued with them. However recently I decided to video myself doing them, two things stood out. 1. My knees were going past my toes and 2. Right at the bottom, when I go past parallel my spine goes into a small tuck. This seems even worse when I front squat, in fact since I started front squatting 2 months ago I've suffered back pain. I've finally decided to dump them. I do a few squat drills before I start, equating near a wall etc and the thing I notice most is I sit back furthehuge The drills thn with a bar. I feel like I'm going to fall backwards unless I have something to hold onto or brace against. As such I tend to stand very wide and distribute my weight as more of a straight down movement than pushing my hips back movement. The thing is until recently I'd suffered no pain in my back, my knees were occasionally a bit sore but my back was golden and tbh my leg's are huge so I'm getting something out of it but its very quad dominant, in fact its basically all quads. I just wish more gym people were knowledgeable as when I ask for a form check people say its grand. Any tips to learn balance better or how to squat as if sitting down cos when I sit down I free fall the last half a foot, always, I don't lower myself into a seat I never have.

    December 17, 2015 at 10:45 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Hard for me to make any suggestions without seeing a video James. I will say that for most people the best strategy to fix the tuck under is to adopt a better bracing approach. Brace abs hard, lock them down. Spread the floor with your feet; pretend as if you're trying to rip the space between your feet apart. This will promote more of an external rotation torque in the hips and add stability to the spine.

      December 18, 2015 at 7:14 am | Reply to this comment

  • Lauren

    Hey Tony, I definitely have bad butt wink when squatting. I tried holding a weight in front of me with fully extended arms as you suggested, and like you said, the tuck went away. It really was like magic; I had beautiful form and reached great depth when holding a weight. So, if this means I have a core stability issue, then what can I do to fix it so I always squat without a tuck (not just when holding a weight straight out in front of me)?

    February 16, 2016 at 4:16 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I'd work on improving anterior core control. Deadbugs would be a great starting point. If you do a search on my website you should easily find a few hits that will point you in the right direction. Basically, you need to learn to control/stabilize spine and then be able to do so while moving extremities. I like starting with deadbugs (on the floor) because the floor will help provide feedback (and stability) and then you can progress to half-kneeling/tall kneeling variations like chops and lifts and then progress to standing.

      February 17, 2016 at 9:45 am | Reply to this comment

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