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