Tony Gentilcore

Because heavy things won't lift themselves

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

tuck under

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 I just blow your mind? Make (or ruin) your day? Leave a comment, then share this with EVERYBODY.
  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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. 

    • 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!

  • 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. 

    • Anonymous

      Completely agree PJ. If it ain’t there, it ain’t there. Not the end of the world if someone is unable to get to proper depth due to bodily restrictions.

  • 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.

    • Anonymous

      Lack of ankle dorsiflexion can definitely come into play as well Liz. I was going to include that into the mix, but felt I was getting a little long-winded….;o)

      • http://profiles.google.com/dushyant91 Dushyant Patel

        I started lifting in oly shoes with a heel, fixed my butt wink.

  • Tim

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

    • 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).

  • http://www.messerfit.com/ 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.

    • 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

  • 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. :)

    • Anonymous

      I concur……;o)

  • 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

  • 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?

    • Anonymous

      Yep, can’t disagree there with the good coach. I’m always cuing my clients to “push the knees out” when squatting, as it helps to open the hips and allow for ample depth.

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • 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?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EESKOVFFP7YXXINEW3QRZCFNZY sangita b

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

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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.   

  • http://twitter.com/health4ni 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

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I know there are a few other names for that excising flying around out there. Bootstrapper probably make a lot more sense (and it’s a much cooler name…haha).

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  • 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?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Eh, not a fan. I feel wearing a belt doesn’t really resolve the issue and just serves as a band-aid. The only time I really advocate the use of a belt is for max effort attempts.

      • Mike

         Thanks for the reply Tony,

        Was thinking more along the lines of using it temporarily while you work to resolve the issue

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  • 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.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Holy cow Vilnius – EPIC response and one I’ll need to read fourteen times to fully digest. Thanks for chiming in

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  • Paul

    Tony, should the foam rolling be on the back?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Upper back, yes. Lower back, no.

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  • 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?

    • 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.

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  • 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?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Honestly: I’d look into seeking out a reputable manual therapist.

  • 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?

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