13 Dec Posterior Pelvic Tilt, Squat Depth, And Butt Winking
Posterior pelvic tilt and squats. This is an awesome topic we are pumped to help you all understand! Everyone has a slightly different bony anatomy. Whether it’s a longer femur, bent shin (tibial torsion), or a rotated hip socket (acetabular retroversion), not everyone is going to have the exact same anatomical make-up. With that being said, your unique anatomy, in addition to your functional goals, should ultimately drive your specific squat depth. Not everyone is going to squat the same way, and that is ok! So how deep or low should you squat? From an injury prevention and biomechanical perspective, there is only one thing that should matter, which is the posterior pelvic tilt. In this article, we are going to help you understand how to control your pelvic movements during squat to avoid a concept known as ‘butt winking’, and also teach you how much depth you should have when squatting!
What Is A Posterior Pelvic Tilt?
So what is pelvic tilting exactly? To start,. normal hip flexion range of motion is approximately 120 degrees. At around that 120 degrees is when the femur abuts against the hip bone, or pelvis. This could be different for an individual if he or she does not have that much hip flexion range of motion. When we squat deeply past 120°, as shown below, where do we magically get more range of motion? The pelvis! The pelvis posteriorly tilts to allow more room for the femur to flex. Also known as the tuck under or butt wink, a posterior pelvic tilt is a naturally occurring phenomenon. However, an excessive posterior pelvic tilt can potentially become a problem when we add an excessive load, or weight, during a squat movement.
Posterior Pelvic Tilt And Squats
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Quadruped Squat Assessment – Finding Your Posterior Pelvic Tilt
Follow along in this video as we will show you how to find your own posterior pelvic tilt!
Because our legs (femurs), hips (pelvis), and spine (vertebral column) are all connected, movement of one bone will undoubtedly affect the others. When we posterior pelvic tilt, our lumbar spine flexes. The most important fundamental of good squat mechanics is to maintain neutral spine position. The moment we excessively posteriorly pelvic tilt, we automatically lose neutral spine position and dump into flexion. Significantly increased spinal flexion under load over time (YES, all these factors must be present) is detrimental for your back for two reasons:
1) Biomechanically speaking, it increases the lever arm of the back extensors. Thus, our back extensors must work much harder to keep our torso upright. Increased muscle activation of the back extensors increases the shear and compression loads on each vertebra, and over time, can lead to problems down the road.
2) The intradiscal pressure inside of each of your intervertebral discs increases tremendously in a flexed spine position. Additionally, the thinnest portion (posterior aspect) of the annulus fibrosis, or wall of the intervertebral disc, is tensioned in a flexed spine position. Our intervertebral discs are meant to withstand compression, not tension!
Learn How To Control Your Pelvis When Squatting!
Follow along in this video as Craig and Arash discuss everything surrounding posterior pelvic tilt and squats!
Remember, posterior pelvic tilt occurs naturally at end range hip flexion – so a little posterior pelvic tilt is expected during a squat movement (more than likely you will observe a return to neutral pelvis position). However, it is when posterior pelvic tilt occurs excessively during a squat movement under high loads and high repetitions, that you should begin to worry about the additional compression you are placing on your back.
Furthermore, from a functional perspective, will you ever have to perform a deep squat in everyday tasks? Training specificity is important. Unless your occupation or sport requires you to perform a deep squat, there’s no point in training your body to squat all the way to the ground under load repetitively and risk back injury.
What Causes Butt Winking With Squats?
There are two main causes that can lead to butt winking with squatting, which is either inadequate lumbo-pelvic control or a mobility issue of the hips. Let’s break both of these concepts down.
- 1) Lumbo-pelvic control: This is seen more if someone moves into flexion of the lumbar spine with a posterior pelvic tilt before they reach the end range of their squat. The tilt is a normal part of the squat; however, it should occur towards the end of the squat after the hip runs out of its normal range of motion, not before that. If you are noticing the tilt is occuring before the end of your squat, then control is your culprit.
- 2) Hip Mobility Issue: If your hips are the issue, particularly hip flexion and external rotation which is needed for squatting, these motions will be limited for you. An easy way to assess your hip flexion and external rotation mobility is described below.
- Hip Flexion: Lay on your back and bring your knee in towards your chest as far as you can. From there, add a gentle pull of your knee in towards your chest. Assess both sides for any discrepancies.
- Hip External Rotation: What you want to do to assess your hip external rotation side to side is bring your leg into a “figure 4 position”. This is done by taking the heel of one foot and placing it on your opposite shin, creating a “figure 4 position” of your leg. From there, allow your knee to gently relax down towards the floor as far is it can. Again assess both sides to assess for any differences. You should be close to parallel for normal hip external rotation.
Motor Control Exercises To Fix Butt Winking
Now that you have an understanding of what can cause your excessive pelvic tilting, we can go into exercises to help you fix this! First we will cover motor control exercises to fix butt winking that is due to poor lumbo-pelvic control.
Supine Pelvic Tilt
- WHY: This exercise will help you to learn low back and pelvic body awareness. Learning body awareness in these regions is important when trying to manage pain now and in the future. This exercise also promotes motion in this region and can help with stiffness and spasms.
- HOW: Get set-up laying flat on your back with your knees bent and feet supported on the ground. Place your hands on your hip bones to help with learning body awareness. Now perform a posterior pelvic tilt followed by anterior pelvic tilt.
- COMPENSATION: Do not overarch your lower back, after you perform the posterior pelvic tilt let your low back naturally move into an anterior pelvic tilt by relaxing your muscles. The movement should come just from your stomach and hip muscles, not your low back!
Quadruped Rock Back
- WHY: This exercise will teach you how to maintain a neutral or straight low back as your move your hips and shoulder. This is key as you get in and out of a chair, perform squats, and walk up and down stairs. Learning how to keep a neutral spine will help protect your back.
- HOW: Begin this exercise on your hands and knees in a table top position. First find a neutral low back and pelvis, you can arch your back and tuck your tailbone to find a neutral position. While maintaining this neutral position rock back towards your lower body. Rock back as far as you can until you feel like your low back is rounding or your tailbone is tucking. At first it may be beneficial to use a mirror as a visual cue to assure you are performing this correctly.
- FEEL: This is a control exercise, and you won’t feel much. Your core muscles will be activated to maintain this neutral position.
Once you begin to maintain a neutral spine and maintain adequate pelvic control with the rock back, it is time to progress your movements! Going into a squat with a kettlebell as shown here can begin to reincorporate load with the specific movement you were having difficult controlling initially! Graded exposure is an important aspect of any rehab process. With the kettlebell goblet squat, focus on your pelvic control as you perform the motion. You can even hold the position for a couple seconds at the bottom to feel where your body should be at the bottom of your squat.
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Hip Mobility Exercises To Fix Butt Winking
Below we are going to show you a couple hip mobility exercises to fix butt winking. What is important to note in regards to hip mobility exercises, the evidence in regards to reducing excessive pelvic tilting is not very high. Yes it may help some, but there are other factors that should be considered, including overall form of your squat technique and adequate motor control that was touched on earlier. Keep all of this into consideration with posterior pelvic tilt and squats.
Runners Lunge – Circles
- HOW: Begin by starting in a push up position with your hands on the ground underneath your shoulders, and your toes pushing into the ground with your legs straight out from your hips. Bring one leg up close to your hand. Keep your foot flat on the ground as you move your knee and lower leg in a slow and controlled circular motion for the prescribed amount of reps.
- FEEL: You should feel a stretch in your ankle and hip.
- COMPENSATION: Keep your foot flat on the ground, don’t let your heel or toes up as you perform the circular motion.
90/90 Hip Stretch – Dynamic
Get set-up in a 90/90 position, you can use a yoga block or something else under your front hip to get into the correct position (follow video for tips and details). Once set-up, keep your thighs, knees, and feet flat against the ground, lift your chest up to make your torso long. Holding this position, shift your weight forward until you feel a stretch and hold that position for a moment, return to starting position and repeat. You should feel a stretch in the back of your hip and your butt on the front thigh. You may feel a stretch inside your thigh and groin on the back leg. See video for tips and details, the most important thing is having a long torso and relatively straight back as best as you can especially when you shift your weight forward. We want to move through our hip and not our low back.
Deep Squat Hip Prying
This is an awesome way to work on your hip mobility in relation to posterior pelvic tilt and squats! Get set up in a standing position in your ideal squat stance and form. To begin the exercise, squat down as low as you can and hold the bottom of the deep squat position. Then with your arms and elbows positioned on the inside of your thighs, one at a time try to rotate your hip/knee out as far as you can and push against your thigh with your elbow to help. Hold the end position for a moment, then return to starting position and repeat on the opposite side. Repeat. This should feel like a groin and hip stretch. You will also feel your glutes and deep hip rotator muscles working as you try to rotate your hip out. Do not lose the deep squat position, do not excessively shift your weight, do not lose balance.
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Parallel Versus Full Squat: Which Is Best For Glute Activation?
So now that you have an understanding of pelvic motions with squats, let’s discuss squat depth. Should you squat ass to grass? Or stop at parallel? It’s a question that many of you have asked and we’ll provide our answer today. Many things need to be taken into account when determining squat depth. Most importantly, you need to determine your lower extremity mobility (specifically of the hips and ankles), your comfort with varying squat depths or squat variations, and finally your training goals.
Posterior Pelvic Tilt and Squats: Parallel Versus Full
Naturally, you might presume that the further down you go the better because more is better right? In a recent 2017 study by Conteras et al, they investigated the EMG activity of various muscles in women who did resistance training and compared the parallel squat vs full squat vs front squat (they used high bar). One of their big findings contradicted previous research while having a much better methodological data collection. They found that there is similar glute (upper and lower fibers), bicep femoris (a hamstring muscle), and vastus lateralis (a quadriceps muscle) muscle EMG activity between all 3 squat variations.
So, the answer is no. Full squat depth does not mean more gluteus maximus activation. However, when it comes to resistance training for hypertrophy, it is widely agreed upon that using a greater range of motion leads to more hypertrophic changes, most likely due to the increased ROM/longer eccentric muscle activation. So while the full and parallel squat styles might elicit similar gluteal EMG activities, if your goal is hypertrophy, you should go for a full squat depth.
Can Everyone Perform A Full Squat?
Is it rationale to think that everyone can perform a full squat? Hell no. And if you have individual morphologic variations or pathologies (i.e. femoroacetabular impingement) or restricted ankle mobility into dorsiflexion, the full squat is not a viable option for you as it could lead to losing lumbar lordosis and injury over time. So keep working on your hip and ankle mobility and in the meantime stick to a parallel squat, and you can still gain great gluteal strengthening benefits!
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Closing Thoughts On Posterior Pelvic Tilt and Squats
In summary, pelvic tilting is a normal movement that occurs with squatting. However, if your pelvic tilting becomes excessive, and you also are having pain with squatting in your hips or low back, then it may need to be addressed with proper rehabilitation. The two main causes behind a butt winking issue includes hip mobility restrictions or poor control of your pelvis. Also, in regards to squat depth, if you’re unable to perform a full squat, you aren’t necessarily missing out on any additional gluteal activation. However, for hypertrophic and strength training gains, it’s advantageous to get as low as your anatomy allows you. If you are able to control your pelvis, maintain proper form, and avoid compensations, go for it! As with any exercise, let your anatomy and goals determine your individual squat depth!
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- Nachemson, Alf, and James Morris. “Lumbar Discometry Lumbar Intradiscal Pressure Measurements In Vivo.” The Lancet 281.7291 (1963): 1140-142.