Deadlift Case Study: Eliminating the “Butt Wink”

Posted: May 25, 2013 in Training
Tags: , , ,

I don’t technically train the lifter in these videos, but he helps me out a lot by taking videos and pictures for my articles, so I return the favor by putting together programs for him and coaching him on the lifts. He’s 5 months removed from major knee surgery, trying to join the Marines, and looking to get bigger and stronger. For these reasons, one of the lifts he’s been doing a lot of is the deadlift. I can’t think of many other exercises that will build overall strength quite like deadlifts will, and building glute and hip strength is a necessity for people coming back from knee surgery. Deadlifts will also help pack on muscle like nobody’s business. In the past month while following the program I made for him, his body weight has gone from 165 to 180 lbs; not a small increase by any means.

I posted a video of him deadlifting a few weeks ago, and while watching it I noticed that his lower back tension was lacking. Somehow I missed this while actually videoing the exercise, probably because I was looking at a tiny camera screen while doing so. At any rate, we made a small adjustment to his deadlifts today and his form is now much better as a result.

Here’s a still of the moment right before the bar leaves the ground:

2 weeks ago:

Note the rounded low back

Note the rounded low back

Today:

Much flatter lower back here = better deadlift

Much flatter lower back here = better deadlift

To achieve this, LJ pushed his hips back (notice how you can see less of his knee sticking out in front of his arm), and up (notice the angle of his femur today as compared to two weeks ago). This higher hip position makes it easier to maintain low back tightness. I also had him pre-activate his lats by squeezing his shoulder blades together and down as hard as he could before going down to grip the bar. Once he got the feel for this, he was on point for the rest of his reps today.

The thing is, he had no idea that his back wasn’t flat before. He has an issue that a lot of lifters deal with, known as the “butt wink”. This is when your pelvis tilts posteriorly and your tailbone tucks under your body during a squatting motion. Watch this video, and you’ll see the pelvic tilt and butt wink as he goes down to get the bar as he nears the bottom of his stance right around the 2-second mark.

Once I showed him this video, it made it much easier to teach him how to fix it. The fact is, the butt wink is a fairly common occurrence, and NOBODY knows they do it until somebody else makes them aware of it (I actually demonstrated a squat for a video several years ago, and was absolutely shocked to see that I was a butt-winker). But once you know it’s happening, you can pay extra attention to your lower back tightness during squats and deadlifts, which will make them much safer to perform. Butt winking puts a lot of undue stress on the lumbar spine, which we want to avoid at all costs.

If you’re an athlete who’s just learning to deadlift or squat, get somebody to watch your form and see if you’re maintaining lower back tightness during the motion. If not, make an extra effort to keep your low back tight, and activate your lats by squeezing your shoulder blades together and down as hard as you can. Activating the lats will improve overall back tightness and assist with keeping a neutral or slightly arched lower back. Also make an effort to tighten your anterior core (your abs). When I was trying to eliminate my butt wink way back when, I noticed that it was much more noticeable while I was doing back squats, and less so when I was doing front squats. I thought this may have been because of the added anterior core activity during the front squat, so I started trying to really clench my abs during the back squat, and it definitely helped. You should be squeezing your abs during the deadlift anyway, but if you don’t already, start doing it.

In other deadlifting news, here’s a video of me pulling 385 a couple of times last week. My goal was a 1RM of 425 by the end of June, which I’m going to obliterate. I’m a little too quad-involved here, which you can see by the way that my shoulders move forward slightly, but that’s an easy fix for next time.

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