Getting your squat form right is important in order to get all the strength benefits and prevent injury. If you’re experiencing lower back pain after squatting, you could be over-extending. Here, we find out exactly what it is and how to fix it.
You probably couldn’t shake a stick in a gym without hitting at least one person performing a squat. It’s hard to imagine a full or lower-body workout without this strength training move. There’s a jump version, a one-legged pistol option, and you can even find a variation of it in yoga.
Despite the fact that it mimics the motions we use repeatedly in daily life like sitting down and getting up, this exercise can be hard to perfect because there are so many crucial moves involved in the motion, including maintaining your posture, engaging your core and pressing into your heels.
According to what gym-goers are searching on Google, one common mistake that can throw off your squat-form is the “buttwink”, or over-extension at the bottom of a squat as it’s officially known. Alice Williams, qualified PT at OriGym Centre of Excellence explains: “It’s when your glutes tuck under (or ‘wink’), causing a posterior tilt rather than a neutral spine. It can happen in all squat variations, including the back squat, sumo squat and front squat.”
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Despite the cute moniker, over-extension – like any inconsistency in your squat form – can lead to serious imbalances and even injury, says Williams. “Performing a buttwink in your squat can cause major injuries in your lumbar spine. Over-extending at the end of a squat puts too much of the load onto your spine, rather than your leg muscles. This can lead to conditions such as a strained disc, which manifests as lower back pain.”
So, of course we asked the experts how to tell if you’re over-extending during a squat and how you can correct it.
How to spot overextension at the bottom of a squat?
So, how can you tell if you’re placing all your load into your lower back, rather than in the legs and glutes you’re trying to fatigue? Experts say you can do so one of two ways.
You’ll see it
“The best way to spot a butt-wink is to perform a squat in front of a mirror, or get someone to film you,” says Alice Williams.
- Turn to the side so that you can see the position of your spine, and squat down slowly.
- Hold your end position and check the position of your spine.
- If you look hunched over and your back is rounded, this is the sign that your spine is in posterior tilt and you are overextending.
You’ll feel it
There’s a difference between the dull ache of DOMS and the deep pain of an injury or improper form. The telltale sign of squat over-extension according to PT and nutrition expert Aimee Victoria Long is: “You’ll likely start to feel sore through your lumbar spine area. The muscles will become tight through the lumbar region (lower back) as a result.”
How to fix over-extension at the bottom of a squat?
A squat performed with correct form will target “the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, core and calves” all in one compound move, says Alice Williams, so it pays to take the time to get it right.
Put the weight down
The first thing you should do is go back to basics. Williams says, “Ditch the weights and switch to bodyweight squats, in order to prevent any further injury. The key to avoiding buttwinks is to look straight ahead and engage your core as this will help you maintain a neutral spine, rather than a posterior tilt.”
Remember to keep a neutral spine
“When squatting you should be looking to maintain a neutral spine at all times,” advises Long. To do this, simply imagine having a straight rod touching your spine. She explains, “As you squat that rod should be touching every point of your back the whole way. If you’re over extending your lumbar spine will come away from the rod, meaning the force is being placed on your back rather than your lower body.”
Reduce your range of motion
Scale back the range of your squat. Forget going ass-to-grass and focus on “building your strength up with a smaller range of motion,” Long recommends. “Using a bench to squat onto will allow you to decrease the range of the squat and get used to the load of the weight.”
Images: Getty / AzmanJaka