About six months ago I decided to reconstruct my squat pattern. I hate squatting and tend to avoid it like the plague so it is no surprise that it is one of my weaker lifts. I thought that maybe spending extra time on it, breaking it down, and building it back up would help bring up my weaknesses and maybe lead to some small transition of strength to my deadlift. The first step in this process was to assess and evaluate my squat pattern. I needed to figure out what was wrong with it, what could be improved, and what improvements would yield the biggest return on invested time and effort. I did this by taking video of my squat pattern using a variety of squat variations and using either side profile angles or front profile angles.
What I found was I had one singular huge glowing dysfunction that presented every time I tried to squat past parallel. It was especially prominent in variations in which the load is placed anteriorly, such as in a front or goblet squat.
This one dysfunction was the notorious "Butt-Wink", or in more scientific terms excessive flexion at the lumbar curve and posterior tilting of the lumbar pelvis. If you haven't ever seen or experienced such a problem take a couple seconds to watch the video below at around the thirty second mark to get a better frame of reference.
Armed with the knowledge of what my squatting problem was I devised a plan to resolve the problem. The approach I decided to take was to focus on developing greater flexibility and length in my hamstrings. My rationale for this approach was that my inability to maintain a strong and stable lower back as my squat got deeper was caused my inadequate length through my posterior chain.
I spent 4 weeks foam rolling, static stretching, and working on mobility in similar positions as the bottom of the squat. I spent twenty minutes a day at least working my plan and retesting my squat. I saw some small improvements after each session, but the changes always seemed to be transient. I spent four weeks banging my head against the wall trying to correct this problem and I didn't get anywhere.
I had made a mistake in developing my plan or more accurately I made the wrong assumption. I based my plan on the assumption that my hamstrings where the limiting factor when in fact they had little to do with the squatting motion and I completely over looked it.
See the hamstring is a biarticular muscle or more plainly put it is a muscle that crosses two joints. This is an important property of the hamstrings because it is the underlying reason of why my hamstrings were not the source of my problem. The biarticular nature of the hamstrings allow the muscle to shorten as it lengthens. This idea goes directly against what you may learn in physiology textbooks, but it is a phenomenon that occurs in the function of muscles and if you don't believe me try feeling the hamstrings at the distal insertion as you squat and then at the proximal insertion as you squat.
In any case this property of the hamstring means that the net change in hamstring length during a full squat is negligible. Therefore hamstring length is has little influence on my or anyone else's ability to squat past parallel without butt winking.
I was watching video of olympic lifters because no one squats deeper with heavier loads then these guys and they have to maintain a neutral lower back and anteriorly tilted pelvis if they have any hope of making their lifts. The one commonality I saw while watching these athletes was that all of them wore heeled elevated shoes to improve their ankle mobility. When I saw this it was like getting punched in the face by Captain Obvious. I couldn't believe I had over looked my ankle mobility.
Olympic lifters wear the kind of shoes they do so that they can maintain a much more upright torso while catching the weight and the shoes allow this by giving the lifter's knees the ability to travel quite a bit of distance out over their toes while keeping their heel in contact with the ground. This I decided meant that if I wanted to squat deeper while keeping a stable lower back and an anteriorly tilted pelvis I needed to allow my knees to transition forward while sinking deeper into the squat.
Again I developed a strategy using self myofascial release techniques, static stretching, and mobility drills in positions that resembled the squat. I worked this strategy and retested my squat pattern and come to find out it worked. The more ankle mobility I was able to garner the better I could maintain proper spine and pelvic position in the bottom of the squat.
The reason I share this story and my frustrations with you is because it has two big take aways for you.
1. If you are someone who is dealing with the butt winking problem while trying to squat deeper then I highly suggest taking a look at your ankle mobility. And if anyone tells you that the reason your squat sucks is because your hamstrings are to tight I would highly suggest not taking exercise advice from said person.
Oh and just for your benefit below is a picture of a post I shared on my Facebook page demonstrating a great mobility circuit for the ankles. I highly recommend getting over to my page giving it a like and taking a look at the video it may just help you fix that squat problem your dealing with.