Old Forum Squat depth and tail tucking

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Dan Cenidoza

Level 5 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
I've had this conversation before with more than a few fitness and medical professionals, but the tail tuck, is it that dangerous or damaging in a front squat?  No way I would recommend that kind of depth in a back squat where there was lumbar flexion and no easy way to ditch the weight, but in a goblet, KB or even barbell front squat.  Why not?
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Dan, in my opinion, there's no one right answer to your question.  Or the right answer is "It depends."  When your spine is vertical, shear forces are minimized, and less than a perfectly straight spine is much less likely to cause injury.

Personally, I love to squat light and super deep, which means my back must round a little.  When it's bodyweight only, I manage to round in my upper back a little instead of my lumbar and I think that's safer.  But when I go heavy in the barbell front squat - NB: my heavy isn't even Dan's warmup - I need to sacrifice some depth in order to stay tight at the bottom of the lift.  And that brings up another important point - some relaxation is necessary for maximum depth in the squat, and you don't want that with a heavy weight.

A goblet squat, because it's such a light weight, is a movement I treat like a bodyweight squat and I think very deep is good there.  A double kettlebell front squat, on the other hand, can start to be heavy, so I don't recommend going super deep if, e.g., you're front squatting a pair of bells that's approaching your bodyweight - and for someone new to squatting, I'd insist on a straight spine at the bottom of even a light, one kettlebell, rack position squat.

I think one of the best teaching explanations I've seen of the principles involved here is how Marty Gallagher teaches.  He'll have you go rock bottom with a light weight, even purposely exhale and completely relax before retensioning and coming back up, but as the weight gets heavier, he teaches you to stay tight.

Tail tuck, we should say, can be an issue not directly related to squat form or depth - it can indicate poor flexibility in the hamstrings, hips, ankles, or t-spine (and I'm probably leaving out a few).  This is why it's good to be able to move well and freely into a fairly deep bodyweight squat with no tail tuck before attempting to load it with weight.

Just my opinion, your mileage may vary, and I hope that's helpful.

-S-
 

RussellPeele

Level 3 Valued Member
for me (and only speaking about my experience right now), poor ankle dorsiflexion caused my tail tuck. I powered through it for years and caused myself back issues. i now squat ATG with heels elevated (2.5 plates) and the tail tuck is gone. the back issues are not getting worse either. a last note: olympic lifters don't wear those shoes because they look cool.
 

RussellPeele

Level 3 Valued Member
i also recently hit a lifetime pr in the ft squat this way. we'll see if it helps my deadlift sticking point...
 

Dan Cenidoza

Level 5 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
It seems that everyone is going to tail tuck at some point, even the most mobile individuals.  I'm just not convinced that a slight tail tuck on a front squat actually poses a significant risk, and I'm thinking there might even be some reward (like the ability to go deeper before tucking).  And we know the difference between a "slight" tail tuck (flattening of the lumbar curve) and strait up full spinal flexion.  But even still, ever seen a strongman lift an atlas stone?  Or a PL'er do a rounded back good morning?  I'm not trying to champion round back lifts but surely I'm not the only one who has seen squat depth improve with a couple session of tail tucking goblet squats.

 
 

Brett Jones

StrongFirst Director of Education
Master Certified Instructor
Beast Tamer
Dan,

According to McGill - Neutral spine is "strongest" - Flexed and stays flexed - next strongest

Flexed and then going arched or Arched and then going flexed = trouble

You can squat rock bottom without spine flexion.

I'm trying to post a pic on my blog but am having some issues at the moment.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Here's Ivan Chakarov squatting 600 lbs. for a triple

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rl3Vldo7x4c

He's wearing Olympic lifting shoes, which helps, but even with the front angle camera position, you can pause the video and see that there is no tail tucking.

"And we know the difference between a “slight” tail tuck (flattening of the lumbar curve) and strait up full spinal flexion."

I cannot front squat deep unless I take the lourdosis (curve) out of my lumbar spine at the top.  If I don't do this, it hurts like hell.  This goes with Dr. McGill's admonition to not move the lumbar spine under load - I don't have a choice.  What I do is assume the finish position of a swing at the top of my squat - glutes and abs tight, spine really straighter than what a natural, standing lumbar lourdosis is for me - and I keep that position all the way to the bottom.  It's not tail tucking but it's not keeping an inward curve in your lower back, either.

IMHO, it's all good - strongman atlas stones require round back, and Chakarov in Oly shoes can squat 600 with a straight back.

-S-
 

Rickard

Level 4 Valued Member
What is the party recommendation on heels when squatting? What does the strong first barbell teach? Is it ok with a bit of heel on the shoes?
 

Dan Cenidoza

Level 5 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Brett,

Thanks for the reply.  I don't doubt that the spine is the strongest at neutral but with front squats (especially kettlebell) the weight is really not that heavy and doesn't require much strength.  I'm just trying to wrap my head around goblet squatting "too deep"... "too heavy to go that deep" OK, but most people I see can barely perform a BW squat and the goblet squat helps them go deeper and with better form.
 

Pavel

Founder and Chairman
Certified Instructor
Dan, even without much weight repeated flexion could do a number on your spine.

Steve's recommendation (Marty Gallagher's technique) is solid.
 

Pavel

Founder and Chairman
Certified Instructor
Rickard, we accept SQ with heels:

* If you are a weightlifter (obviously).

* As specialized variety.

But not as a crutch. You should be able to squat without heels.
 

jlockhart

Level 1 Valued Member
I've had a lot of success reducing or eliminating the tail tuck or "butt wink". It's been quite a pet peeve of mine both in my own squat and in others. The first is to cue hard bracing of the abs, pre-tensing the glues, and screwing the feet in the floor before descending. The "a-ha" moment of screwing my feet in came with some specialized mobility work on my heel/ankle complex (specifically calcaneus and lateral shin) I was able to create a significantly more stable arch, drive my knees out further and keep a more upright torso in the squat. Add in some serious abdominal bracing and "organizing" (as Kelly Starrett has put it) at the top of the squat before descent and it can really do wonders to get rid of the rounding.
 

Dan Cenidoza

Level 5 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Sorry to keep bringing this up but the idea of [goblet] squatting "too deep" is really challenging some of my experiences and beliefs.  I respect the people in this community which is why I'm not just blowing off the recommendations.  I want to keep this dialog going so I can better understand.

Here's a couple comments.  Please respond as you see fit.

- There is a difference between tail tucking and rounding the lumbar spine.

- People tend to tail tuck sooner squatting bodyweight vs goblet squatting.

- People tend to squat deeper goblet squatting vs bodyweight squatting.

- If you want to be able to squat deeper you have to squat deeper.

 

 
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
"- There is a difference between tail tucking and rounding the lumbar spine."

No (unless someone can explain the difference to me).

 

"- People tend to tail tuck sooner squatting bodyweight vs goblet squatting."

Yes, that's why we teach the goblet squat - the weight functions as a counterbalance and lets people keep a straight back even with less than perfect hip mobility.  People can also squat better holding onto something sturdy - same basic reasoning, because they no longer have to worry about falling backwards.

 

"- People tend to squat deeper goblet squatting vs bodyweight squatting."

Yes, see above, with a counterbalance or support, you remove a limitation.

 

"- If you want to be able to squat deeper you have to squat deeper."

We have drills to help with this.  We teach them at SF user courses and instructor certifications.  The prying goblet squat often helps trainees get deeper than they ever had before.  It's a good drill to help someone squat deeper, but hip mobility work, hip flexor stretching, t-spine extension, and other things are also helpful.  I think the drills and the bw and goblet squats are synergistic - one helps the other, doing both is better than doing only either one.

-S-
 

Boris Bachmann

Level 6 Valued Member
Dan,

A few things:

*atlas stones w. a rounded back and back squatting w. a rounded back and the weight on your shoulder is NOT the same thing.

*a little 'flattening' is probably unavoidable, even for Chakarov (if you watch it closely) but it is about as perfect as you can get and that's probably worth striving for. In my opinion, sacrificing form and tension for depth w. a loaded squat is a really, really bad idea. I've tweaked my back several times w. light weights doing this. http://davedraper.com/blog/2009/09/16/deadlift-stud-squatting-dud/

*a tactical frog-like drill w. a higher resistance Jump-Stretch band around the back and wrapped around the knees will help w. depth too. http://davedraper.com/blog/2011/02/23/jumpstretch-band-drills-and-stretches/

 
 

Mattsirpeace

Level 4 Valued Member
I was trying to post that classic photo of Arnold backsquatting and Dave Draper watching.

Anyhow, I'm just some random dude, not a trainer and NOT offering advice, but here's my experience.  I did most of my growing in the early nineties and information was harder to get back then.  I reasoned that the only way to squat safely was to never wear a belt and always go rock-bottom.  Over a few years I built up so I could go rock bottom with 275 lbs, relax, exhale, repressurize, and come back up.  Bodyweight around 225.  Going into flexion and not at all pretty.  Just offering this as a data point that at least one guy got away with squatting into flexion.  I was cautious, built up slow, and very internal.

I even taught myself to dump the weight behind me.  Back then we all knew that you had to train to failure.  Scary.

I'm overdue for some backsquatting and I suspect this time it will be a very different experience in light of kettlebells and StrongFirst.
 

Dan Cenidoza

Level 5 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
“- There is a difference between tail tucking and rounding the lumbar spine.”

No (unless someone can explain the difference to me).

-------

I believe there is a difference.  In one the glutes are "pulled under"  and it separate from any spinal movement.  It might be precede flexion, but there is a difference nonetheless.

-------

“- People tend to tail tuck sooner squatting bodyweight vs goblet squatting.”

Yes, that’s why we teach the goblet squat – the weight functions as a counterbalance and lets people keep a straight back even with less than perfect hip mobility.  People can also squat better holding onto something sturdy – same basic reasoning, because they no longer have to worry about falling backwards.

------

In this case do we tell someone that they should not bodyweight squat into lumbar flexion or that they should not do assisted squats (i.e. holding something) into flexion?

-----

“- If you want to be able to squat deeper you have to squat deeper.”

We have drills to help with this.  We teach them at SF user courses and instructor certifications.  The prying goblet squat often helps trainees get deeper than they ever had before.  It’s a good drill to help someone squat deeper, but hip mobility work, hip flexor stretching, t-spine extension, and other things are also helpful.  I think the drills and the bw and goblet squats are synergistic – one helps the other, doing both is better than doing only either one.

----

Agreed.
 

Dan Cenidoza

Level 5 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Boris,

I don't recommend back squatting or good mornings (which is what I referenced) with a rounded back.  With atlas stones its unavoidable.  My point in bringing it up though is that some things are done with a rounded back and its not necessarily deemed "poor technique" (eg Konstantin).

I'm not saying that there aren't other ways to improve squat depth.  I'm just trying to figure out why my perceived "risk vs benefit" ratio of a tail tucking goblet squat seems to be different.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Ultimately, the right answer to so much of what we're talking about here is, "It depends."  It depends on who is doing the lifting - their injury history, their level of experience in lifting, the coach's feeling about how aware they are of their own body mechanices - that sort of thing.  I don't think there is a single, right answer that applies to everyone, and it's why we teach the principles at the certifications and then leave it to your good judgement how to best apply those principle to any individual client.

BTW, big difference between rounded upper back like Konstantin and a rounded lumbar.

-S-
 
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