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Old Forum Squat depth and tail tucking

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Level 4 Valued Member
"It depends."

Thanks for that Steve, and thanks everybody for this thread.  I'll keep it in mind.

I've just got some mild cognitive dissonance since my experience doesn't square with McGill's work;  I squatted from arched into flexed and I think I'm better off for having done so.  Just fishing for answers on this forum, where people understand that lifting is dangerous, but so is life.

My motivation was extreme caution, figuring it was better to take small risks in the gym than get hurt in the real world.  It paid off.  I've never hurt my back, despite working as a furniture mover and a mountaineering porter.

I can do goblet squats with only a hint of tucking.  I sometimes do Zercher deadlifts because, believe it or not, they feel good.  With backsquatting, I'm not so sure what the most prudent technique is... 1) arched and stopping at parallel... 2) staying in slight flexion from top to bottom like Steve...or 3) the "wrong" way I did it before, arched into flexion.  Call it the hormesis theory of spine health.

Thanks all.  I don't expect an answer, just thought I'd pose the question.

Boris Bachmann

Level 7 Valued Member
I don't know what the answer is Dan. There are many delicious ways to cook a squat. It is easier to brace w. a slightly rounded lumbar when the weight is held in front of you. Flexion vs. extension stuff, I'm sure.

Steve Freides

Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Matt, let's call you the exception who proves the rule.:)  I'm am happy that you can squat with a lumbar that moves under load.  I would _love_ to able to do that, but every time I've tried, it hurts like hell - so I just don't.

Which brings me, after reading both your post and Boris' talking about "slightly rounded lumbar," to focus on the most important thing, and this goes right back to the StrongFirst principles.  Because tension is strength, the more intra-abdominal pressure you've got at the bottom of your squat, the safer/stronger (or stronger/safer if you prefer) your spine is going to be.  And it really is both - there's no trade-off here.

Different spines are going to look differently with the belly pressure of a heavy squat - mine doesn't look slightly rounded, just less curved.  My guess is that, if you really look at lots of pictures and videos closely, that's what you'll see, namely lumbar spines that straighten out but don't really round much, if at all.



Level 4 Valued Member
Dan - sorry to post so much on your thread.  I meant to start my own but you beat me to it.

Steve - thanks for taking the time to comment.  I guess I am an exception, not in the sense of being genetically robust, but in having a quirky exercise biography where I walked a fine line with a dangerous/cautious strategy.

What you wrote is true.  I didn't have the vocabulary we have now, but I knew about the Valsalva maneuver and figured out how to make a belly balloon.  Going passive at the bottom was just an extra body-awareness skill, and not that crazy -- 275 was 1.2 x bodyweight.  That's part of why I appreciate Pavel & the school so much, for providing a way of speaking and thinking about the nuances of exercise, internal and external.

My new favorite vocabulary word is "anthropometry."  I don't know what it means, but whatever it is, mine is bad.

I also agree that whatever degree of lumbar flexion I was getting into was "not much."  Almost by definition it was acceptable, since, in fact, I didn't get hurt.  I'm only unusual in being able to squat with tucking.

To echo what Boris wrote, just do a quick caveman thought experiment:  It's natural for humans to squat rock-bottom, going to the bathroom or sitting around a campfire.  It's also natural to round-back deadlift, carcasses or whatever.  But... rock-bottom roundback backsquatting is not really something natural that an average person should be able to do.

So, just because I've done it before doesn't mean I insist on doing it again.  Now I have goblet squats for full squatting, and Zercher deadlifts for roundback lifting.  I expect with backsquatting I'll just be internal and cautious and let it unfold rather than forcing it.

Thanks & congrats to StrongFirst for providing this forum.  Participating is a joy and privilege.


Dan Cenidoza

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Matt, no apologies necessary, thanks for keeping the thread going, and for posting the Contreras video.

My "issue" with the idea of squatting rock bottom as "too deep" is  how long I've been doing/teaching it and how I've justified it over and over to myself as well as my students.  I have no problem going back previous beliefs in the light of new information, I just want to make sure that I get the info right and not continue to flip flop.  I should say that I've also always taught people to stay tight under heavy loads in the bottom position, and to find that medium that is neither relaxing or bouncing.  I think we all can agree on staying tight for safety and strength purposes but these middle aged office workers that can barely squat to parallel, I have had success with having them simply hang out in the bottom position, be it a supported, bodyweight or goblet squat; essentially getting them to relax into the stretch.  I've never had anyone get hurt like that but if it's doing more harm than good long term, I need to know and understand that.


Level 4 Valued Member

In "Facts and Fallacies of Fitness" Mel Siff has an article called "Contraindicated Exercise May Protect."  I'll type out his conclusion:

In other words, it would seem that the body will adapt to certain levels of 'harmful' exercising, provided that this is not imposed near the mechanical limits of the given soft tissues.  If this is done progressively in a controlled manner, then the body should become capable of handling all of the so-called dangerous activity.  Does this not sound reasonable and logical?

This implies that the neurosis about exercise safety may be misleading and inaccurate in many cases.  After all, the body adapts to all types so-called neutral, natural or safe norms.  In other words, we might state that perfect training produces maladaptation, while integrated, well-sequenced phases of perfection and imperfection produce superior functional adaptation.


Level 4 Valued Member
The link didn't work.  It's a modest article to the effect that full squats and forward bending aren't necessarily bad.

Dan, I'd like to know the answer too.  My gut tells me it's really unlikely that I did myself any hidden long-term harm.  I turned 40 this year.  So far, so good.

Of course for a professional it must be a tough call.  If even one person gets hurt it looks bad.  Nevermind if a hundred other people didn't get hurt out there in the real world because you got them squatting.

Boris Bachmann

Level 7 Valued Member

I've always said that sitting into a rock bottom squat and hanging out there and "understanding the hole" was key to knowing how to squat well. With weight, it's a little more complicated.



Of course people can gradually build up to heavy full squats relaxing at the bottom - but a lot of people (and I'd say most) will NOT take it well after a certain point. Time and load will only magnify this - a 20 year old squatting less than 315 might be fine with training, a 40+ year old may or may not... JMO.

Boris Bachmann

Level 7 Valued Member
Thank you Pavel!

I made a blog post on the topic of "butt wink" - most of the points made in this thread (and my opinions) are here:


Level 1 Valued Member
Is Lumbar flexion safe under load? Well, naturally it is! We have spines that flex and extend as an evolutionary condition. It is how we move. Now we are NOT meant to sit in chairs all day, sit in cars getting to and from work and THEN load your spine into flexion. By load it could mean squatting and tail tucking, or simply bending over to get your gym bag out of the trunk.

The issue is when you expose 'buckle' your passive tissues (e.g. lumbar disc) to load when it should be protected in movement by the muscular structures. This is the essence of the issue. Flexion is fine if you don't expose the passive structures to load (like getting arm barred and not tapping). This means you can be like Bob Peoples who developed a flexed deadlift posture (and it did include his lumbar spine), but he had also (from what I read) spent 10 years in regular posture. He taught (strength is a skill) his posterior musculature (he had massive spinal erectors) to activate and stabilize in the flexed posture.

Most people will tail tuck for 2 reasons.

1 is they don't have the skill/strength to perform the movement correctly (hit bottom in neutral/lordotic spine) before they load up with resistance.Throw the ego aside and get it right unloaded. When you think you have that right try to SOTS press with an empty bar next and be humbled. You must learn to activate the spinal erectors to keep the neutral/lordosis and your abdominal corset coactivating to achieve this. Once you get this I think your squat depth without tail tuck may be solved.

2. They don't have the hip mobility so begin to use lumbar flexion to compensate. A hallmark of predisposition to lumbar spine injury! It could come from overactive hamstrings, weak spinal erectors, weak glutes, etc. The way to start to address this is by finding the most mechanically advantageous foot/hip posture for the depth. This does take a bit of professional coaching for most people to get help on, you will rarely figure it out yourself and you will save time/months with a good coach.

The neutral/lordosis is your position of strength when you have taught it to work. Teaching the lumbopelvic girdle to stabilize (strength is a skill we must never forget) is a daily practice not just at the gym. So you must practice getting stable daily, or at least twice daily if you are serious. Do you know any pro golf or tennis players who practice 2-3x per week?


Level 4 Valued Member
Boris, thank you.  That was about as good an answer as I could hope for.  I didn't know about squatrx.  Great info, for free.  Thanks!  Also that link to buttwink at 70s big was good.

Dan, what's striking to me is what an ethical  trainer you are.  Maybe just explain to your clients that "it depends" and let them decide.  Print off a copy of this thread.  It's not your fault that reality is complicated.

I wanted to be sure I wasn't misunderstanding McGill, and found this video, only a month old:

Ditto what Andrew wrote.  Getting a decent squat was a project that took a few years and I had to be humble and start with 95 lbs.  With my limb segments I'll never be truly good at it.  Sounds like there's no big mystery to my story; what I did was unusual but within the bounds of what my body could adapt to.

Andy St John

First Post
Not sure if this thread is dead, but you may find it worthwhile to watch Matt Wenning's "So you think you can squat" series. ( He deals with a new guy tucking his tailbone. Even though the series deals with back squat for PLers, the info is valid for the FS as well.  Essentially, the rx is a solid mid/upper back arch which may require some accessory work depending on the bar weight you're dealing with.


Boris Bachmann

Level 7 Valued Member

It's interesting that you mention that series. I think Matt is a smart guy, but he's dealing with a guy who's squatting high-bar and having him sit back to a box and then telling him he needs to build up his back strength to stay upright when, in my opinion, he'd be better off teaching the guy to squat properly (i.e. sit down w. a high bar position, or sit back w. a low bar position).


Level 4 Valued Member

Hope I got the link to work.  It's a video of a guy doing a substantial barbell clean and squat with what looks like 315, then actually planting his butt on the floor and kicking his legs out in front.  Then he gets back on his feet and squats back up.  It hurts to watch because his knees buckle, but it's still an incredible performance.

There is some discrepancy between the simple stiff, neutral spine model and what people are really doing.  I vaguely remember some old Brett Jones comment to the effect that if our spines weren't meant to move, we would have one solid backbone instead of multiple bones and disks.

There is a podcast on Scott Iardella's website where Dr. McGill actually says "it depends."  On the video I linked his words are "with enough cycles and sufficient load you will end up with a disk bulge..."  This is almost a hair-splitting distinction with Mel Siff's slightly more daring comments.

It's worth noting that Dr. McGill's background is in engineering and with back pain problem cases, elite or sedentary.  I imagine Taleb would arrogantly scoff at him for being simplistic.

This thread really gets to the heart of what training is all about.  It's just classic Hans Selye eustress/distress theory.  Personally I'm never going to get any lift that is notable or competitive, but I can go back to moving pianos if I need some cash.

Sorry to post so much, I'm just some random dude and really ought to  read some more.


Level 4 Valued Member

The crazy front squat into get-up video didn't work.  But this video is of a guy backsquatting 315 with tail-tucking.  I for one approve of his form.  I think he has great odds of getting through daily life without a herniation.  My form looked about the same, except with more upper-back rounding.  It's not a mobility issue, just leg & torso segments.

Boris clearly knows whereof he speaks.



Level 4 Valued Member
P.S.  one of my pet peeves is survivorship bias.  Just because me & the guy in the video can tail-tuck doesn't mean everybody can.  One more time, "it depends."

Derrick Blanton

Level 1 Valued Member
@Matt H:  The video that you link.  It's probably OK, but it's also probably not optimal.

I believe that the gentleman is tucking due to two primary reasons:

1.  He is squatting ATG with a low bar.  The low bar placement requires the hips to travel further back and the knees to travel less forwards.  The hips can only travel back so far before they have nowhere to go but under, taking the L-spine with it.

This is the primary reason that it is easier to squat to the floor with neutral spine during a FSQ, or OLY SQ, and virtually anatomically impossible with a low bar, barring some exceptional anthropometry.

2. Related to the above, he may lack T-spine extension strength.  The T-spine is often the first energy leak in a BSQ or DL, and since virtually nobody really bothers to train it directly with T-spine extensions, or upper back good mornings, it just lingers forever as a weak link.

So, if he gets bulletproof strong through the upper back, (which will require increased abdominal force to moderate the lumbar spine, and make sure the ROM is coming up top, and not from hyperlordosis), and if he moves the bar up to the upper trap shelf, above the scapular spine, then he can better verticalize the entire torso, top to bottom, throughout the entire movement.

Check out Candito Training HQ on YouTube, young man is a beast, and has a brilliant mind for biomechanics as well.

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