Welcome! The purpose of this blog is to try and answer common questions I get as a powerlifting coach, physical therapist, and international sex symbol (just kidding, I’m still a physical therapy student finishing up my last clinical rotations). The main goal of my articles is to briefly inform you on the scientific evidence of a lifting question along with what my experience says and provide you an actionable takeaway to enhance your training
Haven’t You Heard?
You see it all the time, IG influencers and fitness gurus hyper extending their back because they want to avoid the dreaded “butt wink” and look like Donald Duck in the gym. To determine if this style is for you we need to look at the 4 reasons why one might squat in the first place in order to reach their goal;
1) Lifting all the weights so all the older dudes in the gym will be mirin’.
2) Getting jacked & tan so all the older dudes in the gym will be mirin’.
3) Becoming athletic in order for there to be carryover into their given sport so all the older dudes can tell you how they used to be able to throw a football over a mountain.
4) Staying healthy & having “toned” muscles” so you will be harassed by all the older dudes in the gym.
Intra-abdominal pressure and abdominal wall muscular function: Spinal unloading mechanism (Stokes et al. 2010)
What Did They Do Man?
The research nerds looked at a biomechanical model of the spine and its musculature and looked at the roles of how doing the Valsalva Maneuver (holding your breath) can affect spinal stabilization when lifting.
Dude, What Happened?
They found that greater intra-abdominal pressure (ie: Valsalva Maneuver) reduced the spinal compression force with 60 Newton meters (basically 44 lbs, I had to Google it) with the sum of that effort being 21% reduction for trunk extensor muscles, 18% for flexor muscles, 29% for lateral bending muscles, and 31% for rotational muscles.
Why The FAQ Should I Care?
The authors conclude that increasing intra-abdominal pressure has significant spinal unloading effect for all planes of movement for the spine. So, what does this have to do with the original thot squat question? Initially very little because honestly I had a hard time finding research that looked at the influence pelvic positioning had on strength and increased chances of injury which is crazy because in physical therapy school they always harped on how dangerous it is to squat with a butt wink but fail to provide evidence in living subjects, but I’ll write about that in another article. If our goal is to maximize intra-abdominal pressure to lift more weight (Tayasaki 2019), we need to look at the length-tension relationship with anticipatory core musculature (diaphragm, pelvic floor, multifidi, and transverse abdominis), we want to be able to brace and do the Valsalva maneuver when all the musculature are at their resting length with the pelvis slightly posteriorly rotated to get a small benefit of the elastic properties of posterior muscles and thoracolumbar fascia for passive force along with as well. Resting length for a muscle tends to be the strongest position so going into an anterior pelvic tilt (Donald Duck position) puts the anterior muscles in the lengthened position and the back muscles in the shortened position.
Muscle Length-Tension Relationship
To lift maximal weights, the contribution of all possible force of the muscles to overcome the weight on the bar, there cannot be any kinetic chain power leakage. This is analogous with trying to play billiards with a limp rope instead of a stick. I can give you another example of an activity where limpness can lead to extreme disappointment, but this is a family friendly article.
What Does Other Research Say?
There are two other reasons why it may be beneficial to start the squat with a slightly posteriorly tilted pelvis. A lot of people are familiar with Stuart McGill’s research (Tampier 2007) on increased disc herniations with a combination of flexion with load and although this study was performed on pig cadavers, this information can still be beneficial to keep in mind to minimize the amount of lumbar flexion when performing lifts. According to another study (McKean 2007), the lumbar flexes an average of 13 and 25 degrees for women and men respectively regardless of how neutral the spine might look at the bottom of the squat. If a lifter adds an additional 20 degrees with hyperextension, the amount of spinal movement increases. An additional reason there will be more lumbar flexion in adjunct to the reasons given above is the increase in femoral acetabular flexion demand (fancy ass French words for hip bending) at the start of the squat as it forces the lifter to increase flexion of their low back to get proper depth of the hip crease below the top of the knee which is important for powerlifters that want to obtain three white lights. Of course, the magnitude of this would be dependent on the lifter’s detrimental deep squat variables like of deep hip sockets, retroverted acetabulum, and coxa valga femoral neck (but we will save this for another article).
The Actionable Take Away
-Before you descend in the squat:
- Take a big breath and hold it.
- Squeeze your glutes like you are trying to break a walnut between your ass cheeks.
- Flex your six pack muscles.
- along with bracing your midsection muscles circumferentially (think about expanding wide)
- Lock this torso positioning and tightness through the whole squat.
-Squatting heavy will help with achieving any of the 4 goals
The literature mentioned in this article are just a few of the vast majority on the given topic and methods the researchers use. There is no “scientifically proven” way to perfectly squat but that’s the whole point of science, it’s not about “proving” anything but gathering enough evidence to tentatively come up with the best explanation to weigh the pros and cons of the reasons why we do things in the gym. Please feel free to ask any questions or comments below and also ask any physical therapy/powerlifting/programming questions that you want answered in the next blog down in the comment box below.
McKean MR, Dunn PK, Burkett BJ. The lumbar and sacrum movement pattern during the back squat exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2731-41. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e2e166. Erratum in: J Strength Cond Res. 2012 May;26(5):1454. PMID: 20885195.
Stokes IA, Gardner-Morse MG, Henry SM. Intra-abdominal pressure and abdominal wall muscular function: Spinal unloading mechanism. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2010 Nov;25(9):859-66. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2010.06.018. Epub 2010 Jul 23. PMID: 20655636
Tampier C, Drake JD, Callaghan JP, McGill SM. Progressive disc herniation: an investigation of the mechanism using radiologic, histochemical, and microscopic dissection techniques on a porcine model. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2007 Dec 1;32(25):2869-74. doi:
Tayashiki K, Mizuno F, Kanehisa H, Miyamoto N. Causal effect of intra-abdominal pressure on maximal voluntary isometric hip extension torque. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2018 Jan;118(1):93-99. doi: 10.1007/s00421-017-3748-0. Epub 2017 Oct 30. PMID: 29085998.