Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Squat Stance: Too Wide?

by Inna Koppel, SSC | April 23, 2019

too wide squat stance

When performed correctly, the squat is one of the safest and most useful exercises to build general strength. Unfortunately, it has had a reputation, acquired in association with improper form, for causing knee injuries. The Starting Strength method avoids these injuries by using a more horizontal back angle, placing most of the work on the abundant musculature of the hips and taking the stress off of the knees

A safe squat begins with an often overlooked fundamental step: determining your squat stance. Since everyone's anthropometry differs, their stances will differ as well, but this basic setup will allow for a good starting point.

  1. Take a stance with heels shoulder width apart
  2. Point your toes out approximately 30-35 degrees

Your stance will be determined by your hip width, hip ligament tightness, adductor flexibility, the length of your femur and tibia, knee alignment, and ankle flexibility. Starting with a shoulder-width stance and toes turned out 30-35 degrees is a good place to begin, and then making adjustments from there.

Stance width is critical because it directly influences knee position. Since we want a neutral relationship between the femur and tibia – neither valgus nor varus, with the femur and tibia flexing and extending parallel within the same plane so that no twisting occurs at the knee – we must assume a stance that facilitates this relationship at the bottom.

Pointing your toes out while lining up your knees with your toes is the best way to do this. Toes out/knees out allows the femurs to rotate away from the belly, clearing an area for depth to be achieved without causing an impingement between thigh and belly. Shoving your knees out in the direction of the toes engages all of the external rotators and adductors of the hip musculature while allowing for this optimal bottom position.

There are still other criteria to consider when we choose our stance for the squat:

  1. It must allow us to use the greatest amount of muscle mass,
  2. over the longest effective range of motion,
  3. so that we can lift the most weight

Too wide a stance can cause the adductors to reach their maximum length before reaching proper depth, where the other muscles in the posterior chain also reach the efficient limit of their extensibility: the hip crease just below the top of the knee. Muscles produce the most force when they contract from resting length. But muscles also produce more force just after they are stretched enough to produce a “stretch reflex” – a stretch-shortening cycle that recruits more motor units and helps the muscle belly to shorten back in the direction of resting length.

Adductors that have been stretched beyond their normal extensibility will not facilitate good depth, which is necessary to elicit a stretch reflex from the rest of the hip musculature. Not only does a wider stance make proper depth more difficult to achieve, it also lessens the amount of work the quads can do. Too wide a stance decreases the total amount of forward knee travel, making it harder to efficiently use the quads to extend the knees out of the bottom. 

For novice lifters whose goal is to become stronger, the proper stance is imperative to gaining strength safely while using the most muscle mass over the longest effective range of motion. You may see competitive powerlifters using a wide stance at the cost of this long range of motion, but that is not for us. We use that range of motion to engage more muscle mass even if that takes a few pounds off the bar. Too wide a stance does not help a strength trainee squat safely, and it defeats the purpose – if the purpose is strength.

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