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Starting Strength in the Real World

Stance Width in the Squat

by Mark Rippetoe | December 10, 2019

effective squat stance width

An effective squat is a deep squat – hips just below parallel with the top of the patellas. You've all seen the diagrams, and everybody is familiar with the concept. What may be unclear is the effect an incorrect stance width has on depth.

The correct stance width facilitates correct depth. At a point just below parallel the entire hip musculature is in active contraction, producing a hip extension out of the bottom that is accentuated by your active drive of the hips upward. Therefore, the stance width that permits this position most effectively will be the stance width that allows the squat to involve the most muscle mass over the longest effective ROM (not ass-to-grass), permitting the heaviest weight to be lifted and thus producing the greatest increases in strength.

Too wide a stance tightens the adductors – the groin muscles – prematurely, before full depth is achieved. This prevents the rest of the hip musculature from getting recruited over its optimal ROM, thus preventing its full involvement in the squat. The wide-stance half-squats commonly observed in the suit-and-wraps recreational federations demonstrate this effect quite nicely. If your federation does not judge depth, go ahead and use a wide stance.

 extreme wide squat stance

Too narrow a stance causes problems in a different way, but they still relate to depth. If the feet, and as a result the thighs, are too close, the thighs jam into the belly at the bottom, “impinging,” as it were, the depth of the squat. It is quite often accompanied by lumbar flexion as depth is stretched for. This is not a problem for underweight people who lack a belly or thighs to slam together, people who don't care about depth, or people who are “doing quads” when they squat with their toes pointed straight forward. But proper involvement of the hips requires proper depth, and too narrow a stance can be almost as big a problem as too wide.

Correct stance width is usually predicted by heels at about the same width as the shoulders measured at the AC joint. A vertical line dropped from that point on the shoulder to the floor with the heel placed there, and then the 30-35 degree toe angle assumed after that stance width is set works the vast majority of the time. Some dysmorphic people with extra-wide shoulders or extra-wide hips will require adjustment from there, but there aren't many of those people.

Stance width is such an useful predictor of depth problems that if a “Knees out” cue doesn't produce depth, the next thing to do is always a stance-width adjustment. Most of the time it will be too wide, but bigger people cannot get depth with too narrow a stance, so keep both possibilities in mind.

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