Tip: Find Your Ideal Squat Stance

Most powerlifters are better off with a wide stance, but you have to use what's right for your body. Here's your guide.

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Squatting technique is a tricky topic because there are many different styles that can work. For example, I advocate a wide stance, but that doesn't mean it's the ideal style for every lifter. So your first order of business is to figure out the best stance for your anthropometry, injury history, and goals.

Here are some criteria:

  • If you have shoulder issues, choose a medium to wide grip.
  • If you have a short back, choose a medium to wide stance.
  • If you have a long torso, choose a medium stance (the longer the torso, the closer the stance).
  • If you have long legs and a long back, choose a close to medium stance.
  • If you have long legs and a short back, congratulations. You can squat any way you want.

If you're using supportive gear, obviously a wider stance is best as the gear supports the hips. The reason I like the wide squat so much is efficiency. It shortens the distance the bar has to travel to reach depth, important for powerlifting.

A Good Squat

Next, you have to do the right shit. A good squat should look like this:

Wide Squat

  • Tight (From hands on the bar to feet on the floor.)
  • Back arched
  • Chest up
  • Elbows under bar
  • Upper back tight
  • Belly full of air. Breathe into you belly, not your chest. Look in the mirror – does your chest rise when you take a breath? If so, learn to pull that air into your belly. The reason is, if you pull air into your chest, what happens when you breathe out? Your chest falls and the bar drifts forward.
  • Grab the bar as close as possible without aggravating the biceps or shoulders.
  • Load the hips first (hip hinge) and then break at the knees. This increases glute and hamstring involvement.
  • Knees tracking in line with the angles.

Above all, be mindful of the path of the barbell. When viewed from the side, the barbell should drop straight down and come straight back up, like you'd dropped a plumb line. This can occur with any stance and depends 100% on how the lifter is built. So if you're unsure whether your stance is right for you, start there.

However, it's very hard to go from a close stance to a wide stance. It can take upwards of two years to relearn the movement and develop the flexibility, especially if the lifter is very tight. Many lifters will crap out and just return to their original stance, and I don't blame them. But if the plumb line test reveals they should be squatting wider, they'll never reach their potential if they don't change their ways.

Keep a close eye on your knees. Some forward movement is okay (with a medium stance you can't avoid it), but it should never exceed mid-foot and your knees should never drift in, unless you want to blow an ACL or quad tendon.

Also, remember that when your knee moves forward it lengthens the distance to hit parallel. The most extreme example of this is a sissy squat – at the bottom position your knees are almost on the floor. You're low as hell but not even close to parallel. So what you give up with forward knee movement you have to make up with strength, or your technique trade-off is hurting your squat more than helping it.

Don't get me wrong, I like the close stance, Olympic-style squat. I think it's a great looking squat, and I know a lot of very strong men who squat that way. Here's the thing – the guys that it works for, it works because it's the right squat for them! That said, the majority of powerlifters would be far stronger if they went wider.

Dave Tate is the founder and CEO of Elitefts and the author of Under The Bar. Dave has been involved in powerlifting for over three decades as a coach, consultant and business owner. He has logged more than 10,000 hours coaching professional, elite, and novice athletes, as well as professional strength coaches. Follow Dave Tate on Facebook