The conventional squat involves placing the feet at shoulder width and performing the entire range of motion at a consistent pace. Advanced training, however, would show that a wide-stance squat is a better variation of the conventional squat.
The wide-stance squat is a more efficient squat variation as it is safer and easier in terms of mechanics than the conventional squat. It involves placing the feet at ~150% shoulder-width which makes the vertical movements shallower while providing similar muscle activation to a conventional squat.
Performing Wide-Stance Squats
The squat is one of the best compound exercises along with the bench press and deadlift. Specifically, squats activate the posterior chain or the entire back section of the body; The core muscles are also activated as stabilizers.
A conventional squat is performed at shoulder width. Conventional squats engage more of the quadricep femoris muscles than other muscles in the posterior chain of the body due to the wider distance required to perform the squatting motion.
However, wide-stance squats position the feet at 150% shoulder-width distance; Meaning, the feet are planted wider than shoulder-width. This stance is commonly used by powerlifters.
Wide-stance squats promote greater activation of the posterior muscles through greater movement of the hips, lesser activation of the ankles, and greater activation of the adductor muscles. Essentially, wide-stance squats change the movement of the body and the transfer of movement among the bones of the body.
The degree of the width of the stance is determined by anthropometric measurements because stance width can affect knee position which is a result of the relationship between the tibia and femur. These anthropometric measurements include hip-width, adductor flex, femur and tibia length, ankle flex, and hip ligament tightness.
For some people, their bone structure and anatomy make performing wide squats difficult. This is because the acetabulum, or the pelvic socket, and femoral head, or the ball on the femur that connects to the pelvic joint, conflict when performing wide-stance squats.
Wide-stance squats, however, can provide diminishing returns as the stance-width increase. An ultra-wide squat can provide an unstable foundation for the exercise and cause forward motion. This can cause tightness in the hip joint as well as valgus knees or collapsing knees. Furthermore, it can cause the adductor muscles to stretch beyond their capacity as the lifter attempts to reach the required squat depth.
Determining the optimal squat width when performing wide-stance squats requires flaring the feet outwards one small step at a time and squatting 10 repetitions. The most comfortable position that is greater than shoulder-width is the best wide-stance squat position to use.
Benefits of Wide-Stance Squats
Unlike conventional squats, wide-stance squats provide greater benefits on muscle and strength development. Conventional squats require greater vertical motion to achieve the bottom-end of the movement. This puts significant stress on the knees and can also cause patellar tendon strain or tendonitis.
Wide-stance squats have better performance transfer to specific sports such as powerlifting and weightlifting. It also has greater applicability to normal day-to-day activities.
Wide-stance squats are considered safer as they promote a shallower vertical shin movement as well as narrower ankle flexion and range of motion. It also promotes a more stable hip joint throughout the exercise and allows it to handle more stress. Thus, it is not only safer but also easier to reach the required squat depth.
Wide-stance squats also reduce the incidence of posterior pelvic tilt or butt wink. Posterior pelvic tilt occurs when the pelvic bone tilts beyond parallel as the lifter achieves the bottom-end of the exercise. For many lifters, this inhibits going back to the upright position in a fluid motion since the pelvis and the lumbar spine must overcome the tilt before going back to the parallel position. Heavy occurrence of butt wink can lead to lower back injury due to significant amounts of pressure.
Furthermore, wide-stance squats also activate more muscle groups which are essential for reaching muscle hypertrophy. It also generates up to 35% more power when compared with conventional squats. This is beneficial for athletes looking to build muscle and strength at a consistent pace.
Muscle Activation When Performing Wide Stance Squats
While wide-stance squats promote the use of a lesser amount of force compared with conventional squats, the overall amount of work to the muscles is increased significantly. This means that the wide-stance squat is a more efficient form of squat as well as being safer and easier to perform.
Wide-stance squats promote greater activation of the hips and hamstrings as well as the glutes and adductor magnus through greater hamstring stretch as the lifter achieves the bottom end of the movement.
Some would say that the wide-stance squat engages lesser quadricep femoris muscles through the lesser engagement of the knees. However, research has shown that there is no significant decrease in quad activation(1), but there is an increase in glute activation(2).
Wide-stance and conventional squats have similar muscle activation sequences but with greater engagement of the glutes in the former. As such, many athletes, especially in powerlifting, choose to perform wide-stance squats to counter glute weakness and quad dominance in their regular training.
Lesser knee engagement in wide-stance squats prevents the occurrence of valgus compression. Also, the lifter can perform the Valsalva maneuver to build trunk stability and further reduce knee tension.
It also enhances the use of the hip muscles through wider hip extension. It engages the multidirectional joints of the hips through more comprehensive movements and greater hip abduction and adduction as well as greater femur rotation.
The wide-stance squat is often used today for advanced training among fitness professionals like powerlifters and weightlifters. Its safety and performance benefits make it a better alternative than conventional squats, which carries risks of injury on the spine and knees. It provides a similar muscle activation sequence as conventional squats but with more efficient use of force and transfer of energy.