Squat Stance Secrets: Can You Go Too Wide? Finding the Perfect Foot Placement

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The squat is typically viewed as the King of Lower Body Exercises.

Therefore, regardless of your physique goals, it makes sense to squat.

However, there is often much confusion as to exactly how far apart your feet should be.

Plus, I know that many people worry that their squat stance may actually be too wide.

So, allow me to explain what you need to know.

Yes, your squat stance can definitely be too wide. However, this will largely depend on factors like your anatomy, muscular strengths and weaknesses, and joint mobility. That being said, there are certain cues that will tell you whether your feet are too far apart when you squat. These include, feeling a tightness in the hips, knees collapsing inwards, falling onto the insides of your feet, and swaying forwards or backwards.

Your Anatomy Determines the Width of Your Squat Stance

Glowing Meurons in the Human Body

The most common form cue for squats is that you’ll typically want your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width.

Plus, you’ll also want your toes to be pointing out slightly.

However, in truth, this is simply a starting point, and should really only be used as a test.

The reason I say this is that we’re not all built exactly the same.

Therefore, what appears to be a perfect squat stance for one person could be terrible for another.

So, whilst I agree with the “slightly wider than shoulder stance”, you may need to make adjustments based on your anatomy.

The most obvious of these is how wide your hips are.

So, someone with fairly wide hips will be able to squat more efficiently with a slightly wider stance.

Whereas, someone with narrow hips will be better off with a narrower stance.

The best way to test what will work for you is to start with the slightly wider than shoulder stance and perform a bodyweight squat.

You can actually also do this with an empty barbell.

Now, as you squat down you’ll want to go past parallel without falling forwards or backwards, plus you should feel the movement in both your quads and glutes.

If this isn’t the case then you can shift your feet slightly wider until you find your sweet spot.

How to Tell if Your Stance is Too Wide

A Woman in a Wide Squat with a Wooden Mobility Stick Across Her Shoulders

Now, there are of course certain ways to tell if your feet are too far apart, as your body will have to compensate in some way.

Okay, I’ve mentioned that a wider stance will be required for those who have wider hips.

Plus, it is best used by those who have mobility issues.

Basically, the wider your stance, the less depth you’ll be able to achieve with your squat.

So, ankle mobility isn’t so much of an issue with a wider stance.

That being said, the first thing you’ll feel if you’ve gone too wide (even for someone with very wide hips) is a tightness in the hips.

Next, if you notice that your knees are collapsing inwards you would be better off using a slightly narrower stance.

The exact same can be said if you find that you are falling onto the insides of your feet as you lower yourself.

And finally, if you find yourself swaying forwards and backwards your squat stance is too wide.

So, if any of this rings true for you it’s time to use a slightly narrower stance.

How to Tell if You Stance is Too Narrow

You can of course have a squat stance that is too narrow.

Once more, this is typically decided by the width of your hips, although a narrower stance will generally mean that you have much better ankle mobility.

However, that’s not to say that you can’t go too narrow.

One of the most obvious cues that you’re using a stance that is too narrow is that your lower back rounds as you lower yourself.

Admittedly, this is a cause for concern for many of us, so this may also point to a lack of hip mobility.

Furthermore, if you find that you can’t activate your glutes when you squat, it’s likely that your feet are too close together.

Finally, if you seem to be falling onto your toes as you lower yourself, once more your squat will be more effective with a wider stance.

Reasons to Use a Wide Squat Stance

I will say that it’s not completely cut-and-dry when it comes to the width of your stance.

And this also takes into consideration the width of your hips.

However, there may be occasions when you’ll want to spread your feet further.

I’ve already mentioned mobility issues, and a wider stance will mean that you won’t require as much depth in your squats.

So, if you’re someone that has ankle mobility issues then going wider will definitely help.

However, you’ll need to ensure that your feet remain turned outwards 15-30 degrees.

There is a tendency to turn the feet even further outwards when you use a wider stance to squat.

But, this can lead to some of the problems I’ve mentioned above, especially in terms of your knees collapsing inwards.

I will also say that the further your feet are apart the more your adductors will be stretched.

And many people do feel adductor soreness when they squat, although they typically mistake this for their hamstrings.

Reasons to Use a Narrow Squat Stance

Doug Hepburn: "Narrow, deep squats are the king of leg exercises. Your legs should feel like steel pillars."

Just as you may wish to widen your squat stance for a variety of reasons, the same can be said for narrowing it.

In fact, a narrower squat stance appears to be becoming much more popular in the modern day and age.

And this is even true amongst competitive lifters.

Firstly, the narrower your stance, the further you can typically go below parallel.

So, if ankle mobility is an issue, you’ll definitely want to avoid having your feet too close together.

With that being said, a narrower stance certainly takes a great deal of stress off the hips.

Therefore, if hip mobility is an issue for you, try to squat with your feet closer together.

Plus, the closer your feet are together, the more you’ll activate the quads.

So, if your aim is to truly work on quad development, a narrow stance is what you should be doing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Ideal Squat Stance For Different Body Types?

Fred Hatfield, "Dr. Squat": "The perfect squat stance is the one that allows you to squat safely and effectively with good form. Experiment and find what works best for you."

As I’ve mentioned, there’s no single “ideal” squat stance for everyone. 

Your body type, including limb length, torso length, and hip/ankle mobility, all play a role in finding the perfect foot placement for a safe and effective squat. 

I’ve alluded to some of this above, but now I want to go into more detail.

Here’s a breakdown of some body types and potential approaches to stance:

Long Femurs, Short Torso

Pros of a wider stance: This allows for proper knee tracking and reaching full depth without excessive torso lean. A stance around 1.5x shoulder-width or even wider might be comfortable.

Cons of a narrow stance: Can lead to excessive forward lean and potential stress on the hamstrings and lower back.

Tips: Focus on keeping your knees tracking out over your toes and maintaining a neutral spine. Experiment with foot angle (15-30 degrees outwards) to find the sweet spot.

Short Femurs, Long Torso

Pros of a narrower stance: This avoids excess hip flexion and keeps the torso upright, reducing lower back strain. A shoulder-width stance or slightly narrower might work well.

Cons of a wider stance: Can restrict depth and potentially cause knee tracking issues if mobility is limited.

Tips: Focus on pushing your hips back and sitting down, rather than squatting down. Maintain a neutral spine and avoid excessive forward lean.

Limited Ankle Mobility

Mark Rippetoe: "If you can't squat with your feet at least shoulder-width apart, you have ankle mobility problems that need to be addressed."

Pros of a narrower stance: Allows for better weight distribution on the foot and minimizes ankle discomfort.

Cons of a wider stance: Can cause ankles to roll inwards, putting stress on the joint.

Tips: Use squat wedges or elevate your heels slightly to improve ankle engagement in a narrower stance. Focus on maintaining heel contact throughout the squat.

Beginner Squatter

Pros of a wider stance: Provides more stability and balance, making it easier to learn proper form.

Cons of a wider stance: Can mask mobility limitations and potentially lead to poor form later on.

Tips: Start with a wider stance to build confidence and then gradually narrow it as mobility and form improve. Use a wall or squat rack for balance cues if needed.

General Tips for Finding Your Ideal Stance

  • Experiment with different stance widths and foot angles to find what feels comfortable and allows you to reach full depth with proper form.
  • Listen to your body and avoid any stance that causes pain or discomfort.
  • Prioritize proper form over weight. It’s better to use lighter weights with good form than compromise form for heavier weights.
  • Remember, the “ideal” stance is ultimately the one that allows you to squat safely and effectively with optimal muscle engagement.
  • Don’t get caught up in chasing specific measurements, focus on finding what works best for your individual body and build upon that foundation.

Bonus Tip: Video record yourself squatting from different angles to analyze your form and identify any imbalances or areas for improvement.

Should Your Knees Go Over Your Toes in a Squat?

Believe it or not, there is no clear cut “yes or no” answer about “knees over/past toes” when you squat.

 It depends on several factors like your individual anatomy, mobility, and training goals.

Here’s a breakdown to help you understand the complexities.

Traditional Advice

Classically, you’ve probably heard the cue “don’t let your knees go past your toes” during squats. 

This guideline stemmed from concerns about excessive knee stress and potential for injury.

Modern Understanding

However, recent research and biomechanical analysis paint a different picture. 

Studies show that as long as your knees track directly over your feet, not collapsing inwards or flaring outwards excessively, a slight forward knee shift during squats is perfectly acceptable, and even beneficial in certain cases:

Deeper Squats: For individuals with good ankle mobility, allowing a slight forward knee translation can help achieve deeper squats, engaging more muscle groups and maximizing training benefits.

Hip Mobility Limitations: Some people naturally have limited hip mobility, making it difficult to reach full depth without some knee movement. In such cases, a controlled forward shift can facilitate a deeper squat while maintaining knee safety.

Important Caveats

However, it’s crucial to remember these caveats.

Excessive Knee Motion: While some forward knee movement is okay, excessively pushing your knees beyond your toes puts undue stress on the patellar tendon and knee joint, increasing injury risk. A good rule of thumb is to keep your knees within a 15-20 degree range in front of your toes.

Individual Mobility: Pay attention to your own body. If you experience any pain or discomfort in your knees while squatting with forward knee movement, stop immediately and adjust your stance.

Tips for “Knees Past Toes” Squats

Experiment with different foot placements: Start with a shoulder-width stance and slightly angled feet (15-30 degrees outwards). Gradually try narrowing or widening your stance and observe how your knees track and if you can maintain full depth with proper form.

Listen to your body: Stop if you feel any pain or discomfort when squatting. Prioritize safe and comfortable form over pushing your knees beyond their comfortable range.

Ultimately, the key takeaway is to individualize your squat stance based on your own body mechanics and training goals. 

Don’t blindly follow rigid rules, focus on finding a stance that allows you to squat safely, comfortably, and effectively with optimal muscle engagement.

Remember, your knees should track over your feet, not past your comfort zone!

How to Fix Squat Butt Wink?

Kelly Starrett: "Don't demonize butt wink. Understand why it happens and address the underlying limitations through mobility and core work."

Squat butt wink, the excessive rounding of the lower back at the bottom of the squat, can be frustrating and potentially lead to injury if left unaddressed. 

But, there are ways to fix it! Here’s a breakdown of potential causes and effective solutions:

Causes of Squat Butt Wink

  • Limited Ankle Mobility: If your ankles lack mobility, it can restrict your ability to reach full depth in a squat, forcing your lower back to compensate by rounding.
  • Weak Core Muscles: A weak core can’t adequately support your spine during the squat, leading to butt wink as your torso collapses forward.
  • Tight Hip Flexors: Tightness in the hip flexors can pull your pelvis forward, causing a posterior pelvic tilt and exacerbating butt wink.
  • Structural Factors: In some cases, anatomical differences like deep hip sockets or limited hip mobility can contribute to butt wink, but these might require different strategies to address.

Solutions for Fixing Squat Butt Wink

Firstly, you need to work on improving ankle mobility

  • Static stretches: Hold ankle dorsiflexion stretches for at least 30 seconds. Foam rolling your calves and shins can also help.
  • Dynamic stretches: Ankle circles, lunges with foot elevated on a box, and ankle alphabet drills can improve mobility and coordination.
  • Next, work on strengthening your core.
  • Plank variations: Traditional planks, side planks, and anti-rotation presses engage various core muscles to improve overall stability.
  • Dead bugs: This exercise strengthens your deep core muscles, critical for maintaining a neutral spine during the squat.

Then, work on stretching and releasing tight hip flexors.

Yoga poses: Pigeon pose, crescent lunge, and downward-facing dog with calf raises can lengthen and release tight hip flexors.

Self-massage: Foam rolling and lacrosse ball releases on your hip flexors can improve tightness and range of motion.

Finally, you need to refine your squat form.

  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. Experiment with different stances to find what feels most stable and allows you to reach full depth without butt wink.
  • Maintain a neutral spine: Focus on engaging your core and keeping your back straight throughout the squat, avoiding any rounding.
  • Push your hips back and sit down, rather than simply squatting down with your knees.
  • Use a wall or squat rack for balance cues: This can help you maintain proper form while practicing your squat.
  • Don’t go too deep: Squat to a depth where you can maintain good form. Pushing past your comfortable range can trigger butt wink.

These are the main factors you should concentrate on, but here’s some additional tips.

  • Film yourself squatting: This can help you identify any form issues that might be contributing to butt wink.
  • Start with bodyweight squats: Once you’ve mastered proper form, gradually add weight.
  • Focus on quality over quantity: It’s better to do fewer squats with good form than many with incorrect form.
  • Be patient: Improving mobility and form takes time and consistency. Don’t get discouraged and keep practicing!

Remember, fixing squat butt wink is about more than just aesthetics. It’s about protecting your lower back and optimizing your squat performance. 

By addressing the underlying causes and putting in the work, you can achieve a safe and effective squat that takes your training to the next level.

Final Thoughts

So, I hope you understand that your squat stance can definitely be too wide.

You’ll generally notice this if you feel a tightness in your hips, plus your knees or feet collapse inwards, or if you sway back and forth.

With that being said, there are times that you may wish to use a slighter wider stance.

This is especially true if you have ankle mobility issues and you wish to activate the glutes more.

Then again, if you have hip mobility issues and you wish to activate the quads more then you should opt for a narrower squat stance.

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