How To Determine Your Optimal Squat Stance
Stance width is very individual, as our leg vs. torso lengths and hip anatomy all will determine what is going to be most optimal for each lifter. A lifter needs to find a stance that they can consistently hit depth based on their hip mobility, is pain free, creates the most efficient force production, and suits their individual leverages and mechanics. But there are a couple general rules that hold true, with the main being that we want our stance width to be a happy medium between our internal/external rotators. When this is achieved we should find that our knees track directly with our feet, we are able to maintain optimal foot pressure and position, and during the eccentric and concentric portion of the squat we do not see a bias in tracking inside or outside of this position (see the 4th video, (CLICK HERE), for a good example of what this should look like). The old school setup and cue though was to have a wide stance and drive the knees out as far as you can, and while that may have application within equipped lifting, there is downfalls in the application to raw athletes.
Both our internal and external rotators have a role in hip extension, and when we over-rely on one or the other we see an overcompensation to return to that happy medium. For instance we see Payton (CLICK HERE) in a wide stance with his knees driving far out versus a narrower stance. When he is overly wide and driving his knees out, his adductors are lengthening and being put in a less advantageous position to play their role in hip extension out of the hole. So what happens? As soon as he initiates the ascent we can see his femurs internally rotate so that the adductors in short can do their job. This isn’t a case of knee valgus, its a case of overly biasing towards hip abduction, and then having to compensate with the adductors when they are needed to be the primary mover of hip extension.
So how do we find this happy medium? For the most part it is a bit of experimentation, but looking at Payton’s video (CLICK HERE), the position his knees internally rotate to gives us a good idea of exactly where they need to be. If you scroll over to the second picture, you’ll see a breakdown of where he knees stacked vertically over, and then the outcome of that once he narrowed his stance to that position. Now even with the narrower stance he has some slight internal rotation of the left leg, but thats where it gets tricky and the issue actually lies more within his feet, which is another topic altogether. But the main thing you can see is now instead of both femurs internally rotating equally together, the right knee stays directly stacked over the foot and for the most part the left does as well. The sign that the wide stance was not optimal was that both legs internally rotated to the same degree. When we are seeing this, it’s typically telling us one of two things. Either our stance is too wide, or something is going on with our foot pressure that is creating internal rotation up the chain on both sides. We need to address both of these issues to see what is the cause, but if you find just simply bringing in your stance a bit changes that movement dramatically, this is probably your body telling you that anatomically your optimal stance should be narrower.
Scroll to the 3rd picture/video though (CLICK HERE) and we can see the opposite issue with Shane. He tends to bias towards a narrower stance and dramatically drives his knees out for two reasons. First, he needs room to be able to hit depth, so when he is too narrow he has to create room for depth my driving his knees out. The second reason is because he lacks the needed hip mobility/control and wants to greatly bias towards this narrow stance with high degrees of external rotation and abduction. Based on where his knees want to naturally track, you can see where his feet should be aligned, but he tends to find trouble with range of motion when he actually has his feet in that position. But he only has trouble finding that range of motion when he continues to bias back to a narrower stance. In the instances that he has been able to stick with the slightly wider stance, his body has adapted and started to feel more naturally comfortable in the position.
You might ask though if he just feels more comfortable narrow, why not continue letting him do what feels comfortable if it’s working? In his case, his squat is fine with that narrower stance, but his lower back is not. The extreme bias towards abduction tends to lead to extending the low back as well, which low back pain has been an on and off issue for Shane. If we can develop better adductor and pelvic control within his squat, we can reduce his over reliance of wanting to extend his lower back and anteriorly rotate his pelvis.