Squatting Specifically for Powerlifting
Picture this, you come from an Olympic lifting background in the early 2010s and decide to give powerlifting a shot. You are quickly criticized for your narrow “ass to grass” squat and are advised to widen your stance. Everyone keeps mentioning the reduced range of motion and seemingly increased power, but your hips hurt and you feel weaker. You’re probably wondering how a different stance impacted your squat so much.
Theoretically, what the other powerlifters mentioned about a wide squat should make sense. Well, let’s dive into what a correct stance width should look like for most powerlifters as well as the benefits and drawbacks of certain squat stances.
Guidelines for Finding Your Stance Width
Let’s get the basics out of the way. First, there is not one stance that fits all for powerlifting, and you don’t have to be a wide squatter. Secondly, whatever stance you decide to use should allow you to reach competition depth in which the hip of the crease is at or past (depending on the federation you plan to compete in) the top of the knee.
As long as you reach these standards, any stance will hold up in competition. But it is important to know that not every stance will allow you to move the most amount of weight as efficiently as possible.
Let’s start with the very narrow “Olympic style” squat. This squat stance has been popularized by weightlifters who have impeccable form and oftentimes massive squats. What most of these weightlifters also have is shorter femurs and very strong quads.
If you are built with short femurs and can get your quads to be very strong, you might have a lot of success with narrow stance squats. The major drawbacks with the narrow squat are the emphasis on the quads and the reliance on the bounce out of the bottom.
Even if you do have short femurs, you may find it awkward to maintain balance as you descend unless you have an equally short torso. The short torso will allow you to easily (easily is relative here….squatting heavy is never “easy”) maintain an upright torso angle while keeping the bar over your midfoot.
If you don’t have a short torso, you will be forced to hinge at the hips a bit to maintain the bar over the midfoot. This makes it harder on your back and shifts the limiting factor to your back strength instead of your legs. Now this is not to say that you can’t be strong in this particular position or build strength in it even if you don’t have the perfect build for it.
At the end of the day, the body adapts to repeated exposure to a movement pattern and will get stronger in that movement pattern. The question at hand here is not about being able to squat in certain positions but rather squat the most amount of weight possible within your anatomical limitations.
Let’s move on to the complete opposite side of the spectrum when it comes to squat stances. The super-wide “westside” squat. This squat was popularized by equipped lifters (most famously the Westside Barbell crew) all the way back to the early 90s. This stance is as wide as humanly possible and almost resembles the width of a sumo deadlift. Now, the main limitation of this stance is that most lifters can’t get to the depth with it. Unless you have some very very mobile hips you most likely won’t be able to either.
Lastly, let's look at the width in between the Olympic style and the Westside squat. This squat width is what most lifters use. The width of their stance is outside of their hip-width with a toe angle that their knees are able to follow. This means that the feet are pointed anywhere from straight forwards to outwards at about a 45-degree angle. This stance should allow all lifters to find comfortable squatting motion which they can reach competition depth with.
You may end up going a little wider than your hip-width or slightly more inwards as you tailor your squat to your own anatomy through trial and error. The main things to look for when tailoring your squat are 1. The ability to keep the bar over the midfoot as it descends 2. Make sure you can get to competition depth with this stance and 3. being able to replicate that particular motion pattern very often (as you’ll need this to build the necessary strength in it).
Find Your Fit
At the end of the day, squat width is highly individualized-but most lifters will find a slightly wider than hip-width squat will be suitable. If you are an outlier and can either squat super narrow or super wide, you should try it as long as you are able to reach the necessary competition standards and can lift the most amount of weight with that stance. Now I encourage every newer lifter to tinker with their squats with some of the information provided.