Wide stance squat vs narrow – which to choose?

Both wide and narrow stance squats are used within strength training, bodybuilding and powerlifting as methods of building muscular strength and size. But what are the main differences between the two lifts, and when should you use each one?  We’re going to answer exactly those questions.

Wide vs narrow squat

Wide stance squats recruit more hip musculature, activating more glutes and hamstrings, whereas narrow stance squats recruit more knee musculature, emphasising the quadriceps.

Joints worked and ranges of motion

JointWide Stance Squat ROMNarrow Stance Squat ROM
HipModerate to LargeModerate
KneeSmall to ModerateLarge
AnkleSmall to ModerateLarge

Muscles worked during wide stance squat

Wide stance squats hit every muscle group in your leg, but also add extra emphasis to your hip musculature such as your glutes and hamstrings.

  • Quadriceps: Prime movers during eccentric (downwards) and concentric (upwards) movements
  • Glutes: Active throughout the movement, especially at the top half
  • Hamstrings: Assist with the movement
  • Adductors: Stabilise and support, especially at the bottom position

Muscles worked during narrow stance squat

Narrow stance squats hit every muscle group in your leg, but primarily target your quadriceps, glutes and adductors

  • Quadriceps: Prime movers during eccentric (downwards) and concentric (upwards) movements
  • Glutes: Active throughout the movement and assist with top half
  • Hamstrings: Assist to a small degree with the movement
  • Adductors: Stabilise and support, especially at the bottom position

What is better wide or narrow squats?

A wider stance squat is better for recruiting hip musculature such as glutes and hamstrings, whereas a narrow stance squat is better for recruiting quads.  This has been confirmed through EMG studies showing greater glute activation in wide squats, but can also be confirmed simply by performing the two squat variations and paying attention to which muscles feel the most pump and disruption.

If you’re looking for well-rounded leg development, with a little extra glute and hamstring emphasis, use wide stance squats. If you would like to learn more on when is it better squat wider, check out our article on that topic.  On the other hand, if you’re looking to really emphasize quad development, use narrow stance squats.

*The extra hypertrophy stimulus for quads in the narrow bar squat comes not just from the range of motion, but also from the deep stretch under load, which is emerging as an independent mechanism of hypertrophy. (See Menno Henselman’s article for more detail).

Are narrow squats harder?

Yes, for most people narrow stance squats are harder, with the deepest portion of the squat making the quadriceps work the hardest.  Narrow squats also require a greater range of motion at the knee and ankle, so not only does the bar have to travel further, you also need fantastic mobility in these positions.

What are wide leg squats called?

Wide stance squats are also known as ‘sumo squats’ because the wide foot placement somewhat resembles a sumo wrestler’s starting stance.  The sumo squat stance is typically 1.3-1.5 times shoulder-width apart, with toes turned out.

Why do powerlifters squat so wide?

A wider squat stance of 1.3 to 1.5 times shoulder width will be stronger for most people, allowing them to lift more weight.  This is because the total range of motion the bar has to travel is reduced, whilst glute and hamstring muscles are able to offer more assistance to the lift.  The wide stance squat also requires less ankle mobility.  For powerlifters, maximal weight is all that matters, so the wide stance squat makes the most sense in most cases.

Summary – Which Squat to Choose

Wide stance squats and narrow stance squats work the same muscles, just with different relative proportions of muscle activation.  Wider stance squats recruit more glutes and hamstrings, whilst narrow stance squats recruit more quads (or rather, the quads do a greater percentage of the total work relative to other muscles) Here are recommendations of which squat to choose based on your goal:

  • For quad strength and size: Use narrow stance
  • For a more mixed quads/glutes/hamstrings strength and size: Use wide stance
  • For powerlifting (or maximal lifting): Use wide stance
  • For sports performance: Use either, or alternate between both.

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Alex Parry header image
Alex Parry
British Weightlifting Tutor & Educator at Character Strength & Conditioning | Website | + posts

Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.

He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.