When is it better to squat wider?

Squats are a staple exercise for lower body strength and size building, but what stance is right for you? And when is it a good idea to squat wider? 

Wide stance squat benefits

Advantages of the wider stance squat include greater engagement of your hip musculature (glutes and hamstrings) as well as a shorter range of motion required to reach parallel.  Benefits also include a reduced need for ankle mobility, and less stress being placed on your knees.

Altogether, this means that most people can lift more with a wider stance squat.

What are wide stance squats good for?

Wide stance squats provide the best squat option for training hip musculature, studies have shown that the wide stance squat increases the hip moment across all three planes.

This means that wide stance squats recruit more glutes and hamstrings, and typically allow people to lift more weight.

What are narrow stance squats good for?

Narrow stance squats are a great exercise for lower body strength and muscle size.  Specifically, they are great at making the quadriceps do the most work.

Common uses include as a bodybuilding exercise for quad development, and as a powerlifting assistance exercise to train quad strength, improve ankle range of motion, reduce hip stress and potentially improve strength in the bottom position of the squat.

Are Wide squats better for glutes?

A wide stance or ‘sumo’ style squat will recruit and activate more glutes than a regular squat.  A wider stance also facilitates greater hip external rotation, which also activates more glute medius as well.  

With that said, if your main goal is to increase your glute strength and size, then I would highly recommend also adding some glute bridge or hip thrust type exercises into your training routine.

Are Wide squats better for knees?

The wider stance and greater hip emphasis takes stress off of the knees.  Moreover, the bottom position of a wide stance squat allows for vertical or close to vertical shins, which means less total range of motion and less total work for the knee joint.

However, just because something puts less stress on the joint doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for it.  Sometimes building strength through a full range of motion in a joint can be a key part of the recovery and injury prevention process.  If in doubt, talk to a qualified sports physiotherapist.

Are Wide squats easier?

Most people are stronger with wider stance squats as they increase hip musculature activation, reduce range of motion to reach parallel, require less ankle mobility and reduce the potential for lower back rounding at the bottom.  So in those ways, wider stance squats can be considered easier.

With that said, if you can lift more weight in a wide stance than you would in a regular stance squat,  then that extra weight will also add extra difficulty.  So it all pretty much evens out in the end.

How wide should legs be for squats?

Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart for regular stance squats.  For wide stance squats, most people should start with 1.5 times shoulder width and gradually increase the width over time as comfort allows.  These are just general guidelines though, so adjust as needed for you and your training.

How wide is too wide for squats?

Too wide a stance tightens your adductors (inner thigh muscles) too much and too early, which can prevent you from reaching a parallel squat position.

How wide is too wide for you will depend on your mobility and anatomy, but for most people 2 times shoulder width is around the top end.

Why are wide squats so hard?

Wide squats are hard if you lack strength in your hip musculature (glutes and hamstrings) or if you are really tight in your adductors (inner thigh muscles).

You may also struggle with wide stance squats if you are new to them as you still need more time to properly learn and refine the technique.

Summary – When should you squat wider

Taking a wider squat stance can help most people lift more weight by recruiting more hip musculature and reducing the range of motion required to reach parellel, so if lifting the most weight possible is your goal, consider squatting wider.

Wider stance squats also require less ankle mobility, place less stress on the knee joint, and reduce the likelihood of lower back rounding in the bottom position, so if you’re dealing with a minor knee or lower back injury, squatting wider may be useful, but check with a medical professional first.  

A drawback of using a wider stance is that your squat will use slightly less quads, making a wider stance less effective at developing quad strength and size.  Some people will also find that they cannot squat as wide as desired due to having tight adductors (inner thigh muscles).  So, if you want to focus on your quads, or you have tight adductors, then it’s best not to widen your stance.

If you would like to learn more to choose if you should use wide or narrow squats, check out our article wide stance squats vs narrow stance squats.

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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.