Since Chuck Vogelpohl from Louie Simmons’ Westside Barbell started smashing world records using a wide stance, many have tried to emulate his super wide foot spacing and shortened range of motion, but only a few have succeeded. Now that people like John Meadows and his training protegé Dave Tate are bringing powerlifting methods to the bodybuilding masses, the discussion has opened up again and everyone seems to want to squat wide.
This article is not set out to persuade or dissuade you from widening your stance: it is a discussion of the issues that you need to consider before you throw your feet out of the side of a monolift.
Monolift (quote from ElitFTS): This specially designed squat stand allows for optimal squat training by taking the walkout out of the lift. You un-rack the weight while your training partner pulls the lever that moves the rack hooks forward. The hydraulic lift and lever support stands adjust for all heights and hand positions.
The Change to Wide Stance Squats
Flexibility. Are you able to hit depth with your wider stance? I have various excuses for my own pitiful hip flexibility which range from a lot of cycling as a child (somewhat true) to overdeveloped hip flexors (completely fictional). The fact of the matter remains though that even after 6 months of consistent stretching and soft tissue work, my hips are so tight that I can’t hit depth past about 2″ above parallel.
Mechanics. Do you understand the mechanics of a wide stance squat and do you know how to box squat? As you move your stance out you will become less stable. This is partly due to your new stance but as you start your descent you will likely notice that your posterior chain is weak and cannot hold you as you sit back. This is why box squatting is so important.
Box squats allow you to do two things: firstly they allow you to maintain a vertical shin angle or perhaps even past vertical. This allows you to really overload the posterior chain which now needs to take the place of your quads as the primary movers in your squats. Secondly, as you pause on the box, it teaches you to use that posterior chain to pull yourself up.
Whereas before you would simply push with your quads, now you are pulling with your glutes and hamstrings whilst keeping your upper back tight to maintain an upright posture.
Limb Length. If you push your stance out, do your knees still track over your feet? Throughout the squatting motion your knees should track over your feet and not inside. If your limbs aren’t long enough to accommodate your new stance width, they’ll come inside and best case scenario you lose power and stability. Worst case scenario and that instability leads to injuries.
Upper Body Angle. Can you stay upright whilst sitting back? Have you developed the strength in your mid and upper back to be able to stop from turning your squat into a Good Morning as you come out of the bottom of the squat.
Training Gear. Last thing to take into account is lifting gear. Squat suits, briefs, single ply, multi ply, there is a plethora of choices out there. Without getting into too much detail this gear allows you to squat more weight provided you can load the suit.
To load the suit you must keep your upper body upright, sit back, spread the floor, push your knees out, sound familiar? That’s right: the gear (especially multi-ply) works better if you squat wide as it loads (stretches) the suit more and gives you more pop out of the bottom.
To change to a wide stance squat you will need to do more work than just setting your feet wider. You must work on mobility, posterior chain strength and technique. You must also be ready to have a great coach or training partner to teach you OR you must video your lifts (side and front angles if possible). The forums at www.muscleandbrawn.com have many experienced lifters who can help you make the transition should you wish to.
Ultimately squatting wide will help your narrow stance anyway so you can do both BUT you must squat wide with correct technique as per Louie’s video above, you can’t just let your quads do all of the work and expect the same results. All of Louie’s Westside guys use multi-ply lifting gear.
As for whether his wide stance style works as well for raw lifters is a matter of much debate. I don’t know if it is better or worse for raw lifters but here’s footage of Chris Duffin squatting 700lbs with 300lbs of chains. That’s world record weight at the bottom. Check out his stance width and add your thoughts and comments on here or in the forum.