For most of my life I’ve performed conventional, narrow stance squats. Way back in the day, or 1986 for those of you keeping score at home, I stumbled upon a picture of Tom Platz performing deep, narrow stanced squats. His heels seemed only inches apart, and his hamstrings were resting upon his calves.
My life changed that day.
Up until that time, I had never squatted. I was your standard bodybuilder slash weight lifter – my workouts started with bench press, progressed to the incline bench press, then on to some lat pulldowns, leg presses, calf raises, tricep pushdowns, and finally – of course – bicep curls. This is pretty much the standard newb weight training template, more or less. Somewhere, deeply hidden in a secret recess of our DNA, there is a genetic predisposition to perform this routine.
So, from 1986 until 2007, I squatted with an ass to grass, heals close together style. I never had knee problems, nor knee tendinitis. Then something funny happened. I stumbled across a mountain of a man at my work – Butch – and he called himself a powerlifter.
Butch loved to squat. For days on end, we would exchange squat stories, squat routines, and talk about ignorant, squat-fearing people. It was an exclusive club, and we reserved the right to attack non-squatters. After all, a squat-lovers club had a right to defend it’s core principles.
Then one day, Butch and I began talking about squat form. I proudly revealed my ass to grass, close-healed capabilities. With the precision of an Army trainee after 6 weeks of boot camp, I snapped my heels into place approximately 9 inches apart, tightened my lower back and thrust my chest out, and sank into a squatting hole so deep that I swear Chinamen could see my plumber’s crack.
Butch was puzzled. That’s how you squat? My bubble burst – no, my bubble exploded. My mind raced, mentally scanning my form and trying to decipher what I did wrong. I could think of nothing.
Sensing my confusion, Butch snapped into his squat stance. With the heavy-footedness of a sumo wrestler, he lifted one leg, moved it outward, and placed his foot down with a solid confidence. His heels were so far apart that I could have driven my 1994 Geo Metro through them, without hitting his boys.
Butch then lowered his rump until his thighs were parallel to good old Mother Earth, and quickly stood erect. I didn’t know what to say. His approach to squatting seemed impossible – illogical. My mind was smoking – like Spock from Star Trek trying to comprehend the concept of love. I just didn’t get it. Butch must be insane.
But he wasn’t. And we talk and talked, and Butch explained the wide squat stance, the power of hip drive and hamstring involvement, and the strength of powerlifters who utilized this stance. He schooled me on the Westside Barbell approach to training, and I raced my little Metro home (50 MPG allthe way, meep! meep!), and spent weeks on end reading the writings of Louie Simmons and Dave Tate.
For the next 18 months, I approached the squat – and my training – differently. I didn’t specifically train in a powerlifting style 24/7/365, but my workouts would have looked foreign to the average bodybuilder. I cycled my routines and reps, but my training approach rarely digressed back to a cut and paste, bodybuilder routine. It involved wide stance good mornings, front squats, deadlift training, rack pulls, wide stance squats, wider stance squats, sumo deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts, and – of course – box squats.
I was dead set on strengthening my hammies and hips. And all went well, for a while. Around the beginning of the new year, 2009, I found myself experiencing slight knee/thigh tendinitis. Walking up stairs became a painful experience. I rededicated myself to studying proper squat form, and decided to use only box squats for a while to see if the pain went away.
So after 6 month of trying to cure my tendinitis, and after 2 years of wide stance squats, I decided to cross back over the fence and connect with my roots. I went completely crazy, and performed narrow stance squats. My tendinitis felt great, and squatting was much easier. My quads were sore for the first time in a looooong time, and I was once again motivated to build Platzian thighs.
I’m really not sure what caused the tendinitis. Maybe it was the wide stance training. Maybe it was just old age, or maybe it was simply wear and tear. Maybe it was a lack of variation – it may have helped to cycle wide and narrow stance squats.
In either case, I’m mentally home again. It’s just me and Tom Platz, squatting ass to grass, heel to heel style. There is a part of my soul that calls out for wide stance squats. After all, who desn’t want to push their body to the limits and see just how strong they can become.
I will never be a powerlifter, and somewhere Butch is shaking his head. But one day, either in this life or the next, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with Tom Platz and compare the power of narrow stance squats.