Narrow Stance Squat Guide

How Foot Placement Affects Squat Mechanics & Muscle Activation

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: February 21, 2023

The debate about squat stance width has raged for decades. And this seemingly minor adjustment can majorly affect body mechanics and lifting performance.

New research suggests that there may be some exciting benefits to the narrow stance squat. So you are probably wondering if you should use a close stance.

In this article, you’ll learn what a narrow squat is. And how foot position impacts your range of motion, muscle activation, and strength.

Narrow Stance Squat

What Is a Narrow Stance Squat?

Generally, a squat stance is measured relative to the width of your shoulders. For example, the traditional squat stance has your feet about shoulder-width apart.

By comparison, a narrow stance squat is where your feet are less than shoulder-width apart. Often, this puts your feet directly under your hips, also called a hip-width stance.

Finally, a wide stance is where your feet are more than shoulder-width apart. And in many cases, this stance is roughly twice as wide as the narrow stance.

Since the average person’s shoulders are 14-16 inches wide, a wide stance would put your feet 18 inches or more apart. Whereas a narrow stance would be more like 12 inches or less.

Table 1. Squat Stance Widths

Squat Stance Width
Narrow Hip-Width (9-12″)
Medium Shoulder-Width (12-18″)
Wide More Than Shoulder-Width (18-24″)

Another common stance variable is the angle of your feet. And the default foot angle is straight ahead or 0 degrees of rotation.

Narrow stance squats typically involve lower 0 to 20-degree foot angles. In contrast, wider stance squats generally use a larger foot angle of 20 to 45 degrees.

Narrow Squat Stance Width

How to Do a Narrow Stance Squat

Start by centering the barbell comfortably on your upper traps and shoulders. Then lift the bar off the squat rack and step back.

Next, position your feet with your ankles directly below your hips. And make sure your toes are pointed straight ahead or slightly outward.

Now push your hips back and bend at the knees to lower weight while maintaining a relatively straight back. As your thighs approach 90 degrees to the floor, extend your knees and drive your hips forward to raise the weight back to the starting position.

While you perform the squat, keeping your knees directly in line with your ankles is advisable. In other words, try not to let your knees angle too far inward or outward.

Wide Stance vs Narrow Stance Squats

A small change in the squat setup can significantly impact your range of motion and how much weight you can lift in the exercise.

So let’s examine the body movement, range of motion, muscles worked, and strength for narrow compared to wide stance squats.

I’ll cover each area in detail in the sections below. Or you can get the overview by watching this 1-minute video.

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Wide vs Narrow Stance Squat Movement

The main difference between wide and narrow stance squats is how your body moves during the exercise, also called body kinematics.

With narrow squats, your body moves more in the longitudinal or sagittal plane. Movements in this plane involve more front-to-back motion, like knee flexion and extension.

By comparison, wide stance squats involve more transverse (axial) and frontal (coronal) plane movement. That is side-to-side motions like hip abduction and rotation about the joints.

In addition, going too wide is more likely to cause your knees to rotate inward during the squat. While going too narrow results in unwanted outward rotation.

Therefore, it’s not a good idea to go to extremes in either direction for both stance width and foot angle.

Wide vs Narrow Stance Squat Mobility

Wide vs Narrow Stance Squat Range of Motion

The movement planes involved in wide and narrow squats are also evident in the ranges of motion. For example, the narrow stance squat generally results in a deeper squat than the wide stance.

Therefore, you can potentially increase the range of motion on the squat by utilizing a closer stance. But how deep you can go also depends on your mobility and flexibility.

Wide vs Narrow Stance Squat Joint Angles

The differences in the range of motion between squat stances also change how your joints bend. To understand the contrasts, we can measure the angles of your back, hips, knees, and ankles at the bottom of a squat.

Narrow squats result in more bending (flexion) of the knees and ankles. On the other hand, wide squats create more outward rotation of the hip and greater hip abduction.

Interestingly, the torso angle was not significantly different between stance widths. Table 2 shows actual joint angles measured during different squat stances as measured during a kinematic study.

Table 2. Wide vs Narrow Stance Squat Angles

Stance Width Torso Angle Hip Angle Knee Angle Ankle Angle Hip Rotation
Narrow 46.7 111.0 126.4 106.0 7.2
Wide 46.0 110.4 119.3 98.6 15.7

Wide vs Narrow Stance Squat Muscles Worked

Since the angle of your torso is about the same with both stances, the spinal erector muscles of the lower back activate similarly.

However, the deeper knee bend of narrow stance squats results in more quadriceps activation during the exercise. Most notably in the vastus lateralis, or the outer sweep of the quad.

In addition, the increased ankle bend means narrow squats recruit more of the calf muscles called the gastrocnemius and soleus.

Conversely, the hip rotation involved in wide stance squats recruits more gluteus maximus. At the same time, wide squats use less quads and calves.

Narrow Squat Stance Muscles Worked

The data above comes from a study that measured normalized myoelectric activity of various muscle groups during wide and narrow squats. And it’s cool to be able to see quantifiable results for which muscles get worked.

Moreover, these numbers make sense when combined with the joint angle measurements. Plus, you can verify these results in the real world.

To illustrate, I took some side-by-side stills for wide stance and narrow stance squats. Then I overlayed bright green lines to show you the joint angles.

Finally, you can test this yourself by trying both squat stances and seeing where you feel it in your muscles.

Close Stance Squat vs Wide Stance
Narrow Squat Quad Activation
Wide vs Narrow Squat Stance

Wide vs Narrow Stance Squat Strength

This study also showed that both men and women were generally able to lift more weight with the narrow stance squat compared to the wide stance—an interesting result since many powerlifters use relatively wide stances.

Specifically, men could squat 6-7% more for their three-rep maximum (3RM) using the narrow stance. And women squatted 8-9% more with the narrow squat vs the wide squat.

Narrow Squat Stance Strength

Narrow Stance Squat Pros & Cons

Based on the images and data presented so far, it’s evident that there are some clear benefits to using the narrow stance squat over the wide stance.

For example, a narrow squat generally has favorable body mechanics that can result in higher maximum loads. And the increased range of motion is generally better for muscle growth.

In addition, the narrow squat stance results in superior quadriceps activation vs the wide stance. So you could include close stance squats in your program to focus more on building your quads.

However, the higher degree of knee joint flexion could be painful for those with existing knee problems. And people with limited ankle flexibility may be unable to perform the full range of motion with a narrow stance.

Finally, narrow stance squats don’t engage the glutes as much. So you may want to stick with a wider stance on glute-focused leg days.

Pros

  • Greater squat depth
  • More quad activation
  • Less rotational force on knees and hips
  • Potentially more strength

Cons

  • Requires more ankle mobility
  • Not as much glute activation
  • Not ideal for bad knees

Narrow Stance Squat FAQ

By now, I should have answered most of your questions about narrow stance squats. But I thought it would be good to answer some specific questions people commonly ask.

Is a narrow squat stance better?

The narrow squat stance is superior to a wide stance for targeting the quads. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better in every way.

For instance, the wide stance squat results in significantly more glute activation.

Is a close stance squat harder?

A close or narrow stance squat may seem harder to some people. The reason is that it requires more flexibility in your knees and ankles.

In addition, a closer stance shifts the load to your quads. So if that’s a relatively weak muscle group, you may feel narrow squats are more difficult.

Which squat stance is strongest?

Some studies suggest that most people should be able to lift more weight with a narrow stance squat compared to a wide stance.

However, your maximum squat weight also depends on your body proportions, lifting experience, and barbell placement.

Which squat stance is best for hypertrophy?

Narrow stance squats may be best for hypertrophy because they work most muscle groups through a more extensive range of motion than wide stance squats.

Still, wide squats are likely better suited to muscle growth related to the gluteus maximus.

Should I squat close or wide stance?

The correct squat stance width depends on your mobility and fitness goals.

For example, narrow stance squats are good for strength and hypertrophy if you can adequately perform the full range of motion.

On the other hand, you should consider wide stance squats if you have limited mobility or are trying to build and strengthen your glutes.

High Bar vs Low Bar Squat

Another critical factor in setting up your squat is bar placement. The two standard options are a high bar or low bar squats.

As with foot placement, the barbell’s position on your back can significantly affect kinematics and power output. So check out my article on high bar vs low bar squats!

High Bar vs Low Bar Squat Mechanics

More Squat Information

If you found this information helpful, I think you’ll also learn a lot from some of my other squat-related articles. Here is some additional reading that I’ve hand-picked for you:

Bulgarian Split Squat for Quads vs Glutes

Tom Platz’s Legendary Leg Workout

Do Squats Count As Cardio?

7 Benefits of Box Squats

Best Smith Machine Squat Variations

Leg Press vs Squat Muscle Activation

Leg Press Foot Placement for Quads vs Glutes/Hams

With this information, you’re well on your way to building bigger quads and a stronger squat. If you’re ready to change gears, here are some additional resources for other fitness-related topics.

How to Develop a Growth Mindset

A growth mindset can be the difference between getting better or staying the same. Learn simple steps to change your mindset and get results!

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By |February 21, 2023|Workouts|0 Comments
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