Narrow stance squats are commonly performed variations of squats among powerlifters, weightlifters and bodybuilders to bring up weaknesses and develop leg muscle size.
What is a narrow stance squat? A narrow stance squat or close stance squat is a back squat performed with feet at around shoulder-width apart or even narrower. The feet should generally point forward in line with knees. Narrow stance squats target primarily the quadriceps, glutes, and adductors.
In this article, I will be providing an ultimate guide to everything you need to know about using narrow stance squats in your training routine regardless of what your training goal is. I will be discussing the pros and cons with this squatting variation and help you understand whether you should use it within your routine.
Narrow Stance Squats: What is it?
Narrow stance squats are a very common squatting variation performed for the purpose of developing leg muscle and strength.
Narrow stance squats are normally performed with the bar on the back as a back squat.
Due to less movement through the nature of squatting with a narrow stance, it means there is less demand for your thighs to abduct (move outwards to the side) and more demand for your ankles to dorsi-flex (shins moving forward over your feet).
Narrow stance squats should be performed as deep as possible but as comfortable as possible without compromising a neutral spine. Check out my guide on how to squat deeper if you struggle with depth.
In order for you to make the most of a narrow stance squat, it requires that you have enough ankle and hip mobility so that you can squat to parallel or deeper whilst maintaining a neutral spine.
If you don’t have adequate ankle mobility in a narrow stance squat, your heels will likely lift from the floor. If this happens, you’ll want to consider wearing a heeled squat shoe to reduce the angle of your ankle when squatting.
Because the stance is narrower, most individuals will find that their range of motion increases. This is advantageous for everyone including bodybuilders, strength athletes, or general gym goers who are seeking to maximize muscle building.
Training muscle groups through a larger range of motion and longer muscle lengths is desirable in gaining muscle.
Check out my article on Are Wide Stance Squats Better For Powerlifting?
Muscles Worked In The Narrow Stance Squat
The narrow stance squat is primarily a lower-body strength exercise.
Let’s discuss what muscles are engaged during the squat and how they are used during a narrow stance.
The narrow stance squat is an exercise that primarily involves extension through the hips and the knees.
These primary muscles used in the narrow stance squat are the:
- Gluteus Maximus
- Adductor Magnus
The primary knee extensors are the quadriceps. At the lowest portion of the narrow stance squat, the quadriceps have been shown to work the hardest.
The deeper you can squat and the more you allow your knees to travel, the more your quads will work in the exercise execution.
The highest activation occurs during the ascent of the narrow stance squat execution.
Narrow stance quads can make the quads sorer than wide stance squats. Check out my article on Quads Sore After Squats: Is This Good Or Bad?
Gluteus Maximus and Adductor Magnus
The primary hip extensors gluteus maximus and adductor magnus in the narrow stance squat.
The gluteus maximus and adductor magnus both contribute to extending the hip and different portions of the squat. During deeper portions of the squat, the adductor contributes the most to extending the hips. As you come up above parallel, the glute muscles take over to finish off the extension of the hips to lock out.
If your legs are shaking in the squat, it could be because you took a stance that was TOO narrow. Learn more in my article on Why Do My Legs Shake When I Squat?
Other secondary muscles that assist and stabilize the execution of the narrow stance squat are:
- Hamstrings – these muscles behind the thighs help stabilize the hips and knees. They help stop your pelvis from going into too much of an anterior tilt during execution
- Obliques and Abdominals – these trunk muscles assist to stabilise the spine by stopping them from overextending and create intra-abdominal pressure.
- Gastrocnemius, Soleus and Tibialis Anterior – these shin muscles help stabilize the centre of gravity by stopping the person from shifting too much onto the front or rear of the foot.
- Spinal Erectors, Quadratus Lumborum, and Multifidus – these muscles run along the centre of the back by the spine and keep the spine extended
- Latissimus Dorsi and Trapezius – these large back muscles help keep the shoulder blades pinched back and down as well as assist in keeping the back extended
Learn more about the narrow stance squat in my article on Is The Narrow Squat Harder?
5 Benefits Of The Narrow Stance Squat
There are 5 benefits to squatting in a narrow stance:
1. It’s an increased range of motion
Assuming that you can achieve similar depth to regular squats, performing a narrow stance squat means that you are able to achieve an overall large range of motion in the exercise.
Bodybuilders, strength athletes or general gym goers may choose to include a narrow stance squat in the pursuit of increasing how hard their muscles need to work.
Training exercises through a larger range of motion has been shown in scientific research to be beneficial for muscle building when compared to partial range in lower body exercises.
Olympic Weightlifters tend to squat in a narrower stance compared with Powerlifters — click to check out 7 other differences between these two types of athletes.
2. It’s less stress on the hip joint and surrounding musculature.
Whether it is for the purpose of bodybuilding or general strength, you may choose to use a narrow stance in order to put less stress on the hip joint and glute musculature.
Squatting wider may train your adductors in a longer muscle length and glutes more and you may not want that if you are overtraining those areas.
As discussed in my other article, sometimes using a narrow stance can prevent you from getting tailbone pain in the squat.
3. It can help improve squat strength from the bottom of the squat
You’ll be training your quadriceps through a longer range of motion, which will enhance the bottom of your squat.
This may be beneficial for a powerlifter who is weak at the bottom of the squat as that is when quadriceps have to work hardest.
In the situation where the quadriceps are the limiting factor, you can use a narrow stance squat to help alleviate this weak point.
If you squat in a wide stance, you can use a narrow stance squat as a “special method”, which I detail in my article on 10 Special Exercises To Improve Your Powerlifting Movements.
4. It can help fix a good morning style squat
If a powerlifter or anyone else finds themselves unintentionally squatting with a good morning style squat, they can potentially use narrow stance squats if they can squat deeper than usual.
By allowing the knees to travel forward slightly more than usual and deeper, you can push the knees forward and maintain a more upright posture..
Over time this can help you load the quads and knees more and move away from the good morning style execution.
For more information about good morning squats, read this article!
5. It can help minimize hip shifts and asymmetries
Squatting wider can place more emphasis on the hip muscles such as the glutes.
If you have asymmetries in hip musculature then wide stance squats can emphasize the asymmetries which can lead to injuries over time.
People with hip asymmetries tend to load one hip more than another during squatting and shift their pelvis to one side.
Using a narrow stance squat can help minimize presentations on hip asymmetries whilst implementing other exercises that can help correct the muscle asymmetries.
Squatting in a narrower stance has been shown to fix “duck feet”, which I mentioned in my article on How To Squat With Duck Feet.
How To Do A Narrow Stance Squat
Performing the Narrow Stance Squat
There are 4 steps to performing the narrow stance squat:
Step #1: Barbell Set Up
First, you want to set up the barbell on a squat/power rack so that the barbell is about armpit or just under armpit level
Step #2: Gripping the Barbell
The grip on the barbell will vary from individuals based on one’s own level of mobility and limb lengths. As a rule of thumb, you want the grip to be as narrow as possible but as comfortable as possible to maximize tightness with the barbell on the upper back.
Step #3: Walking the Barbell Out
Start off with feet hip-width apart under the bar as you bring yourself under the bar to put your back to the bar.
You can either have a low bar or high bar position on your back. Check out my article on where you should put the barbell on your back while squatting.
When you walk out take one foot directly back, then hold momentarily then take the other foot directly back. Ideally, after the two steps, you want to finish the squat walkout with your feet exactly in the position you want to squat in.
Step #4: Executing the Narrow Stance Squat
You want to keep the bar and center of gravity over midfoot. Keep your legs straight and posture neutral before you take a deep breath in through your nose and brace.
You should break at the hips and knees and squat as low as you can ideally to hip crease below parallel. You may squat lower than breaking parallel if you are still able to maintain a stacked torso where you keep that neutral spine.
Once you reach the desired depth, stand straight back up until your hips and knees are fully locked out simultaneously. Exhale upon completion of the repetition.
Then repeat the process for the next repetitions.
Interested in learning more about your deadlift stance? Read my article on How To Pick The Best Deadlift Stance For Your Size & Build.
How to Program Narrow Stance Squats
For muscle-building goals
Here is a sample narrow stance squat program you can use for building muscle:
4×7 @ 60% of 1RM
1×7 @ 62% of 1RM
3×7 @ 60% of 1RM
2×7 @ 62% of 1RM
2×7 @ 60% of 1RM
3×7 @ 62% of 1RM
1×7 @60% of 1RM
4×7 @62% of 1RM
For strength goals
Here is a sample narrow stance squat program you can use for building strength:
3×4 @ 75% of 1RM
4×4 @ 75% of 1RM
5×4 @ 75% of 1RM
6×3 @ 77.5% of 1RM
5×3 @ 80% of 1RM
Narrow Stance Squats: Frequently Asked Questions
Who Should Do A Narrow Stance Squat?
People can use the narrow stance squat for the following reasons: (2) if you don’t have access to machine weights and want a variation to grow leg muscles, (2) those with pre-existing hip joint issues who struggle to squat in a wider or even regular stance, (3) those whose morphology does not allow them to squat in a wider stance, and (4), those with previous adductor injuries who want to reduce the muscle length that the adductors move through.
Who Should Not Do A Narrow Stance Squat?
Those who cannot maintain a neutral spine during a narrow stance squat.
Why might this happen? Having poor hip mobility and ankle mobility may lead to the lower back to round when attempting to squat to a certain depth. As well, those who have pre-existing knee injuries who find squatting narrow irritates the knees more as the knees may or may not travel further forward than usual.
Do I Need To Elevate My Heels To Do Narrow Stance Squats?
You may need to elevate your heels either by putting your heels on small plates or wearing weightlifting shoes that have a heel in them. This is especially the case for those who have poor ankles mobility or tight calves.
How Should My Feet Point In A Narrow Stance Squat?
You want the feet to be in line with the knees or thighs. For narrow stance squats, this may be from 0 to 20 degrees from forward.
Why Is The Narrow Stance Squat Harder Than My Regular Squat?
The most common reason is that you’re squatting through a larger range of motion meaning you are doing more mechanical work per rep. Also, it may be simply because you are not used to the movement of a narrow stance squat. All exercise variations are skills, and skills can improve when practiced. There are many individuals who tend to squat more with a narrow stance squat than a regular width squat.
Are Narrow Stance Squat Safe If The Knees Go Past Their Toes?
No, there are no inherent problems with letting the knees go in front of your toes for healthy individuals. Allowing for knees to travel more forward does put more stress on the knees but so long as the training loads are suited to your abilities, this is not dangerous. So long as individuals do not have pre-existing knee pain or knee injuries, they are fine to squat with a narrow stance and let their knees go forward.
How Else Can I Perform A Narrow Stance Squat?
There are other variations you can perform as an alternative to a narrow stance back squat. You could perform a narrow stance squat with the bar in the crooks of your elbows. This is also known as a zercher squat. You could perform a narrow stance squat with a kettlebell in your hands. This is also known as a goblet squat. And finally, you could also perform a narrow stance squat with the bar on the front of your shoulders in a front squat position.
Narrow stance squats are really useful variations to have in anyone’s training routine. They can add a lot of variations and be used to maximize muscle growing potential during squats regardless of your goals.
They also are used as a variation for people who have previously injured certain aspects of their lower body. They can also be adopted as your main squat variation if you are someone who has shorter legs or generally find this variation as a stronger one.
Escamilla RF, Fleisig GS, Lowry TM, Barrentine SW, Andrews JR. A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of the squat during varying stance widths. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jun
Swinton PA, Lloyd R, Keogh JW, Agouris I, Stewart AD. A biomechanical comparison of the traditional squat, powerlifting squat, and box squat. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jul
Paoli A, Marcolin G, Petrone N. The effect of stance width on the electromyographical activity of eight superficial thigh muscles during back squat with different bar loads. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan
Escamilla RF, Fleisig GS, Zheng N, Lander JE, Barrentine SW, Andrews JR, Bergemann BW, Moorman CT 3rd. Effects of technique variations on knee biomechanics during the squat and leg press. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Sep
McCaw ST, Melrose DR. Stance width and bar load effects on leg muscle activity during the parallel squat. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Mar
Vigotsky, Andrew & Bryanton, Megan. (2016). Relative Muscle Contributions to Net Joint Moments in the Barbell Back Squat.
Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J. Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: A systematic review. SAGE Open Med. 2020 Jan
Fry AC, Chadwick Smith J, & Schilling BK. Effect of knee position on hip and knee torques during the barbell squat. JSCR. 2003; 17(4): 629-633
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com