A good stance is the key to a good squat, but it can be a bit of a mystery to know how to exactly place your feet for optimal performance.
How far apart should feet be for squats? Your feet should be shoulder to slightly wider than shoulder width apart depending on your individual hip anatomy, how deep you need or want to go, what shoes you’re wearing, and what goal you’re trying to achieve with the squat.
Squat stance adjustment looks almost insignificant to the untrained eye, but even a 1 inch shift to the left or right can make things feel quite different at the bottom of the squat. Therefore, it’s important you find your sweet spot and train yourself to nail it every single time you squat.
In this article I’ll go through:
- Some rules to follow with choosing width
- When you may consider to bring your feet wider or narrower
- How to set up your stance
- Footwear considerations
- Squat variation considerations
- How your depth may be impacted.
Foot Width For Squats (4 Rules To Follow)
1. Start With Shoulder Width Apart
If you don’t know where to start, start with your feet shoulder width apart and then work your way outward, inch by inch. Squat down and assess how it feels. Did you break parallel? Did you feel both your glutes and quads working? Were you stable or did you feel like falling back or forward?
If the answer is no to most of those questions then move your feet out about an inch and reassess. Continue to do this until you feel like you’ve got a stance that maximizes your depth, muscle recruitment and stability.
If you’re struggling to balance regardless of stance, check out some more tips here: Losing Balance When Squatting: 10 Tips To Fix
2. Use Bodyweight
When testing out what stance to use, you should figure out either with just a bodyweight squat, by holding a light dumbbell or with just the empty barbell on your back.
You want to be able to do 10-20 reps, with small adjustments to your feet with ease and without any risk of injury.
An improper stance can cause IT band pain when squatting, which we discuss in our other article.
3. Keep Even Pressure on Feet
When squatting down and assessing if the stance width is appropriate, pay attention to your feet. You should feel like your body weight is over the middle of your foot with pressure being applied relatively evenly across the foot.
If the sides of your feet are rolling inward or outward as you squat down you will need to adjust your stance width.
4. Adjust Toe Position
If none of the stance widths fix your issues, you may need to point your toes outward. This is a common practice that is great for ankle mobility issues and can help activate your glutes better.
Read more about pointing your toes outward here: Should My Toes Be Pointed In or Out When Squatting?
When To Bring Your Feet Wider?
You may want to bring your feet wider if you have wider hips, want to target your glutes or if you struggle with ankle mobility as a powerlifter.
Some people, including myself, will struggle to reach depth in a narrow stance simply because of the way their hips are structured or just in what position their muscles tend to activate better.
In addition, a wider stance can help those with mobility issues in their ankles since the ankle doesn’t need to dorsiflex as much to reach depth in this stance. Therefore, if your heels are coming off the ground, you feel unstable or like you’re about to fall in the squat, try moving your feet out a few inches and see if you notice a difference.
A wider stance is much more common in powerlifting as it tends to produce more power and requires less mobility, but this may not be the case for everyone.
Check out some of these articles to help you decide if you should bring your feet wider:
- Can’t Feel Your Glutes While Squatting? Try These 9 Tips
- Are Wide Squats Better For Powerlifting?
- How To Fix Heel Rising During Squats (7 Tips)
When To Bring Your Feet Narrower?
You may want to bring your feet narrower if you have narrower hips, want to engage your quads more and/or remove stress from the hips.
Some international level powerlifters competitively squat with a very narrow stance simply because it suits their anatomy better and it is where they feel their strongest.
Narrow stance squats bring the focus from your hips to your quads which feels better for some individuals based on their unique structure. Therefore, if a wider stance feels like you aren’t using your muscles to their best ability, like it’s straining on your hips or inner thighs, or like it’s compromising your ability to reach depth, try bringing your feet in by a couple inches.
If you are someone who normally squats a bit wider you may want to bring your feet in from time to time as well. For example, in gyms where a leg press is not available and I want to work on my quads I have actually used heel-elevated, narrow-stance squats to get the job done.
Therefore, it can also be a strategy if you find you can’t feel your quads when you squat.
For more information on squats with a narrow stance, check out: Narrow Stance Squats: Pros, Cons, Should You Do It?
How To Set Up Your Stance In Squats
To set up your stance you should practice using the 3 step walkout to set your feet at the exact width and position you need them in.
The 3 step walkout involves the following:
- Drag step – initiated by dragging your non-dominant leg back while keeping your dominant foot engaged and grounded.
- Width step – taken with the dominant leg to decide however wide or narrow you wish your stance to be by placing the leg in line with the leg that took the initial drag step.
- Corrective step – can then be taken with the non-dominant leg to adjust the width if you missed the mark during the width step. This can be skipped, but it is your chance to adjust toe positioning, widen your stance or bring your foot closer.
Need more help with your walkout? Check out this article: Squat Walkout: 7 Common Mistakes Lifters Make
Does Footwear Impact Your Stance Width?
Yes, footwear can impact your stance width, particularly among those with mobility constraints.
When I am wearing my squat shoes I have a pretty medium-width stance, if I switch to flats I have to usually take my feet out by another inch and point my toes a smidge more. This is because I have relatively poor ankle mobility and the wider my feet go, the less demand on my ankles.
Therefore, if you switch your shoes and feel something is off, it probably is. Adjust your stance based on both your mobility level and footwear of choice. This is why it’s best to stay consistent with one pair of shoes when squatting.
Looking for more info on whether to squat in heels or flat? Check out:
- Heel or Flat Shoes While Squatting? (6 Things To Consider)
- Why Do Powerlifters Not Wear Shoes? (Barefoot Training)
- 5 Best Lifting Shoes For Beginners
Does The Type of Squat Impact Your Stance Width?
Yes, the type of squat can impact your stance width but it’s unlikely to be a dramatic difference.
- Low Bar Squats are most likely to be in a wider stance than other squat variations because of its position on your back and the stress it places on your hips. This is not true for everyone, but most often lifters will move their feet out a bit wider to load their hips better and produce more power out of the bottom.
- High Bar Squats and Front Squats more likely favour a more narrow stance than the low bar squat stance. It’s still likely wider than shoulder width for most people, but I personally find I can wiggle my feet inward by half an inch when doing both of these styles because it helps the torso stay more upright. If you have terrible ankle mobility and do not have squat shoes to make up for it, this may be why you don’t like these variations.
- Safety Squat Bar can go either way, but similarly to high bar and front squats you do need to keep your torso actively upright and so you may prefer a more narrow stance. However, SSB can be used to improve any chest falling within a wider stance and so for that reason you may want to do it with whatever stance you normally squat with and just challenge yourself to stay more upright.
Does Stance Width Impact Your Depth?
Yes, your stance width will impact your depth, but in different ways for different people.
While narrower squats are easiest for hitting very deep squats, this is under the major assumption that you have the ankle mobility to actually hit depth with such a stance.
A wider stance squat is easiest for hitting depth for those with mobility issues but can often limit how deep you actually can physically go and typically leaves you just a couple inches under parallel at best.
Depth will be one of the best markers or signals that your stance may need an adjustment. If whatever you are doing now is making hitting depth next to impossible, start with a stance adjustment and see if it fixes the problem for you.
For more info on depth, check out: How Low Should You Go For Powerlifting Squats?
Stance width will be very individual and can also vary depending on your goals or style of squat. Most people will squat somewhere between shoulder and hip width apart with some variation in the angle of their toes.
It’s up to you to assess the different stances and find one where you feel sturdy and strong throughout the ankle, knees and hips and then practice it until it becomes second nature.
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.