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The Effect of Stance on the


Biomechanics and Muscular
Recruitment During the Barbell Back
Squat


The squat is a fundamental closed kinetic chain exercise that is inclusive in nearly all
strength and conditioning periodized programmes (Comfort & Kasim, 2007). An athletes
stance in the barbell back squat determines the muscular recruitment and movement
patterns during the lift (Braidot et al., 2007). The back squat is a compound movement,
with biomechanical and neuromuscular similarities relating to most sport movements. The
main muscles involved in the squat are bi-articulating muscles such as the hamstrings
(semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris) and the quadriceps muscle (rectus
femoris) (Savelberg & Meijer, 2003). But other mono-articular and synergist muscles have
important roles in the movement, for example the rest of the quadriceps group (vastus
lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius) which have a primary role in knee
extension (Hof, 2001). Squat stance can depend on the training purpose. Most power lifters
squat using a wide stance, as it allows them to increase hip displacement (Swinton et al.,
2012) and achieve depth with a greater load. But if an Olympic weightlifter was to squat
with a wide stance, the neurological patterning of their movements for the clean and jerk
and snatch would be compromised. Although varying squat stance widths and foot angles
are employed in training according to an athletes goals and preferences, the efficacy of one
stance over another is unclear.
Baechle and Earl (2008) break the squat down into three stances; narrow, medium and
wide; with each being normalised to feet position in relation to shoulder width. Narrow
stance is considered as your feet being less than 75% of your shoulder width, with wide
stance being considered as your feet being 120% of your shoulder width, and medium in
between the measurements for narrow and wide. Some literature only differentiate
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between narrow and wide, and dont include medium as a stance for the squat (McCaw &
Melrose, 1999; McKean et al., 2010).
The wide stance for squatting allows for greater posterior displacement of the hips, less
anterior tracking of the knee and decreased plantar flexion of the ankle (Escamilla, Fleisig,
Zheng, et al., 2001). Illiopsoas, sartorious and rectus femoris recruitment increases in the
wide stance and allows for greater hip flexion in the eccentric portion of the movement
(Hollman et al., 2012). An increase in abduction and lateral rotation from the thigh in the
descent is due to the tensor fasciae latae, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, which all
have a proximal attatchment at the illium(Nelson-Wong et al., 2008). Greater adductor
activation is show in the wide stance as an agonist in the ascent phase due to the medial
rotation and adduction of the thigh. Increased gluteus activation also occurs from the
gluteus maximus as it is a prime mover in hip extension, the concentric part of the squat
(Wislff et al., 2004). A greater displacement of the hip would require a greater amount of
hip extension, increasing the activation of the gluteus medius and minimus in flexion and
gluteus maximus in extension.
The narrow stance in the squat has common perceptions in literature to being associated
with body building due to the increased quadriceps activation (Stokvis, 2006). But Olympic
lifters use the narrow stance as a training tool as well, partially due to their neuromuscular
patterning through Olympic lifts (Kipp et al., 2010). Escamille et al. (2001) found that the
narrow stance squats does not produce greater knee extension angles than wide stance
squats, this means that quadriceps activation through knee extension isnt significantly
greater through a narrow stance.
Studies on squat stance vary in practicality and relevance, some studies (Fry et al., 2003;
Lander et al., 1986) were completed using 2d cameras and found that that while spinal
flexion and hip flexion and extension do occur in the sagittal plane, flexion and extension at
the knee and ankle only occur in the sagittal plane if the feet are pointing straight ahead. A
biomechanical study by Escamilla et al. (2001) wanted to investigate and compare joint and
segment angles and ankle, knee, and hip moments and moment arms in the barbell squat
with varying stance widths. 39 male powerlifters were recorded at a competition, their
movements were filmed during 1RM squatting with various stance widths using several
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cameras in order to create a 3D kinematic model. Escamilla et al. (2001) found that the wide
stance produced hip flexion increases between 611 more than narrow stance. They also
found that the upper leg was 712 more horizontal during wide squat. No significant
differences were noted in upper body and core positions. There was also a pattern for
increasing time spent in the acceleration phase in wider stance squats, which is an indicator
that wider stance squats could provide a greater ballistic training effect for strength
adaptations. The researchers found that the most significant differences occurred between
the narrow and wide stance groups. At 90 degrees of knee flexion, the hips of the wide
stance group flexed approximately 7 degrees more than in the narrow stance group, while
the shins were approximately 5 degrees more vertical, the thighs were approximately 12
degrees more horizontal, but the trunk was only 4 degrees more inclined. Escamille et al.
(2001) concluded that these changes occurred because the narrow stance squatters had
approximately 4-6 cm greater forward knee movement in the direction of the toes
compared with the wide stance squat.
Escamille et al.(2001) found that the different stance widths only produced different hip
extensor moments at 45 degrees of knee flexion, at which point the medium and wide
stance squats produced much greater hip extension moments than the narrow stance squat.
The study was limited by the specific demographic used as subjects. Non-powerlifters and
those of a low training age may display slightly different biomechanics as a result of learning
different form for the lift. Furthermore, the ability to compare this study to other studies is
limited as the loads used were the subjects 1RM, the kinetics and kinematics of the lifts may
differ significantly from other studies in which much lower loads were used. Also, because
the powerlifters did not all each perform the three different stance squats, it is not easy to
assess accurately whether the different stances led to relatively different hip, knee and
ankle angles, as the data may be affected by the strength of the lifters who selected each
stance width.
Strength and power athletes may achieve increased benefits from wider stance squats, due
to the increased acceleration of hip extension from a squat. The narrow squat stance allows
forward knee movement of 4-6cm more than the wide stance squatters. An assumption can
be made that a wide stance squat may help to reduce knee shear forces. But if you
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programme involves is tailored around Olympic lifts then changing the stance from narrow
to wide isnt as beneficial, and would not engage in a dynamic correspondence between
exercises. For those that are unsure, the difference in muscle activation is not significantly
different in either stance of squat from studies that have been produced so a deciding factor
is the comfort of the movement.
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