By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
If you’ve ever stepped inside a power rack or squat rack, you’ve likely tried a wider stance for your squats. If you haven’t, it’s truly a variation you should try from time to time. By taking a wide squat, you lower your center of gravity, permitting an easier balance of the bar across your traps. That’s especially true if you like a lower bar placement. In fact, those two characteristics — a wider stance and lower bar placement — are what the best squatters on the planet use to perform their heaviest lifts. You may have to turn your toes outward a little more than usual to avoid knee discomfort because you want your knee in line with your toes. With such a wide stance you probably won’t be able to keep your toes pointing straight ahead without sheer forces causing havoc on your knee joints.
With the front squat the bar rests an a shelf — if you will — that you’ve built with your front delts and arms. You’re not lifting the bar with your arms, but rather your arms are there to create a groove for the bar to rest on. With practice you’ll find the perfect, comfortable place for it. You also will be taking a much narrower stance, making balance a little more demanding. You have to press through the floor with your feet during each rep of the front squat because lifting with your shoulders and torso makes the movement much less effective.
Advantage: Front Squat
With all advantages the wide-stance squat provides, it pales in comparison to how effective the front squat is at targeting that much-desired outer quad sweep. Although both movements hit the quads, hams and glutes, the biomechanics of the front squat are what cause the shift to the vastus lateralis. Because the bar is in front of you, you’re forced to remain upright to a greater extent. That’s important to visualize because during a standard squat you kick your hips back and sit down in the hole, but during the front squat your hips remain virtually underneath you to keep the bar in place. Because of the narrow stance the energy that would otherwise be transferred more equally through the glutes and hams gets sent to the outer quads. So even though you may not be able to squat as much weight as you would in the wide-stance version, it’s a sweep for the front squat this month — the clear winner.