Narrow stance squats are a variation of the traditional back squat. As the name suggests, narrow stance squats are performed with a narrower than shoulder-width stance. While squats are the king of leg exercises, the more variations you have in your journal, the better.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand how to perform narrow stance squats, how to avoid the most common narrow stance squat errors, how to program narrow stance squats for different goals, and you’ll know several narrow stance squat variations to keep your training fresh.
I will cover:
- How to perform narrow stance squats
- Common errors with narrow stance squats
- Narrow stance vs wide stance squats
- Specific muscles targets with narrow stance squats
- The benefits of narrow stance squats
- Programming narrow stance squats
- Narrow stance squat variations
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Video: Narrow Stance Squats Demonstration
How to Perform Narrow Stance Squats
Narrow stance squats can be performed with your bodyweight, dumbbells, kettlebells, or any type of barbell held in the front squat or back squat position. For these instructions, we are going to focus on the narrow stance back squat.
Step 1: Place a barbell in a squat or power rack, with the bar set about armpit height.
Step 2: Grip the barbell with an overhand (pronated) grip as narrow as your mobility and proportions will allow. The more narrow your grip the tighter your upper back muscles will be, and a narrow grip makes it easier to keep your elbows in line with the barbell and not extended behind you.
Setup Tip: Start by trying to grip the barbell one thumb’s length away from the outside of your shoulder. This is a good grip width for most people.
Step 3: Duck under the barbell and place it comfortably on your upper traps. Bring both of your feet forward so that they are hip-width apart directly beneath the barbell.
Setup Tip: Choose a higher bar position rather than a lower bar position for narrow stance squats. A higher bar is going to help maintain a more upright torso, which helps make this a more quad-dominant squat.
Step 4: Brace your core by taking a deep breath and expanding your entire midsection (think about pushing against all 360-degrees of a weightlifting belt). Extend your knees and hips to raise the barbell off the j-hooks of your squat cage.
Step 5: Take a medium-sized step back with one leg, followed by the other so that you are clear of your squat cage’s j-hooks and pillars. Take a hip-width or narrower stance, with your feet pointed straight ahead.
Form Tip: At this point your hips and knees should be in line with your shoulders, your back straight, your head neutral, and your weight distributed evenly over your entire foot.
Step 6: Take a deep breath and brace your core.
Step 7: Initiate the movement by bending your knees and pushing your hips back simultaneously, lowering your torso and barbell until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Your knees, hips, and chest all lower at exactly the same rate, and make sure your knees stay in line with your toes. Your back should remain as vertical as possible during this squat.
Movement Tip: The bar should travel in a straight path, centered over your midfoot. Keep your chest up, shoulders back, and spine neutral throughout the entire range of motion. Do not let your knees collapse inward or toward each other.
How low should you squat? As deep as you can without sacrificing your neutral spine. You want to avoid the dreaded “butt wink.”
Step 8: Once you reach your desired depth, drive your feet against the ground and extend your hips and knees to return to the starting position. Exhale during this phase of the lift.
Movement Tip: Picture a triangle being drawn between the tip of your head and your shoulder blades. Drive that triangle into the barbell as your very first motion out of the bottom of the squat. Your knees, hips, and chest need to rise at the same rate. Picturing the triangle can help.
Step 8: Repeat for your desired number of repetitions.
Common Errors With Narrow Stance Squats
Take your time when learning close stance squats, and pay attention to the following common errors.
Loss of Neutral Spine
One of the most common errors people make when performing narrow stance squats is not maintaining a neutral spine throughout the entire range of motion.
Remember to keep your chest up and shoulders back, with your head in a neutral position at all times. Do not let your lower back round or your knees collapse inward.
No Squatting Deep Enough
Another common error is not squatting deep enough. You want your thighs to be at least parallel to the floor in order for this exercise to be effective. If you cannot achieve this depth, try using a box or bench to help you gauge your range of motion.
Lighten the load if necessary and focus on your ankle, knee, and hip mobility so that you can get the most out of this squat variation.
Narrow Stance Squats Vs. Wide Stance Squats
There are three basic squat stances: regular, narrow, and wide.
The regular stance squat is typically performed with your feet set shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly out.
The narrow stance squat is any foot placement narrower than your regular squat stance. Hip-width apart is a great place to start, and some will even go as far as having their feet completely touching! With this style of squat, the toes are pointed almost completely straight ahead.
The wide stance squat is anything wider than your regular stance. The further out your set your feet, the further out you want to point your toes. This allows your hips to externally rotate as your legs abduct away from your midline, preventing your knees from collapsing inward.
Try taking a wide stance and pointing your toes straight ahead. Your knees follow your toes, so you’ll notice immediately that your knees are collapsed inward before you even start a squat.
The following are typically true of wide stance and narrow stance squats:
- narrow stance squats allow you to squat deeper
- wide stance squats allow you to handle the most weight
- narrow stance squats allow for more dorsiflexion of the ankle (knees over toes)
- wide stance squats target the medial thigh adductors more
- narrow stance squats allow for a more vertical torso
- narrow stance squats can help people with long legs target the quads more, especially if you elevate your heels
- narrow stance squats target the lateral thigh abductors more
So, what is your ideal squat stance? It depends on your goals.
If you want to squat deeper, then a narrow stance is likely going to be best for you.
If you’re looking to move some serious weight, then a wider squat is probably your answer. As always, give each style of squat a try and see what works best
Muscles Worked With Narrow Stance Squats
The narrow stance squat is a compound exercise, so several muscles and joints work together. But the following are the main muscles targeted by close stance squats.
The quads are the primary muscle group targeted by close stance squats. The quadriceps are made up of four muscles: the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Their purpose is to extend your knees or straighten your legs.
The deeper you squat with a narrow stance the more stretch you will get on the quads. The more stretch you get, the more mTOR you will activate and muscle damage you will cause, leading to increased protein synthesis and growth.
The hamstrings are located on the back of your thighs and include the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus muscles. Their primary function is to flex the knee. During the close stance squat, they help stabilize the hips and knees and prevent an anterior pelvic tilt.
They are a biarticular muscle, meaning they cross both the hip and knee joints. When you squat, the hamstrings extend at the hip but flex at the knee, which makes squats ineffective as a primary hamstring builder. But they are targeted to some extent.
The glutes are a group of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. The primary function of the glutes is to extend and rotate your hips.
The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your body and makes up a large portion of your butt. Close stance squats tend to allow you to maintain a more vertical torso with less hip flexion. This decreases, but doesn’t eliminate, the amount of stretch on the glutes, and therefore how much they are targeted.
Abductors and Adductors
The abductors are the muscles on the outside of your hips that allow you to move your legs away from the midline of your body (abduct). The adductors are the muscles on the inside of your hips that allow you to bring your legs toward the midline of your body (adduct).
These muscle groups work together to stabilize your hips and knees when squatting but are not as active during close stance squats as they are when squatting with a wider stance.
Abdominals and Core
The core muscles include the rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and erector spinae. These muscles work to stabilize your spine and pelvis during the squat and are definitely active during a close stance squat.
Because your base is much less prominent when squatting with a narrow stance, your core has to work harder to help stabilize your body and maintain balance.
The spinal erectors are a group of muscles that extends along your spine from your sacrum to your skull. They work to stabilize and extend your spine. The quadratus lumborum is a muscle that runs along each side of your lower back and helps stabilize and rotate your pelvis.
The multifidus is a deep layer muscle that also helps stabilize your spine. All of these muscles are important for maintaining a neutral spine and good posture when squatting and are active during narrow stance squats.
Benefits of Narrow Stance Squats
Why should you choose the narrow stance squat over the traditional, wider stance? Check out some of these benefits.
Great for Quad Hypertrophy
If you’re looking to specifically target your quads for growth, then narrow stance squats are a great choice. The narrower the stance doesn’t necessarily isolate the quads, but they do emphasize them by increasing how much they are stretched during the eccentric phase of the lift.
The greater the stretch on your quads, the more mTOR activation and muscle damage. These increase protein synthesis, leading to bigger, stronger quads.
Close stance squats can also cause growth through metabolic pathways. You will be typically weaker with a narrower stance than with a wide one, causing you to use less weight and higher reps.
This combination of higher reps and moderate to light weight results in more time under tension for your quads. Time under tension is a key driver of muscle growth.
Less Stress on Your Lower Back
The close stance squat puts less stress on your lower back because it allows you to maintain a more upright torso. This reduces the shearing force on your spine and makes the exercise safer for those with lower back issues
You May be Able to Squat Deeper
If you have sufficient mobility, a narrow stance squat can allow you to sink lower into the hole. Tight adductors can limit your squat depth, but the adductors are less involved in the narrow stance squat. This increases the range of motion and can lead to greater muscle activation, assuming you maintain good form throughout the entire lift.
Improved Mechanics for Long Legs
I’m 5’10” and almost all legs. My femurs are crazy long and my torso is super short. My proportions and mechanics are just not made for squatting heavy, and getting decent quad development from squatting is shotty at best.
I’m most comfortable with a low bar position when I squat because my upper body hinges so far forward. High bar squats just put too much stress on my lower back. I break way too much at the hip in order to keep the bar centered over my mid-foot, and inevitably end up with an awesome “butt wink” at the bottom position.
Narrow stance squats actually came pretty naturally for me. I’m made for them. I’m very mobile, have long legs, a short torso, and narrow hips. This stance allows me to stay as vertical as possible when squatting ass-to-grass. I have no butt wink when squatting this way, and no squat version makes my quads as sore as these.
Narrow stance squatting, the back squat version anyway, actually targets the glutes more than the quads. But not for those with my proportions.
If you have long legs and a short torse, give these a shot! Elevate your heels if necessary, and even go so far as to use a front squat instead of a back squat. Your quads will thank you.
Correct Muscle Imbalances
If you have a strength imbalance between your quads and glutes, narrow stance squats can help correct that. If your posterior chain is much stronger than your quads, the narrower stance can allow for increased dorsiflexion and a greater stretch in your quads.
It’s also more difficult to cheat to one side when your legs are close together. During a wide stance squat, you may be able to shift your weight to your stronger side. Any shift while in a narrow stance can cause you to lose your balance, so your body tends to stay more aligned.
A Great Accessory Exercise With Limited Equipment
If you train at home or in a gym with limited equipment, the more squat variations you have the better. Narrow stance squats are a great accessory exercise to target your thighs differently than traditional squats and improve your overall strength and size. Think of them as the close-grip bench press of the squat world.
Improved Knee and Ankle Biomechanics
When we were kids, most of us could sit for hours in a full squat position. As we age we lose some of that ability, especially if we don’t train for that range of motion and to improve the biomechanics of our knee and ankle joints.
Part of the reason powerlifters use such a wide stance when they squat is because it limits how deep they can go. In powerlifting, you only have to get your thighs past parallel with the floor, not all the way into a rock bottom squat.
That’s great for the sport! But it’s not great for your overall lifestyle. Having as much range of motion in your ankles and knees as possible is hugely beneficial!
Narrow stance squats allow the knee to travel further than traditional squats, increasing the range of motion and total knee flexion. And the straight-forward foot stance limits medial and lateral movement, making the exercise easier on your knees.
The narrow squat can also improve ankle mobility and dorsiflexion, as well as hip flexion and control. These improve the performance of the knee joint.
Less Stress On the Hips
The narrow squat is easier on the hips than a wide stance because it decreases hip abduction and external rotation. This places less stress on the connective tissues around the hip joint, which can be beneficial for those with previous injuries or who are new to squatting.
Improve Strength Out of the Hole
Simply put, we get stronger in the movement patterns we train. Training through a longer range of motion will improve the bottom of your squat. And because the bottom of the squat is where the quadriceps have to work the hardest, focusing attention on this area with a narrow stance can translate to a bigger, badder squat.
If you’re weak out of the hole, give the narrow stance squat a try.
Fix the Good Morning Squat
If you have a tendency to raise your hips before your knees, narrow stance squats can help. Most of us have been there, especially if we have longer legs. You go to come out of the hole and your butt shoots straight up in the air. Now you have to perform a full-on good morning to try and save the lift.
The narrow stance squat allows your knees to come further forward at the bottom of the lift, and your hips to position closer to your calves. In order to rise out of the hole, your hips have to push back as your knees begin to rise. Over time, this can help improve leg strength, coordination, and timing, and minimize the good morning error.
Narrow Stance Squats Tips
Use the following tips to help make narrow stance squats more effective.
Elevate Your Heels
To perform narrow stance squats you need to have at least decent ankle mobility. The more mobile your ankles the deeper you will be able to squat, and the more quad activation and stretch you will get.
If you don’t have great ankle mobility, elevate your heels. Elevating your heels improves ankle dorsiflexion without pain.
You’ve probably seen Olympic weightlifters who can get into crazy deep positions when performing their lifts. Yes, they have genetic factors that allow for some of that mobility, but they also wear weightlifting shoes.
Weightlifting shoes have an elevated heel, known as the drop of the shoe. The greater the drop, the more the heel is elevated. The most common heel-to-toe drop is 0.75″. Nike Romaleos, Adidas Adipowers, and Reebok Legacy Lifters all have a .75″ drop. I have the Reebok Lifter PRs (those are the blue ones I’m wearing in the How To pictures), which have a 0.6″ drop.
I don’t want or need anything too crazy, but I also have great ankle mobility and can get into a full, ATG squat in my bare feet. But they’re a great shoe if you’re not a professional athlete and you can’t be $80!
Lifters are nice because they also have a solid heel, which allows you to generate more force out of the bottom of a squat. Squishy shoes, like running shoes, feel nice, but the last thing you want is your foot sinking into the shoe when you’re trying to fire out of the hole.
Or you can elevate your heels by placing a weight plate or board beneath them.
Play around and find the solution that fits your knees and allows you to squat comfortably in this deep range of motion.
Decrease Width and Foot Position Slowly
If you are used to squatting wide with your toes out, these are going to feel odd and off-balance. Decrease your stance and foot position slowly. Go from a wide stance to a regular stance, and then to a narrow squat.
Control the Eccentric
Narrow stance squats are more effective as a muscle builder than a strength and power exercise. Control the eccentric portion of the movement, with a 2-6 second negative. Focus on mechanics and the stretch on the quads.
Programming Narrow Stance Squats
Narrow stance squats can fit into any training program, for any goal. Here are two examples of how you can add narrow stance squats to your program.
Here is a sample narrow stance squat program you can use for building muscle:
And here are some additional tips for adding narrow stance squats to your current routine.
Program Them As a Secondary Leg Exercise
I rarely program these early in my workout. I’d much rather focus on a movement that I can lift more on or one that requires a lot of neurological connection, like single-leg squat variations.
These also require more hip, ankle, and knee flexion than traditional squat variations. If you program these first, you’re going to have to spend quite a bit of time warming up. If you program them later you’ll already be warm from previous exercises.
I also don’t use these as a strength and power exercise. You can, but I don’t. So I’ll hit a heavy movement first, like traditional back or front squats, and then perform these for higher reps with a longer eccentric and no lockout at the top.
Here’s another fun way to add these into a leg day that will leave you crawling home.
Perform 8-10 reps of a front squat to near failure. Rack the weight and switch to a narrow stance back squat for an additional 4-8 reps. When you reach near failure, widen your feet, and perform as many reps as possible with a regular to wide stance.
If done correctly these will leave you on the floor!
Narrow Stance Squats Variations
Try some of these narrow stance squat variations to keep your training fresh and your gains coming.
Cyclist squats are designed to mimic the foot placement of professional cyclists, who have massive quads. You can do these with just your bodyweight, a barbell in the front or back rack, or holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in a variety of positions.
Step 1: Set up a slant board or stack two bumper plates on the floor. Stand on the slant board or with your heels raised on the weight plates and the balls of your feet on the floor.
Step 2: Squat as deeply as possible while maintaining an upright torso.
Step 3: Drive through your feet and return to standing. Your knees, hips, and chest should rise at the same time.
Step 4: Stop short of locking out at the top of the movement and return immediately into the descent of the squat in order to keep tension on your quads.
Read my article Cyclist Squats for Beginners and Advanced Trainees for an in-depth explanation and tutorial.
Narrow Stance Leg Press
While the close stance squat puts less strain on your lower back than conventional squats, if you have a current back issue you may need to avoid squats altogether for a while. A leg press machine will remove your lower back from the equation entirely.
Just be careful and not go too deep because this can cause flexion of the lumbar spine flexion, which increases your risk of injury.
To perform this variation, place your feet close together and low on the leg press platform. Lower your legs straight to your chest and then back to full extension, without locking your knees at the top.
Barbell Hack Squat
People were doing hack squats long before the machine was invented. The barbell hack squat is a free weight exercise that allows you to target your quads while also getting some assistance from your glutes and hamstrings.
To perform the barbell hack squat, stand with a narrow stance and place a barbell behind your heels.
Keeping your back straight, bend your knees, lower your hips, and grab the barbell with an overhand grip.
Keeping your back arched and your head neutral, drive with your legs and perform a deadlift with the barbell behind your back.
Learn more about this old-school exercise here.
The sissy squat is an excellent exercise for targeting your quads. It’s also a great accessory movement to help improve your squatting technique and strength. These are challenging enough with just your body weight, whether you are doing them free-standing or with a sissy squat machine.
You can use a barbell, weight vest, kettlebells, dumbbells, or weight plates to make them even tougher.
Check out our in-depth guide to sissy squats here.
Short Step Walking Lunge
Perform your lunges with a shorter step for a quad-dominant alternative to close stance squats.
Step 1: Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and take a short step forward with your right leg.
Step 2: Keeping your torso upright, bend your knees and lower your left knee toward the floor. Your hamstrings should come very close to your calves in this version, unlike the traditional lunge where your front shin remains vertical.
Step 3: Press through your front midfoot and push off your back leg to bring your back leg in line with your front.
Step 4: Continue walking until your complete your desired reps.
Short Step Split Squat
The split squat is a great exercise for targeting your quads. And by shortening your step, you can make it even more quad-centric.
Step 1: To perform this variation, start in a lunge position with your back foot on the ground or elevated on a bench or box (Bulgarian Split Squat).
Step 2: Keeping your torso upright, lower yourself down as far as possible, then drive back up to the starting position.
You can also hold dumbbells or kettlebells in each hand to increase the difficulty of the exercise.
Recommended Equipment for Narrow Stance Squats
Rogue Fortis Power Rack – If you don’t have $2,000 to spend, buy this one. Solid construction, works with Rogues’ Monster Accessories, comes with band pegs, and can bolt to the floor. I also like that the pull-up bar can be placed in the front of the rack giving you room for kipping movements.
Titan Fitness X-3 Bolt Down Power Rack – this rack will allow you to do everything, from powerlifting to CrossFit movements and gymnastics. This is the style rack I have. The only difference is that I bought mine locally (for more money!)
Titan Fitness T-2 Series Power Rack – this is a great, budget-friendly!
Titan Fitness Folding Power Rack – save space (and money) with a folding power rack.
I use each of the barbells listed below on a regular basis. They are incredible all-purpose barbells at great prices.
Again Faster Team Barbell 2.0 – This is the barbell I have and use at home. I love it. You can get this in both 20kg and 15kg versions.
Rogue Bar 2.0 – This is an incredible all-purpose barbell, and is one of the bars used at the CrossFit Games. In my humble opinion, this is the best barbell that most people can buy (along with the Bella bar for women).
Rogue Bella Bar 2.0 – Modeled after the Rogue Bar 2.0 but designed for women with a 25mm shaft and 15kg (33lb) weight. This is an incredible all-purpose barbell and is the bar the women use at the CrossFit Games.
Rogue Crumb Bumper Plates – Crumb bumpers are amazing for home gyms! They are incredibly durable and are much quieter than typical bumper plates. And, if you plan on training outside at any point, these are the plates you need.
Titan Fitness 230-pound Economy Bumper Plate Set – This is the first brand new set I ever bought.
Narrow Stance Squats Frequently Asked Questions
How do I find my squat stance?
Start with a shoulder-width stance and your knees pointed slightly out. This works well for most people. If you want to try a narrow stance squat, move your feet in slightly (around hip-width is a great place to start). As your feet get closer together, point your toes more toward straight ahead. If you want to try a wide stance, move your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and point your toes out more. Experiment until you find the stance that allows you to move the most weight through the longest range of motion with the least amount of pain.
Who should avoid a narrow stance squat?
Avoid the narrow stance squat if it causes you to lose your neutral spine when squatting. If you have poor hip and ankle mobility, reaching the greater depth allowed by close stance squats may cause your back to round.
Do I have to elevate my heels during a narrow stance squat?
Elevating your heels helps to improve dorsiflexion of the ankle, and can increase your range of motion. If elevating your heels allows for greater depth or eliminates pain in your ankles, knees, or hips, do them. If you can squat to a great depth without elevating your heels then there’s no need to do so.
Where should my toes point during narrow stance squats?
Line your feet up with your knees. The closer your knees come together, the straighter your toes should point. 0 to 20 degrees is typical.
Why do I lift less weight with the narrow stance squat?
Moving less weight with the narrow stance squat is usually due to the increased range of motion, or because you’re not used to it. The longer range of motion means that you are doing more mechanical work. You have to move further down and up. This increases the demand on your muscles, mechanics, joints, and time under tension. Others, they’re just not used to the movement. I can actually squat more with the narrow stance version. But I have very narrow hips and long femurs, so the narrow stance is much more comfortable for me and I use it more often than other stances.
Is it okay for my knees to go past my toes?
Yes. Your knees often go in front of your toes in normal, everyday life. So training this range of motion during your strength training sessions has amazing carry-over to your quality of life. If you experience pain when your knees go past your toes, stop! Only squat as low as you can without pain, and increase your range of motion over time, starting with your body weight and working your way up.
Conclusion: Narrow Stance Squats
The narrow stance squat is a great exercise that can be performed with or without elevated heels and allows for a greater range of motion than the traditional squat. If you have narrow hips and long femurs, the narrow stance squat may be more comfortable for you.
Remember to start with a shoulder-width stance and your knees pointed slightly out, then experiment until you find a narrow stance that allows you to move the most weight through the longest range of motion with the least amount of pain.