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How Wide and Deep Should I Go In Squats?

March 14 2009

There are number of articles and books advocating how deep you should go in squats, how wide your stance, & how should your foot placement be to isolate or emphasize your different quad & glute muscles. So what’s the truth?

Should I Take a Narrow or Wide Stance in Squats?

A recent study compared the EMG activity of 3 different stances: Narrow, Moderate and Wide stance (i.e., 100, 150, & 200% of hip width.)

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The study showed that the only difference in EMG activity was in the Gluteus Maximus ( aka your big butt).

A wider stance (200% of hip width) showed greater EMG activity than the other two stance width’s. A previous study showed greater activation of the adductor longus ( aka inner thigh) and gluteus maximus with a wider stance.

How Deep Should I Go in Squats?

How deep should you go in squats? Partial, Parallel, and full/deep squat squat was analyzed for the muscle activity.

The only muscle which showed greater activity with depth was Gluteus Maximus. So if you want a tight ass, go deeper (really hope all the girls read that).

Should I Keep My Feet In or Out in Squats?

You will always see chicks doing squats with their feet flared out to target their inner thighs. Any benefit of playing with your feet?

A study analysed -10, 0, 10 & 20 degree foot position on quadriceps muscle activity in squats.

And guess what, they didn’t find any difference with different foot placements. So stop playing with your feet in squats.

Most of the above results makes a lot of sense. Your quads (Vastus Lateralis, Intermedialis & Medialis ) have very similar origins, and function as a single muscle group. Unlike your gluteus maximus, having a different stancein squats will not change their length, and in turn change their activity.

Recommendations

  • Shoot for a comfortable stance in squats
  • Take a wider stance & go deeper to emphasize your glutes
  • And note that heavier the weight in squats, greater the muscle activity.

Reference 1
Reference 2

 

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Jim @ Total Body Fitness | Sun March 15, 2009  

Anoop,
Would you mind adding some clarification for a knuckle head like me? I am aware that more glute activity would mean more weight lifted (ie. power lifting stance). However, would not less glute activity mean more thigh activity?
Thanks

Anoop | Sun March 15, 2009  

Hi Jim,

Yes, more weight mean more EMG activity.

The study had 3 groups doing 0%, 30%, & 70% of 1RM with three different stances. And they noted greate EMG actvity with increasing weight as expected. They also found significantly greater EMG activity for glutes with the SAME weight but a wider stance.

Would not less glute activity mean more thigh actvity? Possibly, but the study didn’t find any significant change in the thigh muscle activity.

Hope it made sense

Jim @ Total Body Fitness | Fri March 20, 2009  

Thanks,
Yes it makes sense, but I suppose that if I want more thigh activity I could opt for front squats or another exercise altogether. I would be interested on your opinion of “heels raised” squats as well.

Anoop | Sat March 21, 2009  

Hi Jim,

Even I used to think front squats targeted more of the quads, but there was a recent study which compared front squats and back squats and showed no difference in muscle activity. And interestingly, the weight used for front squats was much less than back squats. Maybe that should be my next article.

The author recommends front squats to back squats considering the similar muscle activation and lower stress on the knee joint. I know a few strength coaches like Gray Cook and Mike Boyle advocates front squats instead of back squats because they are more functional and less strenuous on your low back.

To target your quads more, I would say a smith machine squat or a hack squat. Here the body is upright and there is not much of forward lean and hence the quads has to work more to pull you up.

And did you see the new forum, Jim?

Jim @ Total Body Fitness | Sun March 22, 2009  

Anoop,

This is becoming very interesting to me. Personally, for my own training I have chosen front squats as of late thinking I was focusing more on quads and giving my knees and low back a break from smith and back squats which I did for years.

I am however a little confused on studies such as I have read in “Target Bodybuilding” by Per A Tesch as well as the ones you site. The confusion is do these studies show how hard each muscle works vs. another movement. Example: in Tesch’s book using MRI he compared front squat to back squat (as well as many others) and concluded equal activity, however the question is; does 5RM in a front squats equal the same work in the quads as a 5RM in the back squat even though the load is different?

Thanks and I will check it out.

Anoop | Sun March 22, 2009  

Hi Jim,

Adding to what you said,, front squats is lot more easy technically than back squat. Back squat is more of an ego exercise.

And someone had asked the same question about the weights used for a different study. When comparing exercises, you don’t pick the same weight for obvious reasons. Instead, you calculate your 1RM for each exercise and then find 10RM or 8RM for that exercise based on the 1RM. This way, you are comparing just THE exercises (by keeping intensity the same).

Mya | Mon March 22, 2010  

What type of Squats should i do to make my butt bigger?

Anoop | Mon March 22, 2010  

Hi Mya,

As said in the article, take a wide stance and try to go as deep as you can. If that doesn’t get your butt bigger, nothing will.

Good luck.

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