Following on from the account of my experiences of the wide-stance squat, to maximise external rotation, let’s address the feeling of strain that a wide-stance can produce. Many people get scared off from the exercise – people have injured themselves doing it, which gives others an excuse to shy from an exercise that requires effort. But it’s very important that you recognise the difference between the effort required by the style, placing a large demand on the hips, and the idea that the “strain” demanded by the hips could be damaging. Done correctly, the pressure you feel is not harmful. You just have to be sure you are doing it right.
Getting it wrong
Traditionally, many who have performed wide-stance squats have done so with atrociously bad form and understandably caused themselves hip problems. If any movement is performed contra to the way the body is designed to move, something will eventually start hurting. These people then give wide style squats a bad reputation for being straining on the hips.
By performing them properly, I have increased the strength and proper function of my hips enormously. It has been very hard work for my hips but it has never been painful.In fact, hip soreness is a thing of the past for me now, as my hips function so much better than they used to.
Getting the wide stance squat right
To make sure you don’t injure yourself doing wide-stance squats, keep these points in mind:
1. Try to squat with your feet parallel. This makes it much easier to activate the glutes to generate the external rotation from the hips to get the required knee width. With your feet out-turned, your knees may still track out but this is ‘passive knees-out’ instead of ‘active knees out’. The engagement of the glutes during ‘active knees-out’ leads to more stable hip joints and pelvis, enabling stronger transfer of force from the lower body to the upper body.
2. If your knees come in during the wide squat, either your stance is too wide, your glute strength is deficient, or you are trying to go too low too soon. Assess which of these three is the cause and work on rectifying it.
3. Never descend to depths far below your current level of adductor (inner thigh muscles) flexibility. If you are unable to reach parallel with a wider stance you should challenge the extensibility of these muscles over time but don’t rush it.
4. Foam rolling of the adductors is essential maintenance for the wider stance squat. Place the roller perpendicular to a bench and sit astride the roller putting your whole weight into the inner thigh region. These muscles might be very painful to massage at first but their tissue quality will improve and this roll will eventually become less unpleasant.
Get these points right and it will feel like you are “connected” with the floor, fully in control of your every joint, with no slack in any segment of your movement. Get them wrong and it will feel like you are descending perilously into an abyss of flailed knees and disconnected limbs.