When it comes to building strength and size in your legs, the barbell squat is an essential exercise. In a recent Athlean-X video, trainer Jeff Cavaliere C.S.C.S. breaks down how making a single adjustment to your squat stance can lead to greater, faster quad gains.
There’s nothing wrong with a traditional wide stance if you’re squatting heavy, but that approach can limit your movement options. “If you squat like this all the time, I suggest you change it up,” says Cavaliere. “Neurologically, you’re going to benefit from this, because the recruitment pattern you’ll develop from this squat is going to be different.”
He advises adopting a narrower stance, planting your feet considerably closer together (around shoulder-width distance). “The range of motion increases a lot,” he explains. “Instead of having your knees in the frontal plane, traveling outward, now with them narrowed, they have to travel in the sagittal plane, which means that you have to get lower, through more of that deeper hip flexion, and of course through the ankles with more dorsal flexion.”
If you don’t have a ton of mobility in your ankles, you may find that you end up struggling to get more than halfway down. One simple fix for this, Cavaliere suggests, is to stand with your heels slightly elevated on a pair of weight plates, which will relieve some of that top-end dorsal flexion and enable a fuller range of motion. “This is going to more favorably recruit the quads,” he says, “because we don’t have that stretch on the adductors that happens when the knees travel out, changing and reprogramming the recruitment pattern at the bottom of the squat.”
That isn’t to say you should go and attempt reps at or near your max squat weight using this narrower stance; in fact, Cavaliere recommends dramatically lightening the weights when performing this variation, while simultaneously upping your reps. “A 20-rep quad set done with a narrow stance is an absolute grinder,” he says. “The point is you don’t just do it when the 20th rep is difficult, and you get tired on that 20th rep. You’re going to likely get rep around 13, 14, then rest/pause briefly, and grind out another.”
He adds that you needn’t worry that you’ll lose strength on account of dropping the weights. “If you can better recruit your quads at the bottom of the lift, you’re going to be able to have a stronger squat when you go back to traditional width squatting, because you’re going to have the additional benefits of stronger quads at the bottom.”
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