Should You Tweak Your Stance for Squats and Deadlifts?

Note from MR: Dean Somerset reminds me of, well, me back in the day.

There was a 5-10 year stretch were I was obsessive about functional anatomy. 

Nowadays, it’s not that I’m not that into it – but there’s just so much other stuff to cover, I can’t obsess about it like I used to!

Luckily for you, guys like Dean are still putting in a ton of work in this area, and I’m always up for learning something new.

In this article, Dean shares with you some research on how asymmetrical we really are, and what that means for us with regards to training.

Here’s Dean…


Have you ever gone to an optometrist?

If you had to adjust your glasses to read that first sentence, you likely remember how they determined your prescription. They put a couple of different lenses in front of your eyes and ask which one looked clearer than the other.

From there, they did the same thing on the other side, and in many cases came out with 2 different prescriptions for your eyes.

You may have 20/20 vision, but you could have variances in the lens sphere, prism, or axis of each eye, and sometimes significantly so.

What the optometrist likely didn’t do is put a set of glasses on you and say:

“Here – everyone should be able to see with this type of prescription.”

They know that different eyes between different people, and even comparing the left eye to the right eye of the same person, can produce some significantly different prescriptions, which means after asking which lenses look clearest to the individual, they will fit to the prescription needs of each eye, and not think they both have to be the same.

So why do we coach bilateral movements like squats or deadlifts with the intent of creating symmetry, especially when no such symmetry may exist or could potentially cause harm to the individual we’re working with?

Higgins et al (2014) showed that there can be a significant difference in bilateral anatomic hip anteversion angle (how far forward the socket points) in over 35% of the subjects tested, enough to warrant avoiding symmetrical positions if the desire was a concept of balanced development between left and right side.

Zalawadia et al (2010) showed the variances in femoral neck angles could be as much as 24 degrees between samples, which can be a huge difference when it comes to the ability to move a joint through a range of motion.

He went on to show that the angle of anteversion or retroversion of the femur could be significantly different from left to right, sometimes more than 20 degrees worth of difference.

This means trying to train for symmetry could be inherently wrong, and using parallel stances or symmetric set ups (both feet turned out 20 degrees, etc) could be wrong as well, depending on the individual.

Depending on how pronounced the angle of anteversion or retroversion of the femoral neck, it could present as a visible rotation of the femur, which would affect how the foot would be positioned on the ground, either toed out as with retroversion, or toe in as with anteversion, even if the hip is in the same “relative” angles bilaterally.

 

Trying to line the feet up would create an imbalanced tension at the hips, and could theoretically be a reason some people feel “twisted” when trying to keep their alignment in check.

 

Figure 1: pelvis neutral, foot turned in. Figure 2: feet parallel, pelvis twisted. Figure 3: neutral pelvis and neutral feet.

So if the hips have the potential to have a degree of asymmetry, the amount of which varies by person, yet every textbook or training guide says to keep the feet lined up symmetrically, are we working with the individuals unique anatomy or against it?

To put it another way, by requiring symmetry in set up and execution, are we working to reduce the potential of muscle imbalances, or actually creating the perfect environment for them to develop?

Think back to the optometrist analogy. What if we were able to tune a squat stance or deadlift set up based on someone’s unique anatomy and find their ideal “prescription” to help them take advantage of their specific asymmetries to the best of our abilities?

If we all had X-ray vision, we could do that easily, but it’s unfortunately not the case, at least not in my pay grade.

What we can do is adjust positioning of the feet during the squat movement much like the optometrist uses various lenses in front of our eyes to determine the prescription.

  • Play around with your stance width. Try a narrow stance squat, a wider stance squat, and an even wider stance squat, and see what position allows you to drop into the deepest squat possible, while feeling like you’re strong and stable, not working against your own anatomy to get into the bottom position, and feeling like you get muscle activity from both left and right glute, quad, hamstring, and calf.
  • Play around with your toe flare. Then turn your toes out slightly, then again even wider, and try turning only one foot out while the other is pointing more forward, then try the other foot and see which again feels the best.
  • Play around with spacing front-to-back. From there, try holding one foot slightly ahead of the other, and then bring that foot behind the other and see what works well.

You may find the stance that feels the best in terms of ease, strength/stability, and control may not be symmetric at all.

It might mean turning out the right or left foot, having a slightly staggered position, or some combination of these features.

It could be wider than usual or narrower.

It may also reduce some rotation of the hips coming out of the hole on your squat if present.

The deadlift can be similar. Try conventional, sumo, conventional with one toe turned out slightly, or the other toe turned out.

Which feels stronger and allows you to pull the biggest weight the easiest?

You may find the best position for you is with both feet in symmetric set up, and that’s fine. Rock on with your bad self.

However, if symmetric doesn’t jive well with you or you always feel off somehow, try adjusting your setup to vary positions and find one that you respond to more effectively, and see what happens.

All the best,

Dean

P.S. – If you want more awesome information like this from Dean, be sure to check out his Complete Hip and Shoulder Blueprint (which he co-developed with Tony Gentilcore).

It’s on sale this week for $97, which is $100 off the standard price. It’s a great product at a great price!

 

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