If you were sitting in the referee’s chair when 47-kilogram powerlifter Tiffany Chapon came out for her squats at the 2022 International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) World Classic Championships, you might have found yourself mystified by her technique. The French sensation — Chapon finished on the podium at all 12 competitions she’s attended since her debut in 2020 — squats with a very narrow, feet-forward stance.
Chapon also won the 2022 IPF Worlds by a margin of almost 70 kilograms, out-squatting every other powerlifter in her class. Many of whom opt for the wide-footed, toes-out squat stance commonly seen in most divisions of competitive powerlifting.
Chapon is one of a handful of high-level strength athletes that have found success on the platform despite (or, perhaps, because of) such an unorthodox squat. And “success” is putting it mildly: As of January 2023, Chapon holds the IPF squat and total world records in the 47-kilogram division.
It may be unusual, but when it works, it works. The question is, why is a narrow stance effective for athletes like Chapon? And should you try it for yourself during your next squat workout?
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How It Works
Chapon’s squat technique is no accident — it’s a deliberate choice she makes to perform as well as she can within the boundaries outlined by her sport. More interestingly, Chapon isn’t alone in this regard.
Thanks to social media and a widespread interest in strength training, powerlifting is enjoying more exposure than ever. A wider, deeper talent pool means a more diverse assortment of high-performing athletes. This allows Chapon, among others like 63-kilogram world-record squatter Prescillia Bavoil (and even some Olympic weightlifters) to showcase how well an “unconventional” habit like the narrow-stance squat can work in the right hands.
Defining the Narrow-Stance Low-Bar Squat
Powerlifting, which tests maximal strength in the barbell squat (along with the bench press and deadlift) is a deceptively technical and intricate sport. Athletes must adhere to a long list of precise rules when they perform their squats, presses, or pulls on the platform. However, the IPF makes no mention of foot placement during the squat in its technical rulebook. You can place your feet in whatever position works best for you.
The squat is also particularly dependent on the unique anatomy of the athlete. A given athlete’s choice of foot position or toe angle may not work as well for their training partner. As such, you’ll rarely (if ever) see two competitive powerlifters squat with the exact same technique — even if it all looks relatively indistinguishable to the untrained eye.
Powerlifters adopt whatever technical habits help them lift the most weight. This can include placing the barbell on their backs in the “low-bar” position, where the bar’s shaft is supported across the meat of the shoulders rather than high atop the trapezius muscles. Most powerlifters will also assume a wide (shoulder width or, in some cases and for larger athletes, much wider) stance when they squat.
This limits their range of motion and often improves leverage. On the other hand, there’s no specific foot position that qualifies as “narrow” — it’s a general visual descriptor.
In Chapon’s case, her squat stance falls directly underneath her hips, which is narrow for most folks and particularly snug for a powerlifter. While it may look different, the devil is in the details. Narrow-stance squatting isn’t something any high-level strength athlete does thoughtlessly.
A Bit of Biomechanics
Despite looking quite distinct from a “standard” wide-stance squat, the narrow-stance low-bar squat isn’t all that different on a biomechanics level:
“The summed knee and hip extension demands of a squat should be pretty similar regardless of stance width,” says leading strength researcher and powerlifter Greg Nuckols. He notes that a squat like Chapon’s — with a ton of torso lean and little forward knee travel — may have higher hip extension demands and more lower back tension, which is in line with some published literature on squat kinematics. (1)
Knee and hip extension demands should be pretty similar regardless of stance width.
However, that doesn’t mean that a narrow-stance powerlifting squat is a posterior chain-dominant movement. Nuckols theorizes that Chapon is simply more comfortable shifting some extra load onto her back when she squats, which may be due to her competence and strength in the deadlift.
Anatomy is the other major factor worth considering. The ball-and-socket hip joint can vary tremendously in architecture, shape, depth, and so on. A narrow-stance squatter may adopt the technique simply out of necessity; they might have trouble hitting competition-valid depth (your hip crease must be below your kneecap) with a wide stance due to collision between the head of the femur and the border of their hip socket.
Should You Try the Narrow-Stance Squat for Powerlifting?
While some athletes see success with a tight squat stance, it is far from universally-applicable. Some ultra-mobile lifters may pick their squat stance out of comfort or preference; others place their feet in a certain stance because they have to. You’ll often see powerlifters in heavier weight categories (such as the record-setting Yuri Belkin) squat with a wide stance. This, in addition to pointing their toes out, gives the athlete more room to sink into a low squat since they aren’t as compactly-built as their lighter peers.
Before you take the plunge on a new type of squat, bear in mind that the performances you see on elite powerlifting platforms aren’t achieved in a vacuum. You don’t see the years of prior training, the experiments that failed, or the injuries that, potentially, forever altered how a powerlifter approaches their career under the barbell.
And even if you compete in the same category as Chapon, you probably don’t have the exact same bone structure or soft tissue mobility. Conventional wisdom in powerlifting suggests that your squat should be uniquely yours. But there are exceptions to every rule.
What to Consider
Marisa Inda is a Masters IPF World Champion (and six-time National Champion) in powerlifting with a three-decade resume in strength sports. At 2022 IPF Worlds, Inda squatted 140 kilograms (308.6 pounds), raw, at the age of 45 while weighing 52 kilograms (114 pounds). She also squats with a very tight, feet-forward stance.
Inda’s longtime coach and spouse Chad Wesley Smith, record-holding powerlifter and mastermind behind Juggernaut Training Systems, had this to say about her squat technique and what to consider before trying it for yourself.
“While, yes, [Inda’s squat stance] is on the relatively narrow side, it appears more narrow because she is a tiny person. Marisa is five feet tall and wears size 2.5 shoes, so [for her frame], it’s not that narrow.”
He notes that they had tried widening her stance in the past, but Inda couldn’t squat heavy weights with nearly as much confidence. And, when you’re attempting a new one-rep max, confidence is crucial.
It Might Be Right for You, if…
Smith remarks that everyone has a “natural propensity” for strength in different positions. Inda’s best squat just happens to involve placing her feet close to each other. That might also be the case for you, but before you take the plunge, you should probably check at least a few of these boxes:
- Most close-stance squatters are shorter athletes who compete in lightweight classes.
- If you deadlift with a conventional stance, you probably have a surplus of back strength, which can lend itself well to this style of squatting.
- You’ll want a good amount of ankle flexibility and to have plenty of hip internal rotation capacity as well.
If you can’t meet at least two of these prerequisites, you might want to steer clear of squatting like Chapon or Inda. If you want to sate your curiosity, there’s absolutely no harm in trying it, but don’t expect to set a new personal record off the bat.
The Narrow-Stance Squat in Other Sports
Chapon, Inda, and a handful of other powerlifters may be carrying the banner of the narrow-stance squat, but they aren’t its only practitioners. While bringing your feet in close has the strongest impact in powerlifting (since the squat is one of three competitive exercises), you’ll periodically see the technique in sports like bodybuilding and weightlifting as well.
Physique competitors and strength athletes view the squat through very different lenses. For the powerlifter, performance in the squat is a goal unto itself. To the bodybuilder, squatting is merely a method of growing muscle. Bodybuilders will happily modify (or even discard altogether) their squats in pursuit of that goal.
You can see competitors like Tom Platz — widely regarded as having the best pair of wheels in bodybuilding history — employ a similar squat stance for the purposes of growing muscle in his quadriceps. (Compared to Chapon, who squats with a low-bar style, Platz appears more upright.) Bodybuilders often adjust things like foot position, torso angle, or squat depth to better isolate a specific part of a muscle group (like the “inner” and “outer” quads).
When it comes to Olympic lifting, squats are merely an accessory exercise. Weightlifters are judged on their strength in the snatch and clean & jerk only. However, weightlifters revere the back squat as a training tool for building strength and reinforcing good posture.
You’ll generally see most weightlifters squat with a wide, toes-turned-out stance, as it closely replicates how they catch a barbell in the snatch or clean. However, some, like five-time World Champion and 2020 Olympic Champion Kuo Hsing-Chun, prefer to squat with a stance not dissimilar from Chapon’s or Inda’s.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the narrow-stance squat is particularly valuable for Olympic lifters. It’s likely that Hsing-Chun’s natural mobility and bone structure encourage her to squat with her feet in that stance, even if it doesn’t perfectly mirror how she moves on the weightlifting stage.
With two IPF World titles to her name before her 21st birthday, along with a host of other regional and national wins, Chapon’s (and Inda’s) unique approach to squatting for powerlifting is certainly worth a look. However, just because it works well for some high-level athletes doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you.
- Powerlifters are free to place their feet wherever they like when they squat in competition. This allows them to use whatever technique best aligns with their bodies.
- Individual anatomy affects squat technique more than any other single factor.
- The structure of your hip joints will strongly influence whether or not you can comfortably squat with a narrow, toes-forward stance.
- Narrow-stance squats don’t fundamentally change the mechanics of the lift (or what muscles move the weight), but do likely shift more of the load onto your hips and lower back.
- Short, light athletes with good hip internal rotation and mobile ankles stand to benefit the most from the narrow-stance squat, at least on paper.
Find Your Footing
Tiffany Chapon handily won one of the most competitive events in powerlifting in 2022 (and is poised to do so again in 2023) with an unconventional and unique approach to the back squat. However, she didn’t reinvent the wheel.
You’ll find odd or idiosyncratic behaviors across the highest levels of athletics well beyond the boundaries of strength sports. Sometimes, they’re the result of an athlete maximizing some aspect of their own structure — Chapon and Inda are perfect examples — but others are the result of trial and error (and error, and error, and…).
Despite the noble pursuit of “perfect” technique, you can glance at any high-level strength competition and realize there’s no such thing. The narrow-stance low-bar squat may look unusual, but the visual contrast is irrelevant: It allows Chapon to lift the heaviest weight possible. And when you’re under the barbell at a powerlifting meet, that’s all that matters.
- Yavuz, H. U., Erdağ, D., Amca, A. M., & Aritan, S. (2015). Kinematic and EMG activities during front and back squat variations in maximum loads. Journal of sports sciences, 33(10), 1058–1066.
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