How Wide Should my Feet be for the Overhead Squat?

How wide should my feet be for the overhead squat?

If there is one false truism in the fitness industry, it’s that there is a standard feet width in the squat for the entire population. You’ve heard this before – ‘feet shoulder width apart, feet slightly turned out.’ The assumption made with this statement is that this stance is a universal fit. However, what I’ve come to understand is every body is different in such a way that the focus should be on the method of finding the squat stance for a particular variation, not what the stance should be.

What then, is this method?

Under the dynamic systems model, the assumption made is that the body is an intelligient, self-organising design. When imposed with a demand, the body will correct itself to find what suits it the best. I have found this strategy, in practice, to resonate a lot better with the individual, as opposed to dogmatic belief that there should one a ‘certain way.’

But, what are these demands? The demands imposed are the same as the performance indicators of a strong overhead squat. First, the bar should sit between the spine of the scapula and C7. This is where the bar aligns well with the trunk. Two, the lifter should be able to hold this position and squat to full depth without losing the position of the bar. There may be some nuance in how much the lumbar spine can round, but that’s a topic for another day. The full breakdown can be accessed in our Olympic Weightlifting Online Course.  

Using these imposed demands, the lifter should begin to overhead squat. If there is a loss of position, eg. the lifter feels as if they’re tilting forward or back, then the feet could be too wide or narrow (this is assuming they’ve found their ideal grip width). As a heuristic, in my experience if feet are too narrow (due to increased required knee flexion), the spine will collapse forward and if the feet are too wide, depth will not be achieved (limitations of hip joint flexion the more abduction there is).

In a practical session, I might instruct my novice to do multiple overhead squats with varying stances until they have achieved my imposed demands, as well as satisfying individual comfort levels. Although comfort isn’t always useful, I have found that a strong and comfortable position is usually the right position.

However, in the absence of time, or in a large group setting – I have found the following strategy ultra-effective. Have the lifter hold a dowel above their head in their overhead squat width. Instruct them to jump and land in their deep overhead squat position. By performing this a couple of times, the body will instinctively search for the position that feels best. Their stance will mirror this. And you will notice large variations lifter to lifter. Some will have ‘shoulder-width, feet turned out slightly’, some will have wide stances with feet turned out extensively.

I call this the ‘jump and land’ strategy.

Your next question may be – does this work for all other squat variations? My answer is – yes. Contrary to dogmatic belief, the front and back squat can have different feet width and there is no issue with that whatsoever. By allowing our lifters to explore their bodies in relation to the task, we facilitate greater understanding of their kinaesthetic awareness.