Close Stance Squats
Of the 3 powerlifts, the squat has the fewest effective assistance lifts, but fortunately, it has one very desirable choice, the close stance squat. Simply stated, the close stance squat is just what it says, a squat with a close stance. The close stance lowers the involvement and contribution of the hips into the squat and throws more emphasis on the thighs. This gives a higher degree of isolation to the thighs while keeping intensity high. Since the close stance squat really is a squat, the positive transfer of strength gain to your normal squat is high, similar to the relationship between the close grip bench press and the regular bench I wrote about previously.
The stance width I recommend is shoulder width. This is narrower than most competitive squat stances used by lifters. I suggest this width stance no matter how wide your normal competitive stance is. For lifters using an extremely wide stance, this will be somewhat of a 'culture shock' for both you and your thigh muscles. As I mentioned earlier, wider stance emphasize the hips more than close stances, so it may require some getting used to at first. The balance involved is also different. Really large lifters may have trouble using shoulder width stance. In that case, try to get as close as possible. I suggest using a weight equal to about 50-60% of your mass competitive single for sets of 12 for the first week or two. After this, increase the weight until you find a weight that is challenging for sets of 6-12 reps.
Dr. Fred Hatfield, alias Dr. Squat, was a big supporter of high bar Olympic squats as the best assistance exercise for the squat. His results certainly backed up his belief, as he will go down in powerlifting history as the most prolific squatter ever. However, I did not have the flexibility to perform squats with such an erect back position as he suggested. Luckily, moving my stance in close and maintaining as erect a posture as I was capable of still yielded great results; my regular competitive squat went up. Some lifters may have trouble keeping their heels on the floor at the low position. This can be remedied with gastrocnemius stretches. Other lifters may use a small plate under their heels for the same effect. Olympic squats also entailed resting the bar high on the back as opposed to the normal power squat that rests just above the rear delt. If holding the bar so high causes discomfort, drop it to the power position on the rear delts. The results will still be favorable.
The best time to work these squats into your routine is during your off season, that is, the time prior to 8-10 weeks before a meet or when your training is non-specific such as correcting weaknesses or bodybuilding. Sticking with regular squats throughout your entire training cycle will not give the best long term results as the thighs will never be worked in such an intense manner. Going to parallel depth is sufficient. Descend in a controlled manner trying to keep your torso as erect as possible and avoid bouncing at the bottom. Hamstring flexibility is a premium here and worth working on.
If you chose not to do all your squats during the off season with a close stance, you may want to try throwing in one set at the end of your squat workout for 6-12 reps. This can yield some good results. Drop these no later than 3-4 weeks away from a meet to focus in on meet performance and to avoid overrating. They also can be used as a light day substitute for regular squats. Don't go overboard on assistance work however.
Another key is to not use a squat suit, knee wraps or even a belt while doing these close stance squats. This equipment tends to lift some of the weight for you. Make your muscles do the work of lifting. As you enter your contest training, you can use them with your now stronger normal stance squats.
Phase into contest training gradually. Don't go from your last entirely close stance squat workout to heavy competitive squat training. You must reacquaint yourself with your normal squat stance and hopefully, new and improved squatting power. You may even notice that your most effective competitive stance may have changed due to an increase in your thigh power. Keep in mind that your best squat stance may not be static over time as your strength and bodyweight change.
Give close stance squats
to try next off season, either by using them exclusively during your off
season, incorporating them into your routine as finisher or light day exercise
of choice. Gradually break into them and also gradually break back
into your normal stance for best results.