Playing with Staggered Stance

Whether loaded up heavy for those capable and willing, or just grooving the movement patterns for those wanting to move, feel and perform better, standard bilateral squats and deadlifts along with their variations remain foundational lower body (some would argue full body) strength exercises.
Complementing the big bilateral lifts (yes, complementing them, not competing with them) are the myriad single leg exercises available, many of which I’ve covered extensively already.
But why limit ourselves to just these options for leg training? And who made the rule that we can’t work asymmetrically?
Enter staggered stance.  
Falling somewhere between bilateral and unilateral in terms of strength and balance, I guess you could categorise these as “one and a half leg” exercises, if you really wanted to.

Why do staggered stance exercises?

– Because you can. It’s variety, which is good for both the body and mind.

– They will provide a new stimulus for strength and muscle growth if you’ve become accustomed to the typical heavy squats and deadlifts, with some lunges and single leg RDLs thrown in for assistance work.

– They will train a different movement pattern, and develop hip and lower extremity stability within those new movements.

– It’s an athletic position. It is rare to find yourself in a pure bilateral stance or perfect split stance during athletic endeavours. A staggered foot position is a natural “ready” position.

– Increase range of motion. The slight shift to one side and elevated back heel often allows for deeper squats and smoother hip hinges.

– It sets up progressions into more dynamic movements, such as some upper body dominant and rotary exercises.

– It allows greater stimulus with lighter loads than bilateral exercises which means they can be a lower back saver, while not resigning you to the often humbling loads necessary for pure single leg training.

How do I do them?

For everything outside of the actual stance, all the same rules apply. That is, for any hip hinge pattern, break at the hips and sit back, keeping the chest up/puffed out and, ideally, the head neutral.
For a squat: chest up, knees out etc. Lock out with the glutes for both. All familiar cues. This is just a tweak, we’re not reinventing the wheel here.

The difference is the stance. As shown in the following videos, set your feet up where you want them for the exercise. Then slide one foot back so that the toes of what is now the back foot are in line with the heel of the now front foot. Then lift the back heel, which will shift the weight primarily onto the front leg, which can be considered the working leg, while the back leg still helps out and serves as something of a kickstand for balance.

Some examples:

Staggered Stance Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

Alternating Staggered Stance RDL

Staggered Stance Goblet/Zercher Squat

Staggered Stance Barbell Front Squat

Staggered Stance Barbell Deadlift

Staggered Stance Trap Bar Deadlift

That covers a few lower body dominant variations. We can also use the staggered stance as a different base of support for many upper dominant variations:

Staggered Stance Single Arm DB Push Press

Staggered Stance Angled Bar Push Press

Staggered Stance DB High Pull

Staggered Stance Neutral Grip Cable Row

Staggered Stance Single Arm Chest Press

It’s worth noting that I’m obviously using baby weights in most of these video demonstrations so that the weights don’t obscure the view of the movement, and because I couldn’t really be bothered loading and unloading everything just for the videos. But this is a fairly strong position, so once you’re comfortable with the movement pattern don’t be afraid to load them up and have at it.

How do I program them?

We’ve got a few options.

1. Use staggered stance lower body dominant exercises as an accessory exercise.
So on a day where heavy deadlifting is your primary lift, staggered stance goblet or front squats can come in as an accessory lift with higher reps, before perhaps moving on to some more traditional unilateral training. On a heavy squat day, I like to use the staggered stance RDL for a hip dominant accessory lift.

For example:

1A) Sumo Deadlift 6 x 3
No rest to 1B
1B) Half kneeling Pallof Press 3 x 6/side
Rest 120 secs to 1A

2A) Staggered Stance Goblet Squat 3 x 6/side
No rest to 2B
2B) TRX Fallout 3 x 10
Rest 45 secs to 2A

3A) Single Leg Squat to Box 3 x 8/side
Rest 30 secs to 3B
3B) Single Leg Calf Raises 3 x 12/side
Rest 30 secs to 3C
3C) Hanging Knee Raises 3 x 10
Rest 30 secs to 3A

Or, if squats are to be the main lift:

1A) Front Squat 5 x 5
No rest to 1B
1B) Pallof Press Iso Hold with Alternating Reverse Step 3 x 20/side
Rest 120 secs to 1A

2A) Staggered Stance RDL 4 x 8/side
No rest to 2B
2B) Fit Ball Push Back 3 x 8
Rest 45 secs to 2A

3A) Split Squat 1.5 Reps 3 x 10/side
Rest 30 secs 3B
3B) Single Leg Hip Thrust 3 x 12/side
No rest to 3C
3C) KB Suitcase Carry 3 x 30m/side
Rest 60 secs to 3A

2. Use a staggered stance variation for your main lift.
Especially useful if you’re prone to low back pain under frequent heavy loading, or if you just want to take a break from the maximal strain for a while, try checking your ego and using a staggered stance exercise as your primary lift for the session. Set the loading parameters accordingly, and still go heavy, but the staggered stance will necessitate that less weight on the bar is used. Too, you may wish to keep the bilateral lift in the program, but late in the session once the legs are fatigued, and for higher volume, so that lower loads are used.

For example:

1A) Staggered Stance Deadlift 5 x 2/side
No rest to 1B
1B) Split Stance Pallof Press 3 x 8/side
Rest 120 secs to 1A

2A) Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat 3 x 8/side
No rest to 2B
2B) Plank with Plate Switch 3 x 20
Rest 60 secs to 2A

3A) Front Squat 3 x 12
Rest 30 secs to 3B
3B) Single Leg RDL 3 x 8/side
Rest 30 secs to 3C
3C) Single Leg Calf Raise 3 x 15/side
Rest 60 secs to 3A

3. Use staggered stance variations throughout a full body training program
In the above two sample sessions I’ve shown lower body sessions only. Of course, you can apply the same concept to full body sessions, and throw in a few staggered stance exercises for the upper body too.

For example:

1A) Trap Bar Deadlift 4 x 6
Rest 60 secs to 1B
1B) Staggered Stance Single Arm DB Push Press 3 x 6/side
Rest 60 secs to 1A

2A) Staggered Stance Goblet Squat 3 x 8/side
Rest 45 secs to 2B
2B) Staggered Stance Neutral Grip Cable Row 3 x 12
Rest 45 secs to 2A

3A) Push Up Variation 3 x 10-15
Rest 30 secs to 3B
3B) Staggered Stance DB High Pull 3 x 10/side
Rest 30 secs to 3C
3C) KB Offset Racked Reverse Lunge 3 x 12/side
Rest 30 secs to 3A

4A) Fit Ball SHELC 3 x 8
No rest to 4B
4B) Farmers Carry 3 x 50 metres
No rest to 4C
4C) TRX Flutters 3 x 40
Rest 60 secs to 4A

In closing

We are not symmetrical creatures, and we are not bound by any law stating that we must train in perfect symmetry and straight lines and evenness.

While it is fine (and probably preferable) to have a template, a general acceptable range of what constitutes safe and effective movement, don’t lose sight of the fact that we are designed to move in a vast variety of patterns and positions.
Some staggered stance training might be just the thing to start expanding your movement and training repertoire, and with it, bring on some new gains.

Thoughts, questions, hate mail, or anything I missed? Feel free to drop a comment below. And of course, sharing this article will naturally help you jump the queue in your wait for karmic justice to start paying out. 

5 thoughts on “Playing with Staggered Stance”

  1. Great article. Staggered stance perfectly carries over to athletic movements more so than pure single or bilateral movements .

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