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When I attempt to go into a horse stance my form breaks down after just a couple inches of depth. I cannot go lower than this and begin to lean significantly if I go any lower. I'd estimate my thigh angle to be only be 15 degrees before form breakdown.

I am unsure of what the problem might be.

Does anyone have any ideas of the potential limiting factor? If it helps I've always had similar issues with an olympic back squat and have always had to go low bar.

Should I just keep training the stance in the hopes it will improve?

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    Do you have any problems with kick height? – JohnP Aug 14 at 17:25
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I am unsure of what the problem might be.

It's almost always tight glutes, hamstrings, adductors, and hip flexors. Basically very few people these days have sufficient mobility anywhere in the hips to do a proper horse stance. Your difficulty staying upright in a back squat reinforces this belief. I found that stretching my anterior hip gave me the most immediate improvement in staying upright, but to really dial it all in, I had to improve everything around the hips.

Should I just keep training the stance in the hopes it will improve?

Yes you should train the stance, but not by doing only the stance. Frequent (daily or more) stretching (including glutes, lunges, butterfly, pigeon, etc), variations of the stance, and weighted stance training are all called for. Thomas Kurz has some extremely relevant materials for martial-arts-related stretching, especially Flexibility Express and Stretching Scientifically.

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+250

This sounds like a straightforward flexibility problem, which is normal for beginners. Stance training requires body use in ways that are generally unfamiliar to the untrained.

Should I just keep training the stance in the hopes it will improve?

The purpose of the horse stance is to train your strength, flexibility, and structure. The horse stance is a tool; it is a training stance and not a fighting stance. It is not suitable for fighting because moving in a horse stance is slow and it completely exposes the groin. Standard kung fu stance training chains movements combining the horse stance with other stances (front, drop, cross, etc.) to increase flexibility and agility.

Joints have opposing muscle groups that move bones in opposite directions. A significant factor in flexibility is your ability to relax the muscle group that is opposing your desired motion. Although this is intellectually simple to understand, achieving this with your body is difficult. Although you might expect that your muscles are relaxed until you intentionally activate them, many are in fact habitually tensed. Your muscles are unconsciously tensed while sitting or standing to prevent you from collapsing in a heap, and this tension can be carried even after the muscles are not needed, such as when you are lying on the floor.

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  • +1, though I'm not sure I agree that horse isn't a fighting stance. I see it used a lot in grappling: in throws like kata guruma, in moments of defensive posture in the clinch, and as a guard-passing or turtle-cracking position. – Dave Liepmann Aug 16 at 8:20
  • @DaveLiepmann are those truly horsestances though, or just similar, such as the "straddle stance"? I could certainly use a horsestance for a powerful horizontal fist to the side, but I doubt it would work except against an unskilled opponent. There is a leopard boxing form that uses them in conjunction with leopard fist, but, although one might practice it low in training, any actual use is a high horse, because the main target is the throat, and for the necessary mobility for combat. – DukeZhou Nov 18 at 23:20
  • Mattm—*great* point about muscle tension. Alignment problems are an easy culprit, but people tend not to realize how damaging tension in the knee joints can be, or how unrelaxed they actually are. – DukeZhou Nov 18 at 23:21
  • @DukeZhou I don't understand "straddle stance". Regardless, yes I do believe that a true horse stance is used in wrestling/grappling contexts, though I simultaneously agree with Matt that its primary purpose is a training goal and tool. – Dave Liepmann Nov 19 at 8:34
  • @DaveLiepmann Shiko-dachi. – DukeZhou Nov 19 at 19:33
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Low stances can injure the knees in particular if you're not doing them exactly right.

  • Being tense, and clenching the muscles around the knees can cause injury

  • Improper alignment of the knees in any stance can cause injury

Age is also an important factor. If you're older, and haven't trained for many years, you're unlikely to be able to attain low stances of any type past your 20's without joint injury.

But, while low stances in general are great for building strength, and can be used for more powerful strikes when one is less experienced, or for leverage, sinking into a lower stance after body to body contact has been made, high stances afford more upper body mobility, which is important for avoiding punches to the face, and allows a greater range of offensive techniques.

Low stances also reduce mobility in general, which is why you don't see them in combat sports or streetfighting.

(Note that boxers do not need low stances to knock an opponent out—they know how to use the body frame to root the feet and strike with maximum force from a high stance, and they're the best at that particular thing.)

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