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Squatting is one of the most popular exercises for most gym-goers who want to improve lower body strength and increase muscle.
This excellent compound exercise works several muscle groups and, with proper form, burns a ton of calories.
Aside from a regular barbell squat, there are a few variations to help with muscle growth.
Squats are considered the king of leg exercises as they help you burn fat, strengthen your core, and build leg strength and muscle size.
Plus, they’ve always been a go-to exercise for people looking to develop their glutes.
Recommended Reading –Discover The 9 Best Exercises For Glutes
To achieve the maximum benefits of squats, you need to perform them the right way. For some, it can be difficult to execute traditional back squats whilst achieving an ideal depth to maximise the benefits.
In this article, we’ll explore the heel elevated squats benefits
What Is A Heel Elevated Squat?
A heel elevated squat is a squat variation whereby the heels are raised slightly on an elevated platform such as a weight plate or squat ramp.
A user may squat with their heels elevated if they wish to place more emphasis on the quads, or they have limited ankle mobility preventing them from achieving a deep squat.
Squat shoes, sometimes referred to as weightlifting shoes, can also be worn to elevate the heels slightly helping to achieve the same benefits.
With heel-raised squats you will be able to squat with a more upright posture due to a shift in the center of gravity.
When compared to a conventional squat, this allows for more knee extension with some of the weight load shifting from the posterior chain whilst providing greater quadriceps activation.
People usually perform an elevated heel squat to help them achieve a deeper squat whilst reducing stress to the ankle joints, lumbar spine, and hip flexors.
The reason a deep squat is more beneficial when compared to a half squat is that it can help to improve squat form and have a bigger impact on increase to muscle mass.
Heel Elevated Squats Benefits
Squats are considered a technical exercise and correct form is vital to prevent injury and to achieve the most benefit.
It’s also worth noting that a person’s anatomy will play an important role when it comes to their squat mechanics.
For example, those with a longer femoral bone (thigh bone) tend to find it harder to maintain good squat form as they need to lean forward more to stabilize the weight load.
That being said, there are a number of benefits to squatting with an elevated-heel position.
Reduce Stress on the Lower Back
Typically, a traditional back squat can put quite a bit of pressure on the lower back and lumbar spine, which can be painful and damaging for the lower back, especially if form is not on point.
Fortunately, heel-elevated squats force the body to adopt a more upright position, thereby reducing the weight load to the lower back.
Recommended Reading – 5 Ways To Overcome Lower Back Pain While Squatting During Workouts
When you raise the heels, your knees go over the toes, and the hips drop down.
In the meantime, the upper body remains in an upright position, resulting in less low back tension. This also makes it easier on the spine as there is less spinal curvature leading to a reduction in spinal compression.
When spinal compression is reduced there is less likelihood for injury.
Better Squat Depth
Most people struggle with maintaining the correct depth and posture during squats.
Some people may find heel-elevated squats easier to perform as the ankles have better alignment with the body when compared to squatting with flat heels.
Poor ankle mobility is typically a reason for limited squat depth, but by incorporating some ankle dorsiflexion exercises this can be improved over time.
Maintaining the right position for a heel-elevated squat may feel a little unnatural to begin with but with practice it does get easier.
Deeper squats are better as they elicit better muscle activation of the posterior chain and the quadriceps.
Squats can throw off your body’s balance, which can lead to injuries, but heel-elevated squats can help you to maintain stability, especially if you wear the right shoes.
It might be difficult to elevate your heels while trying to stay stable.
It’s a good idea to start with weightlifting shoes, which have an elevated heel, and then move to normal ones when you’ve had some practice.
The weightlifting shoes help you keep your balance and put less pressure on your heels, so you can stay upright and squat deeper.
It is important to do heel-up squats correctly if you want to get the most strength and stability from them. When you are in a stable position and on a stable surface, you can use the full force of your squat.
So, never do heel-up squats on an unstable surface because it can throw off your balance and end up hurting you.
Targets the Quads
Quads, sometimes known as quadriceps femoris, are one of the largest muscle groups in the body and comprise of the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and the vastus intermedius.
Whilst traditional back squats work pretty much all the muscles of the lower body, especially the posterior chain, there is no particular emphasis on the quad muscles.
By making a small adjustment of raising up the heels, can have a significant impact on activating your quads.
It’s also worth noting that front squats (holding the weight in front of you) shift the weight load to the anterior chain (muscles to the front of the legs). Combining a front squat with a raised heel is a good option to increase the range of motion at the knees.
Disadvantages of Heel-Elevated Squats
While heel-elevated squats offer many benefits, it’s also important to be aware of their potential drawbacks. Some of the disadvantages of these squats include the following:
Stress on the Knee Joints
As we’ve already discussed, heel-up squats relieve pressure on the lower back but place more stress on the knee joints.
If you do suffer from knee problems, you should avoid performing these squats as they may exacerbate the condition.
Instead, try other variations of squats that aren’t too strenuous on the knee, such as the goblet squat or wide stance squats.
However, if you have healthy knees and strong muscles, you should be able to perform heel-elevated squats without any problems.
Not A Long Term Solution
As we mentioned above, weightlifting shoes are a good option to raise the heels. That being said, if you’re a competitive powerlifter, or considering competing, you’ll find that these types of shoes are not permitted for use in a competition.
This means that if you’ve been performing only heel squats, you would find this detrimental to your squat performance if you’re not used to executing the squat without the added heel lift.
It is important to be aware of this possible problem and decide whether heel-elevated squats suit your training goals.
Heel elevated squats can prove useful to help train around an injury but you must concentrate on the root cause of your problem rather than masking over the issue by switching to solely performing heel elevated squats.
Risks Involved in Heel-Elevated Squats
Elevated squats can be a safer alternative to traditional squats, as they put less strain on the lower back and spine. However, it’s essential to remember that these squats can still pose risks, particularly to the knee joints.
The proper technique and form are essential when performing heel-elevated squats to reduce these risks. Before adding these squats to your exercise routine, it’s worth seeking advice from a personal trainer.
Always use a suitable platform to elevate your heels, whether that be a squat ramp, squat wedges or even a weight plate. The important thing is that it should be solid and provide stability throughout the exercise.
Steps to Perform Heel-Elevated Squats
Any new exercise you introduce into your routine will take some time to show results. You must ensure that you are performing the exercise correctly without any errors.
So, to avoid mistakes and improve performance, you can either film yourself doing the routine and monitor it later or ask someone to supervise it.
How To Perform Heel Elevated Squats:
- Start by positioning your squat ramp or fractional plate beneath your heels. Your feet should be around shoulder width apart or just beyond and either facing forwards or with toes pointing slightly outwards.
- If you’re using a barbell, grab hold of it keeping your hands close to your body and elbows directly. If using something such as a kettle or dumbbell, hold this with both hands at chest height, keeping the weight close to your body.
- Maintain a straight posture, keep your core and glutes engaged. Inhale as you lower yourself down into a squat position, by bending at the hips and knees. Do this slowly to maintain your position and to help keep the weight over your heels.
- Once you’ve reached your depth, push back through your feet back to your starting position. Be sure to keep your back straight throughout the exercise. In terms of squat tempo, you should lower yourself slowly, pause at the bottom, then power back up quickly.
You can decide the number of reps and sets as you see fit. Start with fewer sets and low reps of heel-lifted squats. As you gain strength, you can either increase the weight load or the number of reps.
Muscles Used For Heel Elevated Squats
The primary muscles activated during a heel-elevated squat are the quadriceps. This is due to the increase in knee extension and knee flexion whilst limiting hip activation.
Whilst the heel-elevated squat does also target the same muscles as a conventional squat, the weight load does shift to the quads.
Quads are strong and large muscles that require special attention to develop. Hence, it is even more important to consider performing heel-elevated squats if you want to build quadriceps muscles in particular.
Who Should Perform Squats with Elevated Heels?
Heel-up squats aren’t for everyone because they work on specific problems and muscles.
These squats are ideal for people who lack ankle mobility and cannot perform deep squats. Heel elevation will allow them to squat deeper by improving ankle mobility.
The heel-elevated squats are also an excellent choice for people who want to build their quadriceps muscles but cannot see any progress with regular squats or by using a leg extension.
During heel-elevated squats, the quadriceps muscles are well-activated, which makes the exercise more effective.
In general, you can do regular squats and add a few sets of heel-elevated squats to target the quadriceps muscles specifically, whilst also working the posterior chain allowing for overall leg development.
If you think you’re achieving enough mobility through regular squats, you may not need heel-elevated squats. Nonetheless, you can still incorporate them into your leg training as a quad specific exercise.
Tips to Improve Heel-Elevated Squats
Beginners may find it hard to do heel-up squats correctly, but here are a few things you can do to improve your technique.
- Practice as much as possible and ask a suitable person (i.e., a personal trainer) to ensure you are using the proper technique.
- Avoid moving your upper body too much during the squat; keep it upright throughout with your torso stable.
- If you find it hard to maintain an upright position, keep the weight load on your back and avoid doing front squats.
- Keep your feet around shoulder width apart to help with stability. Whilst you can perform heel elevated squats with your feet closer together, this does make the movement more challenging.
- Do not let your feet slip or move from their original position.
- Since your knees are under the most stress, you must pay close attention to their movement during exercise.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Conventional Squats Better Than Heel Elevated Squats?
Both squats are incredibly effective, with each placing emphasis on different muscles.
For example, heel-elevated squats work on and strengthen the quadriceps, but regular squats tend to be more beneficial for the glutes.
Conventional squats are great for people who want to limit stress to their knees and have strong lower backs. So there is no better squat type than another; you select the squat type based on your preferences.
Are Heel Elevated Squats Good For Glutes?
Whilst all squat variations strengthen and tone the glutes, heel-elevated squats may not be the most effective if this is your primary goal.
Yes, these squats can still benefit your glutes, but other workouts may be more effective at isolating and targeting this muscle.
If your primary aim is to build and tone your glutes, you may want to consider other exercises such as the barbell glute bridge.
Are Weightlifting Shoes Helpful For Heel Elevated Squats?
Weightlifting shoes, or squat shoes, can help with raising the heels during squats due to their design.
However, they only tend to offer a minimal raising of the heels so if you want something more extreme, consider stacking a couple of rubber mats or plates.
The more elevated the heels, the more the weight shifts to the anterior chain.
Now that you’re more informed as to the benefits and drawbacks of heel-elevated squats, you can decide if you want to incorporate them into your leg day training.
You can shift the focus of the pressure from your lower back to the knee by elevating your heels a little. It can be extremely beneficial for people suffering from backaches.
However, you should avoid them if you have any knee problems. The important thing to remember, as with all strength-based exercises, is that good form is your primary goal.