Performing a traditional squat without sufficient ankle mobility or lack of mobility for any other joint is a receipt for disaster.
If you have been doing traditional squats with poor ankle mobility, you have an increased chance of developing dysfunctional strength, getting injured, and building muscle imbalances.
Based on my experience and 30-hour research on elevated heel squats, I compiled all the necessary information to perform them correctly.
I will even teach you the disadvantages of performing these squats and the best alternative to increase your ankle mobility and build strength through traditional squatting.
- A heel-elevated squat is a lower-body compound exercise that follows the squatting movement pattern and is performed with a squat wedge or appropriate weight plates to increase the height of your heels, compensating for poor ankle mobility.
- To perform heel-elevated squats correctly, you must use a platform not higher than 2.5 inches and only pick the height based on your current ankle mobility.
- Heel-elevated squats are excellent for people with poor ankle mobility, but they should never represent a full substitution for regular back squats because ankle mobility must be improved to avoid injuries and bad performance.
What Is a Heel Elevated Squat?
A heel-elevated squat is a back squat variation that uses elevated surfaces placed under the heels to compensate for poor ankle mobility.
People with bad ankle mobility use heel-elevated squats and their variations to experience benefits from squatting without using compensatory movements that often lead to injuries and the development of muscle imbalances.
The heel-elevated squat is often provided to athletes returning after injuring their ankle.
The main goal is to get the athlete back in shape as fast as possible without waiting to lift weights due to limiting ankle mobility .
However, a wide population and regular gym goers have recently become aware of this squatting variation, so it has become mainstream and often performed without any prior consideration.
Healthy people should never strive only to perform heel-elevated squats because the first solution is tackling ankle mobility before residing for the worse alternatives .
"The heels-elevated goblet squat is one heck of a warm-up exercise. It’s also a good postural tool and, above all, absolutely demolishes your quadriceps — and you don’t have to lift heavy to reap all those benefits, either."
- Jake Dickson, Certified Personal Trainer
How to Perform Heel Elevated Squats
Here is the proper technique to perform heel-elevated squats without any risk of injury:
- Place two weights that are not higher than 2.5 inches close to each other to serve as the platform for elevating your heels.
- You may also pick squat wedges of sufficient height.
- Place the barbell on the squat rack and load it with sufficient weight so you can perform at least 8 reps without a pause.
- Place the loaded barbell on your upper back on your trapezius and posterior deltoid muscles.
- Unrack the barbell and take two steps back. Place your heels on the elevated surface.
- Slightly turn your toes outward and ensure your knees are always aligned with your toes during the whole exercise.
- Start the exercise by performing triple flexion - bend your hips, knees, and ankles simultaneously.
- Descend until your inner thighs become parallel to the ground, and hold that position for one second.
- Reverse the motion to return to the starting position by initiating the triple extension - extend your ankles, knees, and hips.
- Repeat for 4 sets, 8 reps, and rest for 3 minutes between each set.
What Does Elevating Your Heels Do for Squats and Ankle Mobility?
Elevating your heels gives you an edge in squats because it compensates for poor ankle mobility and the inability to perform sufficient ankle dorsiflexion.
Elevating your heels changes the structure of the squat exercise, allowing for more pressure to be placed on the knees, which is the biggest downside of this exercise, alongside developing dysfunctional strength.
Both squat variations, conventional squat, and heel-elevated squat target the same muscles.
However, the elevated heels will change the original squat form and allow for deeper squat depths for those with impaired ankle mobility, i.e., poor dorsiflexion.
A raised heel squat should only be performed by those who injured their ankle, resulting in a limiting range of motion, or those with permanent ankle ligament damage, meaning there is no chance of fully recovering a healthy range of motion.
If you are a healthy person who recently tweaked his ankle a little, there is no need to transition to these squats as you will only build the strength you can never use.
Michael Boyle, the head of America’s Olympic team for strength and conditioning, says this in his book about advances in functional training. He calls it building dysfunctional strength.
Heel Elevated Squats Benefits
There are numerous heel-elevated squat benefits for those with impaired ankle mobility.
Below, you may find the most important ones.
Reduce Stress on the Lower Back
Elevating your heels during squatting will change the angle at which you perform the exercise.
The weight shift will allow more pressure and weight to be placed on your knees instead of your lower back.
This means you will boost the squatting movement pattern and negate the bending movement pattern.
Reducing stress on your lower back will decrease chronic pain from squatting and reduce potential injuries during the training session .
Also Read: Best Lower Back Exercises for Bodybuilding
Better Squat Depth
Elevated heels due to weight plates or squat wedges will purposefully increase the depth of your squats.
The depth will be achieved by performing additional bending in your knees instead of in your hips.
However, this doesn’t mean the regular squat depth is the same as the depth achieved by performing heel-elevated squats.
This depth can even become malicious as it can trick you into believing you can achieve proper squat depth and have sufficient ankle and hip mobility.
There is no doubt you will be more stable when elevating your heels, and this is because there won’t be excessive bending forward with your torso due to insufficient ankle dorsiflexion.
The stability component is crucial for lowering the risk of potential injuries and performing the technique correctly, efficiently, and without flaws.
Proper technique isn’t only important for avoiding injuries and performing the exercise optimally without sacrificing energy for compensatory movements .
This is also why top athletes and players always spend the least energy during competitions.
For example, a top-rated NBA player such as LeBron James will always cover the least distance during a game.
This is not only because he knows when he needs to run but also because he perfected the technique of running, jumping, shooting, and passing according to the current needs on the court (not in the sense of having a perfect running technique overall, but for the conditions of the game).
You are bound to increase your lower body strength when performing heel-elevated squats.
However, this is not a long-term solution since you will mostly build dysfunctional strength.
The best choice is to opt for proper recovery or mobility training that will rejuvenate your joints and bring back lost ankle mobility.
Targets the Quads
This is a benefit and a downside at the same time because heel-elevated squats will put more pressure on your knees, which will result in bigger muscle hypertrophy .
Because your weight will shift forward due to the elevated heel position, your knees will be under more pressure, requiring your quads to work more and extend the knee or hold it in an isometric position.
The more you bend in your knees instead of your hips, the more chance of developing quad strength and hypertrophy.
Disadvantages of Heel-Elevated Squats
Here are the most significant disadvantages of heel-elevated squats.
Stress on the Knee Joints
As mentioned earlier, the weight shift will put more pressure on your knee joint, which forces your quads to work more.
However, on the ligament and cartilage level, more passive tension is put on your knee joint, which may result in potential injuries if used with poor programming, rest intervals, nutrition, and supplementation.
It is the best choice to periodically use this exercise or only when you are injured since there are more perks you may face later when deciding to recover your initial range of motion.
Not a Long Term Solution
Performing raised heel squats is not the long-term solution if you face poor ankle mobility and dorsiflexion.
You should only perform these heel-raised squats in the initial stages of recovery after getting injured.
Getting back your ankle mobility should be the primary focus when you start rehabilitation.
Heel-elevated squats serve as the best possible current alternative, which is to be abandoned immediately after you return to your injured joint's normal functioning.
Common Mistakes of the Heel Elevated Squat
Here are the most common mistakes to avoid when performing heel-elevated squats.
Internally Rotating Knees
This isn’t just for the heel-elevated squats but for squats in general.
Internally rotating your knees will put more pressure on your outer knee/tibial condyles and hurt the ligaments.
You should avoid internally rotating your knees when performing squats of any sort since they are tied with serious knee injuries such as a tear of the front or back knee ligaments (ACL and PCL).
Excessive Elevation of the Heel
If you elevate your heels too much, you will place more pressure on your knees.
The height of the squat wedges is directly proportional to the amount of pressure it is put on both knee joints.
Only put the height as much as you need it and never go over 2.5 inches since that is seriously dangerous and often results in different lower body injuries.
Insufficient Posterior Chain Muscle Supplementation
The higher the surface that elevates your heels, the less stress will be placed on your posterior chain muscles, such as your glutes and hamstrings.
The only way to solve this problem is to remove the squat wedges since that is the only way to force your torso to bend forward in your hips.
The posterior chain muscles that will suffer from inactivity include:
- Gluteus medius
- Gluteus minimus
- Gluteus maximus
- Biceps femoris
Who Should Perform the Heel Elevated Squat?
People who injure their ankles and lack mobility should perform the heel-elevated squat.
Heel-elevated squats can serve as an alternative exercise during recovery until you recover the necessary range of motion to perform regular squats again.
Otherwise, if you are a healthy lifter without any mobility issues, stick with regular squat variations such as the barbell back squat, front squat, crush grip goblet squat, and similar.
"Fresh-faced gym goers and world-class strength athletes don’t have a lot in common, but there’s one throughline that matters — the squat is integral to both of them."
- Mike Dewar, Certified Personal Trainer
Alternatives to a Heel Elevated Squat
Here are heel-elevated squat alternatives you may consider implementing into your workout routine.
Dumbbell squats are an excellent alternative for your body to achieve greater squat depths. It is an excellent exercise to transition from an injured state while only performing heel-elevated squats.
How to Perform Dumbbell Squats
- Pick two dumbbells of appropriate weight so you can perform at least 12 reps without resting.
- Assume standing, feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, and point your toes slightly outward.
- Let the dumbbells hang in your hands on the sides of your body, the same way as in the anatomical position. Ensure your knees are in line with your toes when performing the exercise.
- Start the exercise by bending your hips, knees, and ankles to transition to a deep squat position.
- Hold that position for one second when your thighs reach the parallel position with the ground.
- Reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 12 reps, 4 sets, and rest for 90 seconds between the sets.
Kettlebell squats are the same exercise as dumbbell squats but are more functional because of the kettlebells.
This is because kettlebells allow the most significant range of motion at any exercise due to their design and handle.
How to Perform Kettlebell Squats
- Pick two kettlebells of appropriate weight so you can perform 10 consecutive reps without making a pause.
- Assume a standing position, feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, and ensure your feet are slightly turned outward to allow for greater squat depths.
- Let the kettlebells hang in your hands near your body, like in the previous exercise with dumbbells.
- Start the exercise by initiating the triple flexion - bend your hips, knees, and ankles simultaneously to transition to the bottom of the squat.
- Hold that position for one second when your inner thighs become parallel to the ground.
- Reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 4 sets, 10 reps, and rest for 2 minutes between the sets.
Spanish Squats With Exercise Ball
Spanish squats are my favorite because they are excellent for athletes and will introduce enough versatility to your workout to avoid monotony and keep your motivation high.
We will use an exercise ball with a barbell to perform Spanish squats this time.
How to Perform Spanish Squats With an Exercise Ball
- Place the barbell on the floor and load it with the appropriate weight so you can perform at least 8 reps.
- Bring one exercise ball and place it against the wall. Place the loaded barbell in front of the exercise ball.
- Get in between those two pieces of equipment and put the exercise ball between your middle back area and the wall so it “hangs in the air.”
- Step over the barbell so it becomes located between your feet in front and the wall behind.
- Take a pronated grip with your hands and lift the barbell with your hands extended slightly behind your back.
- Assume a three-quarter squat position with the barbell hanging in your hands below your butt and an exercise ball placed between your middle back and the wall.
- Start the exercise by squatting down while allowing the ball to roll and help you achieve the desired squat depth.
- When your thighs parallel the ground, reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 8 reps, 4 sets, and rest between 2 and 5 minutes between the sets.
Should I Elevate My Heels When Squatting?
It depends on your ankle mobility if you should elevate your heels when squatting. An elevated heel squat is an excellent lower body exercise you should only use if you lack sufficient ankle mobility to perform dorsiflexion and achieve the proper squat depth.
How High Should Heels Be Elevated for Squats?
How high heels should be elevated for squats depends on your ankle’s range of motion. Elevated heel squats usually require a maximum of 2.5 inches of elevation to squat deeper without compensating with your upper body and hips.
Is Squatting With Heels Elevated Better Than Flat?
If you have a limited range of motion in your ankles, squatting with heels elevated is better than flat. However, if your ankle joints are healthy and you can keep an upright torso while squatting, you may continue with traditional squats.
Is There a Supplement to Help With Ankle Joint Mobility?
A high-quality joint supplement with additional collagen is the best supplement for better joint health and ankle mobility.
Joint supplements aren’t enough to help you achieve superior ankle mobility and stop performing raised heel squats.
However, pairing them with a lower-body mobility program is excellent.
Read our in-depth guide on the best joint supplements for 2023 to pick the product that will help you achieve superior ankle mobility in a matter of weeks.
Let me know your primary reason for performing heel-elevated squats and how you plan to increase your ankle mobility.
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