Raising the heels when squatting has become a trend within fitness. With tailormade products, you can perform heel elevated squats without special shoes hitting the market. But why use heel elevated squats over regular squats?
Heel elevated squats reduce the stress on the lower back but increase it at the knee. They will help you target the quads and squat deeper.
These are only some of the benefits when elevating your heels when squatting. Further, is it for everyone?
Heel Elevated Squat Benefits
There are many benefits associated with squatting with raised heels. Even if you’re not a competitive Olympic Weightlifter, I typically recommend squatting with elevated heels because of the improved squat mechanics. But there are more benefits than that!
Elevating your heels when squatting allows you to squat deeper by reducing the required range of motion from your ankles. The higher the heel is raised, the less ankle dorsiflexion is needed to reach full depth in the squat .
This holds true regardless if the lifter is a novice or an experienced squatter . Many people may say elevating your heels is a crutch to work around poor ankle mobility. However, the additional benefits of elevating your heels with Weightlifting make them a no-brainer when squatting.
If your ankles have poor range of motion, consider performing loaded mobility exercises like the seated calf raise in addition to heel elevated squats.
This only applies to wearing Weightlifting shoes to elevate your heels. Placing a wedge under your feet does not improve your stability.
Wearing Weightlifting shoes with any heel height reduces side-to-side force leakage during the eccentric and concentric phase of the squat compared to minimal flat footwear . Meaning you can apply the majority of the force vertically against the barbell.
It seems Weightlifting shoes with the elevated heel improve balance by centralizing the center of pressure of the feet toward the middle regardless of being a novice or advanced squatter .
Bear in mind that novice and advanced lifters in this study were characterized by the number of times squatting a week, not strength or training age. A novice squatted once and advanced twice or more per week.
Not the greatest way to categorize subjects as we don't know if there was a strength or training age discrepancy between subjects. Interestingly, another study found a trend toward better side-to-side stability when wearing Weightlifting shoes. But, the forward and back center of pressure of the feet was more significant .
It’s difficult to ascertain why these differences exist as studies either did or didn’t control for squat depth and concluded different findings.
Regardless, even though one study reported less stability wearing the Weightlifting shoe, subjects subjectively rated the Weightlifting shoe as more stable than a regular athletic shoe which is strong evidence of stability .
Generate More Force & Power
Greater stability typically means you can generate more force and power when squatting. That's one of the many reasons squatting on unstable surfaces is not recommended. We see increases in average eccentric power when squatting with raised heels in a shoe compared to flat shoes .
Further, we see greater vertical forces when wearing Weightlifting shoes than in minimal flat shoes .
Target The Quads
When targeting the quads with squatting, a more upright trunk position forces the knees to travel further forward, placing more stress on the quads. Elevating the heel encourages these positions with ease.
The greater the heel height, the greater quadriceps muscle activation we see . We also see greater quad force production when wearing Weightlifting shoes versus flat, minimal footwear .
Further, greater knee flexion is achieved by placing the quads under longer stretch, stimulating a more robust muscle-building response .
Reduce Lower Back Stress
Due to having an upright trunk position, there are reduced shear forces on the lower back . Therefore, elevating your heels can reduce the load placed on your lower back if you suffer from lower back pain.
Maintain An Upright Trunk Position
Maintaining an upright torso is a benefit in itself. Especially if you enjoy the Olympic lifts. Catching a clean requires a vertical trunk so the bar doesn't fall off the shoulders, and maximum force can be imparted on the barbell when standing up.
Doing cleans in flat shoes makes it harder to maintain this upright position in the catch, where elevating the heels and enhanced stability make negotiating the clean positions manageable.
Heel Elevated Squats Muscles Worked
The muscles worked during the heel elevated squat are predominately the quads, glutes, and spinal erectors. This is no different from a squat in flat shoes when performed similarly. However, heel elevated squats will place extra emphasis on the quads.
Are Heel Elevated Squats Good For Glutes
All deep squats will build big glutes. However, there may be better options if your main priority is to build a bigger butt. For example, low bar back squats elicit greater glute and hamstring activation due to greater forward lean of the trunk .
That means squatting in flat shoes would be recommended if targeting the glutes was a priority. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t build great glutes using the heel elevated squat. Squatting deep and using glute accessory exercises are your ticket to a perky butt.
Are Heel Elevated Squats Bad For Your Knees?
Heel elevated squats aren’t bad for your knees. But they’ll place more stress on them. If you have acute or chronic knee pain, squatting in flat shoes may reduce this pain as you restore their function.
As your pain dissipates, you can slowly return to heel elevated squats to further strengthen the structures surrounding the knee.
Heel Elevated Squats vs. Regular Squats
Heel elevated squats result in a more upright posture, greater forces around the knee, better quad activation, and less ankle range of motion compared to regular squats in flat shoes.
Heel Elevated Squat Equipment
If you’re ready to start elevating your heels when squatting, you’ll need some new equipment for your gym bag. There are many options. Some ranging from free to a couple of hundred dollars. Here are your options:
Weightlifting (Squat) Shoes
Having a pair of good quality Weightlifting shoes will last you a lifetime, especially if you only use them for squats. Mine have lasted me 10 years, have traveled round the world with me and been abused with multiple Weightlifting sessions weekly.
You can also see our complete list of the best Olympic Weightlifting shoes here. Our recommended shoe is the Velaasa Strake which sports a retro wooden heel and incredibly comfortable fit.
Adding a wedge to your shoe is a cheaper option to elevate your heels without needing new shoes. However, you won't get the stability of a Weightlifting shoe as you'll still have a soft sole. Your best bet is placing a shoe wedge into a CrossFit style hybrid shoe with more rigid soles.
Placing small 2.5 kg plates on the floor to elevate your heels is the simple, no equipment method. Again, you don't get the enhanced stability a Weightlifting shoe gives you, but it will reduce the demand placed on the ankle.
Squat wedges are relatively new to the fitness market. You can achieve the same effect with plates under your heel, but the squat wedge is more comfortable.
Heel elevated squats are perfect if you want more stability when squatting while targeting the quads. If you suffer from knee pain, then squat in flat shoes instead. Powerlifters may wish to use a flat sole shoe since the squat is more hip dominant than a Weightlifting style squat.
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