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June 13, 2022 7 min read

Squats are one of the most effective exercises when it comes to building lower body strength, with particular benefits for building strength in your quadriceps, core, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors, and calves.

Squats are widely considered to be the king of lower body exercises.

While the same is said about the bench press and the upper body, and deadlifts for the posterior chain. For squat enthusiasts, there's no better feeling than successfully moving up the amount of weight you can squat. 

One might wonder, what part of this legendary exercise could you improve, since it already does so much? Well, there are several squat variations, and heel elevated squats are definitely one of the best options.

Whether you're a beginner to weightlifting or a seasoned pro, you might feel some apprehension from straying from the traditional squat.

But elevating your heels during a squat has some major benefits, such as increasing squat depth, increasing the range of motion at the knees, and increased activation of muscle fibers in your quadriceps, just to name a few. 

Below, you'll learn everything that you need to know about the proper form and benefits of heel elevated squats, so you can start integrating them into your workout routine. 

How to Do Heel Elevated Barbell Back Squats 

  1. Elevate your heels

If you're first hearing about heel elevated squats, the name of the exercise might conjure up the image of someone doing squats while standing on their tippy-toes, heels suspended in the air. While such an exercise might look impressive, doing this could have some negative effects on your knees.

For proper elevated squats, you will want to have your heels raised with something beneath them to support them.

Some gyms will have sloping platforms, but many people simply place two five-pound barbell weight plates under each heel. Another option is to use Olympic weightlifting shoes. You will have to figure out which method for elevated squats works best for you. 

  1. Take the barbell off the squat rack, and place the barbell behind your head, with the weight carried by your traps and your shoulders. It is also possible to do elevated squats with just your bodyweight, with dumbbells hanging at your sides, or with a kettlebell held either at your side or out in front with arms extended. 
  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes slightly out, core braced, with an upright torso and chest up. This is your starting position.

Some people will make sure that they are standing in the correct position before they load the barbell onto their shoulders and traps while others will make sure that the elevated platforms are positioned at shoulder width and will step back onto the platforms after they have placed the barbell.

If you're lifting a heavy amount of weight, you will want to already be in position with your heels elevated and feet hip-width apart to minimize the difficulty of getting into position after the fact. 

  1. Push your hips back, and keeping your back flat and chest out, bend your knees.
  1. Lower down to the ground until your thighs are parallel with the ground.
  1. Pause for a moment. Then, press into your heels. Push your hips forward and return to a standing position. 

Primary muscles worked by heel elevated squats

Heel elevated squatswork your quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, calves, and lower back, with your quads and glutes being the primary movers and main target.

Supporting muscles worked by heel elevated squats 

With heel elevated squats, you have supporting muscles that play a very important role in stabilization. The stabilizing muscles during a squat are your hamstrings (they take on an important stabilizing role on the descent), low back,spinal erectors, calves, abs, obliques, and your traps and rhomboids (scapula stabilizers).

Muscles worked: traditional squats vs. heel elevated squats 

With a heel elevated squat, you are working all of these same muscles as traditional flat foot squats.

However, you are shifting emphasis from your posterior side (glutes and hamstrings) to your quads.

Your quads are a big muscle group that includes thevastus medialis,vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris. They command and demand a lot of attention to grow and get stronger, which is why elevating your heels can make sense even for someone who can squat with a full range on flat feet. 

Benefits of Elevated Heel Squats

  1. Elevating Your Heels Improves the Depth of Squats

Many beginners, intermediate, and even professional weightlifters struggle to perform regular squats with a full range of motion. A full range of motion squat means that your hamstrings encircle your calves in the bottom position. Performing squats with a full range of motion is very important for achieving the best bodybuilding results, both in muscle growth and muscle strength, especially for your quadreceps, hamstringsm and glutes.

Full range of motion squats result in a deep stretch for these muscles, which is essential for building size and strength.

Full squats are especially important for training the medial oblique (vastus meialis oblique), a tear-drop shaped muscle in your quadreceps located on the medial side of the knee. 

One of the reasons that people have trouble achieving a full range of motion when doing traditional flat-foot squats is that their calves are too tight.

When your calves are too tight, your heels will raise from the ground, unbalancing you, if you try to go low enough for a full range of motion. One of the main benefits of heel elevated squats is that it allows you to go all the way down, even if your legs are not very limber. This makes heel elevated squats an ideal choice for people who want to squat with a full range of motion while working on their flexibility. 

  1. Elevated Heel Squats Target Your Quadriceps 

Squats are one of those exercises where a small change in technique and form can have a significant impact on the muscle groups being trained.

When you do heel elevated squats, your quadriceps work a lot harder than they do with traditional flat-foot squats.

When you squat with your heels up, your knees extend forward over your toes when you lower your body. This makes a serious difference, especially since people who are doing squats often lift with such heavy weights.

During flat-foot squats, your knees stay behind your toes when you lower your body. When your knees go past your toes, your quadriceps work a lot harder, especially the vastus medialis muscle. In the lowest position of the heel squat, the medial muscle gets significantly stretched and must work hard to stabalize the knee joint.

This can be very beneficial to weightlifters since the vastus medialis is often a muscle that does not get much activation from other common leg exercises, such as the leg press and regular squats.

Heel elevated squats are, thus, beneficial for those who want to target their quads, while relieving some of the pressure from the glutes. 

  1. Elevated Squats Reduce Stress on the Back

Many people have trouble doing flat-foot squats because the exercise puts a lot of pressure on the back, and back pain is one of the most common painful and non-life threatening conditions, affecting four out of five Americans at some point in their life.

For those of you who struggle with back pain, or simply find that heavier weights cause too much discomfort in your back while doing traditional squats, heel elevated squats could potentially be the solution you are looking for since they put a lot less pressure on the lower back and lumbar spine, transferring much of the pressure onto the legs.

Elevated squats are great for preventing lower back injuries, and can also be beneficial to the recovery process for previous back injuries, allowing you to strengthen the back without putting too much pressure on it. 

Disadvantages of Elevated Heel Squats 

While there are many benefits to elevated heel squats, there are also some disadvantages that you should be aware of before integrating this squat form into your weightlifting routine.

As you will see, for some people, it might be better to just stick with regular back squats, though this will depend on a number of factors.

  1. Heel Elevated Squats Increase Stress on Knee Joints 

The biggest disadvantage of elevated squats is that, although it relieves pressure on your back, it increases the stress on your knees.

If you have healthy knees and a strong vastus medialus muscle for knee stabilization, heel elevated squats should not be much of a problem. For others, there are a number of strategies you can employ to minimize knee stress and knee.

One of the best ways to treat knee pain can be exercise, so doing heel elevated squats with lower weight and higher reps can actually go a long way in strengthening your vastus medialis muscle for increased knee stabilization and reducing knee pain.

Other options for people that want to do squats with reduced knee stress is to do front squats, the effectiveness of which can greatly benefit from taking a muscle recovery supplement like RESTED-AF

  1. Raised Heel Squats Exert Less Pressure On the Posterior Chain

The posterior chain is a family of three muscle groups on the back of the body: the hamstrings, buttocks, and lower back.

While squats are not the preferred method for strengthening the back (performing deadlifts are a much more popular and back-focused option), traditional flat-foot squats do exert a fair amount of pressure on the posterior chain.

Elevated heel squats also exert some pressure on the posterior chain, but, as we have discussed, the exercise shifts much of the pressure to the legs.

This might make elevated squats a less attractive option for those who want to get a good back exercise from squats.

  1. Heel Squats are Not Ideal for Powerlifters 

If you're a powerlifter training for a powerlifting competition, you will typically want to train using the exercise that you will actually be performing in the competition.

While some weightlifters squat with their heels up or wear Olympic weightlifting shoes, most competition will require flat-foot squats.

That being said, if you are training for a powerlifting competition and notice a deficiency of strength in your legs, Heel elevated squats can be a great way to target the muscle groups in need of help, potentially increasing your ability to lift more weights in the flat-foot position. 

Get Ready to Elevate your Weightlifting Routine 

There are many benefits to doing the heel elevated squat variation on tradition squats for both seasoned weightlifters and beginners.

Whether you are trying to decrease the pressure on your back or trying to strengthen your legs, the elevated heel squat can be a great option.

Doing heel elevated squats doesn’t mean you have to excommunicate traditional squats and other squat exercises from your workout routine. This type of squat can strengthen muscles that are used in flat-foot squats but don’t get enough attention, which can actually increase your lifting power when you go back to traditional squats.

Of course, heel elevated squats are not for everyone, especially those with knee problems, but now that you know all about the form and benefits of elevated squats you can make the decision to add this exercise to your strength training routine or not!