T Nation

Squatting with Elevated Heels

I recently found out I’ve been squatting wrong for my whole weightlifting career. I’ve always squatted with a very horizontal back, my rear much higher than it should be - something akin to a bent-legged good morning which in hindsight I can see is ridiculous. I would always squat very deep but my torso would go right down to horizontal and I could feel the weight being supported on the front of my foot.

I know all these things are wrong but I always assumed it was just because I’m fairly tall with long legs and it’s just “one of those things”. I read up about it (on this very website I think) and was told not to worry - apparently it’s a common problem amongst taller lifters with long femurs. I have since learned that that can’t be true - guys like Bret Contreras (6 foot 4) squat properly without a problem.

The other day I asked a member of my gym to have a look at my squat and tell me if it was ok and what I could do to correct it. He first got me to do ATG overhead squats with an almost negligible weight (a wooden pole), keeping the pole directly above my head for the whole movement.

Every time I tried I fell over backwards. I was literally physically incapable. Trying to do a deep overhead squat forced my body to squat properly but it couldn’t do it - I could feel my back working overtime to stay upright.

He then put two 2.5kg plates under my heels and I squatted, ATG, perfectly. I managed to keep the weight on my heels, my back was upright, there was no pain in any of my joints and I really felt it in my legs. I can’t think of any negatives to this method. As long as you’re not competing as a powerlifter (which I’m not) it’s a solution, at least in the short term.

From what I can tell it just changes the angle of your body and allows people like me to keep my centre of gravity in the right place. A lot of people completely lose it at the mere suggestion of elevating the heels to squat but I would argue that those people are just lucky enough not to have had a real problem squatting properly. Or perhaps they were taught the correct form early in their weightlifting careers and so didn’t spend a long time exacerbating the problem by training their body in the wrong way.

This same gym-goer who had put the plates under my heels concluded that my poor squatting technique had been caused by an imbalance of muscle in my lower body - more specifically, I had a weak posterior chain.

So, to fix this, I’m planning on building a stronger posterior chain whilst practising the correct technique with negligible weight overhead squats and, if I can, eventually weaning myself off of the plates under my heels. I’m not saying that popping plates under your heels fixes the problem, but it can’t hurt and, whilst you’re trying to get your squatting technique perfect, it’s a viable alternative.

I’m writing this primarily to offer some help to people who have experienced similar squatting problems, but also to convince the naysayers that it’s not a sin, it’s completely safe, and for some skeletally and muscularly imbalanced freaks like me, it really does help!

Also, as always, I’d love to hear any advice from people who know what they’re talking about or have been in a similar situation.

Thanks!

Have you ever heard of Oly Shoes??? Much more effective than Squatting with a plate under your heel. Also there is nothing against Squatting with elevated heels ( oly shoes ) in powerlifting. Just saying other than that glad you fixed your problem before your problem broke you.

I do too, but have very short Achilles from birth and have very poor calf flexibility. But it works for me, puts more strain on quads I believe. I also seem to remember Arnie doing it?

oly shoes are great:

Yeah I had heard of them whilst reading up on this topic - they would certainly make things a bit easier in terms of getting the right foot placement and a bit more stability. Would it be fair to say that lots of people have this same problem if Olympic lifters wear shoes with a slightly elevated heel? Oly shoes seem like such a simple solution to such a debilitating yet common problem! I can’t believe no-one enlightened me sooner!

So I’m 6’2 and I used to complain about this, and I used to complain about being tall etc. I also heard about putting plates under your heels,and I tried it, but it didn’t seem perfect for me. I’m going to try it again tomorrow and see if this time around, after 6+ months of lifting, it does any difference.

What my point is, that I did it without it, and while its true you have to start at a lower weight, and really perfect your form, your height really shouldn’t stop you from doing it correctly and getting the job done. Granted, I don’t go as deep as the video above, but I’ve had 2 ACL reconstructions so I’m not really trying to put that much stress on my knees. I do squats with thighs parallel to the ground and its no problem. I think you nailed it on the posterior chain part. I dead-lift before almost every one of my workouts(no more than 3 times a week) so I guess that’s how I built the chain up.

So I guess my question is, even after being satisfied with my form on squats and doing them without any concerns, should I try to get into the habit of squatting with plates under my heels? It’s true that it feels like my quads barely do any work.

If you are satisfied with your depth, then you don’t need to elevate your heels. Elevating the heels helps people with relatively long femurs go deeper. To work the quads more, either go shallower with heavier weight (which is essentially what elevating the heels would do for you), or do another exercise.

[quote]smallmike wrote:
If you are satisfied with your depth, then you don’t need to elevate your heels. Elevating the heels helps people with relatively long femurs go deeper. To work the quads more, either go shallower with heavier weight (which is essentially what elevating the heels would do for you), or do another exercise.[/quote]

We are going to have to agree to disagree… There is nothing Ilike about the above statement

[quote]Reed wrote:

[quote]smallmike wrote:
If you are satisfied with your depth, then you don’t need to elevate your heels. Elevating the heels helps people with relatively long femurs go deeper. To work the quads more, either go shallower with heavier weight (which is essentially what elevating the heels would do for you), or do another exercise.[/quote]

We are going to have to agree to disagree… There is nothing Ilike about the above statement
[/quote]

OK. WHY?

he literally just told the guy to not squat as deep as possible and to use a weight that is to heavy to squat to proper depth in order to stimulate the quads. also how does elevating your heels a half inch in order to squat well below parrell make your depth “essentially” “shallower”

so as said above I do not agree with that at all… unless i miss understood what was said.

I think “the guy” you’re referring to is me, and I was just curious to the reasoning behind your statement. I honestly don’t intend on changing my stance into a more narrower stance. After initially having some issues with the stance and the whole squat process, I looked up a form video here on T-Nation, where the guy basically said that the stance need to be correlated to your height, and that the joints and ligaments basically functional at their optimal level when everything is placed in their “natural positioning”.

After hearing that, it made perfect sense, and I’ve never felt better squatting. Now, I do feel like my squats work more hamstring than anything else, so I just have to figure out an additional exercise for increased quad involvement/stimulation.

[quote]smallmike wrote:
To work the quads more, either go shallower with heavier weight (which is essentially what elevating the heels would do for you), or do another exercise.[/quote]

I’d say deep squats would work your quads if anything MORE than shallow squats because your quads are going through the full ROM. Think about it - the quads extend the knee and straighten then leg, so when you squat from ATG (arse/ass to grass) your quads are doing more work because your knees are bent a lot more. The only thing that shallow squats will do is eliminate the hamstring, glute and lower back activation.
So probably do some assistance quad exercises - leg press with your foot right at the bottom of the pushing platform is good, or just try some other squat variants and see what they do for you? I hear deficit and/or snatch grip deadlifts do a lot more for your quads because of the added depth, and I always find cleans really hit my quads.

In response to Claudan:

I squat as deep as I can because I’m a rugby player so I want to make sure I have strength and power throughout the full ROM and also I’m really inflexible so I don’t want to exacerbate that. I could probably do parallel squats without elevated heels but going really deep is just impossible. I’ve given up using my height as an excuse (because I’m the same height as you which isn’t huge) but I do think there’s something about my body that won’t allow me to squat to the depth that I want to. If it’s something muscular I’ll fix it by focussing more on my posterior chain and then some day I’ll do away with the Oly shoes that I’ve just ordered. If it’s skeletal (long femurs or whatever) then I’ll stick with the Oly shoes.

But I think ultimately if there’s something out there that will enable you to squat surely you should do it?! As long as it won’t have a negative effect in the long run - and as far as I can tell there’s nothing negative about Oly shoes.

And to smallmike:

I agree with the first two sentences of what you said. If you’re happy with your depth then just carry on doing what you’re doing. And elevating the heels does help some people (like me) get depth. BUT it doesn’t reduce the ROM or turn it into a shallow squat, which seems to be what you’re saying. It’s literally still exactly the same as a normal squat - the same muscles are doing the same thing.

I’d love it if someone had some hard evidence though, like an EMG of a regular squat and one with elevated heels. But I guarantee you the results would be exactly the same.

I’m not sure now what I meant by my third statement, but it made sense to me when I wrote it. Oh well.