Elevated Heel Squats – Introduction
Heel Elevated Squats: Benefits, Muscles Worked + How-To
Whatever your fitness goals are, squats will get you there sooner.
Do you want to run faster? Do squats!
How about great-looking legs? Do squats!
Want to jump higher? Do squats!
Do you want to burn fat? Do squats!
Want to be more athletic?
By now, the answer is no surprise – do squats!
Squats are called the king of exercises for a reason and they should be a foundational part of almost everyone’s workouts.
However, there is more than one way to do squats, and you don’t have to pick and stick with one for the entire duration of your training career.
Also, one type of squat is not better than the others.
They’re ALL great!
In this article, we’re going to look at the heel-elevated squat so you can decide if it deserves a place in your workouts.
What Are Heel Elevated Squats?
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that heel-elevated squats are squats done with your heel elevated!
However, you don’t lift your heels yourself and balance on your tiptoes.
Instead, you rest your heels on something like weight plates, a plank of wood, or special heel wedges.
You can do heel-elevated squats in several ways, including:
- Regular squats using your body weight also known as air squats
- Front squats
- Traditional back squats
- Smith machine squats
- Goblet squat using a dumbbell or kettlebell
- Dumbbell squats
- Weighted vest squats
- Trap bar squats
Muscles Worked During Heel Elevated Squats
Like all squat variations, heel-elevated squats are a compound lower-body exercise.
That means they work virtually every muscle in your legs.
The main movers and shakers during heel elevated are:
Located on the front of your thighs and known as the quads for short, this four-headed big muscle group is comprised of:
- Rectus femoris
- Vastus intermedius
- Vastus medialis
- Vastus lateralis
These are the muscles you’ll feel most during heel-elevated squats.
Better known as your glutes, this is basically your butt.
The deeper you squat, the more work your glutes have to do.
Located on the backs of your thighs, the hamstrings work with your glutes to extend your hips.
However, the hammies are not as active as the quadriceps in heel-elevated squats.
Hamstring muscle group
Abductors and adductors
Located on the outside of your hips and inside of your thighs, respectively, the abductors and adductors stabilize your hips during heel-elevated squats.
The core is the collective name for the muscles of your midsection.
During weighted squats, you’ll need to use your core to stabilize your lumbar spine and support the load.
However, during body weight heel elevated squats, they don’t have as much work to do.
How to Do Heel Elevated Squats
The best way to perform any strength training exercise is the right way.
This ensures all the weight goes onto the muscles you want to develop and away from other parts of your body, such as nearby joints or your back.
The right way is also usually more effective, as well as safer.
This is the right way to do raised heel squats:
- Place your heel wedges, weight plates, etc., on the floor, so they’re between shoulder and hip-width apart.
- Stand on them, so your heels are raised, and the balls of your feet are on the floor.
- Heel height should be one to three inches.
- Brace your core, pull your shoulders down and back, and look straight ahead.
- Bend your knees and squat down while endeavoring to keep your torso upright.
- Do not push your hips backward.
- Instead, focus on pushing your knees forward.
- Descend as deeply as your knee health and flexibility allow.
- Do not allow your lower back to round.
- Stand back up, stopping just short of fully extending your knees to keep the tension on the working muscles.
- Descend again and continue for the prescribed number of reps.
As mentioned, you can also do this exercise with weights, for example;
- a barbell on your back,
- dumbbells in your hands,
- a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your chest, such as a raised heels goblet squat, as demonstrated below:
Heel Elevated Goblet Squat – Mind Pump – Danny Matranga
Heel Elevated Squats Benefits & Drawbacks.
Not sure if elevated heel squats deserve a place in your workouts?
Consider these benefits and then decide!
#1. Increased squat depth
Most people find that they can squat deeper when their heels are raised.
In most cases, this is because increasing heel height increases ankle mobility and lengthens the calves.
Tight ankles and calves make deep squats all but impossible.
If you are struggling to squat below parallel, raising your heels could help.
This is why Olympic lifters and some powerlifters wear squat shoes with elevated heels.
#2. More quads engagement
Old-school bodybuilders used to do heel-raised squats to increase their quads engagement.
This trick has recently become popular again.
Raising your heels pushes your knees forward and increases the angle of the knee joint.
It also reduces hamstring recruitment.
This all adds up to a much more quads-centric exercise.
#3. Less low back strain
Raising your heels makes it much easier to keep your torso upright during squats.
A more upright torso means less low back stress.
If squats, especially with weights, hurt your lower back, you will probably find that heels elevated squats are much more forgiving and comfortable.
#4. Variety and enjoyment
Despite the squat being the crowned king of leg exercises, if you do the same variation all the time, your workouts will soon start to lose some of their effectiveness and could even become boring.
Having another squat variation in your exercise armory means you don’t have to stick to the same old exercises week after week and can keep your workouts varied and interesting.
There are also a couple of drawbacks to consider…
#1. More knee stress
Raising your heels allows you to squat deeper, but squatting deeper also puts more stress on your knee joints.
This shouldn’t be a concern if you’ve got healthy knees, but it could be problematic if you have joint issues, such as arthritis or damaged ligaments.
Of course, just because you CAN squat deeper with your heels raised doesn’t mean you have to, and you can stop at parallel if you wish.
#2. A fix but not a cure for tight calves and immobile ankles
Raising your heels removes tension from your calves and ankles so your knees can travel forward with less restriction.
However, your calves and ankles will still be tight, and you’ve only circumnavigated the problem and not fixed it.
By all means, use heel elevated squats to train your quads harder or for workout variety, but don’t use them as a long-term fix for immobile ankles and tight calves.
Otherwise, these problems will only get worse.
#3. Potential muscle imbalances
Regular flat-heel squats are relatively quads-centric, but your hamstrings are still pretty active.
As such, they’ll get a decent workout, and you probably won‘t need many additional exercises to develop them and maintain muscle balance.
In contrast, raised heel squats are much more quads-centric, and involve far less hamstring engagement.
Because of this, if elevated heel squats are your main leg exercise, there is a danger that your hamstrings will become underdeveloped unless you include plenty of hamstring-specific exercises in your leg workout.
Two More Heel Elevated Squat Variations
Heel elevated squats can be performed with or without weights, but there are a couple of additional squatting exercises where your heels are raised off the floor.
Add these exercises to your workout library, especially if you find yourself without weight plates or squat wedges on which to rest your heels.
1. Sissy squats
Sissy squats are an old-school bodybuilding exercise designed to hit your quads hard.
Like heel-elevated squats, your weight is on the balls of your feet.
However, for this one, you don’t get to rest your heels on weight plates or wedges.
A high-rep set of sissy squats will leave your quads pumped and burning!
- Stand next to a wall or another object you can hold for balance.
- Rise up onto your tiptoes and brace your abs.
- Pushing your hips and knees forward, squat down while simultaneously leaning back.
- Descend as far as possible, ideally until your shins are parallel to the floor.
- Think about pushing your knees down to the floor in front of you.
- Drive your toes into the floor and stand back up.
- Tense your quads and glutes, and repeat.
Sissy Squat Demo – Testosterone Nation
2. Hindu squats
Hindu squats are a traditional Indian exercise.
Favored by Indian wrestlers, this exercise is more than just a leg workout.
Hindu squats are usually done for very high reps (50, 100, or more) and combined with very controlled breathing.
This makes them one of the most effective exercises for developing endurance and cardiovascular fitness.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms by your sides.
- Extend your arms straight out in front of you, so they are parallel to the floor.
- Inhale and squat down, lifting your heels as you descend.
- Pull your arms behind your hips as you squat down.
- At the bottom of your movement, you should be sitting on the balls of your feet, and your hands should be above your toes.
- Exhale and stand up, raising your arms in front of you, so they are again parallel to the floor.
- Press your heels back down into the floor.
- That’s one rep – keep going!
How to perform the Hindu Squat – Original Strength
Heel Elevated Squats – Closing Thoughts
Heel elevated squats are a great way to emphasize your quads, overcome short calves and limited ankle mobility, and add variety to your lower body workouts.
They’re not a new exercise and, in fact, have been around for many decades.
However, they did fall out of favor for a while because of concerns over knee health.
And while squatting with your heels raised does put a little more stress on your knees, this is of no real concern if your joints are strong and healthy.
If you do find that heel elevated squats bother your knees, don’t descend much past parallel.
Like most squatting variations, this exercise, performed with or without weight, deserves a place in your lower body workouts.
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- Bulgarian Split Squat: 15 Benefits, How To + Form Tips(Opens in a new browser tab)
- Front Squat Benefits: How To, Muscles Worked & Variations
- Dumbbell Squat vs Barbell Squat: Differences + Which Is Better
- Asian Squat vs Western Squat: Benefits, Why You Can’t + How-To