If you’ve been struggling to get into the correct form for a squat, look no further than elevating your heels. For most, it’s a pinching feeling in the front of their ankles or hips that holds them back from reaching a full-depth squat. This simple change can make a big difference in how your squat looks and feels.
There are two main movements encompassed in lower body strength training, the squat and the hinge. It is important to first differentiate the two, so we can alter our exercise and bias the adaptations we hope to achieve. A squat is a movement where the knee joints take on more responsibility by putting them through a larger range of motion compared to the hip joint. In contrast, in a hinge, the hips drive the movement and are accompanied by a larger range of motion than the knees. By elevating your heels, your movement will be much more “squatty” than “hingey”. This allows you to be able to achieve a deeper squat, focus on knee development, and reduce the amount of stress on your low back.
When it comes to squatting, the goal is to maintain proper form throughout the entire movement. Proper form includes keeping your spine in a neutral position, good depth, and the bar tracking over the middle of your feet. When your heels are flat on the floor, you have to angle your toes outward and dorsiflex your ankles to achieve that. This can be difficult for many people and can lead to knee, hip, and back pain.
Elevating your heels allows for less ankle dorsiflexion and puts your feet in a more natural position. This will make it easier for you to maintain the proper form throughout the entire squatting movement. It also allows for greater depth in the squat, which will help you to activate the quad muscles and build more strength in the lower body.
Elevating your heels also allows you to emphasize your knees rather than your hips. When your heels are flat on the floor, your hips will be the first thing to break in the squat. This could lead to a pinching feeling for many people when they try to go down. When your heels are elevated, your knees will be the first to break, which will help you to use the correct muscles and maintain proper form.
Elevating your heels can also help to reduce the amount of stress on your low back. When your heels are flat on the floor, you will have to adjust by arching your back and turning the movement into more of a hinge to maintain the correct form. This can put a lot of strain on your low back and lead to injury over time. With some heel elevation, your body is able to stay much more upright. When you are more upright, you are able to keep your spine in a neutral position and reduce the strain on your low back.
This principle can also be applied to a split squat in the same capacity. Each exercise you chose can be adjusted to achieve your desired outcome. The split squat focus is also determined by the degree to which your torso is upright. Putting a wedge under your front heel will allow you to stay more upright and emphasize the burn in your quads rather than your hips.
Overall, elevating your heels when you squat can be a great way to improve your form and reduce the amount of stress on your low back. It allows for less ankle dorsiflexion and allows you to achieve greater depth in the squat. It also emphasizes the knees rather than the hips and helps you to use the correct muscles. If you’ve been struggling with your squat, give this simple change a try and see how it can benefit your form. It is also important to remember this is effective on a case-by-case basis determined by your individual goals and limitations.