The squat is a functional movement that you cannot escape, no matter how hard you try. Whether you’re sitting down in a chair, getting out of a car, or lowering yourself on the toilet, there is a little bit of squat in everything you do.
The fundamental movement pattern is one of the most essential exercises you can do in the gym. It’s so important that even a broscientist can lecture you about its benefits.
Heel elevated squats are a variation of the conventional squat. While performing the raised heel squat, a lifter squats with weight plates under their heels. In fancier gyms, you might find specialized metal platforms, also known as squat wedges, for the exercise.
Heel elevated squats are in-trend. Pro bodybuilder Hunter Labrada is using it regularly in his 2022 Mr. Olympia prep, scheduled for Dec. 16-18 in Las Vegas, NV, to improve his quad size, separation, and definition.
The elevated-heel position allows your torso to stay more upright than if your heels were flat on the floor, which shifts stress to your quads. Add load, and it can spur muscle growth.
Squatting with heels elevated on a platform helps improve your flexibility, and you’ll be able to get deeper into your squat, which further boosts your quad activation and muscle and strength growth.
If you face difficulty achieving depth on a squat or tend to lean forward too much on the eccentric part (downward phase) of the movement — due to a poor hip or ankle mobility, you should give heel elevated squats a shot.
If you’ve ever wondered if placing weight plates under your heels while squatting makes the exercise easier or harder, read on because we’re going to answer this and much more in this article.
Squats are a full-body compound exercise and are one of the most effective lifts for building muscle mass and strength in your lower body.
The heel elevated squat targets the following muscles —
- Primary Muscles — The raised heel squat is primarily a lower-body exercise that works your quads, adductors, and abductors.
- Secondary Muscles — The supporting muscles include your hamstrings, glutes, core, lower back, spinal erectors, calves, abs, obliques, traps, and rhomboids.
Notably, the standard squat targets the same muscles, except hamstrings and glutes are a part of the primary target muscles.
Quads are a big muscle group consisting of four muscles — vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and the rectus femoris. Quad-focused heel elevated squats are an incredibly effective lift to ignite new muscle growth.
Benefits of Heel Elevated Squats
The squat is one of the most researched exercises and is proven to be a great way to build strength and muscle mass, increase bone density, lose body weight, bolster your core, tone your body, and strengthen your tendons, bones, and ligaments. 
Besides all the benefits of the conventional squat, squatting with your heels raised entails the following advantages —
1. Improves Your Squat Depth
Using an elevated platform can help you squat deeper as it puts your ankles in a better position for depth than the conventional squat. Even a short elevation can make a big difference.
You could give the elevated heel squats a go at your home by placing a book under your heels — probably not the best example.
If you have never gone below parallel on the conventional squat or tried the elevated heel variation of the lift, you might break into tears the first time you achieve depth while performing the exercise.
2. Reduces the Stress on Your Lower Back
Ass-to-the-grass conventional squats can put a lot of stress on your lower back and lumbar spine, especially if you go deep and heavy. Things can go from bad to worse if you are a beginner or don’t have the perfect squatting form.
Raised heel squats take off some tension from your lower back as your upper body stays comparatively upright while performing the exercise compared to the conventional squat.
But why is that, you ask?
You probably might have heard internet fitness celebrities tell you to never let your knees go over your toes while squatting or lunging. Well, the same logic does not apply to heel elevated squats.
Actively trying to push your hips back during the eccentric part of a conventional squat and pinning your knees in place puts you in a position where most of the tension is on your lower back. Furthermore, you might leave gains on the table while performing standard squats as the lower back tends to give up before your quads.
Allowing your knees to go over your toes and pushing your hips down instead of back and down can help elevate tension from your lower back and lumbar spine.
3. Greater Quad Activation
If you do not feel a pump in your quads while performing the conventional squats or if you feel your lower back has taken over, do not hold back from switching to the elevated heel squat variation. Remember — It’s never too late to fix your workouts.
Heels elevated squats result in better quad muscle fiber recruitment by increasing the range of motion at the knee and decreasing the range of motion at the hip.
Besides putting less strain on your supporting muscles, the raised heel squat puts more stress on your quads, resulting in a higher volume and intensity workout for the front of your legs.
Apart from focusing on your quads, the squat can help in building a rock-solid core. A 2018 study found non-significant differences between the squat and plank in rectus abdominis and oblique external activation. Per the study, you could get the same amount of ab work squatting as you would while planking.
4. Kind on Your Ankles and Hips
Heel elevated squats put less stress on your ankles and hips and are one of the most efficient squat variations for people with limited ankle and hip flexor mobility.
If you have limited hip or ankle mobility, you should make the raised heel squats a part of your leg day routine, and your joints (and quads) will thank you for it.
5. Great For People Recovering From an Injury
If you have limited mobility but want to go heavy on the squat, performing the heel elevated variation can reduce your chances of an injury while emphasizing quad recruitment and activation.
Since the raised heel squats are kinder on your ankles, hip flexors, lower back, and lumbar spine, it is a great exercise for people dealing with an injury or in the recovery phase.
With that said, if you are dealing with an injury, you should consult a physician and seek his advice before hitting the gym.
Drawbacks of Heel Elevated Squats
Below are the disadvantages of performing the raised heel squat —
1. Greater Stress on Knees
While performing heel elevated squats, your knees will go over your toes at the bottom, which can put them under undue stress. If you have old man knees, the raised heel squat variation might not be the best option for you.
2. Lesser Posterior Chain Activation
When your heels are elevated, it changes the shin-to-foot angle, and there’s less of a backward bend — also known as dorsiflexion — of the foot, which allows you to get into a deeper squat while keeping an upright torso.
While the upright torso is great for engaging your quads and achieving depth, it limits your posterior chain — hamstrings, glutes, calves, and lower back activation.
If you want overall lower body development, you cannot restrict your leg workouts to raised heel squats. You’ll have to supplement your leg workouts with exercises like glute bridges, leg curls, and Romanian Deadlifts to ensure your posterior chain isn’t lagging.
3. Doesn’t Fix Underlying Issues
If you are resorting to heel elevated squats, chances are you have poor ankle or hip flexor mobility. While the raised heel squat is a great workaround for your limited range of motion, it doesn’t do anything to improve your condition.
How To Perform Heel Elevated Squats
Here is how to do the raised heel squat with the correct form —
- Place a couple of weight plates or a squat wedge on the floor.
- Position your feet on the elevated platform so that your feet are slightly wider than hip-width apart, and only your heels are placed on the platform. Your toes should be on the ground.
- Take a deep breath, contract your core and quads, and slowly lower yourself into a squat.
- Pause at the bottom of the movement.
- Return back to the starting position explosively while breathing out and pushing through your heels.
- Pause and contract your quads at the top.
- Repeat for recommended reps.
Tips For Heel Elevates Squats
Get the most out of the lift by —
- Ensuring you’re not pushing your hips back. Your goal should be to sit straight and down.
- Don’t let your heels come up off the platform.
- Maintain an upright torso throughout the exercise.
- Do not let the knees collapse inward while performing the raised heel squat.
- Use a 2.5-pound or five-pound plate for the exercise. Bigger plates can throw you off balance while performing the exercise.
- Don’t raise your heels or toes off the elevated platform during the concentric part of the squat.
- Keep your lower back slightly arched throughout the exercise.
Heel Elevated Squats Alternatives
A few of the raised heel squat alternatives and variations include —
1. Heel Elevated Goblet Squat
How to perform —
- Place two weight plates on the floor about hip-width apart.
- Stand with your heels raised and the balls of your feet on the floor.
- Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in front of your chest.
- Pull your shoulders down and back, and brace your core.
- While keeping your torso upright, bend at your knees and squat as low as possible without rounding your lower back.
- Return to the starting position explosively.
- Repeat for the required number of repetitions.
Read more: Heels Elevated Goblet Squats.
2. Cyclist Squat
How to perform —
- Stand on a squat wedge with a closer than shoulder-width stance with a barbell on your shoulders. Doing so places even more emphasis on your quads than the heel elevated squat.
- Slowly lower your body into a squat.
- Pause at the bottom.
- Return to the starting position explosively.
- Repeat for reps.
3. Dumbbell Squat
How to perform —
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand and hold them down by your sides.
- Stand with your feet around shoulder-width apart. Keep your head up and your back straight. This will be the starting position.
- Take a deep breath in and slowly lower your body down towards the floor by pushing your hips back and down.
- Squat down as far as possible or at least until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
- Slowly raise your body back up by pushing through your heels.
- Repeat for repetitions.
Read more: Dumbbell Squat.
4. Hindu Squat
How to perform —
- Stand upright with a shoulder-width stance. Your arms should be at your sides at the starting position.
- Begin the movement by extending your arms straight out in front so they are parallel to the floor.
- On an inhale, push back your hips and descend into a squat while lifting your heels off the floor.
- As you lower yourself towards the floor, pull your arms towards your body and circle them behind you.
- At the bottom of your movement, you should be sitting on the balls of your feet and your hands should be above your toes.
- While exhaling sharply, push your body up to the starting position and raise your arms so that they are perpendicular to your body. Your feet should be placed flat on the floor at this position.
- Repeat for reps.
Read more: Hindu Squat Guide.
Below are some of the most common questions relating to heel elevated squats —
Will heel elevated squats improve my quads?
If you have hit a plateau on the conventional squat, the raised heel squat variation might get you the quad muscle fiber stimulation you need to break through the overhead ceiling.
The raised heel squat feels great. Should I just stop performing conventional squats altogether?
Although the heel elevated squat is an incredibly effective exercise, you shouldn’t give up on the orthodox squat. Both lifts have a time and place.
Also, if the raised heel squats feel much better for your ankles, lower back, and hips, you should begin working on your mobility to adapt to the standard squat.
Can I forgo the heel elevated squat for the conventional squat?
Absolutely! If you can perform the conventional flat-footed squat with a full range of motion and achieve enough quad activation, you can skip performing the raised heel squat.
Although heel elevated squats are a great exercise to target your quads and minimize hamstring, glute, and lower back recruitment, you should stick with the conventional squat until you build a solid foundation, especially if you are a beginner.
The raised heel squat is an advanced exercise focusing on quadriceps development, which is great for people dealing with an injury, lifters with limited ankle and hip mobility, or people who want to zero down on building quad strength and muscle mass. On the other hand, you should probably give this exercise a pass if you have bad knees.
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- van den Tillaar R, Saeterbakken AH. Comparison of Core Muscle Activation between a Prone Bridge and 6-RM Back Squats. J Hum Kinet. 2018;62:43-53. Published 2018 Jun 13. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0176