Should we elevate the heels when we squat?

If a person struggles to squat without a heel lift, should we allow them or should we focus on getting them better able to squat with flat feet?

Or is it really just a cut and dried choice like I’ve suggested above, or is more nuanced than this?

Long story short, it’s much more nuanced.

The question came up on the social media, it got many answers, mostly showing clear coaching biases.

And this is a problem.

It’s one that I have been guilty of in the past.

Here’s a thing:

My bias doesn’t matter a damn.

What matters is the client, their wants and their needs.

And if using a heel lift gets them to their goals and causes no further issues or injuries, then why the fuck wouldn’t you use one?

Why might we need a heel lift?

  1. Not enough ankle dorsiflexion

  2. Not enough femoral internal rotation

  3. Not enough knee external rotation (looking ground up)

  4. Not enough spinal extension (thoracic)

  5. Too much spinal extension (lumbar/cervical)

  6. Sub par Scapula movement and GH external rotation

  7. Unable to stabilise the lumbar (read core, read psoas/iliacus/diaphragm etc)

The list could go on.

Many do get a near instant improvement in their squat if we

  1. Mobilise the ankle to open up dorsiflexion

  2. Get a hockey ball into the iliacus for a bit

  3. Activate the psoas and glutes with low level, targeted exercises

  4. Roll the pec minor and activate the upper back

  5. Positional breathing drill to improve diaphragm use

This rather convoluted sequence gets most moving better so we can now have them squat.

If they can squat, maybe, just maybe those changes we made will dial in a little bit.

Maybe.

But then, how do we squat?

  1. Front squat

  2. Back squat

  3. To a box

  4. Box squat (yes that’s different to to a box)

  5. Goblet

  6. Zercher

  7. Split Squat

  8. Front foot elevated

  9. Back foot elevated

  10. Long or short split

  11. Step up/down

Which version of the squat will give them the response we are looking for from doing the exercise in the first place?

No. Just no.


And don’t forget to ask the client what they want.

So like most things in physical culture, a simple question may not actually be a simple question.

So here’s a few riders.

  1. No one NEEDS to squat.

  2. If they insist on squats, find the best one for them, if that means a heel lift, or a box, so be it.

  3. Use any rehab/intervention exercises as warm up and/or active rest