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

  4. Talk with the client to ensure that you are both on the same page

One big thing we must be mindful of is putting doubt into someone’s mind.

The recent developments coming out of the neuroscience world, of which the pain science community is of particular value to us as coaches, clearly warns against telling people they are broken.

In fact, other than in a very clear cut case, it’s probably best to not give any diagnosis at all, rather to to jump straight to the intervention plan with a focus on the desired outcome.

A person thinking that they are broken does NOT help them in any way. Show them that they are still capable, and they will likely come back from whatever injury much much faster.

We’ve covered a few points here.

But in short it comes down to this.

  1. Give the client the best training they can receive, the training that will bring them towards their goals, and if that means we have to adjust exercise performance and technique, then so be it.

  2. There is no one way to do any exercise.

  3. No exercise is essential.

  4. They are merely movements we use to develop selected attributes.

As we are training the person, if we are trained to, we can use the warm ups and the rest periods to work the rehab drills.

It’s not rocket science.

But it may mean putting away preconceived ideas as to how things are to be done.

And that means putting your ego aside.

Regards

Dave Hedges

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