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Why Heel Elevated Squats Are Not Your Knee Solution

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This weekend I was so happy to be back launching this summer’s Perform Better fitness education conferences in Orlando. If you aren’t familiar, these are some of the very best in educational opportunities for fitness pros, strength coaches, and even therapists. There are amazing coaches I am always honored to teach along side, but I also just love working with and connecting with the people that come.

heel elevated squats

My topic this year was applying power training for non-athletes. Believe it or not, there is a VERY big difference between how we build and train power for both populations. While that may be a blog post we do this week, I wanted to discuss a conversation that I wasn’t planning for during my presentations.

heel elevated squats

I was discussing the importance of creating stability from the feet and driving into the ground, why this is SO essential in not optimizing power, but reducing stress on the knees and low back. It was then that I casually mentioned why developing and optimizing ankle mobility is so key which led to throwing the room into a spin when I said, “that’s why we shouldn’t elevate our heels on squats or really any lower body exercise”.

vmo myth

Understanding the real issues in good squats allows us to help anyone build better squats without artificial support.

Right as I said THAT, about two thirds of the room shot up their hands wanting to ask questions about elevating the heels. I get it, something they have seen what feels like everyone do, I was the crazy person saying NOT to do. Instead, of writing a post explaining all the reasons (which I have done in past posts), I wanted to share what some of the biggest questions in regards to heel elevated squats were…

“Doesn’t using heel elevated squats help us get a full range of motion squat?”

I get the thought here, you see someone struggle with squatting with their feet flat on the ground to get any depth, then you elevate their heels and BOOM! They just squatted all the way down. Isn’t that a good thing?

This is where a BIG misunderstanding of the squat comes into play. Yes, when you use heel elevated squats you are likely to get greater range of motion at the knee joint. HOWEVER, that isn’t the only or even the most important joints we should be examining.

If you read research on the biomechanics of the squat, most will break down the squat into three key joints. Those are the ankle, knee, and hip, these 3 areas have to work cohesively to do a good squat. While most focus on the knee, the fact is the ankle and hip dictate more of the knee than the knee itself determines what it does. This is an example of a key kinetic chain that we have known for years impacts things like knee health and the ability to move well overall.


When we use heel elevated squats, we often remove the need for what is known as ankle dorsiflexion (imagine pulling your foot towards you) and that changes EVERYTHING up the chain. We also tend to see changes in the hip mechanics too which we will address in a moment. Interestingly enough, ankle mobility is more correlated in research with knee health the hip AND knee mobility (the knee mobility is typically restricted by issues above and below the joint).

knees over toes

So, addressing ankle mobility and foot stability (foot stability helps build better ankle mobility) like physical therapist, Jessica Bento shows is much more effective for building healthier knees and greater squats.

“Doesn’t heel elevated squats fix ankle mobility?” 

This wasn’t the first time that I hard this statement. I’m not sure where it is derived from, but when we break it down it makes very little sense. For one, most people don’t really evaluate ankle mobility and don’t get a good sense of what is causing the restriction in movement. It could be soft-tissue, it could be the joint itself, but VERY often it is neurological. What do I mean?

heel elevated squats

A great example is myself. If I don’t build stability through the use of my feet and engage my core properly you will probably see a bodyweight squat like that on the left. However, if I use my feet and get my core to create stability, the squat looks VERY different. This is coming from a guy 6’4 with 7 spinal fusions and a fused ankle from 10 years of basketball where I damaged the joint severely.

My point is even WITH significant joint changes, I can move better IF I use my body smarter. When it comes to lower body exercises, the feet and core is where everything should begin.

Coach Cari Satre shows how we progress squats with challenging the core different ways so that we get a different training effect. Starting with getting TONS of feedback to our core to help our hip mobility and understand how to squat to less feedback. 

People will try to say that elevating the heels will push the knees forward so that is what is helping your ankle mobility. For one, that rarely happens if you look at the ankle joint when people use heel elevated squats, even if they are trying to. The reason largely is your assumption is that it is just muscular tightness (not a foot stability issue) but this makes little sense because research shows the calf muscles during heel elevated squats increases. We can’t have the muscles stretch is they are trying to contract harder because the body is worried about falling forward.

You can see above that my knees can go way over my toes, but my ankle position doesn’t change almost at all. If it WERE just a muscular restriction, trying to get the muscles to be more pliable while having them contract more doesn’t make sense either.

I know, I know, you see EVERYONE doing heel elevated squats, but I don’t want you to do them because you see everyone else doing them and I don’t want you NOT doing them just because I said so. I want you to take the information (heck, we didn’t get through all the issues) and truly understand if what you THINK you are doing is actually a solution.

You can check out more with our Knees Over Toes Course HERE for 20% off as well as everything else at DVRT Fitness this week with code “save20” HERE