Squatting with your heels rising is a problem.
It will cause you to feel off-balanced while squatting and impact how you transfer force through the ground, which will reduce your overall strength.
So how do you fix your heels from rising when squatting? Heels rise in the squat because you lack ankle mobility or flexibility in your calves, you’re wearing the wrong shoes for squats, or you have an improper bar path when descending into the bottom. To fix, you need ankle mobility drills, proper squat shoes, and a bar path that keeps you centered over your mid-foot.
Out of all the technique issues that can arise while squatting, your heels rising is actually an easy fix. In this article, I discuss my top 5 tips to solve your heels from rising during squats. Let’s get started!
Should You Be Concerned If Your Heels Are Rising In The Squat?
Some lifters may only have a small heel rise while squatting. This might look like their heels only rising a few millimeters as they descend into the deepest range of the movement.
Other lifters will have a more pronounced heel rise where they literally look like their squatting on their toes (a big squat mistake)
Obviously, the more heel rise you have while squatting, the more that you should be concerned.
There are three issues that arise when your heels don’t remain flat on the floor while squatting:
1. You Will Feel Off Balanced
If you’re squatting with your heels rising, your body-weight is going to shift forward onto your toes. This isn’t an optimal position to be in when it comes to keeping the load over your center of mass.
As such, you will feel off-balanced, which will either make you feel uncomfortable while squatting, or you’ll risk actually falling over in the squat.
Both of these things make it hard to progress in the squat. Notwithstanding you’ll place yourself at a greater risk of injury.
Check out my article on How To Fix Leaning Too Far Forward In The Squat
2. You Will Have Ineffective Force Transfer
In the squat, the goal is to keep the bar path in a straight line over the mid-foot throughout the entire range of motion. Any deviations from this line reflects an ineffective transfer of force through the floor.
You’ll notice that as your heels rise, the bar path shifts forward and can’t remain in a straight line. The best way I can explain why this is a problem is by thinking about driving a car.
A straight bar path is like having your foot on the gas. However, any movement off this straight bar path is like having one foot on the gas and the other foot on the break.
If you’re constantly going back and forth between giving it gas (accelerating the barbell in a straight line), and then putting on the break (having deviations from this straight line), then you’re going to burn through the tank pretty quick.
An ineffective bar path can also cause a weak squat lockout.
3. You Will Have Greater Loading Demand On Your Low Back
The heels rising in the squat is a less stable position than having your heels flat on the floor.
As such, your body searches for additional stability while squatting, which in this case, comes from the low back.
When your heels rise, the low back experiences greater loading demand than it otherwise would.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you have weak lower back muscles, or you’re using a heavy load, then the low back will fatigue a lot quicker and could be compromised.
This is where a powerlifting belt comes in handy, but the better solution would be to keep your feet flat on the floor.
Why Do Your Heels Rise In The Squats?
Your heels rise in the squat for 4 primary reasons:
1. Poor Proprioception
Proprioception is the body’s ability to perceive how we move in space, including our sense of equilibrium and balance.
When it comes to squatting, having strong proprioception means you understand where your ankles, knees, hips, and torso are in space and how that relates to the load on your back.
A person with strong propcioception doesn’t have to “think as much” when they squat. They have practiced squatting enough times where the movement feels very natural, and they have strong sense of balance.
Conversely, if you have to really think about where your body is in space, and it takes a lot of effort for you to not feel like you’re going to fall over, and your heels are rising, perhaps you just haven’t quite mastered the skill of squatting.
2. Lack of Ankle Mobility / Calf Flexibility
If you’ve been squatting for several months (or years) and are an experienced squatter, but your heels are still rising, then it’s likely due to a lack of ankle mobility and calf flexibility.
A lack of ankle mobility and calf flexibility is also referred to as a lack of “ankle dorsiflexion” (you might have heard this term before by a personal trainer or physiotherapist).
According to a study by Greene (1994), your ankles need to go through 15-20 degrees of flexion in order to squat full range.
If your ankles don’t have the ability to do this, your body compensates by lifting the heels. You may also find that your knees cave while squatting, also known as knee valgus.
Everyone should have the ankle mobility to move through 15-20 degrees of flexion. However, it might take some exercises and drills to get there if your starting point is restricted.
I wrote an article on Narrow Stance Squats where I mention that you need greater ankle mobility if you squat narrow.
3. Wearing The Wrong Shoe
Wearing the wrong shoe can cause your heels to rise in the squat.
Based on your body type and how you squat, the type of shoe you wear can contribute to your heels rising or not.
So, what type of shoe should you wear?
For lifters with these characteristics, trying to squat in a flat shoe, will only cause your heels to rise even more than they otherwise would.
This is why some lifters choose to squat with their heels raised on plates; however, the better choice would be to purchase a heeled squat shoe (I give you my recommendations below).
4. Poor Squat Stance & Foot Position
Picking a squat stance and foot position for squats is something that is individual based on how you’re built and your level of ankle/hip mobility.
If you are squatting using a stance that is not right for your size, build, and mobility, then your body may start to compensate by lifting the heels and shifting the weight forward on your toes.
If your heels are rising in the squat you may have a problem getting deep in the range of motion. Check out my article on the 22 Exercises To Improve Squat Depth.
7 Tips To Fixing Your Heels From Rising In The Squat
Now that you know why your heels may be lifting, let’s talk about the practical solutions that you can implement right away.
Here are my top 7 tips for fixing your heels from rising in the squat:
- Widen Your Stance
- Flare Your Toes
- Get A Pair Of Squat-Specific Shoes
- Perform Ankle Mobilization Prior To Squatting
- Perform Calf Flexibility Post-Workout
- Cue Your Feet To “Claw The Ground”
- Start The Squat By Breaking At Your Hips & Knees
1. Widen Your Stance
If you’re standing too narrow, your heels will rise because your ankles won’t be in an optimal position to flex through the 15-20 degrees that’s required while squatting.
Most people should not be squatting with a stance narrower than shoulder-width.
At minimum, you should be squatting at shoulder-width distance, but more often, your stance should be slightly wider-than-shoulder width.
The general rule is that the longer your femurs are (the upper leg bone), the wider your stance should be.
Regardless if you think your stance is too narrow or not, I would experiment with a slightly wider squat stance to see if it helps prevent your heels from lifting.
The drawback of squatting in a wider stance is that your hips will need greater levels of mobility and external rotation, so if you lack hip mobility then widening your stance may feel uncomfortable.
Just make sure you’re not picking a stance where you feel any pain in your hips, or where you’re feeling like your putting your hips through a range of motion that isn’t natural.
2. Flare Your Toes
If you lack ankle mobility/calf flexibility, then flaring your toes can be a quick hack to lessening the angle that your ankle needs to go through while squatting, and thus, keeping your feet flat on the floor.
Everyone should squat with a slight flare in their toes. In other words, slightly pointing your toes outward.
So if you squat with your toes pointing completely straight forward, then angle them outward the next time you squat and see if it helps your heels from rising.
If you already squat with your toes flared, then you’ll need to be careful about flaring your toes ‘too much’. But so long as you’re making small adjustments to the angle of your toes, then you’re okay to experiment and see if it allows you to keep your feet flat.
The risk of having your toes ‘too flared’ is that it might place greater mobility demands on your hips, which you may or may not have.
Check out my article on How To Increase Ankle Mobility For Squats where I give you 13 exercises to implement into your training.
3. Get A Pair Of Squat-Specific Shoes
The easiest way to solve your heels from rising from the floor is to make sure you’re squatting in the right shoe.
This is for two reasons:
- First, a squat shoe has a hard sole, which allows you to maintain your balance to a higher degree compared with a sole that has a lot of cushion.
- Second, a squat shoe has a raised heel, which reduces the amount of ankle and hip flexion required to perform a deep squat.
Most lifters that switch from a regular training shoe to a squat shoe will have their heel rise problem solved almost immediately.
If you’re not already using squat shoes, then this is an investment I would make to improve the technique of your squat more generally. You’ll be able to squat deeper with better hip tracking and a more upright torso.
4. Perform Ankle Mobilization Prior To Squatting
While quick hacks like changing your stance, flaring your toes, and investing in a proper pair of squat shoes is great, you still need to solve the underlying issue of having tight ankles.
You’ll know if you have tight ankles by performing the following test:
- Stand with your toes 4-inches from a wall
- Bend your ankle and knee to try and touch your knee to the wall
- Can you keep your feet flat on the floor and make sure your knee is traveling straight forward (not caving in)
If you’ve failed this test, then you should be performing ankle mobilization drills as part of their squat warm up.
My two favorite ankle mobilization drills are:
Banded Ankle Dislocations
Single Leg Downward Dog
5. Perform Calf Flexibility Post-Workout
If you’ve failed the ankle mobility test, you also need to lengthen the muscles of your calf to assist with the mobility of your ankle.
This would involve static stretching of the calf. Any type of static stretching should be done post-workout (not before).
This doesn’t need to be anything fancy. You can simply place your toes on a step or stair and relax into your ankle allowing a stretch through the back of your calf.
You could also just do a basic calf wall stretch that is popular among runners.
You need to hold these stretches for 1-2 minutes and perform them regularly in order to see improvement. I know it seems simple, but these stretches can massively contribute to your ability to keep your heels on the ground while squatting.
6. Cue Your Feet To “Claw The Ground”
If the reason for your heels rising is because you’re losing your balance (not because you have tight ankles) then you need to use a squat cue that helps you keep your centre of mass over the midfoot.
My favorite cue for increasing balance in the squat is to “claw the ground” with your feet.
Prior to squatting downward, draw your attention to your big toe, pinky toe, and heel. Once you feel the load evenly distributed over these contact points, actively claw (curl) your toes into the ground. It will feel like you’re trying to grip the floor with your feet.
Once your attention is on your feet, you will feel an increased sense of balance and stability, and you’ll be more able to remain upright
7. Start The Squat By Breaking At Your Hips & Knees
Another reason why you might feel off balanced or like you’re ‘squatting on your toes’ is because you started the descent of the squat by bending your knees, but not by bending your hips.
If you bend the knees first, and don’t flex at the hip, you end up placing all of the load on your toes. In addition, any hip flexion that you’re missing to squat down gets added to the degrees of mobility your ankles need to go through.
So flexing at your hips to start the movement is a good thing because then your ankles don’t need to have as much mobility.
The correction for this type of error is simply to think about bending at the knees and hips to squat down, not just simply bending from the knees.
If your heels are rising in the squat, the first thing you should do is try to adjust your squat stance and toe angle.
If this doesn’t solve the problem, you should invest in a pair of heeled squat shoes (Adidas Powerlift 4) and start aggressively working on your ankle mobility and calf flexibility.
For others, the issue might be lacking balance, which you can solve through proper squat cues and ensuring you’re using flexing from the hip to start the movement.