Squatting with plates under your heels, although not a very common practice, is still a tool used to help many learn and maximize their squatting technique.
Should you squat with plates under your heels? Elevating your heels with plates shifts your centre of balance and requires less mobility to achieve squat depth. Therefore, squatting with plates under your heels can be a good option for beginners, taller lifters, and those who wish to place more emphasis on their quads during squats.
While placing plates under your heels can help you get more out of your squat, it may not be the ideal solution for your problems in the long term.
In this article we will outline what benefits you will get from elevating your heels as well as some of the drawbacks to doing so. I’ll also give you step by step instructions on executing it properly and also providing alternatives available to you if you find you can not squat well without elevating your heels.
Why Do Lifters Squat With Plates Under Heels? (6 Benefits)
The most common reason for squatting with plates under your heels is if you are struggling to get into a squatted position with flat feet due to mobility constraints.
Elevating your heels with plates helps with mobility because it alleviates the demands on both your ankle and hip joints. However, this may not be the only reason for someone to notice their squat mechanics improve after placing plates under their heels.
Therefore, you may still find benefits from elevating your heels with plates, including:
1. Deeper Squats
By elevating your heels, your centre of balance shifts back and allows your hips to sink deeper into the squat which may be something you will benefit from if you struggle with reaching depth. It also additionally reduces how far you have to bend at the ankle in order to come into a full squat.
Additionally, lifters who may be able to reach depth but simply don’t feel as stable in the bottom position may also benefit from some elevation especially if they are a taller lifter or have a narrower stance.
This is an important consideration for those interested in powerlifting as depth is cause for having a lift disqualified.
Wondeirng how low do powerlifters need to squat? Check out my complete guide.
2. Build strength in the “hole”
If you struggle with hitting depth on squats, as a result you don’t get the opportunity to even work on building strength in the bottom position unless you find a way to get lower.
Therefore, if by adding plates under your heels helps you hit depth, you will consequently be able to strengthen this position and become a better squatter long term. It is a great way for beginners as well to actually learn what hitting depth feels like for the muscles involved.
3. More upright torso
One effect you will notice from placing plates under your heels for squats is that your torso will be much more upright than it would be when squatting with flat feet.
Although no one’s torso is fully upright, taller lifters or lifters with long legs relative to their torsos may find they have to lean forward more than others, meaning this elevation would alleviate some of the undue stress on their back.
This benefit is most relevant to tall lifters but can also be helpful for those working on front squats and narrow stance squats as well.
4. Less back compression
Squatting with plates under your heels may help you be able to get into a deep squat with a more upright torso and result in less compressive forces on your back.
While your back is still involved in the squat movement no matter your foot placement, lifters who lean forward in the squat, or struggle with pain in the lower back may find having their heels elevated to help alleviate the demands on their back.
5. More quad focused
Squatting with plates under your heels will increase the engagement of your quads in the squat, when compared to squats with flat feet.
This may be a good benefit for those who struggle to engage their legs as well as those who wish to prioritize building their leg muscles. This can be a consideration for front squats or high bar back squats which place a bit more demand on the quads.
Related Article 9 Best Leg Exercises That Don’t Use Glutes.
6. Less knee caving
Knees caving in, or knee valgus, is something that occurs for several reasons but one can be from having a joint restriction in your ankles.
By elevating your heel with weight plates, you will reduce the amount of mobility your ankle will need, thereby possibly eliminating the degree to which your knees cave in during squats.
There are some more considerations in improving knee valgus you can check out here.
Some lifters also squat with just one heel on a plate if they squat with uneven legs.
Cons To Squatting With Plates Under Your Heels?
Could be considered a ‘crutch” for a lack of mobility
Many people in the fitness space often view needing to elevate your heels in order to squat as a crutch or “cheating” out of not developing the mobility in order to get into a full squat.
While there is some validity in this statement in that there are ways to improve your ankle and hip mobility and improve your depth for squats, this is not the case for everyone. For some the road to a full squat would be so much extra work it would push them away from squatting well for far too long. Therefore, giving yourself a small modification to not only improve your form, but also make your life easier should not always be viewed so negatively.
Competitive powerlifters can’t do this
While squatting with plates under your heels can be pretty easy to set up in a gym, it is not allowed in powerlifting competitions. Therefore, while using the plates may be helpful you should be aware that this is not a long term solution for you and your goals.
Want to squat deeper? Check out my list of 22 Exercises That Will Help You Squat Deeper.
May cause a lack of balance or slipping
One major drawback is that your feet are not very stable on the plates and one slight movement to the side or back may cause you to lose balance. Additionally, if you are performing the movement in socks you may also notice slipping.
This issue will only become exacerbated and start to post larger risks to you as you get stronger and increase the load on the barbell.
Makes the squat walkout more difficult
If you plan on performing barbell squat variations with the plates under your heels you will be required to perform a squat walkout and perfectly set your heels on the plates within 2-3 steps.
The squat walkout itself is a movement that requires focus and adding this extra layer to it may make it more complicated and far less seamless. For example, if you walk back to where your plates are set but realize you want to make a corrective step, you will be limited in that moment because it would require shifting the plates under your heels.
How To Squat With Plate Under Your Heels
If you’re ready to try squatting with plates under your heels you will need to keep a few things in mind in order to execute it properly. I would recommend doing some test sets with light weight especially if you are walking back a barbell squat, just to ensure you do not position your feet incorrectly.
1. Find two 5lbs or 10lbs plates
You will want to start out with the smallest plates in your gym because the thicker the plate, the higher your heels will be elevated. While elevation may be helpful, too much may have your pitching forward or placing too much stress on your knees and impacting your squat negatively.
Tip: Make sure the two plates you choose are identical as some brands of plates may vary slightly in thickness even if the weight is the same.
2. Place the plates in the spot where you will be squatting
If you are squatting in a squat rack place the plates where your feet would land after your squat walkout. Including both the distance from the rack as well as the width of your squat stance.
This may be tricky to pinpoint which is why testing this out a couple times will be necessary.
3. Place your heels on the plates
When placing your feet on the plates you will need to make sure to place only your heels on and not the entire half of your foot. Ensure the balls of your feet and your toes are firm on the ground.
Learn more about the squatting with plates under your heels in my article on Is Squatting With Plates Under Your Heels Harder?
Alternatives To Squatting With Plates Under Your Feet
While squatting with plates under your heels has its benefits, those benefits largely come from just elevating your heels or mobilizing your joints. This can alternatively be accomplished by purchasing a pair of squat shoes with a built-in heel or dedicating your time to improving your mobility.
Purchase Lifting Shoes
The great thing about getting lifting shoes is that they are approved for both powerlifting and weightlifting competitions and they provide a much more comfortable and stable base than just standing on some weight plates.
Purchasing shoes for the long term will be ideal for taller lifters and those with persistent mobility concerns that prevent them from squatting their best.
Two quick recommendations for lifting shoes are as follows:
1. Adidas Powerlift 4 (for men)
The Adidas Powerlift 4 is a great lifting shoe that provides about 0.6” of elevation to your heels to allow for easier squatting without setting you too far off the ground. They are lightweight and come in a variety of colours and styles and are a very sturdy shoe to meet all your lifting needs.
2. Reebok Legacy Lifter (for women)
The Legacy Lifters are some of the stiffest shoes on the market and run in sizes smaller than you’ll find in some of the other lifting shoes. For this reason it is a great option for women with a smaller foot size in particular. They have a higher heel than the Adidas Powerlift 4 shoes at about 0.75” and are great if you need some extra elevation.
Improve your mobility
The main mobility requirements for a squat are ankles and hips, however this can be either mechanical joint restrictions or overly tight muscles and tissues around the joints.
Either way, there are several drills and exercises that can be done to improve your mobility and help you with achieving depth if that is what is making you opt for elevating your heels.
Be aware that long term improvement to your mobility may take a long time and in the interim it may be best to both be implementing the appropriate drills while also still doing squats with a heeled shoe just to maintain and practice good squat form.
If you feel like you’re falling backward in the squat, performing squats with plates under heels will help you correct this issue.
While some trainers and lifters will be quick to dismiss squatting with plates under your heels, it is not inherently harmful and it does have a time and a place for many people. It can be used as a diagnostic tool for determining whether you have mobility restrictions, a body type that may benefit from elevated heels, or it may just be a way to add some variety and place more focus on your quads while squatting.
However, aspiring powerlifters or those planning to attempt heavy and challenging loads in the long term should consider looking into more permanent long term solutions such as purchasing lifting shoes or dedicating time to improving your mobility.
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.