The Impact of Elevated Heels on Squat Performance

Squats are a popular exercise in the realm of strength training and rehabilitation. Many lifters choose to elevate their heels during barbell back squats for reasons such as increasing squat depth, improved comfort, and greater demand on the quadriceps. This practice has sparked interest in the scientific community, leading to studies exploring the effects of elevated heels (EH) on squat mechanics and lower limb symmetry.

In this blog post, we will delve into two distinct studies that shed light on the impact of elevated heels during squats.

Study 1: The Influence of Elevated Heels on Barbell Squats

The first study aimed to compare the effects of different heel heights on joint angles, moments, power, work done, and muscle activation during barbell deep squats. Researchers utilized the OpenSim musculoskeletal model tailored for the deep squat to conduct their analysis.

squat elevated heels

Image from Inspire US

Findings from Study 1

  1. Heel elevation significantly altered ankle angles, leading to increased ankle plantarflexion and decreased dorsiflexion during squats.

  2. Knee joint angles increased with heel elevation, along with an increase in knee moment and power in male participants.

  3. Hip joint angles, moments, and power did not exhibit statistically significant differences across various heel heights.

  4. Heel elevation increased ankle joint work while decreasing hip joint work.

  5. Male participants tended to use their knee joint more than their hip joint to lift the barbell as heel height increased.

  6. Heel elevation led to increased activation of knee extensor and metatarsal flexor muscle groups.

Conclusion from Study 1

The results suggest that elevating the heels during squats can influence joint angles, moments, and muscle activation, making it a crucial consideration for training and rehabilitation. The effects of heel height may vary among different genders and individuals with varying training backgrounds. For those with specific injuries or mobility limitations, elevating the heels by at least 1.5 cm is recommended. However, it is important to choose the appropriate footwear, as athletes also reported positive psychological effects from elevated heel height.

Effect of Heel Lift Insoles on Lower Extremity Muscle Activation and Joint Work during Barbell Squats

Study 2: Examining Lower Limb Symmetry in High-Bar Squats with Elevated Heels

The second study focused on how elevating the heels during high-bar squats affects lower limb symmetry, with particular attention to novice and regular weight trainers.

Findings from Study 2

  1. Novice weight trainers displayed significant asymmetries during the eccentric phase of the squat with elevated heels, reaching the injury risk threshold of 15%.

  2. Regular weight trainers exhibited better bilateral symmetry, and EH had a more limited impact on their symmetry data.

  3. Traditional discrete measures of bilateral symmetry did not fully capture the complexity of symmetry changes during squats. Analyzing time-series data using SPM1D provided a more comprehensive understanding of symmetry changes.

Conclusion from Study 2

The study highlights that EH can impact lower limb symmetry during high-bar squats, particularly in novice trainers. However, the overall levels of asymmetry were not significantly different between the two groups. Advanced analytical procedures, such as time-series data analysis, offer valuable insights into the complexities of symmetry changes during squats. Although the findings are promising, more research is needed to generalize the results to other populations and squat variations.

The effect of increasing heel height on lower limb symmetry during the back squat in trained and novice lifters

Final Thoughts

Combining the findings from these two studies provides a more comprehensive perspective on the impact of elevated heels during squats. While EH can affect joint angles, moments, and muscle activation, it appears to have a more pronounced influence on lower limb symmetry in less experienced weight trainers.

As with any exercise modification, it’s essential for lifters to consider their individual needs and goals and seek guidance from qualified trainers or healthcare professionals for safe and effective squatting practices. Whether you choose to elevate your heels or not, proper form, technique, and individualized training are key to achieving optimal performance and preventing potential injuries. Happy squatting!

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