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Squat ROM

What do you think about using a heel lift to get more ROM in squats? I used to think it was bad, but some strength coaches say it's perfectly safe, so now I'm in dubio.

H. Menno H.

Ah, the old “to heel lift or not” debate. This is a good question, and one that gets asked many times.

First, if the athlete is unable to squat down to a position of parallel, or lower, then there is a problem there that needs to be addressed. It is the role of the strength coach to assess the issue and determine where the problems lies, and then correct that issue.

I will say that I used to agree with those who said “just lift the heel and let the athlete squat.” I see where they are coming from and usually this is rationalized by stating that “we don’t have time to NOT get this athlete squatting so we will do this while we work on their flexibility/mobility in another way and in the end it should all work out.” The only problem with that is in the end, how often DOES it work out? Typically the athlete is no better off than when they started. The heel lift was the crutch that allowed them to work around their inabilities.

I think that now, my philosophy on this issue leans more towards getting the athlete to move better by correcting the problem. If we are talking about squatting, I like to use a box squat at a depth that is above parallel, where the athlete can keep good form, and then we slowly work down from there until they are at “legal” depth. Along with that, we will use single-leg work, corrective exercises and flexibility/mobility work to attack the problem and get them squatting to a solid depth with good technique.

If the athlete squats really poorly and lacks postural control no matter what, then we just use the body weight squats or medicine ball squats as a warm up and work on maintaining posture and technique until they are ready to put an empty bar on their back (or front for front squats) and do some lifting.

As far as how long it may take for the athlete to get over their inabilities and get through a full ROM is really going to depend on the individual athlete and how quickly they can grasp the concept, fix their issues and develop sound movement patterns.

Hope that helps,