If you are new to the gym or lifting, you may have realized that lifting is not as easy as it looks. Compound exercises like the squat require time to master the technique and acquire the required mobility. By elevating your heels, lots of the traditional pitfalls of a barbell squat are addressed. Therefore, gym newbies make look at squats standing on plates as the answer to all their problems.
However, just because this squat variation may be easier and more useful to learn the ropes, it may not be the long-term solution if you want to truly master the squat.
Let’s dive into some of the reasons why you may choose to do your squats by standing on plates and the proper form for this exercise. We are also going to take a look at some meaningful alternatives if this is not the right option for you.
Why Do Squats Standing On Plates?
Lack Of Mobility
One of the downsides of an increasingly sedentary society is that functional movement such as the squat feel almost unnatural for most people. Poor ankle mobility combined with poor hip mobility leads to a disaster for anyone trying to squat with any sort of weight.
Essentially, the lack of mobility causes the heels to come off the ground. With the heels off the ground, the squatter is then forced into an unstable position where they are at risk of tumbling over with a barbell on their back.
By placing of few plates under your heels, lots of the demand on your ankles and hip is eased.
Deeper Squat Depth
There is a common mindset in the gym community that deeper squats are always better. By raising your heel off the ground, even by just an inch or two, your center of gravity shifts forward.
The shift in weight distribution allows the squatter’s hips to sink much deeper and reach the full depth.
Becoming Explosive At The Bottom
Without a doubt, the hardest part of traditional barbell squats is at the bottom in “the hole.” The more time you spend in this position and practice exploding up, the stronger you will become.
If a heel-elevated squat helps you do this then the exercise can be very beneficial for becoming explosive at the bottom of your squat.
If you do an elevated heel squat, you will find that your torso feels much more stable and upright.
As with anything else in the gym, genetics play a large role in how you squat. If you are a taller lifter or just have longer legs, you have probably felt like you are going to tip forward during a squat.
That is why I think taller lifters have the most to gain from trying this squat variation.
Protecting Your Lower Back
Even if you squat with perfect form, your lower back is subject to some compression and strain.
This can become a problem if you also like to do other rigorous exercises that take a toll on your back like deadlifts or barbell rows. Therefore, doing squats with elevated heels can serve as a sort of load management tool.
More Quad Focused
In comparison to a regular squat, squatting with plates under your heels shifts most of the load onto your quads. This can be really useful if you have an imbalance in your leg muscles or just want bigger quads in general.
Avoid Knee Pain
There are many people who have absolutely battered their knees over the years playing sports. Therefore, any barbell squat variations that help relieve the load on their joints are going to be useful.
Even if your knees are unscathed, knee injuries often happen during squats due to the knees caving inward. Like many of the problems we have already discussed, this largely comes down to ankle and hip mobility. Heel-elevated squats are one of the simplest ways to limit knee flexion during squats.
Cons To Heel Elevated Squats
Mobility Is Never Developed
As we have discussed at length, many of the reasons heel elevated squats are useful boils down to people not having adequate ankle and hip mobility.
So yes, having your heels raised may make the squat easier. But this does not mean you should not take the time to learn squat mechanics and practice good squat form.
I would personally recommend using heel-elevated squats at beginning of your training journey. During this time, you should be working hard to improve your poor mobility and have the goal of properly squatting one day.
For most people and in most cases, doing a squat with some plates under your heels should be safe.
The issue though is that you are adding a number of complications to an already complex movement. In terms of logistics, you know have to unrack a bar and then walk backward and get your feet situated on two plates you cannot even see.
With experience. it will become easier but even then there is the threat of falling. With your heels elevated, you are just not as stable as if you had flat feet. The slightest movement or miscalculation could cause an imbalance and see you fall over.
How To Do Raised Heel Squats
If you are going to do squats with plates under your heel here are some key steps you should take. Since the movement is new to your body, you should do some practice sets with light weights first.
How To Standing On Plate Squat
Place weight plates on the ground
Use small plates and place them where you would stand
Unrack the bar and step on the plates
Be careful and put yourself in a stable position
You may feel like you want to lean forward but keep your core and back engaged to prevent this
Get Two Weight Plates
For this step, you are going to want to find two identical plates that you will step. I generally recommend choosing the 5lb or 10lb plates as they are the thinnest.
Keep in mind that the heavier the weight you choose, the more elevated your heel is going.
Place The Plates Down On The Ground
Go ahead and unrack the bar like you usually do and walk it out with no weight plates on it. Take note of where your feet are naturally.
After you rerack the bar, place the weight plates on the ground where your feet just were. For most people, the plates are going to be about shoulder-width apart.
Step On The Plates
Here is where I think using a squat rack in front of a mirror is incredibly beneficial. If you do not have a mirror, just be sure to take your time and place your heels on the weight plates slowly.
Once you are in position, go ahead and squat as you normally would. You will quickly notice how much easier the squat is.
Alternatives To Elevated Heel Squats
If you do not like squatting with plates under your heels, that is perfectly normal. There are a few other options you can try.
Safety Squat Bar
The Safety Squat Bar is a type of specialty bar designed to slightly tweak the squatting movement. Thanks to the cambered design and handles, most people can usually get a deeper range of motion and have an easier time staying upright. It may be worth trying the SSB out if you lack the mobility to do a proper squat.
Other Leg Exercises
The legs are a big muscle group. With so many muscles involved, you want to be sure that you are working them in some way even if it is not through squats. I have personally found that the following exercises have led to increased muscle mass in my legs:
The main benefit of Olympic weightlifting shoes is that they elevate your heel slightly while keeping your feet nice and stable.
If you have persistent mobility issues, lifting shoes may be the solution for you and eliminate the need for squatting with plates under your heels.
Do Mobility Work
If you have trouble doing squats, I would recommend going on youtube and finding a solid stretching and mobility routine that works for you such as the one shown below.
The routine itself does not have to be hours long, as little as 5 minutes of daily stretching can do wonders for your stabilizing muscles and overall mobility.
Keep in mind that progress may take time. After all, you are trying to undo years of muscular inactivity and tightening. In the meantime, you can keep doing some of the other options we talked about such as using lifting shoes are squatting with plates under your heels.
The heel-elevated squat is a viable squat variation with a number of benefits if you lack the mobility to do the regular back squat.
While you work on your squatting technique, this exercise can be done in combination with other lower-body exercises to grow your legs and progress in the gym.
Should I stand on a plate for goblet squats?
If you lack hip and ankle mobility, then standing on a plate will make it easier to squat deep. However, you should be trying to squat with no additional aid.
What does squatting on a plate do?
It transfers much of the load forward. This creates more of a load on your quads and eases the strain on the ankle and hip joints.