Exercise Spotlight: Heels Elevated Dumbbell Squat

Attack your Quads and Strengthen your Knees with This Deep Squatting Hack

Especially if you’re a lifter with longer legs and a shorter torso (and even more so, a tall overall height), barbell back and front squats can be a real nuisance to get right. There are a few reasons why this can be the case.

Shoulder Mobility

Having insufficient range of motion at the shoulder joint can limit just how well you can hold the bar up in the right position on the back or front of the body. The net result of this is usually compensation down the chain and a poor quality barbell squat pattern.

Thoracic Spine Mobility

The ability for the T-spine (mid back) to properly extend and flex is a lacking portion of many lifters – short or tall. In the case of squats, insufficient T-spine extension prevents a lifter from keeping his ribcage up high which will cause a distinct “slouch” as he descends through the squat. This is made worse if a) the bar is heavy and b) the squatting variation chosen is the front squat. The elbows won’t stay up for a proper rack position, and there will be unwanted stress placed on the mid back region due to the poor starting point.


The ability for the shin to travel forward so the knee passes over the toes is integral to a tall and long legged lifter when it comes to achieving proper squat geometry and good depth. Especially when a lifter wants to increase his quad activity, things become nearly exclusively contingent on how far beyond the toes the knees can safely travel.

What People Think is the Answer

A common solution people reach for is that of elevating the heels using small plates or dumbbell handles. A lifter may be able to get more range of motion compared to a regular squat by doing this, but since the toes will still be on flat ground, this creates more stretching of the plantar fascia and ligaments of the foot, and will end up frustrating them at heavier loads.

Enter the Heels Elevated Dumbbell Squat

The heels elevated dumbbell squat should be a staple in lower body training for tall and long-legged lifters for a very important reason.

As you can see, I’ve got my feet on a wedge or slant board that exceeds the wedge angle of a typical Olympic lifting shoe or a couple of plates. This allows my knees to travel far forward over the toes, which blasts the quadriceps while keeping the torso vertical. These are a smart choice for lifters who struggle with front squats due to poor rack positioning or kyphosis – especially as the arms get to stay comfortably by the sides. More importantly, many lifters struggle to achieve enough dorsiflexion to make squat patterns a true quad builder (due to insufficient knee flexion and overall range). Using an aggressive heel wedge or slant board like this creates a surplus of dorsiflexion to be attained, making it easier to achieve the correct geometry.  This can be a game-changer for your quad growth. All I did for this wedge is take a wobble board and prop it up securely by placing two hex dumbbells behind it, lengthwise. If you have access to some form of sturdy wood plank(s), it’s quite easy to makeshift a wedge in a similar fashion, given your gym doesn’t carry the real thing. Alternatively, order one online – they’re not hard to find.

Heels Elevated Dumbbell Squat: Coaching Cues

  • Set up your wedge or makeshift wedge in a clear space, and make sure it’s sturdy. Place the dumbbells close to the wedge
  • Stand right in front of the wedge, and pick up the dumbbells. Step back on to the wedge, making sure both full feet are on the wedge. Your toes shouldn’t be hanging off.
  • It’s okay to assume a duck footed stance (heels together, toes outward). This will set you up for a great hit for the quads.
  • Keeping the torso vertical, squat down. Allow the knees to travel forward and press hard into the wedge with your full foot. Hold the dumbbells by your sides and keep the arms long the entire time. It’s okay if they drift slightly forward toward the bottom of each rep.
  • Aim for sets of 12-20 reps. These work best when the legs are already pre-fatigued from other lifts in your lower body workout.

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