How do I squat if I can't keep my heels on the floor?

  • I was told that I was doing the squats incorrectly because I was lifting the heels. I was told to try and do them without lifting the heels but I can't lower myself more than a few centimeters. The problem is not pain, I just feel tension in the back of my legs and at the point that the legs connect with the feet, but I don't feel any pain. The problem is that I just can't go lower, I feel locked there. I am young (24) and I haven't been diagnosed with any mobility problem.

    There's video of me trying to squat. As you can see, there is a huge difference between what I can do with/without lifting my heels. I show as well the position in which I need to place my whole body to be able to put the whole foot on the ground.

    How do I improve my squat if I can't keep my heels on the floor? Which exercises would help me the most? I am a gym member, but the instructors there are too busy to help people with particular issues.


    First of all, thank you very much for your answers. I really appreciate people spending their own time on helping me. Thank you very much.

    I have been reading all your comments and answers, and I decided to upload two more videos.

    Do you feel discomfort, kind of like stretching between the top part of your feet that goes up by your tibia bones(on both of your legs)? That's exactly it.

    Stand in front of a door end-on so that you can grab on to both sides of the doorknob. Put your feet wider, point your toes out, and try again. This question may send you to other helpful resources.

    What is the your score on this test: (see how far you can put your foot from a wall and still be able to touch your knee to it without lifting your heel).

    Here is another question/answer about tight ankles and squatting.

    @Kate That test looks cool, what are some expected values? All I've found is that <10 cm is considered restricted.

    Yeah, that's about it. <10 would confirm mobility problem. It can also be used as a comparative test (left vs right) and the two would normally be within 1cm of each other.

    FYI, I don't consider myself to have a mobility problem (I can properly squat), and only get about 10cm on this test. So, it's a matter of degree. 9.9cm doesn't necessarily mean you'd be noticing any issues in your normal activities of life.

    Not being able to do a heels-on-the-ground 3rd world squat *is a diagnosed mobility problem* in my opinion. Adrian, were you trying to work on barbell or dumbbell squats when you discovered this issue?

    @Dave Liepmann _Not being able to do a heels-on-the-ground 3rd world squat is a diagnosed mobility problem in my opinion. Adrian, were you trying to work on barbell or dumbbell squats when you discovered this issue?_ Yes.

    Adrian, thanks for recording the clip with the table. If you lean forward more than that do you feel that stretching I mentioned in my earlier post? Without lifting your heels of the ground I mean?

    @Arthlete Yes I feel it, but it's not unbeareable.

    It looks like your heels are not shoulder-width apart. Make your heels shoulder-width apart, and point the toes out about 30 degrees. (See Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength book for more on the squat.)

  • Not being able to do a heels-on-the-ground 3rd world squat is a major mobility problem in my opinion. If I were you, I'd do the following:

    • Squat all the time. At least a half-dozen times a day, stop whatever you're doing and practice your third-world squat. Use a table or door for balance until you can do it without one. Spend some time down there. Tell your body that this is something it has to do well.
    • Stretch your calf muscles frequently. I've found improvement in my squat mobility with doing these stretches several times a day. It's dramatic.
    • Warm up thoroughly before your lifting workouts. You should have broken a solid sweat and be warm all over before trying to squat with an external load. Make sure to move all the involved joints--ankle, knee, hip--though as much range of motion as possible, several times, to get them ready to improve that range of motion.
    • At the end of your lifting workouts, while you're still warm but stretching won't interfere with resistance exercise, work on improving the maximum amount of time you can spend in the bottom of a proper squat. Improving my maximum from thirty seconds to six minutes helped my hip mobility enormously.
    • In order to develop proprioception (the sense of where your body is), squat with a broomstick. The video shows a Romanian deadlift; do the same thing but squat: hold it against your back while you squat. Work on having it touch at no more and no fewer than three places as you squat: the back of your head, between your shoulderblades, and your sacrum (back of the hips/top of your butt).

    I would also spend some money on a private lesson with one of the trainers. Ask them who can help you with your specific goal of achieving a deep squat with heels on the ground.

    Than you very much for editing my post, I know it was a bit chaotic :) Thank you very much for your extensive answer as well. I was watching this video: and I realised that his legs are quite open. I tried to do it like that (more open than before and with the toes looking outwards). My wife was watching, and she said that my calfs get pararell to the ground, without helping myself with anything. I feel tension but not lasting pain, my wife says that my back gets in a funny shape, though.

    @Adrian Glad to hear it helped. The cue is "push the knees out". Keep working on a straight back, though. Air squats round the back more than barbell squats in my experience, but working towards a straight back even with air squats helps barbell-squat posture.

    @Adrian The 'third world squats' were pointed out to me by Dave on a similar question of mine and they worked great!

    Edit because I can't answer: Mobility is not your biggest problem. Your technique needs work where you start the movement. If your knees move forward first you have already lost! You need to push your hips back! Squatting should be like sitting down on the toilet. Back and down! Be careful with personal trainers, most of them don't now much about squatting. Check ElitFTS or Westside youtube vids. In addition to stretching your calves I would recommend stretching the gluts, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors. They are all connected and you need excellent mobility and technique to squat properly.

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM