Strong Feet, Quick Athlete! -- Heel Elevated Training

As I've written and shown before, single leg movements are great for athletes and athletic development. They make the body's neural system fire to maintain balance from the toes all the way through the core and up to the shoulders. They better mimic sprinting and dynamics of contact sports, and they help bring leg strength to parity.

I'd like to talk about the Heel Elevated Split Squat. This concept of active heel takes single leg work to a whole new level. These moves have been pioneered and popularized by Cal Dietz, strength and condition coach at University of Minnesota, to whom I owe a lot of credit for this post today. For a bigger deep dive, check out his latest podcast interview on The Mike and Brooker Show.


The foot is a tripod that provides stability (simplified: heel, big toe joint, little toe joint). If any of these are not in contact, the foot will send signals up to the brain and from the brain to the requisite muscles to get the tripod back on the ground and thus balance the body.

But what do we always tell our athletes?


So why do we ALWAYS train flat footed and on BOTH feet? That's six points of contact in the feet and a lot of balance (I'm not saying never train double leg, it definitely has it's benefits). If we're doing a single leg move, then there are three points of contact. That's a little less stable, but still a geometrically stable triangle.

By having the body actively elevate the heel, we remove one of the three points of contact the foot uses to maintain stability AND we imitate the position we want our athletes to be in ON THE FIELD OF PLAY.

Athletes in the Nashville area would be wise to add these to their strength and conditioning repertoire for any sport (preferably with a seasoned strength and performance coach, like me!).



There are tons of reasons this is helpful for the athlete. I've listed 5 below. After reading this, rewatch the video and see if you can pick up on all the movements I've discussed below.

  1. Stability -- The added instability forces the body to activate stability muscles in the foot, ankle, Achilles tendon, calf muscles (there's more than one), knee, hips, glutes, and the mid-section. A major factor of injury is INSTABILITY and IMBALANCE in the muscles. If we can put athletes in a better position to find imbalances and instability -- AND THUS CREATE BETTER PATHWAYS FOR BALANCE AND STABILITY -- we can prevent more injuries.

  2. Explosiveness & Change of Direction (Ability to Create and Absorb Force Through the Foot) -- The foot is the initial springboard for athletic movements. The stronger the foot, the better it can quickly create force to react to the field of play. The better the foot can absorb force and spring back out, the more explosive the athlete will be.

  3. Neurological Connection -- The more you practice finding stability in these positions, the better you'll be able to recruit those muscles and find stability when in HIGH speed on the playing field.

  4. Increased Core Control and Cross-body Awareness -- The human body is basically one huge X of tissue from left foot to right shoulder and right foot to left shoulder; if you're in this position with your right foot forward and heel elevated, your right glute will be firing, but your LEFT core and back muscles will be firing to help support that opposite side. Cal Dietz used a dexa machine to measure the body mass of athletes' midsections who do and do not train this way, and their musculature is much denser with this type of training.

  5. Joint Health -- Working stability muscles in your ankle, knee, and hip while going through a partial or full range of motion will help them long-term.

For an example of how this plays out on the football field, here is Davonte Adams of the Green Bay Packers. Check out his foot work. He is very rarely on his heels, he is always up and explosive. And he sure is explosive!! And to be a defender covering him, you have to be QUICKER than him. I just don't know if that's gunna happen.

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