Box squats are one of the most useful squats variations that you can do.
The only difference compared to a regular squat is that in a box squat you “sit” on the box (It can also be a bench; in case you don’t have a box).
The key is to “sit back”, or the exercise is no longer a box squat but a “Squat to box”, which can be useful in teaching a beginner how to squat.
But the box squat is much more than this.
Ah, before I forgot: only wear flat shoes (or go barefoot) when you perform a box squat, and ignore the classic Olympic shoes.
You’ll soon know why.
Muscles involved in a box squat
The most involved muscles in a box squat are:
Box Squats benefits
We mainly use it for:
- Recruiting and reinforce the posterior chain as much as possible
- Reduce or remove the stretch reflex.
- Generate explosive strength
- Generate strength in a particular sticking point
- For rehab purposes, in case of knee injuries
This guide is strongly influenced by the Westside Barbell vision of this exercise.
This for two reasons:
- Westside Barbell and Louie Simmons have popularized this exercise
- In the USA, the best Strength & Conditioning coaches make extensive use of the box squat on all kinds of athletes.
How to do box squats
- Place your feet in a wider stance compared to a regular squat
- Keep your chest high, and brace against your belt.
- Start the movement with your hips first; try not to move your knees forward.
- Sit back as much as possible and start the descend
- Push your knees and feet out
- Sit back on the box while keeping tension on your core and hamstrings.
- Sit on the box
- Without moving your knees and using the muscles in your posterior chain (Hams and glutes), push hard and “out” to start the concentric.
- Keep your shins as perpendicular as you can, so that the focus stays on the posterior chain.
As you can see, the technique is different (as it should be) compared to a back squat.
The focus is entirely on the posterior chain; the exercise is considered “hip dominant” because It drastically reduces the quads involvement.
In the box squat, we look for two fundamental aspects, which have a positive transfer to a back squat (both in terms of maximal strength and explosive strength).
- Static overcome by dynamic
- Relaxed overcome by dynamic
To make it simple, static overcome by dynamic is the one that occurs in a pause squat.
When we seat on the box, the exercise becomes an isometric hold.
We can win this isometric position with a dynamic upward movement (IE: the concentric part of the box squat)
The same thing happens with a pause squat.
The second aspect, on the other hand, does NOT happen in the pause squat, but only in the box squat.
While some muscles (Like the core and glutes) need to stay contracted – this if you don’t want to get hurt – other muscles “relax” themselves on the box.
These muscles are the hamstrings.
We do not only “beat” the isometric position, but also the relaxation of some muscles through the strong dynamic movement of the concentric.
This allows us to generate maximum tension on different muscles.
So, these are the benefits of the box squat.
Some people in the USA see the box squat like a simple squat variation.
But I see it differently.
Teaching an athlete how to “sit back” and engage his hamstrings and glutes is not easy.
The vast majority of people, sedentary or athletes, are “knee dominant”, with significant gaps in strength in the posterior chain.
That’s why I find it even more challenging to teach a box squat than a back squat.
The most common mistakes are:
- Looking down and not keeping the chest high enough
- Not sitting back enough
- Pushing down with your feet instead of out
- Using a narrow stance
- Starting the movement with the knees instead of the hips
- Engaging the quads just out of the box
- “Falling” on a box instead of sitting on it
- Losing tension as soon as you sit on the box
- “Soft touching” the box instead of sitting on it
As you can see, there are several mistakes that you can do, and I can guarantee that at least 2-3 of these are committed by anyone who tries the box squat for the first time.
Box squats can be used for different purposes:
- Learning how to use the posterior chain properly
- Increase of Explosive strength in athletes
- Accessory movement for the squat and deadlift (sumo in particular)
- Rehab and Prehab
- Overload the SNC (With a high box)
- Working on the sticking point (using the different heights of the box)
How many sets and how many reps?
Generally, the box squat is used for two types of methods:
- The Max Effort Method
- The Dynamic Effort Method
With the Max effort method, our goal is to lift a maximal load against a maximal resistance (1RM or 3RM)
Low volume, low reps and high intensity.
With the dynamic effort, the volume increase (up to 10-12 sets), reps stay low (2-3) and intensity drop to (40-60%1RM + bands or chains), but the acceleration of the concentric phase is way higher, and the barbell moves fast.
No one is saying that you can’t use the box squat differently, with a medium-low range of reps without using the max or dynamic effort method.
The first method is beneficial in general strength training or powerlifting.
The second method becomes very useful, especially for athletes, or in general for those looking for not only an increase in maximal strength but also an increase in explosive strength.
Do I have to sit?
If you don’t, it’s not a box squat, but a squat to box.
John Rusin, S&C Coach, recommends “sitting at 50%” IE not completely releasing your bodyweight on the box, but keeping tension through your body by engaging your core and erectors.
That’s why I recommend the purchase of a box that was created for this purpose.
It will come in handy both for the box squat and for the box jump.
Bands and chains
Westside Barbell, who popularized the box squat, makes extensive use of chains and bands during dynamic effort days.
Bands and chains are particularly useful in athletes that want to maximize their explosive strength/power and “starting strength”.
Think about a football or basketball player.
They can’t always use the stretch reflex.
Often there is a need for “force at the start”, without the stretch reflex, to start movements with explosiveness/power.
The box squat teaches precisely that, a back-squat way less because it relies heavily on the stretch-shortening cycle.
Are box Squats essential?
It can be a beneficial exercise, and it’s probably on the best squat variation that you can do.
If your goal is general strength, add it to your training, provided you know how to execute it properly.
Are you an athlete? If you are, I strongly advise you to consider this exercise.
If you are a powerlifter, it can be a beneficial exercise.
If you are a bodybuilder, it can be used as a squat variation with a focus on the posterior chain, with medium reps.
What’s the correct box height?
Boxes of various sizes are used, from 25 to 45 cm depending on the purpose and mobility of the athlete.
Vary the height of the box squat to further modify the exercise and target different angles.
Box Squats variations
You can perform this exercise in different ways:
- Different barbells
- Different bar position
- With Bands or Chains
- With different foot stances (Wide or narrow)
- With different foot angles
Will it increase my squat? What about my deadlift?
They’re probably going to increase if you use this exercise properly.
Box Squats with dumbells?
Box Squats for glutes?
Yes, it will build massive, strong and powerful glutes.
Exercise Grade: 9
- Learning curve: medium
- Increase in technical proficiency: medium
- Increase in mobility: high
- Increase in strength: high
- Increase of muscle mass: very high
- Quantity of muscle used: very high
- Rage of motion: very high
- Possibility of progressive overload: very high.
Until a few months ago, I hardly considered the box squat.
A good thing about my job as a coach is that I always look for new exercises that can benefit my athletes and me.
A few months after I started implementing this exercise into my routine, I can say that I’m incredibly disappointed that I didn’t find it out much earlier/sooner.
It’s a complex, useful and fun exercise that makes you stronger and more muscular.
After all, that’s what we want.