Article written by Matt Mills
Box Squats have got a bad rep recently and with good reason, mainly because people are doing it wrong! The box squat is great for a lot of reasons but it has to be done correctly and most people I see make me want to rip my eye balls out. I’m going to go over two kind of box squats, one being the real box squat where I’m going to show you how to sit back properly and the other being the touch and go box squat used mainly to gauge depth.
First a couple things you DO NOT WANT TO DO:
Do not sit straight down
Do not plop on the box
Do not intentionally rock back on the box
Do not box squat 3 inches below parallel
Do not box squat 3 inches above parallel!
These are just some of the common mistakes I’ve seen made during the box squat, so now let’s go over step-by-step how to do it properly.
First, the box squat, or any squat for that matter begins when you grip the bar, so be focused! Make sure you take an even grip on the bar (obvious but I’ve seen it too many times). I prefer a low bar position, as that’s where I’m strongest, but this can be up to you. Before unracking the bar, you must get extremely tight first by squeezing your shoulder blades together hard, and engage your lats by trying to touch your elbows together. Fill your belly with air, not your chest, and unrack the bar. Unless you have a monolift take two steps back and only two. There is no reason to travel out of the rack because once you are finished you have to walk all the way back in and that is wasted energy. Keep the box close, and take two steps back and then widen your stance with your toes out.
When you box squat, you want to drive the knees out hard, so to effectively do this you must have your toes pointed outward. Once the feet are in position and the upper and lower back are extremely tight, you are ready to sit back. Your goal is to sit back on the box as far as possible to keep the shins at a vertical angle. As you descend do not drop fast as you may in a regular squat, this will cause you to plop and round your back at the bottom. Lower yourself controlled so you can softly sit back and be ready to explode. Ideally, the knees should be directly over the ankles while in contact with the box. Now this is difficult to do and will take great flexibility from your hamstrings to get that far back on the box.
While on the box, you do not relax anything and make sure you hold your air in. If you breath out then you are going to relax and put your lower back in a very bad position. Do not pause very long on the box so you should only be coming to a dead stop which should be no more than 1 second. As you start coming up, think about driving your head back into the bar so you don’t end up doing a good morning or falling forward. Continue to drive you knees out hard and let your air out slowly at the top portion of the lift.
The box height is very important, as I see most people with it too low or too high. Having the box too low is going to put your low back in a very bad position, bringing out the infamous “butt wink”, one of the reasons why box squatting has a bad rep for injuries. There are very few people that I have seen that can box squat extremely low and if they can, they aren’t getting much more out of the movement then having it set to parallel or slightly below. Having the box set above parallel really just turns into an ego lift so don’t fool yourself here. If you have an issue with what height the box should be have someone watch your or video yourself to make sure.
Now that we have the form down correctly, how can the box squat fit into your current training program? If you are a geared powerlifter, then that’s simple, but I’m guessing most of you are not, and the box squat is still important to add into your training. For a beginner, starting with the box squat is perfect. It will teach them how to sit back, get tight, and reach depth! I will generally start a new client on a box set at parallel for them and once they have mastered all of the technique the box can be taken away. Another great reason to use the box squat initially is it will strengthen your glutes and hamstrings, muscle groups that are generally weak with beginners. During the box squat there is very little stress on your knees. which is another big benefit if you have knee problems. You will be developing strength in your hips which will transfer to locking out your deadlift. One mistake I made in the past was only box squatting, mainly because I was much better than my regular squat. Unfortunately going back to squatting, my power out of the bottom suffered greatly, however I was able to lock out any deadlift that I was able to break the floor with, and load a heavy stone with ease. For the raw powerlifter (no suits, briefs) I don’t feel these will improve your squat directly but I would still recommend them as accessory work.
The box squat is sometimes confused with the touch and go box squat. I’m not getting into any technique for these but the box is only used to gauge depth so there are again a couple things you have to be careful about when using it. If you like to rebound out of the bottom, using a box is going to throw you out of your form completely from trying to bounce off of the box. Again you must descend slowly and lightly tap the box but stay extremely tight the entire time as you would a regular squat. These are great for beginners who have trouble reaching depth but I would recommend using a pad to make a softer touch.