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The Box Squat is one of the many variations of the Squat popularized by Louie Simmons. If you never heard of him before, he’s the only lifter over the age of 50 to Squat 920 pounds. He’s also head of Westside Barbell.
From a safety & performance standpoint, Box Squats are superior to Squats. Many coaches have replaced Squats by Box Squats for those reasons. Here’s how to perform Box Squats with proper technique.
What Are Box Squats? Grab a box on which your hips end up lower than your knees when sitting. Squat down by sitting on the box. No bouncing, no touch & go. Sit back on the box in a controlled way. Then come back up.
Check Boris “Squat RX” Bachman’s video on the Box Squat. Notice his hips move back first on the way down. Notice also his shins stay perpendicular to the floor. And he doesn’t bounce off the box.
Benefits of Box Squats. Many of you will struggle to do Squats correctly. While giving up an exercise too early is never the option, switching to Box Squats can allow for safer & faster progress. Benefits:
- Enforce Proper Technique. You can’t cheat depth and you learn to sit back by moving your hips first. Box Squats also improve hip mobility.
- Develop Hip Power. Box Squats have you start from a dead stop in the bottom position. This develops a strong, explosive posterior chain.
- Safer. Rounding the lower back on Squats is common. While you still can do it on Box Squats, it’s much harder and often goes away faster.
Getting The Box. Grab a box on which your hips end up below your knees when sitting. A box big enough for your glutes to sit on. Best is a box that allows for different heights so you can vary depth.
- Plates. Bumper plates are thicker thus work better. But you’ll need a lot of plates to get the right height, gym people might not be happy.
- Be Creative. Aerobic box. Or plyometric jump box. Or build a wooden box. If it’s robust, it works. I use stones. A bench is usually too high.
- Adjustable Box. Elite FTS sells a box you can adjust at different heights. You’ll find more info at their site.
Low bar position on Box Squat. Notice the tight upper-back.
Box Squat Starting Position. The starting position on Box Squats is similar as for Squats. Although you’ll use a slightly wider stance.
- Low Bar. High bar doesn’t work for Box Squats. Put the bar low, on top of your scapular spine. If this position feels hard: thoracic mobility.
- Narrow Grip. Makes it easier to keep your upper-back tight, which adds strength. Do shoulder dislocations if you struggle with this position.
- Foot Stance. Doesn’t need to be a sumo stance, but should definitely be wider than your shoulder-width. Feet turned out about 30°.
- Tight Upper-back. Imagine you try to squeeze a pen between your shoulder-blades. Keep this position during the whole lift.
- Chest Up. Make a big chest and keep it up. This together with the tight upper-back will prevent your back to bend.
- Look Forward. Fix a point in front of you during the whole lift. Don’t look up or down: look forward. If it’s a mirror: look through it.
- Push Your Abs Out. Increases lower back stability. Push your abs out as if someone was going to punch you in your stomach.
How to Squat Down on The Box. Lower yourself by moving your hips first. Your knees should hardly move during Box Squats, it all comes from your hips. Read the article on how NOT to Squat.
- Sit Back. Lead by pushing your hips back as far as you can. Think sitting on a toilet. Your knees don’t move, your hips move back.
- Shins Perpendicular. Or even past perpendicular to the floor. You’ll get this by moving your hips first. Push them back as far as you can.
- Knees Out. Your upper-thighs must stay inline with your feet to avoid knee injuries. Push your knees out, point them where your toes point.
- Sit on The Box. Do not let yourself fall on the box. Lower yourself under control. Not slow, and not a touch & go. It should be controlled.
- Stay Tight. Don’t relax your muscles, it can cause back injuries. Keep all your muscles tight on the box.
How to Squat off The Box. Stay tight, keep your chest up and look forward. Squat up by thinking hips up, do not lean forward.
- Heels on The Floor. Curl your toes. Heels on the floor so you don’t lose balance. Push from the outer side of your feet (wear Chuck Taylor’s!)
- Explode. You can’t do Box Squats slow. Squat up by exploding from your hips. That’s how Box Squats build hip power.
Common Box Squat Mistakes. Box Squats – like any weight lifting exercise – can mess with your lower back if you don’t do them correctly. The key is to sit on the box and stay tight. Do not bounce or relax.
- Bouncing off The Box. Sandwiches your spine between the bar & the box, causing back injuries. Lower yourself under control. Sit on the box.
- Relaxing on The Box. Your spine gets the whole load as surrounding muscles can’t provide support. Stay tight, push your abs out.
- Knees Forward. Kills posterior chain strength. Keep your shins (past) perpendicular to the floor. Lower yourself by pushing your hips back.
- Rocking Forward. Can’t use your glutes effectively this way and risk back injury. Squat up by moving your hips up. Keep your torso still.
- Leaning Forward. Can make your back round. Look forward, big chest, shoulder-blades back & down, arch your back, push your abs out, Squat.
- Knees In. Puts uneven compressive forces on your knee joint. Push your knees out from start to finish. Keep your thighs inline with your feet.
More on Box Squats. Here are some extra articles on the Box Squat written by the Westside Barbell guys. Read them, you can never have enough info.
- Why You Should Box Squat & Box Squatting by Louie Simmons. 2 guides on Box Squats written by Louie Simmons himself.
- Squatting from Head to Toe by Dave Tate. He squats 900 pounds and was trained by Louie Simmons.
- EliteFTS Exercise Index Squat and Deadlift. 114mins DVD on Squat & Deadlift technique, including Box Squats. Watch the trailer.
One variation of the Box Squat is the Box Front Squat. Technique is similar to Box Squats, but using a clean grip. Great exercise, I might write about in the future. Subscribe to automatically get free updates (and a free eBook).