Can I Box Squat Instead of Regular Squat?

No. The Box Squat will get you stronger at Box Squats but not regular Squats. Box Squats can be useful for advanced geared lifters. But they have limited carry-over for raw Squatters or new lifters. And you shouldn’t rely on a box to ensure you Squat parallel on each rep.

What’s a Box Squat?

The Box Squat is a variation of the Squat where you sit on a box and Squat back up. Louie Simmons from Westside Barbell popularized Box Squats years ago.1 The box allows you to sit back more and emphasize your posterior chain muscles. The box also ensures you Squat parallel on each rep.

Westside Squatters do regular Squat in competition and Box Squat the rest of the year. But they Squat in gear – wearing compression Squat suits which stretch in the bottom and help them on the way up. If you Squat raw like I do, you won’t get stronger by doing Box Squats because it’s not specific.2

But specificity is key to getting stronger.3 More practice yields better technique, a more efficient lift and a bigger Squat. Box Squat technique differs from regular Squats. So practicing the Box Squat is unlikely to increase your regular Squat – it’s non-specific training. You must do regular Squats to increase it.4

Box Squat Technique

Technique on Box Squats is different than on regular Squats. The goal is to emphasize your posterior chain muscles by sitting back as much as you can. You can’t do this on a regular Squat without losing balance. But you can on a Box Squat because of the box. This changes your Squat form.

The box mimics what happens if you Squat in gear. A Squat suit stretches as you reach parallel, stops you at the bottom and helps you on the way up. But on regular Squats, it’s the job of your muscles to stay tight and stop you at the bottom so you can reverse the movement on the way up.

Pros of The Box Squat

The Box Squat only has two benefits for raw Squatters who don’t use compression Squat suits:

  1. Extra Posterior Chain Work. You can put your shins more vertical and sit back more if you Squat on a box. This engages your hamstrings, glutes and groin muscles more.
  2. Consistent Depth. Get a box where your hip crease gets lower than the top of your knee at the bottom. Squat on it every rep, you’re parallel. No more shallow or half Squats.

Cons of The Box Squat

Extra posterior chain work may not increase your regular Squat. You’ll get better at Box Squats if you spend all your time doing Box Squats. But that doesn’t mean your regular Squat will also go up.

  1. Technique Is Different. Try to Squat with your shins vertical and hips going all the way back. Without box, you’ll lose balance. Regular Squats are a different movement. So it won’t improve if you neglect it in favor of Box Squats. You need specific regular Squat practice.
  2. Cheating Is Easy. Sure you’re hitting parallel on each rep now thanks to the box. But you can still cheat by rocking forward out of the bottom, hitting the box on the way down (which is bad for your back) or letting your knees come forward on the way down.
  3. Bottom Turns Weak. Box Squats will make you weak in the bottom. On regular Squats your hip muscles must stay tight to stop you on the way down. If you always Box Squat, you don’t train this ability. The weight will crush you when you try to Squat the same weight without a box.
  4. Box Becomes Crutch. You won’t Squat parallel consistently when you remove the box. You’ll still hesitate because you’ve learned to rely on it.5 The only way to Squat parallel consistently is to do a lot of regular squats to parallel. Not rely on crutches and band-aid solutions like a box.
  5. Injury Is Possible. First mistake is hitting the box on every rep instead of sitting. Second mistake is relaxing your hips when you sit on the box. Both sandwich your spine between the heavy barbell and the box, which is bad for your spine. None of this can happen on regular Squats.

The biggest problem with Box Squats is its limited carry-over to raw, regular Squats. Focusing on Box Squats can lead to little to no strength gains on your regular Squats, or worse, strength loss.

My Experience With The Box Squat

Many years ago I read getting stronger at Box Squats will get you stronger at regular Squats.6 I didn’t realize this advice was for geared Squatters and didn’t apply to raw Squatters like me. So I wasted the next months doing Box Squats solely without ever doing a single regular Squat.

When I achieved my goal of Box Squatting 180kg/400lb, I tested my regular Squat. I thought I’d get 200kg/440lb but barely got 160kg/350lb. I tried to Squat 170kg/375lb but it crushed me – I couldn’t stay tight in the bottom. To my surprise, I was weaker on regular Squats than Box Squats.

So I stopped Box Squatting and went back to regular Squats. It slowly increased to 180kg/400lb, then past that. This experience taught me if you want to get good at regular Squats, you must do regular Squats. There’s no shortcut. Later I read other lifters share similar Box Squat experiences.7891011121314

Pause Squats Beat The Box Squat

A Pause Squat is like a regular Squat, except you wait two seconds at the bottom, in the parallel position, before Squatting back up. World champion powerlifter Mike Tuchscherer introduced me to this Squat variation in 2011. Pause Squats are better than Box Squats for raw lifters because they…

  • Carry-over to Regular Squats. Technique on Pause Squat is the same as on regular Squats. The only difference is the pause at the bottom of each rep. Since the rest of the form matches, the strength you build on Pause Squats will carry-over to regular Squats (unlike Box Squats).
  • Strengthen The Bottom. When you do regular Squats, your muscles stretch on the way down. This stores energy in your muscles which your body uses on the way up to Squat more. Pausing kills this stretch reflex which makes the bottom position harder and emphasizes it.
  • Build Good Form. You can’t relax at the bottom or you’ll collapse. You must stay tight during a Pause Squat. The pause also helps you to focus on keeping your knees out, chest up, upper-back tight. So it helps practice and build good form specific to regular Squats.

So if you want to add an assistance exercise for your regular Squat, and you’re a raw lifter as I am, add Pause Squats. They’re more specific than Box Squats and will actually make you stronger in the bottom. Plus you can’t cheat by rocking forward or hurt your lower back by hitting the box on each rep.

Pause Squats don’t replace regular Squats. The pause lowers your weight, 40kg in my case. You need heavy free weight Squats to get stronger. Also, if you can’t Squat 140kg/300lb yet, don’t bother adding Pause Squats. The best way to increase your Squat is to Squat a lot and often. You need specificity.

Summary: The Box Squat is for geared Squatters. If you Squat raw and only Box Squat, you’ll get better at Box Squats not regular Squats. Box Squats as assistance are fine, but Pause Squat are superior. If you want to increase your regular Squat, do them a lot and often. Check StrongLifts 5×5.

See Also


References

  1. Simmons, L. (1998). Box Squatting. DeepSquatter.com 
  2. Gary, M. (2010). Training Specificity for Powerlifters. Maryland Powerlifting. 
  3. Sale, D., MacDougall, D. (1981). Specificity in strength training: A review for the coach and athlete. Can J Appl Sport Sci. 
  4. Gary, M. (2012). Requisites for Success. Maryland Powerlifting. 
  5. Baker, A. (2014). Power Rack Series, Part 4: Rack Squats vs Box Squats. Baker Strength Coaching. 
  6. Simmons, L. (2000). How to do the Squat. DeepSquatter.com 
  7. Green, D. (2013). West of WestsideJuggernaut Training Systems. 
  8. Lilly, B. (n.d.). Alpha Lounge: If I Could Go BackJuggernaut Training Systems. 
  9. Robins, G.  (2012). Not All Squats Are Created Equal: 3 Thoughts On Being A Better Raw Squatter. Juggernaut Training Systems. 
  10. Smith, C. (2011). 5 Tips for the RAW Squat. Juggernaut Training Systems.  
  11. Carter, P. (2011). Common sense doesn’t always win out. Lift-Run-Bang.  
  12. Candito Training HQ. (2013). Why Beginners Should Not Box Squat. Youtube. 
  13. Baker, A. (2014). Power Rack Series, Part 4: Rack Squats vs Box Squats. Baker Strength Coaching.