Before I get into the evil virtues of the Box Squat, please indulge me in a somewhat predictable rant on the importance of squats in general.
As you’ve probably heard from many sources before stumbling across this blog; squats are the king of all exercises. There are many reasons why this is true and in my own personal experience squats continue to be the foundation on which much of my overall size and strength gains come from.
More than just making your legs the size of tree trunks, squats are a full body compound movement that recruits so many muscles that the nervous system and endocrine system respond by flooding the body with growth hormone and testosterone, essential in muscle repair and growth. This type of external stimulation is what the body needs in order to respond and grow. The squat alone won’t give you a massive chest or 20” biceps, but regular squatting will create a growth environment in your body that will benefit all your other training, making you bigger and stronger all around.
Being essential, squats are also hard to do. Even with a lighter weight, the mechanics of the squat are very hard to master. For people with different builds or posture imbalances, learning to squat requires a lot of instruction, dedication and practice, and sometimes a headlong assault at the squat rack won’t be enough to overcome these obstacles. Here is where Box Squats come in to play.
The Box Squat is a great tool for learning to squat with good technique and proper depth. Box Squats teach you how to sit back into the squat, starting the movement at the hips as you would when you sit back in a chair, rather than just bending at the knees. Initiating the squat at the hips as well as the knees simultaneously engages the muscles of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings and erectors) as well as the quads.
Having the depth of the squat determined by the height of the box (or bench) ensures you are hitting the desired depth with every rep. This helps the body learn the feel of going past parallel and helps build confidence. A big obstacle to squatting deep is sometimes fear, fear of not being able to come back up. Using a manageable weight and a box (or bench) is a great way to get comfortable with squatting deep.
The Box Squat is also a great tool for developing explosive power. In a regular back squat, there is no stop between the eccentric phase (descending movement) and concentric phase (ascending movement) of the squat. This is called the “stretch shortening cycle” and it provides a bit of a bounce, or a spring out of the hole. Using the Box Squats, you eliminate the stretch shortening cycle, coming to a complete stop as you actually sit down on the box. Starting the concentric phase of the squat (the ascent) from a complete stop forces the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, erectors) to develop explosive power as all the muscles are recruited instantly to lift the weight without the aid of any spring or bounce from the stretch shortening cycle.
By itself, the Box Squat is a great exercise for developing the muscles of the posterior chain; the hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors and erectors. I recommend incorporating the Box Squat into your leg day routine as an accessory to the squat. Do this either by adding a few moderate weight sets of Box Squats to the end of you regular squat sets – or – every couple of cycles through the leg day routine, substitute regular back squats for all Box Squats. The main goal of the Box Squat is to improve your back squat, so be sure to continue squatting regularly and with maximum effort.
The above video demonstration should give you an idea of how to execute the box squat. Here are a few METALBOB tips and suggestions to keep in mind:
- Eccentric Phase – As you sit back onto the box, keep your upper body tight. Sit all the way back onto the box with your back straight, do not round your back or let go of the tension in your core. Avoid plopping down heavily on the box (bench), this can cause injury. When seated, relax the hips for a second before you reflex the hips for the concentric phase.
- Concentric Phase – As you stand back up, push the feet out to the sides and down. On the way up, drive the traps into the bar first or your glutes will rise prematurely and cause too much of a forward lean. Avoid using a rocking motion as a way to generate momentum.
- Foot Placement – Use a slightly wider than usual stance for the Box Squat. Keep your shins vertical to the floor as much as possible. This will ensure you are engaging the hamstrings and glutes. If your feet are too far back, the knees will come forward over the toes as you ascend and the quads will take over. Keeping the shins vertical will also put less pressure on the knees (making box squats desirable for anyone with knee problems).
- Box/Bench – If your gym doesn’t have squat boxes, you can use a bench. Try to find either a box or a bench at a height that allows you to go to parallel or below parallel. Ideally you’ll want to box squat using varying depths, starting with a height that is higher (parallel or above) and gradually going deeper to below parallel.
- Beginners – Start with little weight or even just a pole across your back. Even with little or no weight, you will get a huge benefit out of doing box squats. 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps at a weight you can manage is a great place to start. Use a squat cage and a spotter. Set the safety pins so that even with the height of the box, if you need to you can lower the weight onto the pins and still get out from underneath.
Finally, here is an interesting article that compares Box Squats to Back Squats. Although I’m not very concerned with the article’s attempt to determine which type of squat is the superior squat (they are both essential); in comparing the two there is a lot of good information on the benefits of both. Check it out: https://www.t-nation.com/training/back-squats-vs-box-squats
The tasty metal groove used for the embedded video is from the track “Fertile Green” by High On Fire. The perfect soundtrack for your gym beatings!