Box squat vs regular squat – Your Guide

Squats are staple exercise for lower body strength and power, and the box squat is a common variation of the regular squat.  This guide will look at ranges of motion, muscles worked, benefits, drawbacks and recommended uses for each.

Box squats vs regular squats

Regular squats work through a full range of motion at the knee, whereas box squats reduce or vary this range of motion by altering the height of the box that you squat to.  Both exercises have their place in hypertrophy and strength training, with the box squat typically being used to address weak points or sticking points.

Joints worked and ranges of motion

JointRegular SquatBox Squat
HipModerate to LargeModerate to Large
KneeLargeModerate
AnkleLargeSmall to Moderate

*It’s important to note that there are multiple ways to perform box squats.  The box can be at different heights, and the squat itself can be either low bar or high bar, or even a variation such as safety bar squat or front squat.  So joint ranges of motion will vary considerably.

Muscles worked during regular squat

Regular squats are a safe and effective exercise that work the quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors and core.

  • Quads: These are your prime movers responsible for the eccentric (downwards) and concentric (upwards) movements.
  • Glutes: These mainly work during the top half of the squat
  • Hamstrings: These work to a small degree to assist the lift
  • Adductors: These work to stabilise the lift, especially at the bottom position
  • Core: Your core works throughout the lift to maintain tension, balance and posture.

Muscles worked during box squat

Box squats work the quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors and core.  Within powerlifting, low bar box squats are often performed in a way that adds more emphasis to the posterior chain.

  • Quads: These are your prime movers responsible for the eccentric (downwards) and concentric (upwards) movements.
  • Glutes: These mainly work during the top half of the squat*
  • Hamstrings: These work to a small degree to assist the lift*
  • Adductors: These work to stabilise the lift, especially at the bottom position
  • Core: Your core works throughout the lift to maintain tension, balance and posture.

*If the box squat is performed in a low bar powerlifting style, with a real emphasis on pushing your butt back and keeping your shins vertical, then the glutes and hamstrings will contribute more to the overall workload.

Are box squats better than regular squats?

Both box squats and regular squats are good options for strength and hypertrophy.  Box squats tend to be better for addressing specific sticking points, improving control during the descent, and encouraging greater activation of the posterior chain.

The drawback is that they don’t train the full range of motion, and will likely take some focus away from the quads.

Are box squats easier on your lower back?

No, in fact they are most likely slightly harder on your lower back as the box squat movement tends to be slightly more hip dominant than a regular squat pattern, meaning that your lower back will have to do more work.

With that said, extra work doesn’t necessarily mean extra injury risk.  Sensible and progressive loading over time is key, and may even contribute towards strengthening the lower back.  Just make sure that you only very gently touch the box, and maintain a good brace throughout the movement.

Are box squats harder than squats?

Barbell box squats tend to be harder than regular squats as they remove the stretch reflex and emphasize a slower, more controlled descent.  Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell, arguably the godfather of box squats, recommends basing your weight selection off of your box squat max rather than off of your regular squat max, and suggests loads of 65-82%.

Are box squats safer?

Box squats and regular squats are equally safe.  Risks during both the regular and box squat are mainly down to poor technical execution and/or coaching.

I recommend starting with lighter weights to learn a stable technique.  Focus on maintaining tension and bracing throughout the lift, and don’t allow yourself to relax onto the box.

Are pin squats harder?

Pin squats are harder than regular squats, and similar in difficulty to box squats.  Pin squats make the concentric (upwards) portion of the squat the focus, and you start with the bar completely static. This set-up removes the stretch reflex in a way similar to the box squat, making them comparable movements.

Why are box squats easier than regular squats?

For most people box squats are actually harder than regular squats.  If you’re finding box squats easier, then it’s likely because you have stronger hip musculature (glutes, hamstrings, lower back) and weaker quadriceps.  You might also be someone who struggles with full range of motion due to mobility or technique errors.

Benefits of box squats vs regular squats

Both box squats and regular squats are good options for hypertrophy and strength, but here’s a more detailed breakdown of the benefits and drawbacks.

Box squat benefits:

  • Helps to build increased control of the eccentric (downwards) part of the lift
  • Can be used to place more emphasis on the glutes, hamstrings and lower back
  • Less knee range of motion may be easier for those with minor knee injuries
  • Removal of stretch reflex and focus on specific position can help to bring up weak points.

Box squat drawbacks:

  • Has a lower specificity to powerlifting competitions
  • Lack of stretch reflex reduces carryover to weightlifting 
  • Reduced range of motion and extra hip emphasis shifts focus away from the quads, meaning that they get less hypertrophy stimulus

Regular Squat benefits:

  • Greater specificity for powerlifting and weightlifting
  • Better for quad hypertrophy

Regular squat drawbacks:

  • Not as good for developing control in the descent
  • Can be hard to bring up weak points / sticking points
  • Not great for developing posterior chain muscles

Summary: Which squat should you use?

Still not 100% sure which squat to use for which situation? Here’s a quick list of my recommendations based on coaching experience:

  • If you want general leg size and strength: Either squat is fine
  • If you want to focus on quad hypertrophy: Regular squats are better
  • If you want to target weak/sticking points: Box squats are better
  • If you want to build control in the descent: Box squats are better
  • If you want to maximise specificity and carryover for powerlifting and weightlifting: Regular squats are better
  • If you want to improve sports performance: Either is fine

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Alex Parry
British Weightlifting Tutor & Educator at Character Strength & Conditioning | Website | + posts

Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.

He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.