Box squats are popular in powerlifting circles, but why are they used? Are they effective at building strength and size? And should you give them a try?
What is a box squat?
A box squat is defined as any squatting exercise or variation in which the lifter sits their bottom onto a box before driving back up to a standing position. This could include back squats to a box, front squats to a box, or even safety bar or zurcher squats to a box.
Do you sit down on box squats?
You do sit back onto the box, but you should not relax. Your body should stay braced, with tension in your legs and core throughout. Imagine that the box is fragile, and you don’t want to break it by hitting it too hard or bouncing off of it.
How high should box squats be?
Start with a box that is around your parallel squat position. From there you might choose to set the box 1-3 inches above or below. There is no specific height that you must use, so it can be adjusted based on your mobility and goals.
How much weight should I use for box squats?
Box squats require lower weight than regular squats, so start with a weight that you can comfortably control for multiple reps. If you’ve used the exercise before and know your 1 rep max or predicted 1 rep max box squat, then Louie Simmons of Westside barbell recommends that you use 65-82% of that.
Should athletes do box squats?
Box squats are a safe and effective squat variation that athletes can use to develop general lower body strength, as well as confidence in the squat. Some people like to suggest that athletes should never use them, but I would strongly disagree. There is a time and place for almost all exercises.
Who should do box squats?
Box squats use slightly more hip extension than regular squats, so they’re a great choice for anyone wanting to add a bit more hamstring and glute emphasis to their squat training.
The box squat can also help to improve squat mechanics for some lifters by encouraging them to sit back a bit more, and show better control of their descent.
Do box squats improve squat?
Box squats can help with your squatting form by encouraging you to sit slightly further back and control your descent. Box squats can also improve your squatting mechanics by ensuring a pause between the eccentric decent and concentric drive back up, which can improve control of the bar.
In other words, if you’re someone who needs more control of their squat, then box squats will likely improve your squat.
If you would like to learn more on the similarities and differences of the box squat and normal squat, check out our article box squats vs regular squat – your athletic guide.
Do box squats make you faster?
Box squats get athletes stronger and improve rate of force development with their emphasis on static seated pause into dynamic and aggressive concentric drive up. However, just because you’re stronger and have better RFD doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically be faster. Sprinting and acceleration are skills that require dedicated practice in order to see a transfer of training.
Can you do box squats with a bench?
You can do box squats with a box or bench, either is completely fine.
Can you front box squat?
Box squats can be used to boost your front squat performance too. Olympic weightlifters in particular may benefit from low box front squats to really work on strength and control without having to rely on the stretch reflex or rebound.
Powerlifters may find front squats to a box a useful assistance exercise if their quads are a weak point. For more on front squats and the muscles work check out this link.
Do box squats build legs?
Box squats are a great way to build strength and size in your legs. They allow for maximal control over the bar and make it so that you can’t ‘bounce’ out of the bottom position, which is great for keeping tension applied to your leg musculature.
Are box squats bad for you?
When coached and performed properly box squats are perfectly safe. Box squats may even reduce the risk to your lower back by allowing you to maintain control and focus on torso position and bracing throughout the lift.
Box squats are only bad for you when performed incorrectly, such as by crashing down onto the box and losing your brace and tension.
Are box squats better for glutes?
Box squats tend to be better than regular squats for targeting your glutes. Box squats encourage you to push your butt further back and lean slightly more forwards, which activates more posterior chain muscles like your glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors.
To be fair, though, the degree to which glutes are trained really varies based on how the box squat is performed. A classic westside style box squat with a low bar position, wide foot position and vertical shin will use far more glute and hamstring than a high bar box squat or front squat to box.
Also, if you really want to focus on glutes, exercises like glute bridges and hip thrusts would be a far better choice.
Are box squats easier on knees?
Box squats put less pressure and tension on the knees as the knee range of motion is slightly less than a regular squat. So for people with pre-existing knee problems box squats might be a useful alternative.
However, just because something is easier for the knees doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better for them. In fact, many people would benefit from actively creating strength through a full range of knee flexion and extension. So if you’re dealing with a knee injury, make a discussion with a qualified sports physio your main priority.
Summary – Are box squats right for me?
Box squats (back, front, safety bar or zurcher) are all variations that can help you build leg strength and size, so if those are your goals, box squats may be a good choice for you.
Typically they place slightly more emphasis on the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors) than their regular counterparts, so if these are muscles you’re wanting to target a bit more then box squats may be good for you. With that said, the degree to which they hit those muscles depends on how the movement is performed, and there may be better alternatives.
Box squats are also a useful way to improve your control, bracing and tension throughout the squatting movement, so if these are qualities you wish to improve, then give box squats a try.
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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.