The box squat: One of the most under utilized, and incorrectly used exercises in the strength and conditioning world. You see it in your local gyms, college weight rooms, and team programming, but not many coaches or athletes understand the true meaning behind why we use it, or are even using it for the wrong reasons.When you think back to when you’ve seen someone do a box squat, or have done them yourself, you most likely see someone set a bench behind them, squat slowly down to gently tap the box, and then rise back up. Why are we using this technique though and what are the benefits? If you break that down, there is no real added benefit of just tapping the box with your butt, other then the use of a landmark for how low you should go. If that is the reason you’re using the box squat, then by all means continue to implement that. It can be a great tool to teach an athlete to get to a certain depth by lowering the box over time until that new depth can be reached. At some point though there comes a time when squat depth should be something you can control internally, and the benefit will be reaped much more by reaching and controlling it without the use of an outside cue such as a box.
In order to get the true benefits of the box squat, you have to actually sit down on the box. So many times I have suggested this to athletes, even coaches, and the response is always, “But that’s not good for the back, I’m going to get hurt, there’s no better benefit.” Maybe these coaches or athletes know someone who got hurt doing the box squat, but who are we going to blame? Are we going to blame the gun, or are we going to blame the person shooting it? Maybe the athlete wasn’t prepared for the movement, had bad form, was doing more then they could handle, or just had a freak accident, but lets not just blame the exercise for that.
Back to the main point… sit down on the box! In an article on comparison of traditional squat, powerlifting squat, and box squat, there was some impressive data shown that the box squat actually has less peak force exerted on the lower back, and has a much higher rate of force development. This is probably because in normal squats, when we change from eccentric to concentric, or the moment your muscle changes from lowering, to rising out of the hole in the squat, there is a great amount of force exerted on the spine. During the box squat transition, we are slowing the stretch-contract turnover time and reducing the amount of force on our lower back. What this is also doing is breaking up the eccentric/concentric transition, and forcing us to train more explosive power or increase our rate of development.
A simpler way to put it, the box squat forces us to explode off the box, recruit muscle fibers faster, and can actually reduce force on the lower back. In addition to this, it allows us to squat without using as much ankle dorsiflexion, which can usually be a huge issue for those not able to get low enough in a traditional squat. Although we aren’t needing as much ankle range of motion, it requires us to use much more hip flexion range of motion. When squatting with the box, we are usually going to squat with a much wider stance. This allows for much more glute and posterior chain activation, then compared to the quad dominate traditional squat. This is a great implementation into a workout plan, and the importance of strong glutes in competitive athletes is highly underrated.
For those who are still skeptical, and worried about injuring themselves or their athletes using the box squat, should begin to look into alternative reasons for why their worried about getting hurt. Core stability, breathing, and bracing is usually a great place to begin to correct the squat to prevent injury, and practicing the movement at reasonable weight before attempting to hit your traditional squat 1rm on a box. If the only tool you have on your belt is a hammer, then you’re going to treat everything like its a nail. Expand your toolbox, practice new movements, and get to the core of why yourself, or others have been injured doing a movement, but don’t blame the box squat
For tips and advice on how to execute a proper box squat, check out this website- https://www.westside-barbell.com/blogs/2014/how-to-execute-a-proper-box-squat