How to Do a Box Squat, Better

How to Do a Box Squat, Better

THE BARBELL SQUAT is a foundational exercise for all kinds of strength trainees. The compound movement can be a tough one to master, though, and one of the most difficult aspects of it is lowering down to the appropriate depth. For some people, knee issues might make it difficult to work through a full range of motion. Others might be more focused on perfecting their standard squat, so they’re looking to supplement their workouts with a secondary exercises that can help to fine-tune their form. One movement is a great choice for all of these lifters: the box squat.

The box squat looks simple at first glance. Set up for a standard squat with a box or platform in place, sit down onto it, then stand back up. Easy, right? Not if you want to reap the true benefits of the box. Making the most out of the movement is a bit more complicated than that, especially if you’re hoping to see improvements to your standard barbell squat form. You’ll need to take the height of the platform you’re squatting to into account, for one, and their are some subtle specifics you’ll need to follow for success.

Here, Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., breaks down the box squat so that you can use the movement in your leg day workouts.

Benefits of the Box Squat

The box squat is a useful secondary squat variation to add to your workout routine that can also serve as a replacement for the standard barbell squat for people who have knee issues. Since you’re descending to a stopping point, then standing back up, your joints will be much less taxed.

Why? The position you’re able to maintain in your lower legs. In most squat variations, your shin angle will change as you descend into the full depth of the movement and bend your knees. When you do a box squat, you can maintain a vertical shin. This will take the stress off your knees.

Muscles Worked by the Box Squat

Like other squats, you’ll work the big muscles of your lower body—the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. The box squat in particular is great for your posterior muscles, the glutes and hamstrings. Since you’re controlling the eccentric (lowering) portion of the movement down to a controlled stop, you’ll be challenging the glutes, hamstrings, and hip abductors. Once you stand back up, you’ll need to fire your glutes to power up into hip extension.

How to Do the Box Squat

  • Set up with a bar loaded on a squat rack, with a box or platform in place that you can work down to. To start, the box should be at a height that when you sit on it, your thighs are parallel to the ground.
  • Position yourself underneath the bar and pull yourself up into it. Create tension across the shoulder blades as you pull yourself in front of it.
  • Place the bar on the meaty portion of your traps—not your neck. Your neck should be able to comfortably stay neutral the whole time. If you feel like you’re craning forward, the bar may be too high.
  • Pull the elbows down so that they are almost in line with your torso.
  • Push up to get the bar off the hook before stepping back in front of the box.
  • Move your feet so they’re wider than shoulder-width and your standard squat position, with the toes pointed slightly outward.
  • Push your butt back, then lower down slowly with control, pushing your knees apart to maintain your vertical shin angle.
  • When your butt hits the box, stop. Don’t bounce up off the platform. Keep your core braced to maintain posture.
  • Power back up by pressing your feet through the floor and firing your glutes into hip extension.

Use this extra insight from Samuel to inform your reps.

Get Vertical

Eb says: The beauty of the box squat is that it lets you focus on maintaining a vertical shin. The box allows you to focus more intently on sitting back. Your main goal is to take advantage of that and keep your shin vertical and perpendicular to the ground on every rep. Your shin angle never changes during a box squat.

That’s going to lead to less force on your knees (which is why the box squat is a great option if you have knee issues), and it requires less mobility in your Achilles (which is great if you haven’t squatted in awhile). This is also vastly different from other squat variations; in the back and front squats, and even goblet squats, the knee is going to shift forward slightly, shifting your shin angle away from vertical.

Get Wide

Eb says: Maintaining a vertical shin doesn’t happen naturally, especially if you use your normal squat stance. If you’re only slightly wider than shoulder-width, unless your mobility is standout, you’ll find that your knees track forward.

To avoid that, take a wider-than-normal stance, and point your toes outward more. This will also help turn on both your glutes and your smaller hip abductors, both of which are often underutilized in everyday life.

Land With Control

Eb says: The box is an aid to help you find positions, but it’s not a crutch. So don’t plop or thud onto the box. Instead, control your torso downwards on each rep; the slower the better. Don’t be afraid to take 3 to 5 seconds to lower down to the box, that way when your butt hits the box, it’s lightly tapping it.

You’ll also develop core control; as you lower, your torso won’t stay straight-up-and-down. Instead, it’ll shift into a slight forward angle, much as it does when you do a traditional back squat. The added benefit here: You’re building eccentric strength and control in both your hamstrings and glutes.

No Rocking Allowed

Eb says: When you land on the box, you’ll be landing with your torso leaned slightly forward. You may see guys at your gym do this, then rock backwards, bringing their torso perpendicular to the ground, then rock forwards to power up from the squat. Don’t do this; all you’re doing is generating momentum to come out of the squat and remove the need to be explosive with your legs when you power up.

Instead, land on the box and lock in your core, maintaining your torso angle. Then, focus on starting out of the squat by driving with your legs. This is where you’ll feel the beauty of the box squat: You’ll need your glutes and hamstrings to accelerate, essentially from a dead stop on the box, building a ton of strength.

Gather Yourself

Eb says: Don’t rush through your box squats. Think of each rep as its own battle: A slow and very controlled lower, followed by a controlled stop, then an explosive drive off the box. After you complete a rep, reset your body, your mind, and your breath. You’ll need to do this to keep your next rep clean.

How to Add the Box Squat to Your Workouts

You can add the box squat to your workouts with 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps. This can be used in place of standard back squats, for those with knee issues, or as a secondary squat variation to reinforce proper form if you are looking to level up your workout.

Headshot of Brett Williams, NASM

Brett Williams, NASM

Brett Williams, a senior editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.

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