Box squats are not one of the most common barbell lifts we see used in the gym or in strength and conditioning. Yet they are a very valuable tool that coaches and gym goers should be using from time to time. They are versatile and can be used with a wide variety of populations, from beginners to advanced individuals. Let’s look at 6 benefits of box squat and 5 different variations you can use in your training or when coaching clients.
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Box squats are simply when we perform the squatting motion (bending of the knees and moving the hips to the floor whilst keeping an upright torso) to a box placed under the hips. There are many different types of box squat and all of them have different benefits.
Beginners who are learning to squat for the first time, especially those who have been sedentary for a long periods of time or are elderly, can struggle moving the hips lower than the knees. This is due to both mobility and strength restrictions, box squats can be such a useful variation to build these first steps in the squat movement pattern with confidence and control.
Box Squats are particularly beneficial when trying to help a client lower their squat towards a full range of motion over time. The height of the box can be progressively lowered over time as the range of motion in the hips, ankles and knees improves. Once the boxes height can no longer be lowered, it can be useful to use plates stacked on top of each other.
For a very different type of individual, who has reached a strength plateau in the squat, using the box squat can help beat a sticking point in the squat. A sticking point is when we hit a certain part of the movement and are particularly weak in this part of the movement. For example, if you are able to get out of the bottom of the squat but get stuck at the final part of the squat, then using a heavy box squat can help you work through this sticking point and build strength in the particular part of the squat that you are struggling with. This is for very experienced lifters, who usually have years of experience and are looking for novel ways to break plateaus.
The shortened range of motion can allow us to put less pressure on the knees, if you have knee pain from another injury or performing to much high volume, high intensity squat variations, then box squats can be an excellent exercise selection. The bottom of the squat requires aggressive knee flexion and extension which although is not at all dangerous, if you suffer from previous injuries it can be inflamed by full depth squatting.
Some individuals may struggle with back squats due to having a weak back, the box squat, in conjunction with deadlifts and other accessory work, can be a great way to overload the back and build a stronger back which will help you with both strength and confidence in the back squat. Having a strong back is important for back squats, it helps when you un-rack the bar to feel you’re capable to control the weight with your back.
Sometimes, when we have been training for very long periods of time, constantly using the same primary variations of back squats and front squats can be a little mundane. So running cycles on variations like box squats can add some fun, novelty and variety into your training regime.
The box squat is an excellent tool for building strength in the lower body and the back. It can be loaded for strength and explosively, however I wouldn’t use it for hypertrophy work as it doesn’t move the muscle through the full range of motion. It does however allow you to massively overload the squat position through taking out the most challenging part of the squat which is when the hips are closest to the floor. This overloading (through loading with heavier weight) can create excellent strength adaptations that carry over to the back squat. It can also build confidence and help us get used to un-racking maximal or near maximal weights for the back squat.
The body weight box squat is for beginners who are looking to learn the squat movement pattern and either lack range of motion or strength (or both) to carry out a traditional air squat. This is a large subsect of the population, making the bodyweight box squat an extremely useful tool for beginners.
The counterbalance box squat is for those who are both new to squatting and struggle to maintain an upright position. The counterbalance makes the squat easier as the counterbalance makes it much easier to maintain an upright position. This position is perfect for those who throw their hips back immediately as they start the squat.
The single arm KB Front Rack Box squat just shows that the box squat can be performed with a variety of DB and KB variations, all which beginners can use whilst building their base of strength in the squat. These variations can help build strength while individuals still struggle with moving through the full range of motion.
This is a very niche variation and is used in rare cases, not to take anything away from its validity. It is used for those who struggle with their front squat and have sticking points both in their front squat and / or their clean (a weightlifting movement). Personally I have very weak quads and have used this variation to help break a plateau in my front squat, but I have never used this with any of my general health clients.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.