Squats are known as the king of exercises because they are compound movements that engage multiple joints and muscle groups. In doing so, they also increase your heart rate, which helps them burn more calories.
Overall, squats are key to developing strength, power and even losing weight – but there is more than one variation of the squat and even an adaption to all those variations.
Box squats are one variation within the different variations. Here you can find out exactly what a box squat is and how to do a box squat correctly without the risk of injury.
What Are Box Squats?
A box squat is any variation of squat (such as a back squat, front squat, single leg squat or bodyweight squat) with one main difference. The depth of the squat performed is predetermined by the inclusion of a solid surface that the individual will sit on during each rep. The solid surface is usually an exercise box, hence the name, but any stable surface with the required height can be used.
By including the box within the squat and determining the depth of the squat beforehand, you can improve different attributes. For example, if the personal trainer wanted to improve the explosiveness of the athlete, they could set the box slightly higher.
How to Do Box Squats
Before attempting a box squat, you should know exactly how to execute one correctly to avoid injury and to get the most out of your workout.
Here are the steps and tips to execute a perfect box back squat:
#1: The Setup
The first thing you need to ensure is the box you are using is in good condition. A damaged box can result in serious injury if it does not hold your weight.
Next, you want to ensure that the box you are using is at the ideal height for what you are trying to achieve from the box squat. Unless you are training for a specific benefit such as power, most people perform box squats with their legs parallel to the floor when seated on the box.
You should avoid using a box that is too low because this prevents you from completing the movement with control. When you have the box too low, you usually fall slightly and hit the box, rather than sit comfortably. To increase the height of a box, it may be safe to add a weight plate on top of it.
#2: Difference in the Stance
For the most part, the squatting technique you would do without a box is the same when with the box. However, one main difference is in the stance.
When executing a box squat, it is better to widen the stance by a few extra inches as this will help you sit on the box easier, but it also makes it more difficult to force the knees wide.
#3: The DOs and DO NOTs
When sitting back on the box, make sure to maintain a vertical shin. This is so that you can set yourself up to complete the second part of the rep correctly. When lifting up from the box, its alright to use slight momentum to lift.
One of the things you must not do is slide forward on the box in order to lift up. The knees should never move forward and they should stay on the same invisible tracks that they followed when the first part of the rep was executed.
Follow these steps to perform a box squat correctly.
Box Squats Muscles Worked
The box squat mainly focuses on working the muscles around the glutes and hamstrings, stealing focus away from the knees and feet which become the heavy lifters in a free squat.
If your knees start to hurt during your box squat routine, chances are you aren’t positioning your legs correctly so seek some guidance on where to place your feet and back.
While the glutes and hamstrings are the most heavily activated during the box squat, the move does in fact engage the whole posterior chain, which features both of these as well as the spine right up to the base of the neck, and down the back of the thighs. This is primarily used to straighten the body from the sitting position, and then again as the body becomes lowered back down in a controlled way.
Top Tip: The more controlled your body is as you drop back onto the box, the more effective to move is.
The Benefits of Box Squats
Box squats have many benefits, from increasing your overall fitness to enhancing the shape and appearance of your glutes and legs.
Due to its reliance on a weighted bar as well as the correct posture required to lower yourself onto the box, the box squat is a more complex variation of the common squat – but also one with enviable benefits. Let’s start by looking at exactly what those benefits are.
Here are the Benefits of Box Squats
Performing the box squat safely and effectively relies on the proper technique being learned and executed. This means lowering yourself slowly onto the box, before using your legs along to push yourself back up. The weighted bar renders you unable to use your hands or arms for support, meaning your legs really are left to do the heavy lifting as you rise up and complete each rep, while the box means you can’t simply bounce up and down.
The benefit of this is that your body will be forced to learn and utilise the correct technique, ensuring complete effectiveness in each rep which is, quite simply, harder than a standard squat.
With the box slowing your momentum down as you lower yourself into each squat, you become far more aware of the tension within your legs which is required to perform the exercise. If you start on your box squat journey with relatively poor flexibility and a low range of motion, you will find that gradually you are able to increase the number of reps you can do – an easily trackable means of progress.
The benefit of this will extend into life outside the gym as well, with increased flexibility and mobility making every day life easier. From walking to sitting down and standing back up on a regular basis, you will soon find that you feel more energised and fit.
3. It makes your legs stronger
Box squatting is far more effective at building strength in your legs, simply because you have to use your leg power to push your body back up into a standing position again and again – with a weight in hand. As previously discussed, on a regular squat it can be easier to employ a bounce technique to make the move easier (but less effective). The box squat eliminates this as a possibility, by placing the box right under your glutes to stop the bounce action and force you to move slowly.
The benefit? Stronger legs will not only look great and make you feel much stronger overall, but they will make cardiovascular exercise easier. That’s why box squatting is such a great exercise for runners, as it builds up the power in their legs and provides transferable strength that they can use for that final push at the end of a race.
4. It’s safe
If you’re lifting and squatting with a weight alone, a twinge or pain anywhere in your body can cause serious harm is you fall or drop the weight from a height. By placing a box behind you and stopping the fall halfway down, the box squat lowers the risk of injury even if the weight becomes too heavy or a pain forces you to abandon a rep before it is complete. Box squats are also recommended for those already suffering from injury, particularly issues with the knee due to the box squats reliance on the glutes and hamstrings rather than the knees and heels.
The benefit of safety is fairly self-explanatory, ensuring that your exercise is as effective but safe as it possibly can be. This makes box squatting a particularly good option for those who are new to squatting with weights, because it allows them to get used to the feeling of lifting a heavy weight without the possibility of dropping to the floor.
5. It builds consistency
Touched on already, the box squat promotes a consistent set of reps purely by taking away the possibility of varying your squat depth. By hitting the same depth for each squat, your body will become used to the consistency gained through box squats, and will eventually learn to transfer this into free squatting as well.
The benefit, more control over your body when performing other exercises without the box.
Having looked at some of the benefits of the box squat, it is just as important to recognise which muscles are being worked during the activity. Not only does this allow us to create and embed box squats into a routine tailored to the areas of our body we most want to focus on, but it also centres our focus on the muscles we should be feeling – and can alert us to those which may feel strained when perhaps they shouldn’t.