How to Box Squat Properly


The box squat is a great tool for teaching people how to squat properly.

A lot of people can’t squat with passable form their first time out but just about everyone can box squat, as long as you set the box to an appropriate height.

That means the point at which they can maintain a neutral spine or where they start crashing into the box due to weak hamstrings.

It also teaches people to sit back a bit more and helps alleviate some of the knees forward, quad dominant squatting that is so prevalent in beginners.

It’s also a good exercise for those with bad knees who may not be able to free squat anymore.

Today I want to present some of the most commonly seen mistakes on the box squat so that if you choose to use them you actually do them properly and derive some benefit from the exercise.

Sitting Back Too Far-
Although I said that box squats teach you to sit back you will also see people overdoing this and making a huge mistake. I see it all the time.

What we have here is yet another case of people seeing what Westside does and applying it to their own training without changing a thing.

You only sit that far back if you are planning on competing in a squat suit. Otherwise your box squat should look pretty damn similar to your regular free squat.

The shins should NOT be perpendicular to the floor. They should be at very near the same angle they would be when free squatting. Unless you have bad knees and the box squat is the only form of squatting you ever intend to do.

If you intend to free squat sitting that far back with a negative shin angle will end up having zero transfer when you remove the box.

Taking Too Wide of a Stance-
Again, your box squat should look fairly similar to your free squat. There’s no need to spread your feet out so wide that they’re under each side of the power rack.

Unless you’re wearing squat briefs or a suit that’s a great way to destroy your hips and it’s not very sport specific in the least. A normal, slightly wider than shoulder width stance should suffice.

Leaning Forward Too Much-
At the bottom of a squat your torso should always be leaning forward a bit. It will never be perpendicular to the floor, nor would you want it to be.

Your strongest stance would an athletic stance; like if you were playing linebacker or guarding a guy in basketball. That’s how you should look at the bottom of a squat.

For some reason I see a lot of guys almost good morning their box squats. No need to do this. Keep the trunk at the same angle it would during a free squat.

Rocking-
Those lifters who lean forward too much will usually also be the ones who rock.

What happens is they lower themselves to the box with a forward lean, then they rock back so that they are almost sitting straight up then they quickly reverse the motion and rock forward again to generate some momentum before standing back up. Don’t do that.

Skating-
The same guys that rock also sometimes do the seemingly impossible and let their feet come up off the ground or start skating around like they’re on ice in the bottom position.

In other words they are no longer bolted to the floor. They are completely sitting on the box while letting the pressure come up off their feet a bit while they rock back to generate momentum. When that happens your spine is bearing all the load in an unhealthy manner, being compressed between the bar and the box.

Crashing Onto the Box-
This is a pretty serious injury waiting to happen.

You want to lower yourself slowly to the box, sit on it, while staying very tight, pause for a second and then explode up. Do not crash on the box if you still want to be walking upright in twenty years.

“Releasing the Hips” or Relaxing at the Bottom-
Some people read that dynamic effort box squats had something to do with “static overcome by dynamic work” and  started applying that information to every rep of box squats they did; heavy or not.

However, if you are going to use the box squat as a strength building exercise, I personally do not believe that you should ever release or relax anything at the bottom while sitting on the box.

EVERYTHING must remain tight.

Your upper back, lower back, abs, obliques, hips, legs, grip, everything. You should be sitting on the box like a motionless statue. The only thing you do is pause briefly and then you stand back up the exact same way you sat down.

Good luck.

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27 Responses to How to Box Squat Properly

  1. Chris D. August 29, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    Great post Jay. Like you said, I also see a lot of athletes and coaches who are not involved in powerlifting falsely trying to box squat exactly the way they do at Westside. One question, I have heard that the head should be the first thing to “come up” out of the bottom position when box squatting, as opposed to driving the hips out of the bottom as one would in a free squat. Whats the best way to box squat for a non powerlifter?

  2. Danny McLarty August 29, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    Great info. Jason. All spot on that every “squatter” need to read!

    Danny

  3. BD August 29, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    Her name and p#, please.

    Oh, was there an article , too?

  4. Dennis August 29, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Great information. You see so many people today with terrible form on many of the exercises that they do. The squat being one of the main ones! Starting on the box is a great way to build form and add some strength. Thanks!

  5. Raymond- ZenMyFitness August 29, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Fantastically good timing for this article. I just started to try this squat. I have been squatting for a few years and thought I was getting really good at doing it and lifting heavy.
    Then oneday I saw some kids squatting the same weight as me but hardly even moving.
    Then I realised that was me. I squatting about 400lbs+ ( I weigh 155 lbs) but I was only moving a small distance ( just fooling myself).
    So I decided I need to do the box squat. So thanks for the tips there are not a lot of tips out there on how to do it properly.
    Raymond

  6. Jeff August 29, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    I just introduced the box squat current program…haven’t done them since last year (Eric Cressey’s Max Strength program)…forgot how good they feel! Worked up to a single of 375 lbs after my dynamic work…surprised myself…great article for my Birthday, as one can never get enough squat info…

    Thanks Jason

  7. JONESY August 29, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    Great read YESSSSSSSSSSSSS. Is that u in the pic or David Tate? Looks like Dave

  8. Matt August 29, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    Awesome article and the info reasures me that every person squatting at the gym I go to is terribly wrong! PS* the chick in the photo is damn sexy.

  9. PH August 29, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    Or you could man the fuck up raymond, drop your weight and get low. Build up from there. Box squats aint gonna fix pussy squats.

  10. Danny August 30, 2011 at 4:13 am #

    Good read and great pic!

  11. Cooper August 30, 2011 at 4:27 am #

    Insane!! I’m stationed in Balad and just bought a copy of the MGS last week. Waited till last night to start the beginner routine with a training buddy. Another good friend in my company (amateur wrestler/fighter) told me he’d give me some pointers on squating tonight. This article is all the help I needed for squats though.

  12. Jeff August 30, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    @PH…really? Box squats will fix, as you so eloquently put it, pussy squat by: 1. showing proper depth 2. squatting w/o the stretch reflex out of the hole thereby building a stronger squat once the box is removed and 3. why are you son aggressive towards a guy that even admitted he wasn’t squatting properly and humble enough to admit it, online nonetheless?

    In the wise words of Bob Marley…”simmer down”…

  13. Raymond- ZenMyFitness August 30, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    Thanks for the comment Jeff and even you to PH.

    I’m not an experienced squatter so better than me try justify why I think box squats are any good here is an excerpt out of DAVE TATE’s book (hope you don’t mind Dave) The Vault, ( hopefully you have heard of this guy?)

    “The greatest secret to big squats is the use of the box squat. We don’t do any full squatting at all, except for in competition. We haven’t had any lifters over the past 15 years have any lower back or knee injuries, either. The only side effects we’ve seen with box squatting are big squats! The key is to do them properly.
    The benefits of the box are many.”
    cheers ..happy squatting eh!

    • Matt August 31, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

      First up, Jase, as usual awesome post. Your writings are like the bible of training. I feel smarter and more aware after each one.

      @Raymond- ZenMyFitness: Raymond, the box squat is an excellent teaching tool if you can’t do a full BODYWEIGHT squat – I use it with my clients all the time. I always recommend bodyweight squats until your form is sweet, then move on to loading it with extra resistance. It’s all about longevity in training – not trying to get the biggest half squat the fastest.
      The heavy box squat is useful in a number of situations once you have a functional squat and can handle the added resistance, but if I may refer to the Dave Tate quote you submitted – he is a powerlifter and I would assume all the guys he is referring to are powerlifters. Different kettle of fish if your main focus is on building functional strength.
      My advice would be to learn to do a full squat mate then keep on increasing the resistance. It’s an awesome quality to self analyze and admit your weaknesses.
      Keep at it mate!

  14. Isaac Wilkins August 31, 2011 at 4:54 am #

    Great article, Jason.

    I use the box squat (and of course bodyweight squats) to teach about 95% of my athletes the back squats for exactly the reason you mention: To eliminate the knees-forward, quad-dominant squatting. It also serves as a great tool, in conjunction with more specific work, to develop strength in the glutes and hamstrings so they CAN squat properly.

    Good point also on not sitting as far back as you see the Westside guys (who made box squatting popular) do. One of the things that kills me about how people watch Louie’s videos and read his articles and then mis-apply the concepts is that nobody seems to grasp that he focuses his efforts on making most of his athletes very strong IN GEAR.

    Extremely wide bench pressing, super wide and sitting back squatting, and whatnot is not what makes a strong raw lifter or athlete. It does make a very strong powerlifter with equipment. Louie makes no bones about it, but people watching/reading seem to ignore that time and time again.

    Anyway, good stuff.

    Isaac

  15. Jason August 31, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    I have found the box squat a great teaching tool myself. No matter the level the person is at when they first start to train with me I will say 95% can’t squat. That goes for atletes and house moms.

    I have found that the box squat is good at getting people to feel what position they are suposed to be in.

    Great teaching tool and good points in the article.

  16. Conor Henderson August 31, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Would you say the box squat is harder than a regular squat? For example, if you had to rate a regular squat on difficulty from 1-10 what would you rate it, and vice versa with a box squat. I think I am guilty of “sitting back to far” and “rocking”. I haven’t done much box squatting because I feel like the transfer to my regular squat isn’t working. It feels like box squats are a lot easier than regular squats which is why I ask if they are supposed to be harder. If they are, I know I am definitely doing something wrong.

    • Jason Ferruggia September 15, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

      @Conor Henderson: So hard to say as it really depends on your individual strengths and weaknesses. Quad dominant guys with weak hams may have a significant drop off on a box. Guys with strong posterior chains may box squat more than they free squat. Sitting back too far and rocking too much will definitely make it easier.

  17. Dana September 2, 2011 at 5:49 am #

    I know box squats are good for all the reasons you said, but I also love that they let me load with a lot heavier weight than I can do when I’m going below parallel. I think that getting practice walking out with 102 kilos, when my true squat is more like 84 kilos, will help me when I get up to free squatting that weight.

  18. gilbert September 14, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    i never tried them i had long legs and maybe they would have helped.

  19. Craig L. September 15, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    As someone with healthy knees, I don’t think I could ever use box squats – they just seem to feminine to me. I agree that they are a great technique for teaching beginner lifters the proper squatting form, but the traditional squat movement allows for greater weight loads and higher intensity which will lead to greater gains in size and strength over time. I also think that lifting heavy while doing box squats presents a much greater risk for injury.

    Either way, I still found the post useful and will be sending a link for this posting to my wife. She cannot stand doing traditional squats and I am always trying to tell her how important squats are for developing her glutes, quads and hamstrings. Perhaps this article will at least convince her to integrate box squats into her training…

    • Jason Ferruggia September 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

      @Craig L.: Feminine?! I don’t think all the Westside guys and many of the strongest lifters in the world would share that opinion. They’re only feminine if you’re using light weight. If you have 4-5 plates a side on any exercise I’d hardly call it feminine.

  20. Jeb Johnston June 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Jason- I have been following Renegade Diet and Bad Intentions workout and wonder if adding oly squats or box squats would be beneficial. I love the trap bar deads but something inside me just feels wrong not squatting heavy. BTW- the Renegade Diet is the best thing to happen to nutrition for athletes in quite some time. I’ve never had more energy, better focus, or lower body fat.

  21. Zachary-Paul June 17, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    Dave Tate is a lucky bastard.

  22. Jason Phipps April 3, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    Jason,

    How does limited dorsiflexion of an ankle factor into the box squat? I have seen quite a few people in my clinic that aren’t able to get the required depth in a traditional squat or a box squat due to an old, non-rehabbed, ankle injury.