Box Squats

I’ve been meaning to ask you how you think about box squats. from what I’ve read, strong people think they are really good to bring up your squats. but I wonder this: do box squats serve as an exercise to build form rather than absolute strength, if such a distinction is possible?

what is your take on this, coach?

First of all, for you new folks: this is the deal with me being “coach”.  It’s a joke, but I will gladly give some wise advice about box squats.  Dave Tate himself personally* taught me how to box squat, and he learned from Louie Simmons, so I am sort of like one of the BJJ black belts who can trace his lineage back to Helio Gracie.

1. Box squats are excellent for learning how to low-bar squat properly.  If you are training any of the following populations:

  • elderly women whose last athletic endeavor was playing hopscotch during the Truman administration
  • freshman football players with the grace of extinct flightless birds
  • guys who read about squats in Men’s Fitness and do half-squats with 185×6 then complain that their knees hurt

The easiest way to teach proper squat form is to get an adjustable box or multiple boxes; show them how to box squat on a high box; lower the box height; and eventually take away the box.  By eventually, I mean after about 20 minutes for the football players and the geeks, and after about 3 weeks of 3x a week sessions for the old ladies.  (Note: by “taking away the box” I don’t mean secretly in the middle of a set, although it would be funny)

2. Box squats can fix your squat form.  They teach you to keep the shins perpendicular to the ground and to sit back.  You can do them unweighted or with a bar looking at yourself in a mirror on your side.

3. Box squats can work weak muscle groups.  “Posterior chain,” like “core,” or “CNS”, are words that I dislike because I don’t have those things.  But if you only do high-bar squats and front squats because you fancy yourself an Olympic lifter, box squats will, like, do more glutes, hamstrings, low back, and stuff.

3. There is nothing wrong with doing box squats as a main exercise instead of squats.  I mean if you just want to get stronger and don’t compete in anything.  If you did box squats 10 months out of the year and squats 2 months, you wouldn’t turn into a pumpkin or anything.

4. Box squats can make you a monstrous geared squatter.  Read any Louie Simmons article.  Talk to guys who train Westside and squat 700, 800, 900, 1000+ in ridiculous triple-kevlar denim canvas suits.  They’ll all tell you: BOX SQUATS.  (I’ll tell you that geared powerlifting is almost as bogus as the WWE but whatever.)

5. Doing box squats exclusively can make you a sh*tty raw squatter.

[Video of me squatting 445].  Look at this douchebag.  He’s a raw powerlifter who followed a Westside program and did box squats almost exclusively for a year.  (Note: he’s not really that fat, just pushing his belly against the belt.)  Look how the hips break first.  You can’t see his feet, but I can assure you that his knees do not even come close to passing his toes.  Also notice that he does not break parallel with a weight he used to be able to double. He squat-mornings. He is uncomfortable in the hole. “Where is my nice safe box?” he wonders.

6. Use the right box.  Unless you are 6’7″ and 110 lbs, using a bench for box squats is wrong.  Too high and too narrow.  Buy plastic boxes.  Use aerobic steps.  Build one.  Just don’t use a bench.  Don’t use a 1 foot square metal box jump platform either.  Most importantly, don’t use a bench.

7. Do them right.  Unlike squats, which 2% of commercial gym goers (of those who attempt them) do correctly, I have never seen ANYBODY in a commercial gym do a proper box squat.  It’s not hard to learn.  Youtube.  EliteFTS.  Google.  Westside.  There are a million resources.  I’m not getting into a step-by-step guide here.  Here’s are the major mistakes I see:

  • You don’t brush your buttocks against the box to gauge your depth.  You don’t clunk down on it like you’re trying to break your tailbone.  You sit back back back until your rump is resting on the box.
  • You don’t go limp and relax when you’re on the box.  You stay tight and in position.  At the same time, 90% of your weight should be on it.  The other 10% being on the soles of your Chucks (which should be in a wide stance, of course).  If someone vanished the box you would fall over, not hover like you were trying to use a filthy gas station toilet.
  • Your shins should be perpendicular when you’re sitting on the box.  If you can’t keep them perp when you box squat, you got issues.  Break at the hips and Sit Back.
  • This is a mistake I was making just last week:  If you lift up your hips to get off the box, you will do an ugly good morning.  Instead, head moves first, then shoulders.  Your traps will flex hard if you’re doing it right.

8. I don’t think much of bands and chains on box squats for raw lifters.  Think about this:  Where is the sticking point in a bench?  It depends.  Some guys can’t get it off their chest.  Some stall out halfway up.  What about the deadlift?  Some can’t break the floor, and others just can’t finish.  But in a squat, there is one hard part.  The hole.  Either you’re stapled, or you get two inches out of the hole and that’s it.  No one misses a squat any higher unless they forget to wait for the “Rack” command.  So overloading the top part of the squat with a lot of bands and chains, to make that part harder doesn’t seem to be worth the bother.

9. The proper rep range.  One is best.  Two is okay.  Three is pushing it.  Never more than three, unless you’re doing your very first warmup sets or just learning. This could wreak havoc with 5/3/1.  Especially don’t do that last “as many as you can” set with box squats.

10. Where I actually answer the question he asked.  For raw, low bar squatters, I would say it’s 30/70 form/strength.  (For high bar squatters, it’s all strength, because that’s not the same form as you use when you squat.)  I sort of made that ratio up.  I mean, if it were all “form” you’d do it with a broomstick on your back.  It reinforces good technique, when done in conjunction with other exercises.  Namely, actual squats.

* I went to a Westside seminar in 2001.  There were 20 people there.  Dave Tate probably does 50 of these seminars a year.  Plus coaching at his own gym.  He’s probably shown tens of thousands of people how to box squat.  Still, it sounds impressive.

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3 thoughts on “Box Squats

  1. good stuff, thanks for the post. of course, a good reply only opens up for further questions, so here goes (beware for incoming wall of text):

    2. I wonder if shins perpendicular to the floor is something you want to aim for while doing ordinary squats? don’t get me wrong, I know I am the one with less knowledge and experience here. I look at klokov squatting (just a random example) on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xqSyaucrJI) and his shins inevitably move forward. unless you’re a dwarf it’s hard to keep the shins in place while performing the motion. (david tate’s son seems to be able to work with the box, though: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbCaLZ8a0cw)

    6. this was something of an issue. I’m not that tall (191 cm ~ 6’2?), and had to build something out of step up boards to get a base below parallell.

    7. good points! I will steal those and make them my own.

    9. seems legit.

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