Do you want bigger, leaner, and stronger legs?
You need to be box squatting!
Yes, you heard me correctly.
No... leg presses, leg extensions, or smith machine squats won't cut it.
If you want to maximise your muscular development, you need to take advantage of big compound exercises (like the box squat).
- They recruit more muscle mass (and therefore build more strength)
- They're easier to overload
If you're not convinced yet:
Today you'll learn:
If you want to skip straight to the good part...then download my FREE box squat tutorial below.
It will show you step-by-step how to do a perfect box squat:
4 Incredible benefits of box squats (you'll love)
The barbell squat is one of the first exercises you're taught as a novice...
And for a good reason!
The squat is an excellent mass builder that recruits the entire lower body and core.
It's also an incredibly "functional" movement pattern that we use in our day to day lives.
Because of this, it's earned the title 'the king of all exercises'.
Reading this, you're probably wondering:
What makes the box squat special? And why not just stick to the standard squat if it's so great?
There are 4 reasons why I believe the box squat deserves special recognition.
Benefit #1 They improve your technique
Do you remember the first time you tried to squat?
Yeah...I bet it wasn't pretty.
This is through no fault of your own...
After all, the barbell squat is a ridiculously complex movement pattern.
And it's easy to mess it up if you have no visual feedback or a coach to guide you.
Here are some of the biggest mistakes I see beginners make on the squat:
- They squat above parallel.
- They squat too low.
- They don't use proper breathing techniques or stay tight at the bottom of the lift.
- They round their lower back on the concentric portion of the lift.
The list goes on...
Now, unless you have expert guidance from the likes of Mark Rippetoe, you're pretty much shit out of luck...right?
Of course not.
The box squat is a great tool you can use to develop technique at your own pace.
- It teaches you correct depth: The box acts as a point of reference- so you know exactly how low to go.
- It forces you to explode out of the hole: In a traditional squat, it's tempting to use the stretch reflex to bounce out of the bottom position but this isn't possible with the box squat.
- It teaches you how to sit back: In a barbell squat, you must 'sit back' to effectively target the posterior chain. The box squat reinforces this que and it becomes second nature.
There's also a strong psychological component to heavy squatting which many people gloss over.
As a novice, it's quite daunting to sit down with a heavy barbell placed precariously on your back.
If you fail to get the weight up and have to dump the bar, it can be embarrassing and even dangerous.
The box squat helps you get over this mental hang-up and builds your confidence.
Are you scared of heavy barbell squats? Try the box squat instead! You can start of high and gradually decrease the box height until you feel comfortable...
You can even start off with a high box height and gradually decrease the range of motion until you're comfortable.
This is similar to the progressive range of motion (PROM) method developed by Paul Anderson.
Benefit #2 They build explosive strength
The biggest benefit of box squatting is that it breaks up the eccentric and concentric chain.
In short, this means you have to explode from a dead-stop (rather than relying on the stretch reflex).
Obviously, this is great for building explosiveness and power.
And after implementing the box squat, you'll be much faster out of the hole and tend to have a smoother lockout as a result.
This isn't just beneficial for powerlifters either:
By increasing your speed, you'll indirectly raise your strength and this is the main driver of muscle hypertrophy.
This may seem counter-intuitive:
After all, most bodybuilders have been taught to lift 'slow and controlled'...
But this is bad advice for strength training.
Slow reps waste energy and build up metabolic fatigue, meaning you'll have to lift less weight.
Slow reps are destroying your gains! Speed + power= less metabolic fatigue and heavier weights.
So the faster you complete each rep, the more energy you conserve for the rest of the set.
Benefit #3 They're less taxing on recovery
Here's a simple truth:
Back squats are HARD.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing...
But it can grind progress to a halt if your programming isn't on point.
This is why I recommend taking recovery extremely seriously.
Anything you can do to maximise recovery and minimise muscle soreness will aid you in the long-run.
So, how do box squats help recovery?
Well, first of all they limit the range of motion.
Now, I know what you're thinking:
Isn't this bad?
No, not really.
You see, below parallel recruits the maximum amount of muscle fibres possible.
So going below that is unecessary (for the most part).
The only exception would be Olympic lifters who need to practice a full range of motion.
However, most of you reading this aren't Olympic lifters.
I would hazard a guess that you're just dudes (or dudettes) looking to pack size on your legs.
In this case, below parallel is sufficient for muscle growth.
You also need to consider the repercussions of 'ass to grass' squatting such as joint pain, sore lower back, and tightness.
This will negatively affect your strength acutely as well as hamper your recovery.
Benefit #4 They're easier to learn vs regular squats
On the surface, you would think squatting would be simple...
"Just sit down and stand back up".
Yeah...how about no.
If you want to master the squat, it can take months or even years to establish the right movement patterns.
You can fast-track this process by ditching the barbell squat and using the box squat instead.
The box squat is easier to grasp because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of squatting.
Of course, this applies to recreational lifters (not powerlifters or strength athletes).
Is the box squat safe for bad knees? (The truth)
I hear this question a lot.
But unfortunately, it isn't a black or white answer.
Firstly, if you have a legit medical condition (such as tendinitis) then I would avoid all forms of squatting unless your physician tells you to.
Secondly, you need to assess what is causing your knee pain:
Is it bad form?
Or is it your anthropometry?
Let's face it, some people aren't built to squat efficiently (me included).
Here's how to tell if that's you:
- You have long femurs
- You have a short torso
Personally, when I squat it always turns into a good morning position.
Of course, this can be exaggerated by the low bar squat position but the point still remains.
Even if this doesn't apply to you, substituting the barbell squat with a box squat can help eliminate knee pain.
As you squat down to the box, it will deload the joints.
This takes the pressure off the knees and places it onto the muscles instead.
Box squatting also develops the posterior chain to a greater degree because it forces you to sit back further.
And by building the hamstrings, glutes, and abductors you can help alleviate knee pain.
On a side note, I'd also recommend avoiding quad dominant exercises such as the front squat or leg extensions if you have bad knees.
How to do a perfect box squat in under 10 minutes
Now you know why the box squat is beneficial, it's time to learn the ins and outs.
In this section, I'm going to include everything you need to know (such hand position, box height etc.).
If you want a more detailed 'how-to' guide, then download my free box squat tutorial below:
- Adjustable box
- Power rack
- (optional) bands
- (optional) chains
When most people squat, they tend to adopt a narrow hand position on the bar.
This does help keep the upper back tight and prevent you from rounding, but it can also cause shoulder pain.
I recommend using a wide grip (thumb less) to avoid this.
Setting the bar to the correct height is extremely important:
- If you set the bar too high then you'll struggle to un-rack it.
- If you set the bar too low then you'll waste energy un-racking it (because you have to do a quarter squat).
The best height is in line with your upper chest.
This way you won't have to exert too much energy un-racking the barbell.
You have two options for the box squat:
- You can use a high bar position
- Or a low bar position
For the majority of people, I would recommend a high bar position.
The reason for this is simple:
A high bar position requires less forward lean and places less stress on the lower back.
For the best results, place the bar directly on the upper back/traps by retracting the scapula back.
Proper breathing is absolutely essential for squatting (and the box squat is no different).
When most people take up weight training for the first time, they default to regular breathing during sets.
This isn't effective at all.
If you want to maximise your full body tightness and prevent rounding at the bottom of the squat you need to use the valsalva manoeuvre.
This involves taking a deep breath from the diaphragm (like you're about to be punched in the gut) and holding it for the duration of the set.
At the top of the lockout, you want to forcefully exhale your breath and empty the lungs of air.
Then repeat the process for the following reps.
Foot positioning is another important consideration for the box squat.
I recommend keeping your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width.
To do this:
Hang both your arms by your sides and keep your feet parallel (in-line).
Then shuffle your feet slightly wider and point them at a 30-45 degree angle.
This loads the posterior chain to a greater degree and prevents the exercise turning into a regular squat.
At the bottom of the box squat you must shove your knees out to the side.
A good cue to remember this is to "spread the floor with your feet".
If you want to get the most out of the box squat then you need to set the box height correctly:
- A high box height (above parallel): Builds lockout strength. This should be reserved for geared lifters and complete beginners to squatting.
- A medium box height (parallel): Is perfect for building strength in the mid-part of the range of motion.
- A low box height (below parallel): Builds bottom end strength and has the most carryover to ATG (ass to grass) squats.
For the most part, I recommend sticking to slightly below parallel box heights.
This has the most carryover to conventional squatting and is a better strength builder.
Here's an easy way to check if the box height is low enough:
Notice how the crease of the hip is in line with the knee joint?
That's what I mean by parallel.
You need to go slightly lower than this.
Don't set the box height too low either.
This transforms the exercise into a regular ATG squat (and defeats the purpose of doing a box squat).
- Not sitting back: This transforms the exercise into a quad dominant movement and is less effective for building the posterior chain. Instead- make sure that you initiate the descent by sticking your ass all the way back. Try to picture yourself touching an invisible wall behind you.
- Doing a good morning to lift the weight up: This is cheating and puts a great deal of stress on the lower back. Instead- Keep the chest up and use hip drive to initiate the ascent.
- Using a touch and go style: By bouncing off the box and not resetting each repetition, you miss out on the biggest benefit of doing a box squat. Instead- You should pause on the box for a second or two before exploding backing up.
- Rounding the lower back: Doing this is both inefficient and dangerous. Instead- keep the lumbar straight by sticking the chest up.
Box squats vs barbell back squats | The ultimate showdown
At this point you're probably considering switching to box squats.
But before you do, let's compare them side by side with traditional back squats.
I'll be judging the two lifts based on four distinct categories:
- Strength: Which is better for building speed, explosiveness, and all round strength?
- Muscle building: Which is better for muscle growth in the long-term?
- Technique building: Which variation is easiest to learn (and master)?
- Safety: Which variation is more safe?
Let's do this!
Category A) Strength
Squatting, regardless of which variation you use, is great for building full body strength.
Deep barbell back squats recruit the entire posterior chain and grant you a full range of motion.
Whereas box squats are typically parallel or slightly below.
The key difference between the two exercises, is that the box squat allows you to sit all the way back.
If you tried to do this with a standard barbell squat, then you would most likely fall flat on your ass.
You also need to consider the different mechanics of the two exercises.
In a barbell squat, it's easy to use the stretch reflex and bounce out of the bottom position.
However, this isn't possible with a box squat because it breaks up the eccentric and concentric chain.
This forces you to develop dead-stop strength- which will have amazing carryover to the weakest position in the squat (aka the bottom).
Winner? The box squat.
Category B) Muscle building
Traditional back squats allow you to lift roughly 10% more weight, which gives it a slight edge for muscle building.
Heavier weights= more strength= gainz
Heavier weights= more strength= gainz
On a side note, bringing your own adjustable box to the gym can be a gigantic pain in the ass...
So -1 point for inconvenience!
Winner? The barbell squat
Category C) Technique building
Box squats are the ultimate technique builder.
They allow you to sit back and overload the posterior chain to a much greater degree than a conventional squat.
As a beginner, the box is also really helpful because it teaches you correct depth.
The problem with regular squats is that many guys have a tendency to collapse forward in the hole.
This is caused by many factors:
- Tight ankles
- Long femurs
- Not bracing the core
- Not staying tight
The box squat can help you stay tight and therefore it is much more useful for teaching technique to novices.
Winner? The box squat
Category D) Safety
One of my major gripes with the free squat is that it's a rather dangerous exercise.
If you don't have safety pins (power rack) then you're pretty much screwed if you tweak something mid set or get off balance (trust me...I've been there).
The wonderful thing about the box squat is that it's much safer.
After all, if you aren't confident that you can make the lift, you can simply sit back down with the weight and rest it on the pins (or dump it behind you).
Winner? The box squat
And the overall winner is...(drum roll please)
The box squat!
If you're looking to build your technique, get strong fast, and not stress about safety then box squats are the perfect choice for you.
However, for pure muscle building you can't go wrong with the barbell squat.
4 Box squat variations that will unlock your hidden strength
If you want to build maximum strength on the box squat, then you'll want to include some variations in your training.
Here are my top 4 variations for getting a strong box squat (fast).
#1 Pause box squats
This should be your default box squat variation.
By pausing on the box, you force yourself to explode on the eccentric.
This builds maximum strength, explosiveness, and speed.
#2 Reverse band squats
The reverse band squat is a more advanced variation that helps you eliminate lockout weaknesses.
It essentially reverses the strength curve by making the weight easier at the bottom and harder at the top.
It's a must try for building speed!
#3 Front box squats
The front box squat emphasises the quads more and also builds tremendous core strength.
This is invaluable for heavy squatting as it teaches you to stay upright.
#4 Zercher box squats
Zercher box squats are similar to front squats, however instead of resting the barbell on your collar bone, you rest it in the crease of your forearms.
Accessory exercises are useful for powerbuilding programs.
They help you develop weak points in your physique as well as improve your general strength.
I recommend focusing on posterior chain exercises for the box squat.
Here are some great examples:
Reverse hyper-extensions: Traction the lower spine and build the glutes/lower back.
Romanian deadlifts: Build strong hamstrings.
Good mornings: Are particularly useful for building lower back strength.
Leg curls: Isolate the hamstrings and glutes (best for high rep work).
BONUS: Free Box Squat Tutorial
If your goal is to build fullbody strength and/or bigger legs...then box squats are essential.
Here's why you should try box squats:
- They reinforce good technique for the squat.
- They develop explosive strength from a dead-stop position.
- They're less intensive on the CNS (preventing plateaus).
And this is why they're superior to barbell back squats:
- They build explosive strength in the weakest position of the squat (i.e. the bottom).
- They load the posterior chain much more effectively.
- They're less stressful on the knees.
- They're incredibly safe and teach novices proper technique.
All you need to do a perfect box squat is an adjustable box (duh) and a power rack.
Once you have those, you're set!
Also, don't forget to add some variations and accessory lifts to build general strength.
Reverse band box squats and reverse hyper-extensions are a great place to start.
Now it's over to you!
Did this guide help you perform the perfect box squat? And which variation will you try first? Let me know in the comments below.