The box squat is not only a great exercise on its own, it’s also an excellent way to learn proper squat technique and depth. At least with regard to the power squat or wide stance squat.
You may be tempted to think that the box squat is easier than the regular squat. Nothing could be further from the truth. By sitting still, even for a moment, on the plyobox, you eliminate the stretch reflex, causing you to bounce out of the bottom position. The box squat is more like a pause squat in this sense, where you pause between the down and up phases, and then squat the weight up from a standing position.
The box squat is a great way to learn the correct technique for the power squat, where you sit backwards and your knees barely move forward, so that your shins remain perpendicular to the floor. The box squat, like the power squat, is a hip-dominant exercise that targets your buttocks and “degrades” your quadriceps, the target muscle in the conventional squat, to an auxiliary muscle, or synergist. The box squat also puts a greater strain on the hamstrings.
The box squat is also ideal for learning the correct squat depth. By “correct” we mean the depth (thighs parallel to the floor) needed to get three white lights for a valid attempt in a powerlifting competition. For the average gym goer, parallel or slightly beyond parallel squats are deep enough; only for olympic lifters is it strictly necessary to squat ass-to-grass (ATG).
THE PLYO BOX
Box squats are performed on a plyometric box, or plyo box. The height of the box is essential; you should be able to squat parallel or slightly deeper. Plyoboxes are available in standard heights of, among others, 45, 60 and 75 centimetres. There is no middle ground. It is better to choose a box that is a little too low than a little too high. You can make up for the difference with rubber exercise mats. I myself had a custom wooden box built by an acquaintance. The material costs amounted to slightly more than half of the purchase price of a plyo box. So if you have a handy knowledge…
EASY TO LEARN AND SAFE
The box squat is essentially the simplest barbell squat, or squat performed with a barbell, and easy to learn. Someone doing a squat for the first time will feel more secure with the idea of sitting down on a box. If you don’t come up anymore, you are still sitting on a box. Another advantage of the box squat is that you always squat exactly the same depth and so can better measure your progress, because you make one variable (depth) a constant.
Box squats are also a solution for people with knee problems who still want to squat. As a hip-dominant exercise, the box squat places much less pressure on the knee joint. I experienced that myself when at a certain point I could no longer squat pain-free ATG. To be able to squat anyway, I started box squatting and then I successfully switched from the Olympic-style squat to the power squat. By ‘successful’ I mean my PRs went up and I was able to squat pain free (again) even during the intense Smolov cycle.
Enough background information about the box squat. How do you perform the exercise correctly and safely?
EXECUTION AND EXECUTION TIPS
Box squats are preferably performed in a power cage or squat rack, preferably with safety bars/spotters. Free stands are also adequate. In addition, you obviously need a barbell and sufficient weight plates. Plus of course a (sturdy!) plyo box of the right height. A stack of bumper plates can also function as a ‘box’. You can position the box straight or turn it a quarter turn, with the tip forward.
Lift the barbell out of the supports and walk back up until your heels touch the box. Assume a wide foot stance and sit back on the box, bending your hips and knees. Your knees do not move forward (rather a little backwards), so that your shins remain perpendicular to the floor.
Actually sit on the box, without slacking off; keep the tension on your muscles, especially your lower back. Making only light contact of your behind with the box and coming back up (touch-and-go) is not enough. When seated, tilt your torso back slightly so that you sit more upright, then continue the upward motion by rocking back forward and extending your hips and knees. This rocking is not an execution error!
The box squat is an excellent prelude to and auxiliary exercise for the ‘normal’ squat, and an excellent exercise in itself. The box squat is a hip dominant exercise and therefore has a great transfer to the deadlift. It is therefore an ideal exercise for powerlifters, but also for (strength) athletes in general.