The WHY Behind The Box Squat


There is a lot of available data to support the notion that Box Squatting is a viable method for increasing the squat and deadlift.

The results that Westside Barbell has incurred alone speak volumes, but is this movement relevant to the non-powerlifting community of people that just wants to get stronger and look better?

We use the Box Squat with thousands of athletes worldwide regularly with great success. The carryover to other areas of our training, including the Olympic lifts, is undeniable.

In fact, our athletes hit new personal records on their Olympic lifts and variations far more often, even though we program Olympic lifting work significantly less than most CrossFit boxes.

The logic is simple: our focus is building our athletes’ bases through low-skill GPP work (sled pushes + loaded carries), strengthen their primary movers, and teaching them how to develop force production with planned plyometrics and the Box Squat. Let’s take a closer look.

“The Why” Behind the Box Squat:

  • Teaches our athletes how to develop explosive force out of the hole because we are NOT using the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) that most athletes become efficient at using during their squats and Olympic lifts. In description, the Box Squat breaks up the eccentric and concentric phase of the squat by sitting back on the box. Because we are breaking up the phases of the squat, some of the kinetic energy that is produced through eccentric range of motion dissipates, thereby forcing the athlete to develop explosive reversal strength.

  • For group programming, the box squat can act as a teaching tool teaching folks how to effectively hip-hinge. In the same setting, the box squat can help advanced athletes improve the rate of force development making it a versatile choice for group programmng.

  • The Box Squat is safer. When Box Squatting, the athlete is not able to use the same loading they would be able to use for the classic squat which reduces spinal compression. Properly performed Box Squats have also been shown to reduce spinal loading at S5-L1. In addition, Box Squatting is also safer for the knees because the perpendicular shin position reduces pressure on the patellar tendons.

  • Because we are not able to use the same loading that a classic squat uses (usually around 15-20% less), there is less tissue breakdown, which in turn means less soreness and faster recovery. Using the Box Squat with sub-maximal loads also provides a nice balance between our maximal lifting in terms of volume/intensity which can be instrumental in preventing overtraining.

  • We are able to squat wider with the Box Squat making the dependence of agonist muscles such as the hips, glutes, and hamstrings more active. We have seen drastic increases in our athletes’ classic lifts simply by teaching our athletes to squat wider. With the general population, many athletes tend to be anterior-chain dominant which does not translate well to strong pulls and lower-back health. By improving the posterior chain we have been able to effectively improve lower-back health and pulling strength.

  • The box height does not lie. Go to any commercial gym and note how many athletes’ squat depth decreases as the load increases. With a box as our reference point, we aren’t able to cheat. The box provides a tactile cue to ensure for proper depth on each rep.

  • Develop Explosive Strength. It’s no mystery that developing explosive strength is important for athletics and be using the Box Squat we are essentially performing a static-relaxed-overcome by dynamic movement. Because of this, our athletes are forced to use sub-maximal weights that allow them to overcome a static position in a dynamic position. In addition, using submaximal weights can act as a teaching tool, where the emphasis is placed on bar speed as opposed to loading.

By now you may be wondering how to include the Box Squat in your training, so here are some guidelines:

  • Done on a lower-body day, first in your training session.

  • Separate from your heavier lower-body training by at least 72 hours ie. Lower Body work on Monday and Friday works well.

  • Perform for 3-weeks, in a pendulum wave with short rest intervals rotating variations after the 3rd week.

  • Use a 13-15” Box. Start with the higher recommendations if you’re new to these.

  • You do not need accommodating resistance (bands or chains), but if they are available and you’re an experienced athlete we will use them.

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Jason OBannon