Box Squats Guide

7 Benefits of Box Squats & How to Do Them Effectively

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: March 15, 2022

Traditional squats are among the best exercises for developing lower body size and total body strength.

But after a while, you hit sticking points with your size and strength gains on the squat. And you might even experience aches or injuries that prevent you from squatting.

Fortunately, box squats can help you improve your regular squat and work around pain points. So read on to learn all the benefits of box squats and how to do them properly.

Benefits of Box Squats

What Are Box Squats

Box squats are a variation of the conventional squat exercise where you sit on a box or bench at the bottom of the movement. Often it is used by powerlifters to develop explosive strength and improve performance on the squat.

Essentially, the short pause at the bottom of the box squat alters the dynamics of the movement and how the muscles get used.

Box Squats Muscles Worked

Box squats work multiple muscle groups in the lower body and posterior chain. Like all squat movements, the muscles used include the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, hip flexors, and calves.

However, the box squat generally places more loading on the posterior chain muscles than regular squats.

Box Squats Muscles Worked

Box Squats vs Normal Squats

The main difference between box squats and normal squats is the tempo and body position at the bottom.

During a traditional squat, your body is in nearly constant motion. That is, you squat down, then stand back up in one fluid movement.

In contrast, there is a brief pause at the bottom of the box squat. You squat down, sit on the box, then stand back up.

Also, you sit back further into a box squat than a normal squat. As a result, your shin stays more vertical so you use more of the posterior chain muscles and less quads.

Box Squat vs Squat

7 Benefits of Box Squats

There are several advantages to including box squats in your regular squatting routine. And knowing these benefits can help you design a workout routine to reach your goals faster.

1. Build Explosive Power & Athleticism

One of the biggest benefits of box squats is that they can help you become more explosive and athletic. The reason has to do with the rate of force development (RFD).

Essentially, RFD is how fast your muscles generate force. And the box squat requires a more rapid burst of force due to the pause at the bottom.

In fact, a study found that the box squat has nearly 3x the rate of force development as the traditional squat1. So doing box squats regularly should help you develop more acceleration in your squat.

Benefits of Box Squats Power

Figure 1. This graph illustrates the rate of force in the concentric phase of the squat vs box squat at 70% 1RM. Adapted from Swinton et. al.

2. Improve Form on Regular Squats

Another benefit of box squats is that they can help you improve your form on regular squats. For instance, many beginners struggle with feeling the proper depth on their squats.

With box squats, you set the desired depth with the height of the box. And that way, you know every rep achieves the desired range of motion.

Also, not thinking about depth allows you to focus more on body mechanics, which improves your form.

3. Adjustable for Skill Level & Goal

You can also modify box squats to fit various needs and applications, such as different skill levels and resistance training goals.

For example, beginners can start with a higher box and gradually lower it to improve depth. Or advanced lifters can use a higher box to address sticking points on the lockout of their squat.

4. Work Around Aches & Injuries

In addition, you can change your body position during the box squat to emphasize specific joints and muscle groups. This enables you to work around problem areas.

For example, you can push your butt further back on the box to emphasize the hips and alleviate knee pain. Or you can sit forward on the box to work around a hamstring injury.

Keep in mind there are limitations to what you can train through without aggravating an injury. And you should always consult your doctor about serious injuries!

5. Increase Strength on Regular Squats

Often, lifters struggle at the bottom of the range of motion. This is called a weak point or sticking point.

Studies show that box squats generate more peak power at the bottom of the squat2. And by working on this sticking point, you can increase your one-rep max (1RM) on traditional squats.

Benefits of Box Squats Peak Power

Figure 2. This graph illustrates the peak force generated during traditional squats vs box squats at 80% 1RM. Adapted from McBride et. al.

6. Several Variations for Any Equipment

Box squats are also a super versatile exercise that you can do with just about any gym setup. So whether you have a garage gym or no weights at all, there is a box squat variation you can do.

You can see all seven box squat variations in the section below.

7. Easier for Those with Less Mobility

Believe it or not, ankle mobility is one of the main factors restricting people from doing squats. Because if your ankle isn’t flexible, you can’t go all the way down with conventional squats.

However, box squats enable you to squat down while keeping your lower leg more upright. This means you don’t need as much ankle mobility to achieve the proper depth.

How To Box Squat Effectively

Now that you know the benefits of box squats let’s walk through how to do them properly.

First, find a sturdy box or bench with the desired height. Then place that box in the squat rack just behind the bar.

Now place the bar on your shoulders as you normally would. Then stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and your heels right in front of the box.

From this starting position, begin your descent by breaking at the hips first and pushing them back. Then bend at the knees and keep your head and chest up as you squat down.

Lower your body down until the back of your thighs and butt contact the box. At this point, relax your hip flexors while keeping your legs and back tight. Come to a complete stop on the box.

Initiate an explosive ascent by pushing through your glutes and driving your hips forward. Then, repeat for the desired reps before racking the weight.

To recap, here are the step-by-step directions:

  1. Place the bar on your shoulders
  2. Stand in front of the box, feet wider than shoulder-width
  3. Push your hips back and bend at the knees
  4. Control the descent until your thighs and butt touch the box
  5. Come to a dead stop on the box
  6. Explode off the box by squeezing glutes and driving hips forward
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps

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Box Squats Form

Like traditional squats, box squats involve a lot of muscle groups and moving body parts. So it helps to break the movement down further to learn the proper techniques.

Eccentric Phase (Lowering to the Box)

The box squat is similar to the standard squat when lowering the weight. First, you roll your hips back, and then you bend at the knees.

The main distinction is that you can push your hips a little further back during the box squat. However, do not lean back as if sitting in a chair!

Instead, try to keep your knees slightly behind your toes and your shin nearly vertical. This leg position results in more posterior chain recruitment.

Static Phase (Sitting on the Box)

As you reach the box, control your weight all the way down. Do not drop down quickly, bounce off the box, or do a quick touch and go.

It’s better to ease down onto the box until all your weight is supported. Then you may relax your hips, but do not relax your back or legs.

Also, do not sit up straight or lean back when you sit on the box! Instead, keep your back leaned forward and your chest out.

Pause here until you come to a complete stop before beginning the concentric phase.

Concentric Phase (Lifting off the Box)

When you begin the lift-off, you may lean your torso forward slightly. But you should not have to exaggerate the forward lean to gain momentum.

Next, immediately fire all your posterior chain muscles (hamstrings, glutes, low back) to drive your hips up off the box and forward.

As you come off the box, extend your knees to push your body back up to the starting position.

Next, let’s look at how you might use box squats in your weightlifting program.

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How To Use Box Squats in Your Routine

Box squats are not intended to be a replacement for traditional back squats. Instead, you should use them with regular squats to strengthen weak points.

Below are some tips on adding box squats to your workout routine.

Workout Split

For beginner to intermediate lifters, you may include box squats and regular squats in the same leg day workout. Generally, you should start with squats and follow up with box squats.

Another option is to do conventional squats in one leg workout and box squats in the next. This regimen works well for intermediate to advanced lifters hitting legs twice per week.

Box Squats Workout Split

Figure 3. An example of a 6-day workout split with two leg days. Another option is a 6-day push/pull/leg split.

Sets & Reps

When doing box squats, you should not use heavy weights close to your 1RM. But you won’t get much benefit from doing really light weights either.

Studies suggest that the power benefits of box squats are most significant when working at 70-80% of your 1RM2.

That means you should use a weight that you can handle for 8-12 reps before failing. Also, focus on a controlled descent with an explosive ascent.

7 Box Squats Variations

Now you have an idea of including this exercise in your routine. So let’s look at some of the different box squat variations you can use.

1. High Box Squat

The high box squat is generally when your upper legs stay above parallel to the floor at the bottom of the squat. While this is considered less than the full range of motion, there are times when it is beneficial.

For one, the high box squat is suitable for beginners who can’t perform the full range of motion and need to work on balance. The high box enables them to get stronger while they increase mobility.

In addition, the high box squat is useful for those who are weakest in the lockout position. Again, pausing higher helps you get stronger in the top half of the range of motion.

2. Low Box Squat

The low box squat is when your upper legs go below parallel to the floor at the bottom of the squat. This is the full range of motion or even more.

Low box squats are ideal for strengthening the lower end of the range of motion and breaking through sticking points in the bottom of your squat.

However, this variation can place more stress on the knees, particularly if you sit far forward on the box. So only try low box squats when you are already strong and flexible on squats.

3. Single-Leg Box Squat

The single-leg box squat is when you work one leg at a time. While you can’t do nearly as much weight, it is great for working on coordination and balance.

You can also use this variation if you don’t have much resistance because bodyweight single-leg box squats are quite challenging!

4. Box Squat Jump

Another good bodyweight variation is the box squat jump. This is where you explode up from the box and jump off your feet.

Consider this variation when training for sports or athleticism. As you get stronger, you can add resistance, but use light weight to avoid injuring your knees on the landing.

5. Sumo Box Squat

The sumo box squat is when you use a very wide stance with your toes pointed outward. This foot position engages more hips and inner thighs than a regular stance.

The sumo box squat is appropriate for building strength in other sumo position lifts like the sumo deadlift. Or those working around specific aches or injuries.

6. Front Box Squat

The front squat is a variation where you hold the barbell on the front of your shoulders instead of across your back. This bar position shifts your center of mass forward and targets more quads.

Therefore, the front box squat can help you develop more explosive power in your quads. But it is not the best option if you have bad knees.

7. Goblet Box Squat

The goblet squat is like the front squat, except this time it’s a dumbbell or kettlebell. Still, the idea is that you shift your center of mass forward.

Similarly, you can use the goblet box squat to strengthen your quads.

Box Squats Alternative

A big drawback of the box squat is that you need a box! So you might not have any equipment that is the right height to do box squats.

As an alternative to box squats, you can do a pin squat. The pin squat is where you lower the bar all the way to the safety rails on the squat rack.

One of the key differences is that the bar is supported instead of your butt. So it’s like being pulled up instead of pushed up.

While there are notable differences, the concept is the same. Both box squats and pin squats start from a dead stop at the bottom.

Box Squats Q&A

At this point, you should have a good grasp of this exercise. But to be thorough, I thought I’d answer some other common box squat questions.

What is the purpose of box squats?

Box squats are used as an auxiliary exercise to improve athleticism, explosive power, and strength on traditional squats. In addition, they develop the lower body and may also help you work around aches and pains.

Are box squats effective?

Yes, box squats effectively generate force at a higher rate than traditional squats. And training this rapid reflex should result in more power in the transition phase of the squat.

Are box squats easier than regular squats?

No, box squats are actually harder than regular squats! The reason is that box squats eliminate the stretch-shortening cycle by pausing at the bottom.

Instead of getting that spring effect in the transition phase, you must start from a dead stop. So you generally can’t lift as much weight on the box squat.

Are box squats cheating?

No, box squats are not cheating when done properly. In fact, they make the squat more challenging and help you get stronger.

Of course, you could cheat on box squats as you can on any exercise.

How high should the box be for box squats?

Generally, the box should be at a height where your thighs reach about parallel to the floor at the bottom. However, there are times when a lower or higher box can be advantageous.

Do box squats build quads?

Box squats strengthen the quads and increase explosive strength, especially when you sit further forward on the box. However, box squats are not as good for overall muscle growth as regular squats.

Do box squats build glutes?

You can use box squats to strengthen your glutes because they focus on hip hinging at the bottom of the squat. But again, box squats are not the best exercise for isolating and growing your booty.

Who should do box squats?

Box squats are a great exercise for powerlifters, athletes, and anyone seeking to get stronger on squats while increasing explosive power. Just make sure you don’t use them to replace conventional squats.

More Benefits of Squats

This article has shown you several benefits of box squats compared to standard squats. And you should now be ready to add them to your workouts.

But I didn’t have enough time to cover the dozens of physical and mental benefits you can get from doing squats. So make sure you keep reading to unlock all the squat gains possible.

21 Science-Backed Benefits of Squats for Men & Women

With this information, you’re well on your way to building a better lower body and a stronger squat. If you found this information helpful, check out some of my other great content below!

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By |March 15, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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