To Box Squat or Not? Part 3 – How to Use Them

Box-Squat3Box squats: the holy grail of lower body power? Or an antiquated movement that doesn’t live up to the hype? Well, it depends who you ask, but the first two installments of this series weighed the pros and cons of using box squats in a strength training program. Let’s look at them side by side.

PROS CONS
Teach you to sit back, reinforcing good squat technique Security of box makes it easy to develop bad habits
Easy to learn and provide instant positive feedback Limited carryover to raw squat
Target the hips, glutes and hamstrings Often coached with excessive back arching
Immediately expose weaknesses and imbalances Intense spinal compression
Help you squat to depth consistently Often poorly programmed (which we’ll discuss later)

Understand that these are incomplete lists, but for the purpose of deciding whether to do box squats or not, it fits the bill. From what we see here, we know that box squats are a hamstring/glute/lower back dominant exercise that resembles the squat, but doesn’t necessarily build it. We know that it’s easy to learn but difficult to master, and requires careful coaching so as not to irritate the lower back and hips.

HOW TO BOX SQUAT

Until now, we haven’t really talked about HOW to box squat.

It’s hard to convey all the nuances of technique in a single blog post, and I’ll be damned if I dare say I could teach it better than Dave Tate. Watch this video to get the rundown on box squatting technique:

Here’s the Cliff Notes version:

  • Grip: TIGHT and as narrow as you can while allowing the bar to sit on your rear delts (I prefer a narrower grip than the video)
  • Head position: make a double-chin while looking up at 30-45 degrees
  • Stance: at least a foot’s width wider than your hips
  • Foot position: turned out 30-45 degrees
  • “Arch” out of the rack by extending your hips – DON’T tip-toe out of the rack
  • Take 3 steps out of the rack to position yourself for the squat: one foot back, other foot back, one foot out to balance stance
  • Big breath of air into your belly (NOT your chest) and hold it to stabilize spine
  • Pull elbows “under” the bar to lock upper back and chest into upright position (sounds like we’re ready for takeoff…)
  • Push knees out and hips back to begin sitting back onto the box
  • Sit as far back as you can, aiming to get the back of your knees onto the box
  • Once you’re on the box, keep everything TIGHT except your hip flexors, which relax slightly (this is the hardest aspect of box squatting to master and will take lots of TIME and PRACTICE to get it right)
  • Pause, then drive through your heels to stand up off the box
  • Think “chest and traps” up first, which will keep your hips from rising first and prevent leaning forward too much
  • Drive your hips forward and squeeze your glutes to lock out the weight

That’s a big bite right off the bat. Most people would do well to start with the basic progression I outlined in part 1. Once you’re ready to squat with a loaded bar, you’re best off doing nothing but sets of 5 to groove the technique. Something like a Starting Strength approach would be appropriate, where you take a weight you could do for 8-10 reps and do it for 3 sets of 5 reps, 2-3 times a week. Every time you hit the gym, you add 5-10 pounds to the bar. When you can’t consistently add weight to the bar every session, add weight every other session or every third session instead. Do this until the gains stop rolling in, which won’t be for awhile if you’re a beginner.

Ladies and gentlemen, I just revealed to you the simplest and most effective method for getting stronger EVER. It’s not sexy and it’s not flashy, but if you’re a beginner, it works better than 99 percent of all workout routines out there if you want to gain strength.

BoxREASONS TO BOX SQUAT

We’ve weighed the pros and cons. We’ve learned the technique. We’ve practiced the lift to the point that we’re decently strong (this is subjective, but when you’re there, you’ll know).

Now the question is WHY should we box squat?

Here are the best reasons to include box squats in a training routine:

  • Build a geared squat if you’re a powerlifter competing in multiply equipment
  • Build the sumo (wide stance) deadlift
  • Improve lower body explosiveness
  • Hamstring and glute hypertrophy
  • SUPPLEMENT the back squat

It’s my humble opinion that box squats don’t do much for the raw back squat, but it’s nearly impossible to argue against the notion that the box squat is a tremendous tool for all the above points.

Performing box squats in a strength-building rep range (1-6 reps) and a hypertrophy rep range (6-10 reps) can help build the sumo deadlift by building stability with a wide stance and adding muscle to the hamstrings, glutes and lower back. Strengthening these muscles, which work together to extend the hip, can improve explosiveness and enhance jumping and sprinting ability. Finally, in the indirect manner of strengthening the posterior chain and improving the ability of the nervous system to apply force rapidly, box squats act as a quality supplemental lift to the back squat.

Here are a pair of examples of four-week lifting programs (these are the two lower body days only, assuming you’re lifting upper body twice a week as well), utilizing box squats to conquer a specific goal.

PROGRAM #1 – GOAL: BUILD THE SUMO DEADLIFT

sumo deadlift

The sumo deadlift and a proper box squat resemble each other in many aspects. Here’s a way to use box squatting over a four-week training cycle to drive up the sumo deadlift.

Week 1 – Day 1 Week 1 – Day 2
A1. Sumo Deadlift – 5 sets x 3 reps @80% of 1RM A1. Speed Deadlifts – 10 sets x 1 rep @70% of 1RM (45 sec rest)
B1. Box Squats (just below parallel) – 8 sets x 2 reps @60% of 1RM (45 sec rest) B1. Box Squats – work up to 5RM
C1. Dumbbell Reverse Lunges – 3 sets x 8 reps/side C1. Cable Pull Throughs – 3 sets x 12 reps
C2. Natural Glute Ham Raises – 3 sets x 8-10 reps C2. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 sets x 8 reps/side
D1. Stability Ball Body Saw – 3 sets x as many as possible D1. Standing Cable Crunches – 3 sets x 10 reps
Week 2 – Day 1 Week 2 – Day 2
A1. Sumo Deadlift – 3 sets x 3 reps @80%, 2 sets x 2 reps @85% A1. Speed Deadlifts – 10 sets x 1 rep @72.5% (45 sec rest)
B1. Box Squats (just below parallel) – 8 sets x 2 reps @62.5% of 1RM (45 sec rest) B1. Box Squats – 4 sets x 8 reps @70%
C1. Dumbbell Reverse Lunges – 3 sets x 8 reps/side C1. Cable Pull Throughs – 3 sets x 12 reps
C2. Natural Glute Ham Raises – 3 sets x 8-10 reps C2. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 sets x 8 reps/side
D1. Stability Ball Body Saw – 3 sets x as many as possible D1. Standing Cable Crunches – 3 sets x 10 reps
Week 3 – Day 1 Week 3 – Day 2
A1. Sumo Deadlift – 2 sets x 3 reps @80%, 3 sets x 1 rep @ 87.5% A1. Speed Deadlifts – 10 sets x 1 rep @75% (45 sec rest)
B1. Box Squats (just below parallel) – 8 sets x 2 reps @65% of 1RM (45 sec rest) B1. Box Squats – work up to 3RM
C1. Dumbbell Reverse Lunges – 3 sets x 8 reps/side C1. Cable Pull Throughs – 3 sets x 12 reps
C2. Natural Glute Ham Raises – 3 sets x 8-10 reps C2. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 sets x 8 reps/side
D1. Stability Ball Body Saw – 3 sets x as many as possible D1. Standing Cable Crunches – 3 sets x 10 reps
Week 4 – Day 1 Week 4 – Day 2
A1. Sumo Deadlift – 5 sets x 3 reps @70% A1. Sumo Deadlift – Work up to 1RM
B1. Box Squats (just below parallel) – 8 sets x 2 reps @67.5% of 1RM (60 sec rest) B1. Box Squats – 3 sets x 10 reps @65%
C1. Dumbbell Reverse Lunges – 2 sets x 8 reps/side C1. Cable Pull Throughs – 2 sets x 12 reps
C2. Natural Glute Ham Raises – 2 sets x 8-10 reps C2. Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats – 2 sets x 8 reps/side
D1. Stability Ball Body Saw – 2 sets x as many as possible, stop 2 reps shy of failure D1. Standing Cable Crunches – 2 sets x 10 reps

Traditionally, box-squat focused strength programs use the box squat in place of the squat and deadlift. The thought is that alternating between heavy box squats and explosive box squats cover all the bases to build the squat and deadlift – without actually training these lifts. This is a huge mistake for most lifters. In reality, box squats should be used in addition to the lift you want to build.

This program uses box squats twice a week, once for speed (8 sets of 2 reps with light weight, reps done as explosively as possible) and once for either heavy weights or higher reps. The speed squats will enhance the sumo deadlift because it’s hard to get the bar moving off the floor quickly with a wide stance. Performing explosive reps in a stance similar to that of the sumo deadlift will teach the body to develop force quickly, resulting in a faster initial pull of the floor. Alternating between heavy weight and reps on the second day builds strength and muscle in the target body parts, which supplements the sumo deadlift nicely.

Notice there are no regular back squats included in the program. That’s because the focus is improving the sumo deadlift. Focus is exactly that: eliminating that which distracts from the goal and zeroing in on what matters. And trying to fit squats AND box squats into one program would hurt recovery and limit gains over a four week period.

hams_scr4PROGRAM #2 – LOWER BODY HYPERTROPHY

With the proper rep range and loading, box squats can add quality muscle mass to your hamstrings, back and rear end. And because they’re friendlier on the knees and ankles, you can preform them more frequently than squats or heavy deadlifts, exposing the muscles to greater stimuli and increasing the opportunity for growth.

Week 1 – Day 1 Week 1 – Day 2
A1. Box Squats (just below parallel) – 5 sets x 10 reps (120 sec rest) A1. Box Squats (parallel) – 10 sets x 3 reps @ 75% of 1RM (90 sec rest)
(1×10 @ 40, 50, 60, 50, 40% of 1RM) B1. Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlifts – 4 sets x 6 reps @60% of 1RM
B1. Rack Pull from Below Knee – 3 sets x 5 reps @ 75% of 1RM C1. Barbell Hip Thrusts – 4 sets x 8 reps
C1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts – 4 sets x 8 reps (4 seconds on the way down) C2. Dumbbell Farmers Walks – 4 sets x 60 yards
C2. Seated Band Hamstring Curls – 4 sets x 20 reps D1. Dumbbell Speed Skater Squats – 3 sets x 8 reps/leg
D1. Dumbbell Speed Skater Squats – 4 sets x 10 reps/leg E1. Hanging Leg Raises – 3 sets x as many as possible
E1. Decline Crunches – 3 sets x 15 reps
Week 2 – Day 1 Week 2 – Day 2
A1. Box Squats (just below parallel) – 5 sets x 10 reps (120 sec rest) A1. Box Squats (parallel) – 8 sets x 3 reps @ 77.5% of 1RM (90 sec rest)
(1×10 @ 45, 55, 65, 55, 45% of 1RM) B1. Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlifts – 4 sets x 6 reps @62.5% of 1RM
B1. Rack Pull from Below Knee – 4 sets x 4 reps @ 77.5% of 1RM C1. Barbell Hip Thrusts – 4 sets x 8 reps
C1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts – 4 sets x 8 reps (4 seconds on the way down) C2. Dumbbell Farmers Walks – 4 sets x 60 yards
C2. Seated Band Hamstring Curls – 4 sets x 20 reps D1. Dumbbell Speed Skater Squats – 3 sets x 8 reps/leg
D1. Dumbbell Speed Skater Squats – 4 sets x 10 reps/leg E1. Hanging Leg Raises – 3 sets x as many as possible
E1. Decline Crunches – 3 sets x 15 reps
Week 3 – Day 1 Week 3 – Day 2
A1. Box Squats (just below parallel) – 5 sets x 10 reps (120 sec rest) A1. Box Squats (parallel) – 6 sets x 3 reps @ 80% of 1RM (120 sec rest)
(1×10 @ 50, 60, 70, 60, 50% of 1RM) B1. Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlifts – 4 sets x 6 reps @65% of 1RM
B1. Rack Pull from Below Knee – 5 sets x 3 reps @ 80% of 1RM C1. Barbell Hip Thrusts – 4 sets x 8 reps
C1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts – 4 sets x 8 reps (4 seconds on the way down) C2. Dumbbell Farmers Walks – 4 sets x 60 yards
C2. Seated Band Hamstring Curls – 4 sets x 20 reps D1. Dumbbell Speed Skater Squats – 3 sets x 8 reps/leg
D1. Dumbbell Speed Skater Squats – 4 sets x 10 reps/leg E1. Hanging Leg Raises – 3 sets x as many as possible
E1. Decline Crunches – 3 sets x 15 reps
Week 4 – Day 1 Week 4 – Day 2
A1. Box Squats (just below parallel) – 5 sets x 10 reps (120 sec rest) A1. Box Squats (parallel) – 10 sets x 3 reps @ 75% of 1RM (120 sec rest)
(1×10 @ 55, 65, 75, 65, 55% of 1RM) B1. Snatch Grip Romanian Deadlifts – 4 sets x 6 reps @67.5% of 1RM
B1. Rack Pull from Below Knee – 6 sets x 3 reps @ 82.5% of 1RM C1. Barbell Hip Thrusts – 3 sets x 8 reps
C1. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts – 3 sets x 8 reps (4 seconds on the way down) C2. Dumbbell Farmers Walks – 3 sets x 60 yards
C2. Seated Band Hamstring Curls – 3 sets x 20 reps D1. Dumbbell Speed Skater Squats – 3 sets x 8 reps/leg
D1. Dumbbell Speed Skater Squats – 3 sets x 10 reps/leg E1. Hanging Leg Raises – 3 sets x as many as possible
E1. Decline Crunches – 3 sets x 15 reps

This program bumps the sets per workout from the low 20s up to 25-30, using more volume to spark muscle growth. You’ll also notice that there’s no back squatting or deadlifting from the floor. This is because of the high volume of box squatting and the greater attention to assistance exercises. If we added squats and deadlifts into the equation, we’d hurt recovery, and recovery is when muscle is built.

On Day 1, you start with lighter weights and pyramid up to a moderate weight before descending back down, all for sets of 10. This is an efficient use of the pre-fatigue method, so you can tap into those fast twitch muscle fibers (the ones with the greatest potential for hypertrophy) without having to use heavy weights. This keeps the focus on the muscles while sparing the joints.

On Day 2, you perform lots of sets of low reps with a submaximal weight and limited rest. This lets you go a little heavier than day one, but remember – we’re more concerned with fatiguing the target muscles than moving heavy weights.

On both days you’d finish off your legs with a competing superset that hits the same muscle from different angles. And of course, some extended time-under-tension with the always-brutal speed skater squat.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

We can see that there are many uses for box squats outside of just the max effort/dynamic effort methods typically seen in popular powerlifting methods. While it’s my belief that they’re best used to build the sumo deadlift and build muscle mass in the glutes and hamstrings, these are just a few of the many uses of box squats.

Try cycling them into your training program for 4-8 weeks at a time and see how you like them.

If you like what you see from the two program examples above and want to get customized workouts to fit your specific goals, visit the Train with Tony page for more information.  

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2 comments on “To Box Squat or Not? Part 3 – How to Use Them
  1. […] hip strength to squat ultra-wide with a flat sole. If you’re not using a squat suit or doing box squats, you may be better off wearing our next […]

  2. […] is the oldest cue in the book for trying to get someone to hinge at the hips for a deadlift, box squat, kettlebell swing, whatever. It works for some […]

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