This week we’ll take an in-depth look at a great precursor to a full barbell back squat, and a very difficult exercise in its own right, the box squat. The box squat is a compound, total body lift that works your hamstrings, glutes, hips, spinal erectors, and core hard.
So why should you box squat? Aside from being a very efficient exercise, working several large muscle groups at once, here are a couple more good reasons:
1) Safely and correctly learn proper squat form.
The squat can be a very difficult move to master and requires a lot of practice. Learning to bend from the hip instead of from the knee on the descent can be hard to do, and often times the glutes and hamstrings are not strong enough initially to squat all the way to proper depth without bending too far forward at the knee. Setting up a box higher than parallel and over time slowly lowering it can help. Many people have a difficult time hitting proper depth for the squat, not only from inflexibility but from simply not knowing what proper depth feels like. If a box is set up at the proper height, hitting depth can be practiced and guaranteed every time. As well, it is a great way to make sure that you are sitting back at the hips instead of the knees, putting a lot of pressure off of the knee joint, and also it is easier to focus on pushing through your heels on the way back up.
2) Building explosive strength
For someone like me who is not very fast in my lifts, box squats are very beneficial. Doing a box squat with a lighter weight helps build up speed and power, which can translate into greater force generation on my other lifts, faster times on the field or quicker cuts.
3) Increase flexibility
It may seem counter-intuitive, but squatting, making sure to sit back far with your hips, with a heavy weight on your back can actually stretch your muscles past where they would normally be able to in a bodyweight squat. This stretch can also help with your ascent off the box – this is called a “stretch reflex.” Essentially, when you stretch your muscles past where they are accustomed to, the body wants to try and protect them from straining by forcing them to contract and resist the stretch.
So, then how do we box squat?
Step 1: Setting up Under the Bar
It is important when performing any type of squat that we keep the entire body tight – that includes the back. The bar needs to be tightly gripped the entire duration of the lift. Think about splitting it apart with your hands, this will flex your rhomboids, traps and lats, making a nice ‘shelf’ of muscle for the bar to rest on, as well as helping keep you upright during the squat itself. The bar itself should rest on your traps or right below (like I have it positioned in the picture). We want to avoid placing it on top of the shoulders – this will load the cervical vertebrae and place them under unnecessary pressure, which is best avoided.
Step 2: Stand up and Step Back
After you’ve positioned yourself correctly under the bar, stand up straight, unracking the barbell. To get back to the box, we want to take efficient steps and avoid any unnecessary shuffling of the feet. When the weight gets heavy, it’s best not to use up a lot of energy just walking the bar back. So take 3 easy, steps back: With your right foot place it backwards in front of the middle of the box. Follow with your left foot, placing it on the outside of the left side of the box. Mirror the movement with your right foot. This is illustrated in my kindergarten-level MS Paint diagram as follows:
Step 3: Bending at the Hip
More often than not, when told to squat most people will begin their descent at the knee, pushing it over the toes and compressing the knee joint, causing pain in the long run. To avoid this, we want to begin by sitting back with our hips – essentially sticking your butt out! After this we want to think about sinking into our hips so that the knees don’t drift over the toes. This can be a hard thing to judge by yourself – make sure to get your trainer to tell if this is being done correctly. One way to imagine it is to think about sitting back into a chair. You’ll need to keep your glutes and hamstrings flexed the whole way down – no plopping!
Step 4: Lean Back
Leaning back is not the same thing as rolling back. It is also not relaxing on top of the box – you want to keep your core and back taught the entire time!
Step 5: Explode off of the Box
Keeping your chest up, push through your heels and using your glutes and hamstrings explode quickly off of the box. The amount of weight you have on the bar will determine whether this is a quick or slow motion, but you always want to think about contracting as quickly as possible.
Putting it all together – Take a look at the video HERE, and give this exercise a try! You’ll feel the burn after just a couple of reps if done correctly with the right weight. As always, thanks for reading!