Squats rule! I’m pretty sure I have mentioned that squats were my favorite exercise before, but oh well, let me do it again – Squats are my favorite exercise! Alright, now that that’s out of the way, and seeing as how I’m weirdly excited about squatting right now, I figured it would be a good time to talk about one of my favorite squat variations – the box squat.
In my opinion, the box squat has more benefits than arguably any other exercise. Because putting all of the benefits in one paragraph would be boring, totally ridiculous, and a complete violation of any elementary grade grammar book,” I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the top six benefits of box squatting down below.
Benefit 1: Teach/Maintain Proper Squatting Technique
One of the most common technique flaws with the squat is the initiation of movement at the knees instead of the hips. What this means is that instead of movement occurring at the hips and knees simultaneously (think hip hinge), and therefore effectively loading the hamstrings and glutes (posterior side of the body), movement begins at the knees, placing the majority of the stress on the quads (front of the thighs) and greatly increasing the risk of injury.
Learning to “sit back” is crucial for overall squat performance and injury prevention, and the box squat is almost unrivaled – I say “almost” because the goblet squat is another great teaching tool in this regard– in its ability to teach this skill.
That’s because if you don’t sit back, you’ll simply miss the box and fall straight to the ground. Not pretty, and definitely not a good way to impress the girl you’ve been checking out in the squat rack next to you (checking her out is fine – trying to get her number while she’s training, a big no no). As you continue to practice the movement and groove the proper squat pattern, it will become second nature, and you’ll be able to emulate proper form with all other squat variations.
Benefit 2: Development of the Posterior Chain
When performing the box squat, an athlete generally takes a wider than shoulder width stance, a low bar position, loads the hamstrings back and down, keeps the knees out over the toes, and exhibits a bit more forward lean of the torso. This places a TREMENDOUS amount of stress on the glutes, hamstrings, and low back, making it a very hip dominant exercise (not to say that the quads are not engaged).
All too often we focus on the anterior chain of the body (quads, abs, chest, biceps) because it’s the side of our body that we can see in a mirror (SELFIE!!!). However, it’s the posterior chain that has the greatest overall effect on athletic performance and posture, so don’t neglect it. If you have been focusing more on your anterior chain, throw some box squats in to your routine to bring you backside up to par.
Benefit 3: Power Devlopment Out of the Hole
With a normal free squat, you have what is commonly referred to as the stretch shortening cycle. What this means is that when you go from the eccentric to concentric phases of the lift (the midway point between the descent and accent of the squat; the bottom), you take advantage of this elastic energy that allows you to “spring” out of the hole.
With the box squat, this elastic energy is non-existent, and pausing on the box forces you to begin the ascent from a dead stop. This is both good and bad. It’s good because it will increase the power and explosiveness of the posterior chain, making it easier to explode up out of the bottom position of the squat.
It’s bad because if you use the box squat too often – and consequently don’t do enough free squatting – you will hinder your ability to take advantage of the stretch shortening cycle when you do start free squatting again, and your normal squat performance will decline. Using the box squat from time to time is a fantastic tool for developing hip power and explosiveness, but abuse it and you will get the exact opposite effect.
Benefit 4: Minimizes Stress on the Knee
With a narrow stance free squat, the knees must migrate forward in order for you to reach depth with a neutral spine. For someone with a history of knee injuries or knee pain, we generally want to minimize the knees traveling forward as much as possible. The box squat allows us to do just that.
As you sit back on the box, the shins remain relatively (not completely) perpendicular to the floor, greatly reducing knee stress while still allowing you to reap the full benefits of the exercise.
Benefit 5: Increased Squat Depth
I’ve found the box squat to be one of the best tools for improving overall squat depth and mobility. Why? Because you can’t cheat depth; you either sit on the box or you don’t. Everyone has a tendency to start cutting back on depth as the weight gets heavier, and I would attribute this to two things:
1.) Choosing a weight that is too heavy for you to lift with a full ROM (Range of Motion)
Everyone is stronger with a partial ROM, so if you pick a weight that is too heavy for you to lift below parallel, you’re obviously not coming back up if you go below parallel. No real way around this.
Now the other reason people don’t squat to full depth is fear. Dropping in to the hole (more like a bottomless pit) with a weight I’ve never lifted before? Yeah, it’s a bit scary. I mean hell, what if I don’t come back up? I definitely get that fear, and I am willing to bet that so does every powerlifter or athlete that has ever gone for a new PR.
But that’s why the box squat is so useful. The box gives you something to sit back on, and thus removes that “bottomless pit” feeling. It also gives you a target to hit, and if you aren’t touching the box, you know daggon well you aren’t reaching depth and need to decrease the weight (or just man up, but that’s not always applicable or the smartest route to take).
Benefit 6: Tightness
The final benefit of using the box squat is that it teaches you to get tight. Full body tightness is imperative to your ability to lift heavy loads, and sitting on a box with a loaded barbell on your back will definitely train this ability.
With a normal free squat, lose tightness and you will either not make the lift, or you will compensate/squirm/flail your way back to the finish position (not cool). With the box squat, if you don’t stay tight, you aren’t coming off that box, period. Full body tightness is a skill, and therefore must be trained. The box squat is a great way to do it.
So there you have it guys, my top six benefits of box squatting. To be honest, I really don’t have anything else to say. Go hit some box squats! You won’t be sorry you did.-Nick Smoot
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