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How To Box Squat: Form (Ours Vs Westside) & Programming

Learn box squats the correct way for general strength development (Hint: don't rock!), as well as programming, when and why to box squat, the lift's history from Westside Barbell. This supplemental squat exercise stresses the hips, training the hamstrings, glutes, and adductors for strength and power.

Westside Origin & Benefits of Box Squats

Box squats are a well-known exercise in the world of barbells because of Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell. Louie took this exercise from the original Westside in Culver City, CA, and brought it to the more famous Westside in Columbus, OH.

In this original version of box squats, Westside teaches a rocking technique where the lifter sits on the box, rocks back and then forward, and uses that momentum to come up off the box and complete the lift.

We differ from Westside in how we perform box squats. Correct form in our book removes the rocking motion. This breaks up the eccentric and concentric portions of the squat, eliminating the stretch reflex at the bottom.

As with any supplemental variant of a main lift, we are looking to add novel stress to an intermediate or advanced program. This is accomplished by changing an aspect of the exercise the lifter has become very proficient at. We could accomplish this in several ways. For example, by increasing the range of motion, the lift becomes more challenging. Or by decreasing the range of motion, more weight can be lifted.

Box squats are more challenging than regular squats because of the lack of a stretch reflex response. Coming to a dead stop ensures a lifter receives no help from this response. Also, not rocking horizontally prevents any momentum from helping in the ascent. This makes the exercise a great way to introduce novel stress into a program.

You shouldn’t be able to lift as much weight with this supplemental exercise as a regular back squat. If you can, it’s a sign you are not pausing long enough on the box. This could also be caused by using some rocking momentum to propel yourself back up.

How to Do Box Squats

Of course, you will need a “box” of some sort for this exercise. You could use an actual wooden box, usually marketed for plyometric (explosive strength) training. Metal frame versions also exist, some of which are also adjustable. The bench you likely already have might be the correct height, or you could stack bumper plates. Just make sure it’s a sturdy, stable surface that can safely handle the weight of you and the loaded bar. Whatever you choose, the height of the box should allow you to reach proper depth when you touch the box with your butt (just below parallel).

Set up for box squats the same as the low bar back squat—same grip, bar position, etc. The goal during a box squat is to maintain vertical shins during the eccentric phase. Rely mainly on the hips and maintain tightness in the posterior chain! This supplemental lift is excellent for lifters who have trouble staying in their hips, as it emphasizes the hips over the knees. This puts most of the workload on the hamstring, adductor, and glute muscle groups over the quadriceps.

Like a paused squat, stay tight in the bottom when you pause. Don’t relax your torso at any point while performing the box squat and maintain your back angle. A great way to do this is to touch the box lightly! Remember: just because you’re pausing in contact with the box doesn’t mean you should relax on it at any point. You also don’t want to sit hard on the box and potentially hurt your tailbone (or worse).

Programming

This lift is usually not for novice lifters. You might think this lift would be a good way to teach proper depth(as in “go down until you feel the box”). But proper depth needs to be a learned position in space, and touching a box can sometimes become a crutch.

This lift does have some utility with frail or obese novice lifters. These lifters may initially not be confident enough to attempt reaching depth. It can be reassuring to have a “safety net” while they explore a range of motion that is not familiar to them yet. Again, remember to not rest of the box.

Some lifters may experience sufficient knee pain during low bar squats—possibly due to an old injury or arthritis—to warrant using this as their primary squat variation. Again, another example of an exception for novice programming.

Intermediate or advanced lifters can add the box squat as their supplemental squat in a 4-day split. A possible option would be to include these on the same day as their competition deadlift. Because lighter weights are being used, this can be a great way of adding more stress to a program without beating the lifter up excessively. This lift is also an excellent reminder to stay out of the knees and use the posterior chain effectively.

You can program these just like you would the low bar back squat. People tend to perform these at slightly lower rep ranges than regular squats (triples more often than fives). This is probably because pausing for every rep increases the amount of time it takes to complete a set.

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