Aside from performing the box squat to reinforce good squatting technique, the exercise itself has restorative qualities. It allows an athlete to squat twice a week without causing over-training or overuse injuries because the exercise is performed with a sub-maximal load (50-75% of 1 repetition maximum). Another advantage the box squat provides is the athlete will never have to guess how low he or she is squatting. It will always be the same. Traditionally, when you take a novice lifter and start adding weight on their backs, their squats start getting higher and higher. On the other hand, with the box squat the athlete will always be low enough.
At present you may have heard from some coaches that box squatting is dangerous. When someone talks about the danger of box squatting, it’s apparent they simply don’t know how to perform or coach the lift correctly. Granted if an athlete is trying to bounce off the box or use more weight than they can handle, then there are certainly dangers to the spine. When performed correctly, as with any exercise, the box squat is safe.
The box squat exercise is also specific to what is known in exercise as compensatory acceleration. This means you must apply as much force as possible to the barbell (i.e. pushing as hard and as fast as you can in the upward phase of the box squat). If you squat 400 pounds and are training at 200 pounds, then you should be applying 400 pounds of force to the barbell. As I mentioned earlier, the weight used will be sub-maximal in the 50% to 75% repetition maximum range.
This method of training isn’t used to develop maximal strength but for the improved rate of force development. By maximizing force development along with strength development associated with regular squatting, you will be able to jump higher and run faster. However, if maximum force and speed are not maximized when performing the box squat, you can expect little or no change in performance. So, ultra concentration is a must. Likewise, rest intervals are very short. Typically, reps and sets range between 6-10 of two repetitions. This set and rep scheme style ensures maximum effort while minimizing form breakdown. Rest intervals between each set should be limited to only 45-60 seconds rest, thus taxing the lactic acid system and never allowing the muscles to fully recover.
Box Squat Table Guide
PERCENT OF 1 REP MAX REPS PER SET REST BETWEEN SETS
55-75% 6-10 sets x 2 reps 45-60 seconds
Performing the Box Squat
Next in order is how to safely and effectively perform the box squat. First thing you need is a box. When selecting a box most athletes need one between 12 and 14 inches high. Also, pick one that’s big enough to support you while you sit. Once you’ve chosen a suitable box, you are ready to squat.
Your first step is getting the bar out of the rack. Arch the back out of the squat rack and set the feet while keeping the back arched, abdominals squeezed, and upper back and arms tight. Keeping the back arched and abdominals squeezed places the lower back in a “bullet-proof” position for injury. So, provided you maintain the arched back and tight abdominals, there is no way to injure your lower back. Be sure to squeeze the shoulder blades and keep the arms tight. This creates a natural “shelf” for the bar to rest on. The athlete’s foot stance is crucial in the box squat. Using a wide stance places the load and stress more on the glutes, hips, and hamstrings.
To start the box squat, I want the athlete’s hips to begin the motion, not the knees (quad squatter). Again, when the knees bend first, the load is shifted downward; you need the load going backward. Remember, you want the bar to travel in a straight line. Keep pushing the hips back as you squat down. If you are “sitting back” correctly you will feel tension develop in the hamstrings. Keep sitting back until you reach the box.
Develop Explosive Strength
When you reach the box, you want to sit down and relax the hip flexors while keeping every muscle tight. The back should be arched, abdominals squeezed, upper back and arms tight. By relaxing the hip flexors and sitting on the box, you are able to break up the concentric and eccentric workload of the squat. This causes you to squat from a static contraction to a dynamic contraction. This is one of the best ways to develop explosive strength.
The athlete should avoid falling down on the box and trying to bounce off. You want the athlete to come down in a controlled motion. Then, pause on the box for a second, and explode upward. While driving up still keep everything tight. Drive the head back into the bar, forcing the knees and feet out, while pulling with the elbows. Likewise, keep the shoulder blades squeezed together while making sure to hold your air in the bottom and slowing blow it out as you explode through the top.
Box Squat Test for Inexperienced Athletes
When prescribing the box squat to an inexperienced athlete, you will notice that when they reach back to sit down on the box they will uncontrollably fall. This is an immediate red flag for you as a coach or athlete. This demonstrates the athlete lacks the strength to support the weight simply using the glutes, hamstrings, hip and erectors.
This test can be administered and observed simply using an unloaded squat bar. If this is the case with one or more of your athletes there is a solution. Take your box and place some Olympic bumpers or extra pieces of wood on the box, thus raising the total height of the box itself. Then have the athlete squat down until they can come down in a controlled manner using correct form. As the athlete’s form and strength improve remove the riser plate until a parallel box squat can be executed.
In closing, I hope the corrective teaching techniques I discussed in this article proves useful when working with men and women athletes. Remember, to initially use a light load when working with novice lifters so that proper form can be established. This will allow the joints and their surrounding musculature to develop the proper motor pathways and flexibility needed to perform the lift properly and safely. Maximizing form and technique when squatting will correspondingly develop strength and power in a functional way for your sport. Good luck in your pursuit toward athletic excellence!