It would be difficult to envision a more effective lower body exercise than squats. No wonder bodybuilders called it the king of exercises! When you do any type of squat, your quads, hamstrings, and glutes get a workout, although the classic squat is more of a quad-oriented exercise than one that targets the glutes and hamstrings. However, you can increase the emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings by doing certain squat variations or by modifying your technique, including foot placement.
One type of squat that targets your lower body is the box squat. With a box squat, a box, platform, or other riser serves as a guide for how deep to squat. When you squat, you lower your body to the level of the platform, so the height of the box should match the depth of the squat you’re trying to achieve. When first starting out, choose a higher box or platform and gradually lower the height of the box as you strive to squat deeper. Most people will start out with a box 12 to 16 inches in height.
To do a box squat, stand with your feet around shoulder-width apart in front of the box so that your buttocks line up with the box as you squat. The goal is to lower your body to the box when you squat and let your buttocks lightly touch the box without sitting down on it. It’s there as a guide, not as a seat.
Why would you want to do a box squat, anyway? Let’s look at the benefits of box squats and why should you add them to your strength-training routine?
You’ll Get a Better Idea of Squat Depth
If you’re trying to squat deeper, box squats can help you meet that goal. Many people who squat are unaware of how deep they squat and most people overestimate how low they’re going. With box squats, you have a guide, the box behind you. By using the box as your guide, you’ll get a feel for the depth you’re achieving. Box squats can give you a better idea of your depth so you can improve on it. Deep squats aren’t for everyone, but you will activate more muscle fibers if you don’t skimp on squat depth.
Greater Posterior Chain Activation with Box Squats
Standard squats are ideal for activating your anterior chain, the muscles in the front of your lower body, or your quads. Box squats shift more of the emphasis to the posterior chain, your hamstrings, and glutes. That’s because you shift your hips back more when you do a box squat as opposed to standard squat. Box squats are ideal for teaching you to sit back into a squat.
Getting your glutes and hammies in on the action is important since women tend to have stronger quads than hamstrings. This is especially true of people who sit most of the day. Box squats help to even things up and correct muscle imbalances between the front and back of the lower body. Getting a well-balanced workout is important for muscle development and healthy biomechanics.
Box Squats Reduce Momentum When You Squat
Box squats help you break the momentum habit. When you use momentum when you squat, it reduces some of the work your lower body has to do and that can limit your strength and hypertrophy gains. When you use a box as a guide, you’re less likely to bounce off the bottom of a squat, and take some of the stimulus off the muscles, as the box forces you to stop at the bottom and use lower body muscle strength to push yourself back up. You’ll engage your lower body muscles more and maintain more tension if you don’t use momentum. Box squats curb the tendency to bounce, and that can help you make greater gains.
Another reason to add box squats to your strength-training routine is they’re safer for your back and knees than doing front squats or back squats. Research shows that doing box squats using good form reduces the spinal load on the lower lumbar and upper sacral region of the spine. That’s especially important if you have a history of back pain or injury or are rehabbing a back or knee injury.
Box Squats Are Helpful for Rehab
If you’ve had a recent injury to your lower body, you may not be ready to do full range-of-motion squats. With box squats, you can choose a higher box that allows you to do partial repetitions, so you can gradually ease back into full range-of-motion squats without advancing too quickly. Box squats can also be useful for beginners since it makes you more aware of how deep you’re squatting.
The Bottom Line
If you need a reason to do box squats or any squat, do them because squats are a compound exercise that activates a number of muscle groups at the same time. When you squat, you work your hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, and, especially when you go deep, your core muscles fire to help you stabilize.
Working more muscles means you burn more calories and enhance functional strength because you’re teaching your lower-body muscles to work together as a unit. Do a variety of squat variations, including box squats, to challenge your body differently. That’s the key to avoiding stubborn strength plateaus and ensuring you keep making gains.
The Bottom Line
Now you know five compelling reasons to add box squats to your strength-training routine. They shouldn’t be the only squat variation you do but they are useful for building balanced strength and perfecting your form and squat depth.
- A biomechanical comparison of the traditional squat, powerlifting squat, and box squat.Swinton PA, Lloyd R, Keogh JW, Agouris I, Stewart AD.J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jul;26(7):1805-16. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182577067.PMID: 22505136.
- BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2018; 10: 14.Published online 2018 Jul 17. doi: 10.1186/s13102-018-0103-7.
- J Appl Biomech. 2016 Feb;32(1):16-22. doi: 10.1123/jab.2015-0113. Epub 2015 Aug 6.
- The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(12):3195-9. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181f6399a. December 2010.
- Swinton, P., Lloyd, R., Keogh, J., Agouris, I., & Stewart, A. (2012). A Biomechanical Comparison of the Traditional Squat, Powerlifting Squat, and Box Squat. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26, 1805–1816.
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