The box squat is a core training staple that can build size and strength in your lower body—but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?
For this basic gym necessity, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it’s such a simple, essential movement that should serve as one of the centrepieces of your training plan. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the move’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.
Before you shoulder up to your barbell and drop down as low as you can go, take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention to the subtleties of the movement here, particularly if you’re more accustomed to squatting without a box. Depth isn’t the most important cue to keep in mind here—now, you’ll be even more focused on your position as you move the weight up and down.
Box Squat Tip: Get Vertical
Eb says: The beauty of the box squat is that it lets you focus on maintaining a vertical shin. The box allows you to focus more intently on sitting back. Your main goal is to take advantage of that and keep your shin vertical and perpendicular to the ground on every rep. Your shin angle never changes during a box squat.
That’s going to lead to less force on your knees (which is why the box squat is a great option if you have knee issues), and it requires less mobility in your Achilles (which is great if you haven’t squatted in awhile). This is also vastly different from other squat variations; in the back and front squats, and even goblet squats, the knee is going to shift forward slightly, shifting your shin angle away from vertical.
Box Squat Tip: Get Wide
Eb says: Maintaining a vertical shin doesn’t happen naturally, especially if you use your normal squat stance. If you’re only slightly wider than shoulder-width, unless your mobility is standout, you’ll find that your knees track forward.
To avoid that, take a wider-than-normal stance, and point your toes outward more. This will also help turn on both your glutes and your smaller hip abductors, both of which are often underutilized in everyday life.
Box Squat Tip: Land With Control
Eb says: The box is an aid to help you find positions, but it’s not a crutch. So don’t plop or thud onto the box. Instead, control your torso downwards on each rep; the slower the better. Don’t be afraid to take 3 to 5 seconds to lower down to the box, that way when your butt hits the box, it’s lightly tapping it.
You’ll also develop core control; as you lower, your torso won’t stay straight-up-and-down. Instead, it’ll shift into a slight forward angle, much as it does when you do a traditional back squat. The added benefit here: You’re building eccentric strength and control in both your hamstrings and glutes.
Box Squat Tip: No Rocking Allowed
Eb says: When you land on the box, you’ll be landing with your torso leaned slightly forward. You may see guys at your gym do this, then rock backwards, bringing their torso perpendicular to the ground, then rock forwards to power up from the squat. Don’t do this; all you’re doing is generating momentum to come out of the squat and remove the need to be explosive with your legs when you power up.
Instead, land on the box and lock in your core, maintaining your torso angle. Then, focus on starting out of the squat by driving with your legs. This is where you’ll feel the beauty of the box squat: You’ll need your glutes and hamstrings to accelerate, essentially from a dead stop on the box, building a ton of strength.
Box Squat Tip: Gather Yourself
Eb says: Don’t rush through your box squats. Think of each rep as its own battle: A slow and very controlled lower, followed by a controlled stop, then an explosive drive off the box. After you complete a rep, reset your body, your mind, and your breath. You’ll need to do this to keep your next rep clean.
By Brett Williams