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Box Squats

Box squats are a great way to squat.

Of course, there are some individuals for whom they don’t work well. There is no one exercise that is best for everyone. Most trainees, however, are able to do them effectively.

If you are serious about strength training (weight lifting, resistance training), it’s important regularly to do some kind of squats as well as some kind of deadlifts.

Usually, the word “squats” is used to refer to barbell back squats. There are variations that you’d be wise to consider. These include dumbbell squats, front squats, ball squats, hip-belt squats, and box squats.

Because your body adapts to your routine, it’s a good idea to vary your routine every two or three months. You may vary the sequence of exercises, the number of sets, the number of reps, the time between sets, or the exercises themselves.

(If you are waiting, as you should, a day or two after all DOMS [delayed onset muscular soreness] has disappeared before training again, it is not necessary to vary the frequency of your training sessions. They will naturally become less frequent as your poundages increase.)

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced trainee, because you’ll use less weight on your box squat work sets than you would on your squat work sets, box squats are safer than squats. Of course, they should be done with perfect exercise technique.

Furthermore, there’s great transference from them to squats. In other words, they will enable you to improve your squats.

Nevertheless, unless you compete in power lifting competitions, you may always do box squats instead of squats. If you are a power lifting competitor, they belong in your arsenal of exercises to improve your one rep max squat.

Louie Simmons of Westside barbell has recently popularized box squats. You can find free online videos from him that show trainees doing box squats.  He also sells useful DVD’s and provides written descriptions.

Assuming that you have the equipment necessary for you to do squats correctly, all you need in addition to do box squats is a box. Unless you are tall, an ordinary strength training bench won’t be low enough — and many substitutes won’t be sturdy enough.

It’s not difficult to build your own out of thick plywood. (I have one I built in my home gym.) With your feet spread out and properly positioned [see below], squat back and down and hold that position while a friend determines exactly when the tops of your thighs are just below parallel. That’s how far off the floor your butt should be when you are sitting on the box. You may make it about as wide as a regular bench and about one-third as long.

Assuming that you have medical clearance to do box squats and are a beginner, how should you proceed?

Using only your body weight, increase your reps each training session until you are able to do one set of 100 reps. As you descend, just stick your arms straight out in front of you for balance. Pause momentarily on the box and ascend without going all the way to the top. Why?

Keep tension on your quads throughout. If you go all the way up, you’ll be resting the muscles you are trying to strengthen rather than working them.

As with all squats, when you descend, do not descend straight down; rather, sit back and down almost like you were sitting in a chair. (Frankly, doing this is easier with a barbell than it is without one.)

If it takes more training sessions than you initially imagined to hit 100 reps, so? There’s no race. The first rule is to do no harm, in other words, don’t hurt yourself. This is why perfect exercise technique is critical.

When you are ready to advance to an empty barbell, I recommend using either a standard Olympic bar (with a plastic manta snapped on to it if you prefer) or, if you are over 6 feet tall, a safety-squat barbell, which will transfer more of the weight to your quads.

Warm-up doing some box squats without additional weight and then work your way up with the unloaded bar until you are doing one set of 15 reps (without pausing).

Then just add some weight each time until you are able to do one set of 15 reps with a poundage that equals your bodyweight. After that, feel free to use whatever rep or set program you want. (My training partner and I often use 8 sets of 2 reps.)

What is perfect exercise technique for box squats?

It is very similar to the technique for squats. Use a weightlifting belt. Unrack the barbell and put it on your back. Before descending, inhale; fill your belly with air and push against the belt until you are ascending when you should exhale. Always keep your back tightly arched. Push outward on your knees when descending and ascending. Keep your head up. When ascending, try to push your traps into the bar first, then use your hips and glutes, and finally your quads.

Of course, don’t raise your hips first so that you must lean forward.

Use a relatively wide stance. Usually the toes are aligned with the thighs, but I find that box squats are easier on my knees if I point my toes a bit more to the front than that. Experiment and find what works best for you.

Again, do not stand all the way up and lock your knees.

Do not use momentum, but try to get into a rhythm with your breathing.

Except for your hip flexors and glutes that are momentarily relaxed while you are on the box, keep all your muscles tight. When you are sitting on the box correctly, your shins will be just past perpendicular.

Don’t just touch-and-go off the box without pausing momentarily on it. On the other hand, don’t sit on the box and then rock backwards and then forwards to give yourself momentum. Sit completely down for a moment and then flex off the box.

Don’t use shoes or boots with thick heels. Squatting barefoot is fine. Never squat with a board under your heels.

As with all squats and deadlifts, it’s very important to master perfect exercise technique. As always, leave your ego at the gym door.  Also, on all variations of these two best exercises, I recommend always leaving one rep in you for safety.  [click here for more safety tips]

Expect it to take a few training sessions until you begin to feel comfortable doing box squats. If you do them correctly and give them a fair trial, I predict that you’ll be very pleased with the results.

Box squats are more difficult than squats, but they give better results.

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