If you want to develop a strong back squat that will in turn translate into greater strength
for your Olympic Weightlifting then please read on. If not, well then stay weak and
frustrated, and continue to wonder why you are stuck and cannot seem to make any
progress. This article has information that I gathered and researched heavily from the
gurus at West Side Barbell, based in Ohio, a source deeply respected by the
Powerlifting community. Let me point out that you can only learn so much by watching
someone do a lift, if you watch but do not ask questions your education and knowledge
will be insufficient to help you make progress and could lead to injury. One of the reason
I am writing this article is because countless trainers have improperly taught this
movement for what they thought were the right reasons. If you have ever seen a
personal trainer do a box squat with a client the chances are that that trainer was doing
it to teach squat depth. This only a part of what the box squat does, there are more
intricacies involved than this. It must be taught and more importantly fully understood to
reap the benefits of this great movement. As with any movement if not taught properly
and understood it can lead to injury.
According to Westside Barbell ” Box squatting is the most effective method to produce a
first rate squat”. Please keep in mind the members at West Side frequently back squat
anywhere from 700 lbs to over 1,000 lbs, and according to them it is all due to Box
squats. Please feel free to re-read the next sentence several times it is not a typo. By
doing sets of just two reps for anywhere between eight to twelve sets with short rest
periods you will get about a 200 lb. carry over to your regular squat. That’s a bold
statement. Before we get into the “meat” of the movement there are several advantages
to box squatting. “There is recuperation, you can train more frequently at box squats
than regular back squats. Secondly it is regularly accepted that you should keep your
shins perpendicular to the floor when squatting. With box squats you can go past this
point which places all the stress on the major squatting muscles- the hips, glutes, lower
back and hamstrings. This is a huge advantage. Lastly you do not have to ask anyone if
you we’re parallel. Once you establish a below parallel height, all of your squats will be
just that- below parallel”. You guys know what I’m referring to you have seen it in gyms
all over as the weight gets heavier the squats get higher. This cannot happen with box
• If your hips are weak, use a below parallel box and a wide stance.
• If you need low back power, use a close stance below parallel.
• If your quads are weak work on a parallel box.
As an added bonus box squats will build the deadlift as well by overloading the hips
and lower back muscles. Your ability to increase off the floor will increase dramatically.
OK so how do you do a box squat? They have the same mechanics we use in the air
squat. The hips move back not down. Place your legs in a wide sumo stance then fill
your abdomen with air and push out against your belt, push the glutes rearward as far
as possible. With a tightly arched back and your knees apart to maximally activate the
hips squat back until you completely sit on the box. Every muscle is kept tight (core)
while on the box with the exception of the hip flexors. By releasing then contracting the
hip flexors and arching the upper back, you will jump off the box, building tremendous
starting strength. In other words, push the traps into the bar first engaging the back
muscles then the hips and the glutes, and finally the legs then, forcefully flex the abs,
hips and glutes and “explode” off the box. Your hamstrings will be strengthened to a
great degree which is crucial as the hamstrings are hip extensors. Now remember that
when sitting on the box, the shins should be straight up and down or even past
perpendicular. This places all the work on the hamstrings, glutes, hips and lower back.
“These are the precise muscle groups that do a very large percent of the back squat”.
Other benefits of the box squats are the following. Box squatting with a slow count is a
“form of propriceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)”. This type of stretch involves a
maximum per-contraction of the muscle groups to undergo elongation. A box squat can
become a safe ballistic stretch method. This will not only increase your range of motion
in the muscle groups but also increases joint mobility”. Box squatting increases pulling
power. It closely simulates the motion of pulling off the floor first by relaxing on the box
after lowering onto it and then exploding upward. “This is very close to the movement
known as the modified dive.
A box squat also combines two very important methods. One is the static dynamic
method. It combines two muscle activities. “Static work occurs while on the box, then by
flexing off the box, the dynamic sequence occurs”. The second method that is used
when box squatting is the relaxed overcome by dynamic work. “This occurs by sitting on
the box with the hips rolling in a relaxed fashion, then switching to an explosive, or
dynamic, concentric phase. Both of the above mentioned methods build explosive
strength as well as absolute strength”.
The development of power is important and of course box squats help with this as well.
Power is defined as work done divided by the time used to do work ( sound familiar
crossfitters). When you do a regular squat you must do three things. The first is the
eccentric phase, where the muscles lengthen. Secondly, when the eccentric phase
stops, a static phase begins where the muscles are not lengthening or shortening but
muscle energy is decreasing. Thirdly, to raise concentrically, you must start a load while
the muscles are held statically, even to a brief extent. In a regular squat, you must
produce power during all three phases, but a box squat breaks up the eccentric and
concentric phases because some of the muscles are relaxing while others are held
statically by movements in the hip joints. “Here is where force an be redirected very
strongly. Because a heavy squat uses a large amount of energy, it makes sense to
break the work into separate parts. While box squatting is not plyometrics it does build
tremendous reversal strength”.
We all know that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. It is the same for your
posterior chain. If your hamstrings are weak squatting heavier makes no sense. You
must strengthen the hamstrings first, you can do this through RDLs or various other
exercises. My point is that the supplemental or accessory lifts as they are known must
be used to get the overall movement stronger. I hope this makes sense. If you have a
weak lower back then strengthen it by doing hyper extensions so that eventually your
entire posterior chain is equally strong. Box squats help accomplish this. It will develop
and strengthen your posterior chain an will increase your back squat dramatically which
in turn will increase your dead lift which in turn increases your power clean and so forth.
The devil is in the details. I just want to make sure it is very clear to you that over all
strength in your Olympic lifts does not come through doing the classic lifts over and over
but by doing the little lifts ( accessory lifts) that will strengthen the classic one. Do your
box squats two times a week or at least once, eight to twelve sets for two reps of
50-60% of your one rep max with one minute or so in between sets, every time exactly
like this. Listen to the gurus at Westside Barbell. If you don’t squat then you really don’t
know squat about getting stronger.