The box squat is an exercise variation used by powerlifters to build their competition back squat.
The difference between a box squat and a regular squat is you are going to be squatting down onto a box or some other platform. You squat down, pause on the box for a split second and then squat back up.
Here is the powerlifting couch Louie Simmons teaching you how to perform the box squat correctly:
Louie Simmons Box Squat
Louie Simmons believes the box squat is a superior exercise for building the powerlifting back squat.
The box squat lets you sit further back in the bottom position of the exercise which is great for building the glutes and hamstrings. The box squat also breaks up the concentric / eccentric chain which helps you develop strength out of the bottom position of the exercise.
Here is Louie Simmons talking about this exercise:
“Box squatting is the most effective way to squat. Box squatting breaks up the concentric / eccentric chain. That’s exactly what you do when you run.
Box squatting is a leg curl. Her shins are past straight up and down when she squats up and down.
The only way she can come up the box when she pushes into the bar is to pull with her heels and leg curl. So it’s a hamstrings, glute and leg developer.”
Some people believe that the box squat is only good for powerlifters who compete with squat suits and other supportive gear. In reality many raw powerlifters use the box squat in their training to build their lower body strength.
For example here is the powerlifting champion Stan Efferding demonstrating a very heavy box squat:
Stan Efferding Box Squat
Stan Efferding uses a slightly different form than Louie Simmons. He brings his stance a little bit closer and doesn’t pause on the box. Instead he explodes back up as soon as his legs make contact with the box.
Some powerlifters find that the box squat does not improve their regular back squat. They get stronger on the box squat but when they go back and test their free squat it stays the same or even goes down!
The powerlifting coach Matt Wenning says the key is to use the exact same form on your box squats as you use on your free squats. Check it out:
The Matt Wenning Box Squat
“Why do most people not see a significant carryover to the box squat? It’s because they do it wrong! If you look at my competition footage and my box squat footage, those squats look exactly the same.”
Matt says that you have to make your form exactly the same on both of these exercises in order to get maximum carryover to your free squat. There are several different ways to incorporate box squats into your training program.
World class powerlifters, bodybuilders and even strongman competitors have used the box squat as a staple exercise in their training programs. Let’s start by talking about powerlifters.
The Westside Barbell powerlifting team trains the box squat every Friday as part of their dynamic effort squat / deadlift day. The Westside team performs anywhere from 6-12 sets of 2 reps on the box squat using bands or chains.
The Westside team performs speed sets on Friday where they try to lift a moderately heavy weight as fast as possible. Here is what their speed box squats look like:
Westside Squat With Bands And Chains
In this video the Westside team is using bands and chains at the same time. The bands and chains make the exercise feel lighter in the bottom position and heavier in the top position. This forces them to squat the weight up as explosively as possible.
Louie Simmons says that you should use a 3-week wave with your dynamic effort box squats. You increase the weight on the bar each week for 3 weeks and then repeat the cycle all over again.
Here is a sample 3-week wave if you are using bands and chains on the bar:
Squat 3-Week Wave With Bands And Chains
- Week #1: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 30% of your 1-rep max
- Week #2: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 35% of your 1-rep max
- Week #3: 6-12 sets of 2 reps @ 40% of your 1-rep max
The Westside team performs a much heavier 3-week wave when they are getting closer to their powerlifting competitions.
Louie Simmons calls this the “circa-max phase” because you are lifting weights that are very close to your 1-rep max.
Here is what a typical 3-week circa-max wave might look like for an advanced lifter:
Westside Circa Max Phase
- Week #1: 47.5% bar weight + 40-45% band weight for 5 sets of 2 reps
- Week #2: 50% bar weight + 40-45% band weight for 4 sets of 2 reps
- Week #3: 52.5% bar weight + 40-45% band weight for 3 sets of 2 reps
Here is the training video for the circa-max phase
It is critical that you maintain proper form when you are lifting heavy weights on the box squat. That means pushing your knees out and initiating the exercise with your glutes and hamstrings.
Here is the powerlifting coach Matt Wenning talking about the importance of using perfect form on every rep:
“When you get down on the box, what you have to do is keep fighting to push your knees out and open up without rocking.
Now you’ve turned this into a paused bench. Now the only way to squat back up is to push your knees out even harder and push back up.
You’ll know you do it right if your knee doesn’t move.”
The Westside Barbell powerlifting team sometimes uses the box squat on their max effort squat / deadlift day on Monday.
For this workout they work up to a 1-rep max on the box squat or some other special exercise for the squat and deadlift. Louie Simmons says that the box squat is safer and more effective than the regular free squat when you are performing a 1-rep max.
Here is a sample Westside max effort box squat workout. Check it out:
Westside Max Effort Squat Workout
- Exercise #1: Box squat, 3 sets of 1 rep
- Exercise #2: Inverse leg curl machine, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Exercise #3: Belt squat, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
- Exercise #4: Reverse hyperextension, 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Here is the training video for this workout:
So far we’ve looked at how you can use the box squat for powerlifting. The truth is many strongman competitors use the box squat as one of the core exercises in their training program. In fact the 4 x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw uses the box squat for most of his squat workouts.
Here is one example of how Brian likes to organize his squat workouts. Check it out:
A Typical Brian Shaw Squat Workout
- Exercise #1: Cambered bar box squat, 3 sets of 4-6 reps
- Exercise #2: Hip extension machine, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Exercise #3: Unilateral 45 degree leg press, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Exercise #4: Lying leg curl, 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Here is the training video for this workout:
Brian Shaw is a big fan of the giant cambered bar and other specialty bars. He uses one of these bars for almost all of his box squat workouts.
Brian Shaw says that these bars are more comfortable on his shoulders and actually do a better job of training his leg muscles than the regular straight bar. Check it out:
“With this cambered bar I feel this different than I do with a safety squat bar or with a spider bar for example. It has a different effect. So what I’m going for right now is the leg drive actually getting off the box.
So I feel like it’s a little bit easier to lock up when I’m underneath this bar and sit back to the box and then really emphasize driving my hips as I’m getting up off the box. So that’s the main purpose there.”
You might now know this but there are a lot of world-class bodybuilders who also use the box squat as a core part of their training program.
IFBB pro Johnnie Jackson recently made the switch to box squats over regular free squats. He says that he suffered a leg injury and the box squat lets him train his legs without worrying about re-injuring himself.
Here is what Johnnie’s leg workouts using the box squat look like. Check it out:
Johnnie Jackson’s Leg Workout
- Exercise #1: Lying leg curl, 4 sets of 8-20 reps
- Exercise #2: Standing leg curl, 4 sets of 8-20 reps
- Exercise #3: Machine leg extension, 4 sets of 8-20 reps
- Exercise #4: 45 degree leg press, 4 sets of 8-20 reps
- Exercise #5: Box squat, 4 sets of 8-20 reps
- Exercise #6: Horizontal leg press, 4 sets of 8-20 reps
Here’s the training video for this workout:
And here is Johnnie Jackson describing his box squat form:
“After leg press I go into the box squat. As you heard I said box squats and not regular squats!
I currently do box squats because after the last couple of years I’ve injured my hamstrings a few times. So I had a hard time with my form on squats.
I couldn’t really figure it out anymore. So I turned to box squats.”
The willingness to change is the sign of a true champion. I tip my hat to Johnnie Jackson!
The bottom line is the box squat is a tremendous exercise for building your regular back squat and all of the muscles of your lower body.
The box squat lets you sit further back during the squat which is great for building your glutes and hamstrings. The box squat is also great for perfecting your squatting technique and increasing your starting strength in the bottom position of the exercise.
Many of the best powerlifters, bodybuilders and strongman competitors in the world use the box squat as a core part of their training programs.
If you decide to use the box squat as one of your core lower body exercises then you are in great company.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to give the box squat a try so you can take your training to the next level!
“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
Milos Sarcev is an IFBB professional bodybuilder and one of the greatest bodybuilding coaches of all time. His nickname is “The Mind” because of his intelligent approach to training and...