Blog

How to Do Box Squats Correctly: Videos & Variations (2019)

box squats banner image

Box squats are a squat variation that can help you develop power and strength. They’re a great exercise to use to work on the regular squat movement, whether you’re a strength training rookie learning to do back squats properly or a dedicated gym go-er with a particular part of the squat movement that you need to work on.

Training box squats will teach you to squat back instead of down, forcing you to set your hips back and hit the right depth. There are tons of benefits of box squats, all of which we’ll explain in more detail below.

But before we get to the why, we’re going to start with our how to box squat guide, complete with exercise videos, form tips, and our favourite box squat variations.

Interested in turning your passion for fitness into a career? Check out our Level 2 Gym Instructor and Level 3 Personal Trainer courses first! 

How to Box Squat

Below is our guide to our go-to version of box squats. Depending on your goals and what you want to get out of training this movement, a bodyweight box squat, front box squats, or a box squat with a different box height might be more beneficial for you.

Fortunately, we’ll cover the alternatives to box squats shortly, explaining how to do them and when those exercises are more appropriate. But first, here’s how to box squat.

 

Enquire to Become A Personal Trainer

Start an exciting career in fitness!

Set-Up and Equipment

  • Set up the box (or a bench) behind a squat rack.
  • When loading the barbell, choose a lighter weight than you would for a barbell back squat.
  • The height of the box depends on your height, it needs to be high enough so that you break parallel when you’re sat on top of it.

Starting Position

box squats image

  • Step under the barbell and stand so that the bar is positioned across the back of your shoulders.
  • Use a wide grip to lift the barbell off the squat rack.
  • Take a step back and position your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed out slightly.
  • You should be stood about a foot in front of the box.
  • Stand upright and keep your head up.

Execution

box squat image

  • Slowly sit back onto the box, pushing your hips and glutes backwards and then bending at your knees to lower yourself down.
  • Sit on the box with your weight fully on the box and pause in this dead stop position for a second, keeping your muscles contracted.
  • Push through your feet to push yourself up to the starting position.
  • As you ascend from the box, concentrate on pushing your hips forwards and using your upper legs to drive the movement.
  • Keep your core muscles contracted and don’t lean your torso forwards to get momentum.
  • Once you reach the starting position, pause for a second and then repeat the movement.

Sets & Reps

For barbell box squats, we recommend 10-12 reps for 4 sets (the hypertrophy zone).

Partial Box Squats

Box squats are great for developing good squat form, but the range of this movement is pretty limited. Exercising partial reps is a great way to target the muscles when they're at the most vulnerable point of the rep, creating more opportunity for muscular endurance and hypertrophy. 

To add strength to the benefits of partial box squats, execute this exercise with +85% of your 1 rep max.

To reap the rewards of partial reps, we recommend performing box squats as explained above and finishing with a set of partial or 'half' reps. The partial rep involves the second phase of the movement. To execute this properly, start on top of the box and move to the midpoint of the rep. Do one set of this exercise, repeating the movement for half the amount of reps you completed for the main set (following our exercise guide, that will be 5-6 reps).

Box Squats Muscles Worked

Box Squats Muscles Worked  graphic

Box squats are a hip dominant movement. They put more emphasis on the hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae muscles and work the quads a little less than regular back squats. By using a wider stance and squatting backwards rather than down, the movement better emphasises the posterior muscles.

Box Squat Technique Tips 

box squats technique tips graphic

When getting into the starting position, you need to be far enough in front of the box so that you break parallel at the bottom of the squat, but not so far that you miss the box. Typically, this distance will be around a foot in front of the box.

Before you start, you can test the distance by sitting on the box and positioning your feet so that a 90°angle between your calves and your thighs. Keep your feet in that position and stand up, that will be your starting position.

box squats form image

To get the most out of box squats, it’s important that your knees stay in the same position throughout the entire movement. To get this form right, as you descend towards the box make sure that you start the movement by pushing your hips backwards rather than pushing your knees forwards. As you ascend, reverse the movement. If you execute this part of the movement correctly, you should feel the stress on your hamstrings and glutes.

When you’re sat on the box, your thighs should be parallel, and your shins should be perpendicular to the ground. If you aren’t in this position, it’s likely that you’re using the wrong box height.

box squat benefits graphic

If you haven’t trained box squats before, it’s a good idea to have a spotter with you whilst you do this exercise. Ask your spotter to point out when you’re about to reach the box so that you don’t injure your tailbone by moving too quickly as you land on the box.

benefits of box squats graphic

The dead stop position (when you’re sat on top of the box) is responsible for some of the most important box squat benefits. So, to get the most out of this exercise it’s vital that you start the second part of the movement from a dead stop. If you rock your torso as you begin to push yourself up, you will be adding momentum to the movement which will make it less effective.

Variations

Bodyweight Box Squat

For an easier alternative to box squats that is more suitable for beginners, you can start with a bodyweight box squat. The free-weight section of the gym can be pretty daunting to begin with, so bodyweight exercises are a good way to learn your form and build confidence.

The bodyweight box squat is a great way to master the squat movement pattern and develop the necessary strength and power to move on to more advanced squat variations. 

Set-Up and Equipment

  • Plyo box (the same height as the standard box squat).

Starting Position

bodyweight box squat image 1

  • Stand upright about a foot in front of the plyo box.
  • Place your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold your arms out in front of you to help you keep your balance. 

Execution

bodyweight box squat image 2

  • Lower your body by pushing your hips backwards, focus on squatting backwards rather than down.
  • Slowly land on top of the box with your full weight.
  • Whilst you’re sat on the box, pause for a second. If you need to, you can use this time to quickly check up on your form.
  • Push through your feet to rise back up to the starting position, mainly moving at the hips rather than the knees. 

Sets & Reps

As this is a bodyweight exercise, it allows for more reps, training the endurance zone. We recommend 2-3 sets of 18-20 reps.

Prisoner Box Squat

The prisoner box squat is another squat variation that is suitable for beginners. This exercise is pretty similar to the regular bodyweight box squat with one tweak to the form that requires better balance, making it a little more difficult.

Set-Up and Equipment

  • A plyo box or a bench that is high enough that you break parallel when sat on it.

Starting Position

prisoner box squat image 1

  • Stand around a foot in front of the box with your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Place your hands behind your head (this is what gives the prisoner box squat its name). 

Execution

prisoner box squat image 2

  • Keep your hands behind your head for the duration of the exercise.
  • Squat back to slowly lower yourself onto the box.
  • Once you reach the box, sit for a second before reversing the lowering movement to return to the starting position.

Sets & Reps

The prisoner box squat is another bodyweight variation, so we recommend 18-20 reps for 2-3 sets.

Front Box Squats

If you want to improve your barbell front squat, front box squats are an effective way to train the movement in the same way that box squat benefits your back squat. 

Set-Up and Equipment

  • A plyo box (the same height as the standard box squat).
  • A loaded barbell.

Starting Position

front box squat image

  • Stand in front of the box and hold the barbell across the front of your shoulders.
  • Cross your hands over the barbell to keep it secure during the movement.
  • Position your feet so that they’re just wider than shoulder-width apart and point your feet outwards slightly.

Execution 

front box squat image

  • Squat down, pushing your hips backwards and then bending at your knees.
  • Slowly land on top of the box and pause for a second.
  • Push yourself back up, reversing the initial movement.

Sets & Reps  

We recommend 10-12 reps for 4 sets.

Single Leg Box Squats

For a unilateral exercise, check out our guide to single-leg box squats. This exercise is a great option to train the muscles in each side of your body in isolation, whether that be to improve your balance, correct a muscle imbalance or improve your core stability.

Set-Up and Equipment  

  • A plyo box (the same height as standard box squats). 

Starting Position  

single leg box squat image 1

  • Stand on one leg about a foot in front of the box.
  • Bend your free leg so that it sits front of you, raised a few inches off the floor.
  • Hold your hands out in front of you to help with balance.

Execution

single leg box squat image 2

  • Squat down as you would for regular box squats, pushing your hips back so that you land on the box in a controlled manner.
  • Sit on the box with all of your weight for a second.
  • Push into your foot to return to the starting position.
  • That’s one rep. Repeat on the same leg for the first set and then swap.

To make this exercise easier, you can use both legs for the second part of the movement. For this tweak, all you need to do is put your free leg on the ground whilst you’re sat on the box and then push yourself up as explained under ‘how to box squat’ above.

Sets & Reps  

Like the regular bodyweight squat, we recommend training the endurance zone, so 18-20 reps for 2-3 sets.

If you want to feel the burn, you can make this exercise more difficult by holding a dumbbell in each hand for 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps.

Lateral Box Squats

Lateral box squats are an alternative that trains a frontal and sagittal plane motion, rather than box squats which only exercise muscles in the sagittal plane.

This exercise will better emphasise your adductor (inner thigh) muscles. 

Set-Up and Equipment

  • A plyo box (the same height as used for regular box squats). 

Starting Position

lateral box squats image 2

  • Stand with the box behind you and take a step to the left.
  • Stand so that your right foot is just in front of the left end of the box.
  • Place your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and position your toes so that they’re pointing out slightly.
  • Hold your hands out in front of you for balance, or for a more difficult variation, hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in both hands down in front of you.

Execution

lateral box squat image 1

  • Squat to the side, bending your right leg whilst pushing your hips back until you are sat on top of the box.
  • Keep your left leg as straight as possible.
  • Pause for a second and then extend your right leg to push yourself back up to the starting position.
  • Repeat this exercise on the same leg for the recommended number of reps, and then swap legs for the next set. 

Sets & Reps

Train lateral box squats in the hypertrophy zone, completing 4 sets of 10-12 reps.

Advanced Box Squats 

There are a number of ways that box squats and any of the above variations can be made more difficult. For more effective strength building, start by using more weight for fewer reps.

Another way to make the exercise more effective is to increase muscle time under tension. To do this, increase the time it takes you to lower yourself to the box to 3–5 seconds.

Alternatively, you could add a pause into the lowering part of the movement. As you’re squatting down, pause for 3–5 seconds when you are halfway towards the box, and then continue the movement.

Box Squat Box Height

box squat box height graphic

Using different height boxes can change the main muscles worked by the box squat. Generally speaking, the box squats muscles worked are the posterior chain muscles.

Squatting to parallel will work the quads, whereas squatting slightly below parallel will help develop strength in the hips and lower back muscles, and better emphasise the glutes and hamstrings. 

When it comes to choosing a box height, we recommend squatting to parallel. However, if you have muscle-specific exercise goals, use different heights depending on the muscles that you want to emphasise the most.

For beginners, start with a higher box and slowly work your way down to parallel. 

Benefits

Teach Squat Form 

how to box squat graphic

For personal trainers and gym go-ers alike, a really practical benefit of box squats is that training this movement is an effective way to learn how to do squats properly or to correct mistakes in the squat form. 

Often clients will start the squat movement at the knee and not the hips, this puts the majority of the load on the quads and increases the potential for injury. Instead, the box squats technique forces you to start the movement at both the knees and the hips – the correct squat form. 

In order to execute the box squat properly, you need to sit back so that you land on top of the box. Eventually, sitting back into a squat with your hips and knees will become a natural movement and you will use this technique for regular squats without even having to think about it.

Using proper technique has benefits of its own for injury prevention and for muscle loading, which leads us nicely to the box squat benefits for muscle and strength…

Build Strength

box squat muscles worked graphic

Box squats are a great way to build strength in your legs. One of the most relevant benefits of this exercise is the development of strength in the posterior chain muscles in particular.

When following our box squats video, you should be taking a wider foot stance and sitting back to lead the movement with your hips as well as your knees. At the bottom of the movement, your thighs break parallel and your shins are perpendicular to the ground.

All of these small details in the box squats technique make the posterior chain more dominant in the movement. For that reason, box squats are an effective exercise for strengthening the hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae and adductors, as well as the quads.

The posterior chain muscles are often neglected in favour of the anterior muscles, known as the ‘mirror muscles’. Working the mirror muscles has obvious aesthetic benefits, but the posterior chain is an important part of strength training. Strengthening these muscles builds muscle in general, improves core stability, and reduces the risk of lower back injury.

Strengthening the posterior chain with this hip centric movement transfers to stronger deadlifts and stronger barbell squats – an important benefit of box squats for powerlifters. 

Address Sticking Points

box squats bad for knees graphic

Above we talked about how using different box heights can change the main box squats muscles worked. Another benefit of being able to change the box squat box height is that you can do so to work on specific parts of the squat or deadlift movement. 

When exercising regular barbell squats, it’s common for your squat to get higher as you fatigue or when you start using more weight. For the standard box squat, you have to break parallel so that you land on top of the box. This forces you to get to the right depth, and just like with the box squats technique above, hitting parallel will become second nature in other squat variations as well. 

Although the standard for this exercise is to use a box height that allows you to break parallel, you can change the height depending on your exercise goals. It’s pretty common to have a sticking point about 2 inches above parallel in a barbell squat. If you’re weak at the top of the squat, you can work on this sticking point by training on a higher box, so that the bottom of the movement is around 2 inches above parallel. 

On the other hand, for anyone who struggles to start the deadlift or ‘get out of the hole’, training box squats with a box that lands below parallel will build the necessary power and strength to improve this point of the deadlift.

Recovery

box squat benefits for building muscle graphic

Another one of the benefits of box squats is the advantage of the move for recovery. Box squats are an effective exercise for training the legs, but because you use less weight than you would for regular squats, they result in less muscular tissue breakdown.

Powerlifting pro and strength training coach, Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell, is a big fan of the box squat. In one of many posts about his love for box squats ’Box Squatting for Big Gains Part 1’, he talks about how the box squat is effective at building muscle without using as much weight. He explains that "This is attributable to breaking the eccentric-concentric chain when the lifter sits down on the box, which in the world of physics is known as a 'collision'. Although some of the kinetic energy generated during the eccentric phase of the lift remains stored in muscles such as the glutes and hamstrings, much of it is dissipated as a result of the collision. The loss of kinetic energy and any loss in stretch reflex in muscles that relax are the primary factors that determine the difference between the weights a lifter can use in a conventional free squat as compared with when squatting on a box of the same depth. We have determined that this difference is about 15% less. Being able to use less weight to produce a heavier squat on meet day is also an advantage."

Because the lifter is using less weight, the recovery from a box squat is much quicker than that of a regular squat. As a result of the reduced recovery time, you can train more often, building more power at the hips and lower back, training the squat movement pattern, and increasing the benefits for your deadlift.

Minimised Injury Risk

benefits for box squats lower back injury graphic

Poor form is one of the most common causes of injury, so it’s logical that because box squats force you into good squat form, the risk of injury is generally reduced. More specifically, the box squats technique minimises stress on the knee. Taking a wider foot stance, leading the movement with your hips, and having your shins perpendicular to the ground at the bottom of the movement, all reduce strain on your knee and minimises the risk of injury.

Box squats have a reduced risk for lower back injuries, too. Compared to regular squats, you use less weight for the box squat and so the load on your lower back is lessened. Alongside good form, the box squat can be a safer option for preventing a lower back injury.

There are also benefits for anyone with an existing injury. If you, or one of your clients, have an injury that does not allow you to train the full range of motion of a squat, box squats are a good way to train around injuries. Using low resistance, this is an effective exercise to build muscle and strength whilst working towards the full range of motion of a regular squat.

Before You Go!

If you're interested in pursuing an exciting career in the fitness industry, give our team a call on 0800 002 9599 and we’ll be happy to talk you through our incredible range of courses. 

Alternatively, download our latest course prospectus here.

Feeling motivated? Check out more of our exercise guides, including: 

References

  1. Lee Brown (2003). Performance Box Squats. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 25 (1), p22.
  2. Paul Swinton, Ray Lloyd, and Justin Keogh (2012). A Biomechanical Comparison of the Traditional Squat, Powerlifting Squat, and Box Squat. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26 (7), p1805-1816.

 

Enquire to Become A Personal Trainer

Start an exciting career in fitness!

Written by Abbie Watkins

Qualified Personal Trainer & Fitness Blogger

Abbie is a work-hard, play-hard qualified personal trainer and blogger. She loves a scenic run and a good upbeat exercise class. You can usually find her on the front row of a spin class on a Saturday morning.