How to Do Box Squats the Right Way

Man doing box squats.

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A box squat is a variation of the traditional squat exercise. Rather than using your momentum to bounce out of the bottom of a regular squat, box squats take the “bounce” out of the equation and put more tension on your leg muscles.

People often perform box squats if they have trouble activating their posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and lower back) while squatting, or if they have poor knee/ankle flexibility and can’t perform the exercise with a full range of motion.

A box squat allows you to set a pre-determined range of motion that fits your body’s proportions, so you can become more comfortable with the exercise and eventually work your way up to a full traditional squat.

What You’ll Need

A square wooden box is an ideal platform for box squatting, but if that’s not available, you can use any broad, flat elevated surface, such as the average gym bench. Make sure the platform is tall enough so that when you sit down, your legs don’t bend at more than a 90-degree angle. Anything more, and it becomes closer to a good morning exercise than a squat.

Once you have a solid platform, you can use either a barbell/squat rack or dumbbells to perform the exercise. If you prefer to use a barbell, set the box up so that you have plenty of room to unrack the weight and take a few steps back into position. 

Dumbbell squat setup is more straightforward because you have no squat rack in the way, but you’re rather limited with how much weight you can use. That’s why most people perform the box squat with a barbell. 

An essential but often overlooked aspect of squatting is your shoes. Regular sneakers or running shoes are NOT ideal for squatting. You want something with a hard sole that can support your body and the weight you put on your back. More support means more stability, allowing you to make progress more quickly and avoid injury.

Performing the Box Squat

Once you have your footwear and equipment taken care of, you’re ready to step under the barbell. It’s helpful to go through this checklist of mental and physical cues to make sure your body is stable and prepared for the heavy lift.

  • Place your hands evenly on the bar and keep them there for the entire lift.
  • Position your shoulders tightly under the bar. Once you find a comfortable position, imagine that the bar is glued to your shoulders.
  • Set your feet firmly underneath you, take a deep breath, and unrack the bar.
  • Hold your breath, then step into position with your legs slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Grip the ground with your feet.
  • Tense your entire upper body and flex your glutes. A tense body is a stronger body.
  • Slowly begin your descent, controlling the weight the entire time.
  • Sit down, pause for a moment, then explode out of the bottom position.
  • Lock your knees and squeeze your glutes when you reach the top. 
  • Exhale, inhale, then perform another rep.

You probably noticed that breathing and posture were significant points of emphasis. The squat is a full-body exercise, not just a leg exercise. Every body part plays a role. Good form delays fatigue, prevents injury and allows you to move more weight.

A box squat will help you turn the fundamentals into habits, and after enough time, they will become second nature. You can also expect to see some other benefits, if you squat with proper technique.

Benefits of Box Squatting

The squat has been dubbed the king of the exercises for a good reason. Squatting in any form, whether traditional or with a box, has many benefits:

  • Strengthens your entire body, not just your legs
  • Releases endorphins that make you feel happier
  • Improves bone density
  • Improves joint and tendon mobility
  • Improves mental fortitude
  • Boosts self-confidence

The squat puts your body in a precarious position. It’s completely normal to experience fear or anxiety before stepping under a bar loaded with heavy weight. That’s what makes the exercise so rewarding. Your body completed a difficult task while under great stress.

Even the most experienced weight lifters mentally struggle with exercises like the squat. But what are you working out for, if not to struggle?

Try the Box Squat Today

The box squat is a great exercise to test the limits of your mobility and familiarize yourself with the movement without putting yourself at risk for injury. Still, your end goal should be to master the traditional squat exercise.

So what are you waiting for? Try a new and challenging exercise and take your fitness to the next level!

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