Squats are unquestionably the best lower body workouts. But, doing the same basic squats every day can get very boring. Plus, if you do them regularly, you may soon reach a squat plateau. So, it is very important to switch it up from time to time. Thankfully, there are numerous squat variations that you can try such as single leg squats, sumo squats, prisoner squat, etc. And, fitness trainers keep coming up with more and more variations so you don’t get bored easily.
Recently, we came up with a detailed guide on sissy squats, which is a unique and challenging squat variation that helps build stronger, more visible quads. In this article, we will brief you about another such interesting but comparatively easy squat variation; the box squats.
Box squats are an excellent option for busting squat plateau. They are good for people who have limited ankle mobility or knee problems that restrict them from doing regular squats. They are also a great exercise for strengthening the glutes, hamstrings, and the muscles of the posterior chain that do not get activated during the regular squats.
Read on to learn more about this compound exercise and how you can benefit from it.
What are box squats?
The above image should give you an idea.
Basically, box squats are just squats but, instead of going all the way down, you will just have to squat down until your butt touches the plyometric box or bench or whatever you want to use.
During box squats, you will have to keep your shin vertical to the ground whereas in regular squats, the shin and ankles have to bend as much as needed to let your butt go below the knee level. Your knees also have to do a lot less work. So, if you have poor knee or ankle mobility, box squats are a safer option for you.
By the way, here is how you can improve your ankle flexibility for doing deep squats.
Box squats aren’t quite deep
In fact, their depth is determined by the box you want to use and, ideally, it should be high enough to let you squat with your thighs parallel to the ground.
Sounds simple but there is much more to it.
You will actually have to pause to the bottom of the movement and then use all your power to come up again to the starting position. So, you won’t really get the benefit of momentum that you get while doing regular squat reps. This makes box squats equally suitable for beginners as well as advanced trainers.
What muscles do box squats work?
Image source: Powerlifting technique
Since it is a variation of squat, box squat helps target all major muscles of the legs and lower body such as:
These are the primary leg muscles that get involved in any possible squat variation. But, please note, the higher the box you choose, the less engaged they will be, which is why choosing the right box or bench or chair is really important in box squats.
As we mentioned above, the box should ideally be high enough to let your shin remain vertical and your thighs parallel to the floor. If that seems too much, you can choose a higher box but do not go with a box whose height is lower than this unless you are experienced enough to keep yourself balanced in a declining position.
Please note: If you want to build stronger, noticeably visible quads, try sissy squats.
Hamstrings and glutes
In regular squats, these muscles do not get much chance to work because quads take on the sole responsibility. So, if you want to break your squat plateau, box squats are a good option. Instead of solely focusing on quads, you will be making your hamstrings and glutes do the majority of the work, thereby strengthening them.
Muscles of the posterior chain
We mentioned that at the beginning of the article. Basically, when you do box squats, you make your body extend back further than what you do during regular squats. This extra range of motion helps you activate and engage your spinal erectors, hip flexors, and other lower back muscles(not to mention the core muscles), which is extremely important to boost your spinal health as well as overall strength and stamina.
Benefits of box squats
Image source: Men's Health
Good option for people recovering from injuries or those who have limited ankle mobility
If you are recovering from knee or ankle-related injuries, regular squats can worsen your condition but box squats could be safer. That’s because, neither your ankle nor your knees have to travel or bend beyond their normal range of motion.
Box squats are a highly recommended rehab exercise for athletes and bodybuilders who do not want to lose their strength while recovering from injuries. However, make sure you consult your therapist because every injury is different and so is its needs.
Box squats help people improve their squatting form
Do you know why beginners are often asked to do wall squats and box squats? That’s because these two variations help you learn how to maintain your posture correctly while squatting.
People who are just getting started with squats often overhang their knees, i.e. they take their knees too far forward instead of taking their butt backward and down. They also tend to curve their spine and place their feet incorrectly. Using a wrong form increases the chances of accidents and injuries.
By practicing box squats, you will be able to learn how to bend your knees correctly while maintaining a neutral spine. You will be able to gain some strength, stamina, and balance before moving on to regular squats. You will be able to train safely in your home gym where you won’t have a spotter to rescue you.
It helps you engage more muscles than you usually do in regular squats
As we mentioned above, while doing box squats, you will have to pause at the top of the box, probably sit on it for a second or two before returning to the standing position.
Now, at first, it might sound like a breather because you will get a chance to rest. But, it is this pause that makes box squats more challenging than what they seem like.
When you are doing squats, you get the leverage of the momentum because you don’t really stop anywhere. Plus, your muscles remain engaged throughout the reps.
But, when you do box squats, you actually sit on the box and take a quick rest. Your muscles get a chance to relax. And then, suddenly, they have to contract again with full force so they can push you up. Not just your leg muscles, your core muscles too have to contract equally to help you stand up. So, you don’t get any benefit of momentum. Plus your muscles have to regularly expand and contract, which means you end up spending more energy and engaging more muscles.
In short, box squats help you improve your concentric strength.
Things you need for box squats
If you are doing bodyweight box squats, you don’t actually need anything except a stool or a bench or something stable to sit. But, if you want to do weighted squats, here are a few things that are good to have. You will most likely be having these in your home gym. If not, do check out our lists of product recommendations, just in case you want to buy them.
You can use a barbell or a set of dumbbells.
Dumbbells are good for beginners or people who do not have much space to create a full home gym set up. You can either use standard hex dumbbells such as the Inspire Fitness 210 LB Rubber Dumbbell Set or you could buy a set of adjustable dumbbells so you don’t outgrow them any time soon. Products like FLYBIRD Adjustable Dumbbell are good for beginners and casual trainers whereas people who are already quite strong should go with Bowflex 1090 Dumbbells that can be adjusted up to 90lbs.
If you have a barbell, you should use that instead because it provides extra stability and helps you maintain your form. We have already created lists of best affordable barbells, best mid-range barbells, best high-end barbells, and best bumper plates. We have also created detailed lists of best squat stands, best half racks, and best power cages.
Also, make sure you get a pair of barbell collars to keep your weight plates secured while box squatting.
You can use resistance bands too
If you want to take a break from weight or if you don’t have any space, resistance bands are a good option. They are so versatile that you can actually make a full-fledged home gym using only resistance bands.
Plyometric box/workout bench
To be honest, anything will work. Just make sure it is stable enough so it doesn’t slide or skid when you try to sit on it. That's why we do not recommend chairs or stools because they slide off.
Another thing you should keep in mind is that the height of the box should be such that your thighs remain parallel to the floor. You can choose a higher box/bench but not lower.
If you are doing bodyweight box squats or if you are training with very limited weight, you can wear your regular shoes (not running shoes) or cross training shoes. But, if you are lifting more than 100lbs of weight, we highly recommend you to wear proper weight training shoes that provide you with extra stability and grip.
Similarly, you should also buy a proper weightlifting belt to keep your spine safe and strong while training with heavy weights.
How to do box squats properly?
We hope the above video helps you learn how to do box squats with the correct form.
Here are some important things that you must keep in mind:
- As mentioned a few times above, always choose a box or bench that allows you to bend your knees at exactly 90-degrees. More is fine but do not choose a box that has a low height. That's because if you sit low, you could end up losing your balance.
- Your feet should be around 1.5 times wider than your hip width. The toes can point forwards or you may keep them at an angle.
- Your head, neck, and spine should be in a neutral position. They must not curl at all. Rather you should rotate your shoulders outwards and tuck your chin.
- Make sure you stop at the box for a second or two to eliminate your momentum. If you do it with the help of momentum, you will not be able to utilize your concentric strength.
- Now, when we say stop, we want you to sit on it slightly as if you are sitting on a very soft pillow. If you sit fully, you will have to use more force to get up, which could cause strain and injury.
- Keep your chest tall and your core tight throughout your workout, even when you are resting on the box.
- Do not thrust your hip when you go up. Thrusting will hyperextend your glutes. You need to squeeze them instead.
We hope this article provides you with all necessary details that you need to practice box squats. If we missed something, leave a comment or email us, so we can update it.
Before you go, do check out our other informative guides on How to Build a Home Gym in a Basement, How To Do Decline Bench Press The Right Way, Health Benefits of Using a Treadmill, and Can You Put a Home Gym on the Second Floor.