Will box squatting benefit raw lifters? This seems to be an ongoing topic of debate. There is no right or wrong answer. Different lifters benefit from different exercises; what builds a new PR for one lifter may do nothing for another. But any form of squatting, when done with proper technique, will improve the squat form of a lifter. The box squat, in particular, forces the lifter to sit back further than other squat variation. This causes greater recruitment of the hamstrings and glutes and reduces stress on the knees. A proper training program should incorporate box squats for this purpose, as well as full squats for competition purposes and to assist in overall muscular development. Any program that has the lifter performing the exact same motion week after week is destined to cause imbalances and potential for injury.
Let’s first go over some proper technique which applies to any method of squatting:
- Approach the bar with it in front of you. Yes, this may sound obvious or silly, but I can't tell you how many times I've seen lifters back into the bar and end up lopsided because of it. Walk towards the bar and grab it with an even grip that is as narrow as possible to allow you to set up correctly. Whether or not you want to wrap your thumbs is a personal preference.
- Make a shelf with your shoulder blades. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down. This will literally give the bar a platform or “shelf” to sit on. Where you place the bar is a personal preference based on comfort. I recommend placing the bar just below the top of the deltoids.
- Keep your neck in line with your spine. The old rule of thumb was to look up at the ceiling. I've tried both methods and actually feel that I have better awareness of depth with everything in alignment, especially while lifting raw. Your eyes will actually be angled slightly down with this method.
- Keep your chest up, lower back arched, and elbows under the bar. This will help to keep you upright and focus on moving the bar up and not forward.
- Take a big breath. Force your belly out or against your belt to walk the weight out.
- Stand slightly wider than shoulder width with your toes angled out in the same direction your knees will be moving. This is usually at about a 45 degree angle. Don't stand so wide that your knees will go inside of your ankles or so narrow that they will extend beyond them.
- Take another breath and force your hips back as far as you can. This will help prevent your knees from going forward and will keep the weight on your heels, thus better utilizing your hamstrings and glutes.
- Once you can't extend your hips back any further bend your knees and descend to a point where the crease of your hip goes below the top of your knee. To me this feels like going as low as I possibly can.
- While squatting onto a box you'll want to momentarily shift your weight onto the box while staying upright. Keep your upper back, lower back, hamstrings, and glutes as tight as possible. The only muscle group you’ll slightly relax is your hips.
- Lead with your chest out of the hole or off the box. This will help keep you upright. Make sure to maintain the position of keeping your lower back arched and elbows under the bar throughout the movement.
- Plop onto the box. Always sit back with control.
- Create lumbar flexion by rounding your lower back on the box.
- Touch and go. Make sure you sit back and momentarily shift on the box.
- Rock on the box. Only shift your hips back (not your upper body) while staying upright.
- If you’re plopping onto the box try widening your stance, but no wider than to a point where you can keep your knees in line with your ankles. If this doesn’t fix the issue try raising the box height until you can keep proper technique, then gradually lower it each week.
- If your hips are hurting then try narrowing your stance. You can gradually begin to work it out wider as your hips strengthen.
The box squat is also an excellent way to teach beginning lifters how to squat correctly. Most beginning lifters will break their knees before shifting their hips back which increases stress on the knees and isn’t optimal. The box forces lifters to sit back which makes them more likely to use proper technique.
Program one in the M2 squat program is based off of a gradually increasing ROM with high box squats (1” above parallel to overload the CNS) one week, parallel box squats the next, and full squats on the third. The box squat routine is ideal for lifters who need to work on hip strength or who may have knee issues due to excessive squatting. The second program incorporates accommodating resistance with box squats through the use of chains, which is ideal for lifters who have weak lower backs or issues midway in the squat. The third program is ideal for lifters who need to work on depth, since it allows for them to squat to depth each week with the use of reverse bands on the first week, chain resistance on the second, and full squats with straight weight on the third. An additional benefit of the M2 Program is that the different program options are all interchangeable. If you want to box squat one week, but use reverse bands the next, then you can use program one on one week then program three on the next.
Ultimately, you have to find what exercises and programs work best for you. You also have to be patient enough to give them time to work.
Thanks for reading and never give up!