How to “Stick” the Box Squat

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Vacation is over.  Sad face.  Having spent the past three days in paradise (Captiva Island, Florida) soaking up some good ol’ vitamin D, relaxing, eating my fair share of insulin coma inducing foods, and even catching my very first glimpse of a manatee, it’s time to head back to good ol’ Boston, Massachusetts.  I just looked at the local weather there and it’s miserable, rainy, and cold.  Like really cold. Like I can’t feel the left side of my face cold.


In fact, as I type this Lisa and I are in the Ft. Myers airport waiting for our flight to depart.  Per usual, given my affinity for hating to fly, I’m fighting back the urge to hyperventilate into a brown paper bag, but since we have like an hour to kill before we start boarding, I figured I’d spend the time to my advantage and try to bang out a quick blog post.

I’m a ninja like that.

So as it happened, the resort we stayed at in Captiva Island – the SouthSeas Resort – had a fairly well equipped fitness center that we used each day we were there – except yesterday.  HA!

Two out of three days ain’t too shabby, though, right?

Anyways, I wasn’t expecting a Gold’s Gym or anything, but I braced myself for the worst.  Typically when a resort or hotel states that they have a “fitness center,” it generally consists of a treadmill (or two), an old school universal gym complete with an antiquated leg press and lat pulldown station, a few med balls (with no wall to throw them to), and if you’re lucky, a pair of matching dumbbells.

It is what it is. When you take a trip to paradise, it only makes sense that they place more emphasis on the all-you-can-eat buffet rather than the the number of barbells available.

I have to say, though, that this particular fitness center served it’s purpose. It had dumbbells (albeit only up to 50 lbs), a full Life Fitness circuit, as well as a baller functional trainer.  And yes, they had more than enough cardio equipment.

But I have a confession to make.

*cue Darth Vader theme music*

I used a Smith Machine.  To squat in.  Ahhhhhhhhhh.

I know, I know.  It’s blasphemous – but it’s all I had available to me and I had no other choice than to MacGyver the shiznit out of my workouts.

I mean come on: Give me a Smith Machine, a roll of duct tape, a rubber ducky, and some jelly beans, and I can somehow conjure up a killer program.

Nevertheless, I felt kinda “dirty” afterwards, and to make up for it I felt compelled to write a quick post on box squats (as well as commit myself to 47 Hail Mary’s for committing such a sin).

How to “Stick” the Box Squat

I think the box squat is an invaluable tool.  Not only is it a superb way to groove rock-solid squatting technique, it also serves as an excellent exercise that adds unparalleled muscle mass (specifically to the posterior chain:  hamstrings, glutes, mid & upper back), not to mention helps get people uber strong.  If that’s your bag, which it should be.

Unfortunately a lot of things can go wrong when box squatting – knees caving in, upper back rounding, not maintaining more of a vertical shin angle, not sitting back (hip hinging) enough, poor lat (and subsequent thoraco-lumbar) activation, poor bracing, and you even run the risk of splitting your pants wide open in the middle of a set, which actually happened to one of my female clients a few years ago.

It was awesome.  It didn’t even phase her.  She finished the rest of her sets like a rock star.

Needless to say, there’s a lot to think about!

Squatting in general is a fairly technique heavy movement, and if someone isn’t careful to learn proper technique (or doesn’t take the time to properly progress), they run the risk of seriously hurting themselves.

I’m not going to go into too much depth on ALL the intricacies of the squat with this post, but I do want to hammer on one point that I feel doesn’t get enough recognition.

One common mistake I see a lot of people make when BOX squatting is how they “stick” the landing.  Many times it looks something like this:

As you can see in this example, there’s really nothing “technical” about it.  I just plop onto the box.

This is cringe-worthy for two reasons:

1.  You lose ALL tension on the box when doing this.  I’m not a huge fan of the “rocking” variation that some coaches like to teach off the box.  For more advanced lifters this may be appropriate (as they’ve accumulated enough time under the bar to stay out of  spinal end ranges of motion), but for the beginner or intermediate lifter, this could spell disaster.

I much prefer trainees to STICK the landing, pause for a second, and try to maintain as much tension as possible when sitting onto the box.

2.  The second and probably most pertinent point to the post: Your spine will hate you squatting in this manner.

To clarify – the spine can handle compressive loading pretty efficiently and can take care of itself, thank you very much.

I don’t want to cause mass hysteria here.

But when you just plop onto the box like a dead fish, you run the risk of increasing compressive loading twofold. Actually, a lot more than that, but who’s counting?  This becomes even more worrisome when you combine this with losing tension on the box, as one will definitely increase the risk of the spine buckling.


Instead, I like to coach people to “land softly” onto the box.  I want to see them initiate the descent by hip hinging like a bastard (read:  hip hinge correctly) while simultaneously pushing their knees out, and as they inch closer to the box, I want them to pretend as if they’re sitting on broken glass.  DO NOT PLOP onto the box.

It looks something like this:

God, that’s sexy.

Hopefully that helps shed some light on one of the lesser known intricacies of proper box squatting.  It’s a minor detail I know, but something I feel a lot of people dismiss.

Now if you excuse me, I have to board my flight.

*grabs blankie and half a gallon of Nyquil*

UPDATE:  I made it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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