Why the Box Squat is Overrated

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There are a lot of things I don’t do anymore that I used to.

1. Unlike when I first moved here eight years ago, I no longer refer to Boston as Beantown. That’s a big no-no amongst locals.  Doing so is as sacrilegious as wearing a Laker hat or a Derek Jeter jersey down Boylston!

2. I don’t watch Saturday morning cartoons. That much.

3. I don’t start hyperventilating into a brown paper bag anymore if a baseball player walks in on day one and lacks internal range of motion in his dominant throwing shoulder. As Mike Reinold brilliantly states HERE, glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD for short. Who wants to write all that out?) is a normal adaptation to the throwing shoulder.

4. I no longer feel Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is the weakest chapter in the Star Wars saga.  That title goes to Episode II: Attack of the Clones.

5.  And, I don’t pick my nose in public.*

Wanna know what else I don’t do?

I Don’t Place Box Squats Into Any of My Programs

Yes, yes I did.

Well, I do place box squats in my progams and I don’t.  Let me explain myself a bit further.

So that I can stave off the barrage of hate mail and people reaching for their pitchforks at the notion of me saying something so batshit crazy….

……..I like box squats.

While the box squat is considered a fairly advanced movement (and it is), it might come as a surprise to know that we use them quite often with beginners at CSP – particularly with regards to teaching proper squatting technique.

Lets be real, most people don’t come remotely close to squatting to acceptable depth (for the record, this equates to the point where the anterior surface of the thigh is BELOW the knee joint), let alone performing anything that you’d actually, you know, call a squat.

Most guys kinda bend their knees a little bit and call it squatting, like this guy. 

Nevertheless, the box squat is a superb way to keep people honest with depth and “groove” the proper pattern we’re looking for: to break their descent with their hips, push their knees out, and learn to sit back a tad more. Doing so targets the posterior chain to a higher degree and increases the lever/moment arm of the hips to take on a larger brunt of the load (rather than the knees).

I understand there’s a bit more to it than that and that this is a pretty extensive topic which people write books about. Cut me some slack, I’m trying to simplify things here.

Besides, considering most people have ADD as it is and won’t read past the first two paragraphs anyways, I figured something short and to the point would, oh look, a shiny!

Where was I again?

Right, box squats.

In short, box squats serve a purpose and I do utilize them quite often with beginners and some intermediate lifters to help groove technique and coach appropriate depth.

Outside of the learning curve, and once someone exits the beginner stage, for RAW lifters I don’t feel box squats serve a purpose or have a place in a training program.

Note:  for those wondering what the hell I mean when I say “raw lifter,” all I’m referring to is someone who is not a competitive powerlifter and doesn’t use gear to lift.  I.e., a squat suit.

When someone wears a squat suit it changes the dynamic of the lift. You HAVE to sit back more aggressively compared to not wearing one.

Powerlifters utilize the box squat because it’s specific to their sport. They have to sit back because if they don’t they’ll be a crumpled up ball of fail on the platform.

Past a point, for raw lifters, the box squat creates too many bad habits.

1.  Teaches people to sit back more than they could/should.

2.  Teaches people to “relax” on the box and to rock their weight back up. This works for geared powerlifters because A) they’re strong enough to stay out of those last 2-3 degrees of end range flexion of the spine and B) the suit is there to help provide more stability.

Stealing an awesome quote from the guys over at Juggernaut:

“Do not focus on excessively sitting back onto your heels if you are a raw lifter, this is not advantageous because you don’t have a suit to sit back into. There will be some forward movement on the knees in the lift and that is fine. A short movement of the hips backwards and then squat down from there. “Back, back, back” isn’t for you, it is more “down, down, down”.

10 Steps to a Great Squatting Technique

And there you have it. That’s my current line of thinking regarding box squats. If you’d still like to grab pitchfork, go for it.  But hopefully I did a good enough job making my case.

EDIT:  to say that I also find box squats are a great fit for those who are unable to squat (deep) due to knee issues, Femoral acetabular impingement, other musculoskeletal issues, or simply their own anatomy.

Here are a couple of articles I wrote on the topic:

How Deep Should I Squat?

Does Everyone Need to Squat Deep?


* = actually, that’s a lie. I totally do.

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Comments for This Entry

  • ericdgrossman

    Tony, some folks believe that a squat is not a squat unless they go ass to grass. For people with GREAT hip mobility, that's fine, but what about those who are limited by the ROM in their hips. Box squats are a great way to protect the low back (S1 and hips) by preventing the trainee from squatting too low and having the low back take over, even in an intermediate or advanced lifter. By advanced, I do not mean competitive, but a more advanced average Joe.

    August 28, 2014 at 9:59 am | Reply to this comment

  • FreakSammy

    Tony, you once did a great tutorial on "box squatting vs. squatting TO a box". I've used the latter (per your tutorial) at times to keep myself honest on depth.

    August 28, 2014 at 10:47 am | Reply to this comment

  • TonyGentilcore

    Eric I don't take that mentality at all. I recognize that not everyone can (or should) squat deep. Check out these articles I wrote for some insight: http://www.t-nation.com/training/how-deep-should-i-squat http://www.t-nation.com/training/does-everyone-need-to-squat-deep

    August 28, 2014 at 10:55 am | Reply to this comment

  • ronellsmith

    Makes perfect sense to me. I noticed that box squatting with heavy weight and no box created what you refer to here, and what I affectionately called "other-end-of-the-spectrum" problems: It became more difficult to sit back, and I felt very unstable near and in the hole. Now I mainly use your squat-to-box technique to ensure I hit depth and to keep me honest. I still sit back, but not to the point of diminishing returns.

    August 28, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Paul G

    Thanks for this--based in part on your "squat to a box" video embedded above, I've been using a 12-inch box as a depth gauge for about 6 months now. I use it both as a "am I getting low enough" check to keep me honest and a "am I going too low" check because my knees break in if I go below that (working on mobility, but it's slow going). I have a question, though. Is there any reason for me to squat _without_ the box? That is, am I giving anything up by continuing to use the box as a depth gauge? The following things may be useful in answering: (1) I just touch the top, no release of tension at all, and no bounce at all. I could just as well stretch a rubber band across the rack at the same height, but don't see a good way to do so without having the safety bars too low. (2) I have no interest in competitive lifting. (3) I'm not all that experienced or strong (last session was 3x5 at 230, at bodyweight 175 and age 40, and as much as I've ever done) (4) Folks seem to think I have good form. (5) I do goblet squats on other days without a box, going slightly lower (my knees don't drop in on those). So, again: any obvious reasons to get rid of the box? Thanks!

    August 29, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Reply to this comment

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