Jun 1, 2017
Boxed In

Most coaches have their athletes engage in squats during weightroom workouts. But how can you make sure athletes are doing them correctly? The answer comes in the form of the box squat, and its benefits extend beyond purely teaching proper technique.

In a blog for Kyle Hunt Fitness, Certified Personal Trainer Nick Smoot names the box squat as one of his favorite exercises. One reason for this is that it keeps athletes from making a common mistake when it comes to technique — initiating movement at the knees instead of the hips. This places the majority of stress on the quads, greatly increasing the athletes’ risk of injury.

Instead of using the knees, the box squat teaches athletes to “sit back,” an action that is important in the performance of any type of squat.

“That’s because if you don’t sit back, you’ll simply miss the box and fall straight to the ground,” writes Smoot. “… As you continue to practice the movement and groove the proper squat pattern, it will become second nature, and you’ll be able to emulate proper form with all other squat variations.”

The box squat also works the posterior chain, which leads to increased lower-body power and improved athletic posture.

“When performing the box squat, an athlete generally takes a wider than shoulder width stance, a low bar position, loads the hamstrings back and down, keeps the knees out over the toes, and exhibits a bit more forward lean of the torso,” he writes. “This places a TREMENDOUS amount of stress on the glutes, hamstrings, and low back, making it a very hip dominant exercise (not to say that the quads are not engaged).”

Another benefit of the box squat is that it will help increase your athletes’ squat depth. According to Smoot, most athletes will tend to lessen their depth as they add weight to their exercise. For some, this might be due to the fear of not coming back up. Adding the box gives athletes something to sit back on, lessening this fear.

The box can also be a measure for you as a coach. Smoot explains that if your athletes aren’t sitting back all the way and touching the box, chances are the load is too heavy and they need to decrease their weight.

To ensure that your athletes are experiencing the benefits of this exercise, it is important that they are taught the proper form. In an article for Girls Gone Strong, Molly Galbraith, CSCS, lays out the steps to performing a box squat:

  1. Set up a bench or sturdy box directly behind you.
  2. Set up the barbell in the squat rack. Make sure it is level with the top of your shoulders.
  3. Set your heels about hip width apart with toes pointing out slightly.
  4. Grip the bar with both hands and position your body beneath the bar. Rest the barbell on the ridge of your upper trap muscle. Never let the barbell rest on your neck.
  5. Take a deep breath through your nose, tighten your core, and grip the barbell firmly.
  6. Stand up with the barbell and take several steps back into position in front of the box.
  7. Moving at the knees and hips, sit back between your heels on the bench/box. Maintain tension in your muscles the entire time.
  8. Briefly pause, then drive your body upwards with your feet to return to a standing position.
  9. Lock your body in the top position by squeezing your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, and bracing your core to keep your back from arching.
  10. Repeat for desired number of reps.

To further prevent injury, Gailbraith suggests resting before each repetition. She also suggests adding weight slowly by starting with a warm-up set using only the barbell. If the athlete is struggling with the barbell, have them start by doing box squats using their bodyweight. Athletes should only add to their load when they show the proper form with their current weight.

To see the box squat in motion, check out this video from Paradiso Crossfit.

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