Feb 16, 2018
First Steps

Have you noticed that your athletes aren’t as explosive as they need to be? Maybe you’ve found that they struggle when it comes to leg exercises. Coaches can remedy this situation by using the box squat in their training programs. And while it is a relatively simple exercise to teach, this exercise offers many benefits to ready your athletes for game day.

In a blog for elitefts, Nate Harvey, MS, CSCS, explains that the box squat not only builds strength and explosiveness, but also helps decrease stress on other body parts. During this exercise, athletes load the glutes and hamstrings, which means less pressure is placed on the knees. The box squat also helps prepare athletes’ bodies for positions that they might not consider during sport.

“It’s very common for an athlete’s feet to go wider than shoulder width on the field, so we need to have strength out there too,” writes Harvey. “The wide stance and hitting proper depth also helps build mobility in the hips. How many times have you heard a coach describe and athlete as too stiff and say he can’t open up at the hips? Box squatting builds mobility through strength.”

Another benefit of box squatting is helping athletes move quicker out of a fixed position. Harvey calls this first step ability, and explains that most athletes will need to be able to change from a semi-static position to a dynamic contraction in a miniscule amount of time. During the box squat, athletes must pause at the bottom, and then explode with fierce energy. And this movement also improves athletes’ ability to move laterally.

“When performed correctly the athlete drives out (laterally) on their feet,” writes Harvey. “This has great transfer to change of direction. We hardly ever did ‘agility work’ and our athletes agility scores consistently improved. How’s that for sport specific?”

In order to gain these benefits, and lessen the chance of injury, athletes must do the movement correctly. Before beginning the exercise, coaches should make sure that their athletes’ boxes are set up at the right height. To do this, Harvey recommends having the athlete stand in front of the box as if they are about to squat then have them sit on the box while maintaining a perpendicular shin angle to the floor. The next step is to adjust the box height until the top of the kneecap is parallel with the crease of the hip.

Here are the steps to the box squat laid out by Harvey:

  1. Make sure the bar is even with the collarbone while in the rack.
  2. Place hands even on the bar with your feet wide enough to feel lateral pressure on the sides of your shoes.
  3. Stand up and take two steps back until you are in front of your box.
  4. Push your hips back first, and descend pushing out your knees on the way down.
  5. Pause on the box, but keep the pressure out on the stomach and feet. Don’t allow the toes to come up.
  6. Drive the shoulders into the bar and explode off of the box back into starting position.

Harvey recommends starting every squat day with 15 to 20 reps of using just the bar. Then add weight slowly. Harvey has athletes do sets of two reps until 80 percent of the group is squatting correctly. He also offers some coaching cues to help you assess and adjust your athletes while they are squatting.

One tip is to keep their chin slightly up before unracking to help them keep good positioning. Athletes should then make sure their feet and the weight are settled before moving into the squat. Another coaching cue from Harvey is to make sure the athlete is leaning into the squat a little.

“Very often [the athlete will] try to keep their torso completely vertical,” writes Harvey. “If they continue to struggle with this or rock backward on the box when they sit, take the bar off their back, have them sit on the box as if they’re squatting and hold a proper position (pressure out on feet, learning forward, knees forced out, chin up). Many times they just don’t understand the proper position, so sitting there and holding it for a few seconds really helps with the above problem.”

To see a tutorial of the box squat, watch this video from Paradiso CrossFit.

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