How Box Squats Can Help You Gain

Box squatting is a safer—and some say more effective—way to exercise your hips, glutes, and upper hamstrings


Box squatting has been around since the days of the original Westside Barbell Club (Culver City, CA), when Pat Casey became the first man to squat 800 pounds. Since then, most world-record holders in the squat have trained by squatting on a box. Today, there are nine lifters who squat 1,200 pounds and at least seven are box squatters. I began box squatting in the late 1960s. In 1973, I squatted 630 pounds and deadlifted 670 at a body weight of 181 pounds. 27 years later, I squatted 920 pounds at the age of 52. Westside Barbell has 19 members who squat more than 1,000 pounds, and they all box squat. Every member of Westside Barbell does box squats year-round with free squats done only in competition.

Despite this half-century history of box squatting by the world’s greatest lifters, I still consider box squatting to be a secret weapon because it remains a secret to most lifters and athletes. It’s also an exercise that is highly misunderstood and grossly underappreciated. Let’s see what I can do about that by giving you some reasons why you should be box squatting.

1. Box squatting produces less soreness, allows 
for faster recovery, and enables the lifter to train squats more frequently.

This is attributable to breaking the eccentric-concentric chain when the lifter sits down on the box, which in the world of physics is known as a “collision.” Although some of the kinetic energy generated during the eccentric phase of the lift remains stored in muscles such as the glutes and hamstrings, much of it is dissipated as a result of the collision. The loss of kinetic energy and any loss in stretch reflex in muscles that relax are the primary factors that determine the difference between the weights a lifter can use in a conventional free squat as compared with when squatting on a box of the same depth. We have determined that this difference is about 15% less. Being able to use less weight to produce a heavier squat on meet day is also an advantage.

2. Box squatting is safer.

When box squatting, the lifter uses less weight and is forced to use better form, which reduces spinal compression. Filling the abdomen with air when box squatting creates optimal abdominal pressure that also protects the spine. Properly performed box squats have also been shown to reduce spinal loading at S5-L1. Box squatting is also safer for the knees because the perpendicular shin position reduces pressure on the patellar tendons.

3. Box squatting places greater load on the larger, major squatting muscles of the hips, glutes, and upper hamstrings.

Box squatting allows for a wider stance and emphasizes squatting back by driving the glutes rearward, rather than down. This enables a deeper squat and the lifter to sit 
far back on the box, putting the glutes and hamstrings in a stretched position and the shins at or past perpendicular to the floor. The angle of the shin places a greater load
on the glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors. These are the major squatting muscles, the main muscles for sports performance, and the most commonly underdeveloped areas of a person’s legs.