For years I have been an outspoken advocate of box squatting. My own personal experience with the box squat really cemented my philosophy and it has worked well with all of my athletes. When I competed in powerlifting in the early 2000s, Westside Barbell was really starting to become big in the strength world. I read all I could get my hands on and implemented their ideas with my own training; the results were a 200lb increase in my competition squat in less than a year. I went from a hard 575 in my first competition to a very easy 3rd attempt at 771. I went on to squat 845 over the next couple of years.
Low or Parallel Box?
I have refined my view on the box squat with athletes, however. We used to only parallel box squat much like what Westside Barbell does or used to do. We used a wide stance and a box that put us right at or slightly above parallel. About 7 years ago, we moved to a low box and took a more moderate, athletic stance. The results have been phenomenal.
Our standard box is 11-12 inches high and we require our athletes to sit and pause while remaining tight and then explode up as fast as possible. Only a few of our athletes need a different height box. 12 inches seems to work for most. What we ended up getting was all of our athletes squatting way below parallel on a regular basis.
A Parallel Squat Is The Most Important Lift
Although I am a huge proponent of the Olympic Lifts, I still believe a below parallel squat is the most important lift you can perform. Getting the proper depth is crucial because of the glute and hamstring work that the extra range of motion gives you – I’m not sure there is a bigger return on your investment if you want to run faster and jump higher.
One of the biggest selling points with the box squat is that it is so easy to teach – I can get most new athletes box squatting the first day. It is much harder in my experience to teach a free squat first. For many of my athletes, they will not free squat for the first time until the first time we test.
Key Box Squat Points
- Always “land soft” on the box. I shouldn’t see any jiggle when you sit.
- Don’t rock back when you are on the box. Just sit, pause, and get up.
- Even though we are using a moderate stance, we still start the squat by breaking the hips and not the knees.
- Have good spots at all times. Dumping a box squat will ruin your bar. We always say that nobody should miss and if you do, the bar should never touch anything. Spotting is key!
- You must pause completely on the box in order to get the benefits. I can’t emphasize this enough. I said pause not relax!
Box Squat Pause
The pause on the box is crucial to success. When you pause, you break up the concentric eccentric chain. This action creates a great deal of starting strength in the movement. Another advantage of the pause on the low box squat is that you can use about 15% lower weights than you would for a free squat. My experience is that a 1RM low box squat is about 10-16% lower than a 1RM free squat. The biggest difference I have ever recorded was 18%. This discrepancy is caused by the length of pause and depth of squat. The 12inch box is much lower for some than others so it represents a much tougher exercise. The advantages are still the same.
To emphasize this point, let me show you how one of our athletes progressed on the squat in 2009. He squatted 505 during the summer so the most weight he used in our program was 430. That represents 85% of his 1RM on the free squat. When we tested, he squatted 565. We have others that have similar results. The guys who get the worst results are the guys who try and cheat the pause. If you cheat the pause, you won’t be happy come max time!
The Box Squat Shouldn’t Be Your Only Squat
One word of warning: I do not believe that you should rely solely on the box squat as your major means for squatting – I have done this in the past and I feel like it led to a reduction in reactive strength. In addition to our box squat, we do full front squats, overhead squats, full cleans, one leg squats, and lunges all during our cycles.
Why Test Often?
I believe in testing often because I deal with young athletes and they improve so quickly. It is important that they see that they are making gains. Another reason is when you test less often, an athlete who may have just been having a bad day is forced to use the same training weights for another 9 week cycle. For those reasons, we test every 5 weeks. I used a modified Jim Wendler 5/3/1 protocol. Because the weight is less for the box squat, I use percentages that are about 10% lower than I would use on the bench press.
Week 1: Warm up to 70% x 5+
Week 2: Warm up to 76% x 3+
Week 3: Warm up to 82% x 1+
Week 4: Warm up to 73% x 5
Week 5: Test
This protocol has worked very well for us over the last 7 years. It has allowed us to train a large group of beginning and experienced lifters at the same time without worrying about depth and the results have been phenomenal.
Jay Floyd is the co-founder of the Georgia Strength Coaches Association and the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at LaGrange High School in LaGrange, GA. He is certified by USAW as a Level 1 Coach. In 2005, he gained an Elite Total in the 275lb class in the APF with a 845 squat, 535 bench, and 643 deadlift.