Sit on it
Posted on September 21st, 2011
If you are serious about getting very, very strong, then you should be squatting…A lot.
If you think that squatting is not really that important, then well, you’re not serious about strength. I wish you the best of luck with those single-leg bulgarian kettle-bell lunges, you poor bastard.
That being said, there’s certainly more than one way to actually squat. You can use high-bar or low-bar positions. You can front squat, or play around with different kinds of barbells (a future post on this blog, no doubt). Or, you can give box squats a try.
I hope you will give box squats a try.
Before you add this exercise to your training, here are some things I think you should keep in mind.The Do-Not’s, From Start to Finish
1. Don’t go too wide.
It’s quite common in powerlifting to utilize a very, very wide stance. This simply allows you to lift the absolute heaviest weight possible. But if you’re not wearing protective gear, like a squat suit, then you’re probably doing yourself a disservice.
Your squat stance should be somewhere around shoulder width. About the same stance you always squat with. This will ensure that the box squat builds strength in your regular squat as well. Also, you’ll limit the risk of injury to your hips. Ever try doing the splits with 300 pounds on your back? Don’t!
There are exceptions.
Some folks can lift more with a wide stance, and can tolerate doing it repeatedly. That’s fine. Also, athletes with weak hips may benefit from some wide, low box squats. Just make sure to keep the weight light.
2. Don’t sit straight down
The absolute best thing about box squats is that they help teach lifters to sit back into the squat. This helps tremendous build hip strength. But you’ll miss that effect if you skip the most important step.
Before you squat, push your hips back so that you feel your hamstrings tighten up a bit. Then, bend the knees to descend. That will guarantee a pretty damn good position in the bottom of the lift. Also, you’ll most likely feel a bit stronger during the lift.
That stretch in the posterior muscles is what you’re after.
3. Don’t free-fall
I hate Tom Petty, especially the song “Free Falling.” I can’t help but think about it every time a lifter crashes down to the box.
Let me make this one very clear. I don’t want you to sit down slow, like your grandmother getting down onto the toilet. I’d prefer you to get down to the box quickly. You’ll be able to produce more force and get much stronger that way. HOWEVER, you should not make impact with the box…EVER! The movement should be smooth.
If you crash down, especially those last few inches, I’d bet your hamstrings are a weakness. Lower the weight and practice sitting down correctly. In a few sessions, your strength and skill will improve.
4. Don’t ignore your knee position
It’s very simple, really. If you allow your knees to shoot too far forward, or too far inward, you’re going to get hurt sooner or later. It will happen.
During the entire lift, keep your knees aligned right over your mid-foot…Maybe right over the back of your toes if it feels more natural. This will cause your shin to be near vertical or angled forward slightly. If your shins are angled too far back, you’re likely sitting way too far back on the box. If I took the box away, you’d be on your ass. We don’t want that.
5. Don’t rock!
I love rock-n-roll, just not during the box squat. Once you sit down, do not rock your head back then forward to help build momentum for the lift. This is a no-no.
The main reason not to do this is consistency. Every time you rock, you’re likely going to end up in a different position. Sometimes you’ll end up too far forward, in a good morning actually. Sometimes you’ll start too soon, with the bar behind your heels. It’s just not good practice. Also, if you force yourself into a really bad position, you may also cause an injury.
What you should do is sit back and down, while keeping the barbell right over your mid foot. After you sit, squat straight up. That will also ensure that your box squat feels like a normal squat.
Now that I’ve told you all the things you shouldn’t do, let me talk more about the things you should do. These are little box squat lessons I’ve learned during my 10 plus years training this exercise.
1. Do use the box as a coaching tool
I have seen hundreds of beginners struggle to get to proper depth in the free squat. At the same time, I’ve never seen a beginner struggle to hit proper depth when using a box. It just makes teaching the lift easier. Take advantage of that. When ready, pull the box and free squat away.
Also, if you’re a lifter who tends to cut depth on heavy lifts (like me!), then the box is the most consistent coach you can have. If you touch a parallel box, you’re guaranteed to be at depth. Easy peezy.
2. Vary your box height
I don’t think anyone would argue the point, really. It’s probably best to squat to below parallel. Well, certainly no higher than parallel. But that doesn’t mean you can’t vary the depth for a greater training effect.
If you’re used to squatting a bit high, set the box low and really work on getting down there. You’ll notice that the barbell weight will drop, but the strength of your glutes and hamstrings will greatly increase after a few weeks.
On the flip side, if you typically squat really deep and bounce out of the hole, Olympic style (a very good style), try squatting down to a box that’s a little too high for your taste. I think you’ll notice that it will be incredibly hard to squat from a pause at that higher position.
Lower is not always the best option. You should simply work the range of motion that you needs work.
3. Vary the length of the pause
The most standard way to box squat is to sit all the way down, pausing briefly, and then extend upward as hard and fast as possible. But that’s not the only way.
Years ago I was squatting with Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell. We were doing a safety squat workout with bands. The odd thing about this session is how we were squatting, a totally new experience for me.
We sat all the way down on the box with a pause, but instead of firing right back up, we stayed down there. The total pause was about 3 or 4 seconds. Just long enough to exhale, inhale, re-arch and squat. Ever since that workout, I’ve gone back to that technique from time to time.
The biggest advantage of a long pause is that it allows you to place complete focus on getting up with the most force possible. You have to gather everything you have for that effort.
When you go back to a regular squat, it will feel incredibly easy in comparison. Just give it a try.
4. Vary the box itself
It may sound odd, but you can get a good training effect out of varying the kind of box you sit on.
Usually, you’ll see folks squatting off of a plyo box or some other kind of hard box. They may or may not use rubber matting to adjust the height. When you sit down on a hard surface, you immediately stop moving. From here, you can quickly reverse the weight.
However, if you sit down onto a foam box, that feeling completely changes. Now, you don’t have anything stable to push off of. The sensation can almost be like squatting out of mud…It can be very hard to get the weight moving. That’s a good thing to practice.
Go out and give the box a try.