Getting Big Results with Box Squats

Most people know the value of squats – a compound movement that helps to build hamstring, glute, and quadricep strength. Hopefully you’re doing them – with heavy weights – because they’re the best lower body exercise around. But box squats, when done correctly, are also valuable for general lifters.

Box squats involve doing a squat with a box behind you. So what’s the difference between that and regular squats?

According to powerlifter and biomechanics engineer Scott Dueball, box squats are “safer and will build lower body power better than almost any other exercise.” Scott points out that box squats are also very effective at building strength and explosive speed and allow your muscles to recover faster. Not only that, but box squats can be easier for beginners to learn and easier on your knees. And when done correctly, box squats are supreme glute builders in addition to hamstring strengtheners.

What’s the secret to all these benefits? It’s all in the slight pause between sitting back (eccentric phase) and standing (concentric phase).

How are Box Squats Different?

Getting big results with box squats | Workout Nirvana When you sit back on the box, there is a pause before standing that stops your momentum. “The eccentric force required to change directions is lessened,” says Scott, “and increases the demand on the concentric force to accelerate up. By pausing, you have released the tension in the soft tissue and you are forced to generate that power without the assistance of the elasticity in your soft tissue.” This pause allows you to relax and re-flex the hips before the concentric phase, which builds mega hip strength. This can help improve your performance in your regular squats and deadlifts.

What about stories that box squats compress the spine? If you slam back onto the box and/or bounce up, this is extremely bad form and will not be good for your back. Correct form is sitting back in a controlled manner and leading with your chest when you stand, not bouncing off the box (see more below).

You will also use less weight than with regular squats. This does not affect the strength or hypertrophy gains, as the pause causes you to work harder in the concentric phase. The diminished eccentric phase is another reason this movement is very safe, according to Scott. Box squats are perfect for beginners learning how to do a regular squat; they can learn correct form for sitting back, not down, and having the box behind them provides a place to go if they fall.

How to Do a Box Squat

I’ve included a demo via Bret Contreras below. More pointers:

  • Think of sitting back, not sitting down.
  • Make sure you set the seat far enough back to recruit the hamstrings. (Or use the calves-touching-the-box method if you’re a beginner.)
  • Keep the bar path as straight and vertical as possible.
  • I like using the pause and rock method. As you sit back, release your hips, glutes, hamstrings, and quads briefly and rock back slightly (never bounce). Keep your back straight and back extensors turned out.
  • Push your knees out as you sit back.
  • Keep your shins mostly vertical at the bottom.

You might also enjoy front squats with a crossed-arm grip.

Thanks to Scott Dueball for his contribution to this post. Scott has a BS and MS in Exercise Science and works as Biomechanics Engineer designing fitness equipment. His training philosophy was developed through experiences training with Elite Level powerlifters and coaching athletes from pre-high school through Division-I levels. Scott’s statements are his own opinions and not endorsed by any other entity. You assume all risk when performing new exercises so please use caution and discretion.

This article originally appeared on

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  1. oh dear… the infamous PAUSE… so often overlooked…
    I’m not sure if I’ve ever “really” done these!

    Another great post!
    Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..Train for Life | The Reluctant ExerciserMy Profile

  2. Great post! Have not done these in a while. Time to do them again! 🙂 THX!
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted..Gratitude Monday, Gasoline Prices & AthletaMy Profile

  3. We’ve done these in circuit training and I never knew how achieve good form. This helps to explain why 1) the trainer thought they were a good idea and 2) why I was doing them wrong. It’s a pause not a slam!

  4. Most squats that take place in my studio are box squats. Their value is undeniable. I always teach to “put the breaks on” during the last few seconds of the eccentric phase. Control. Control. Control. My beats bodybuilder client Carrie did these yesterday working up to 175 pounds in perfect from. Always a pleasure to witness squats done well.

    Suzanne, your articles are getting better and better with each month!
    Emergefit recently posted..January Punch…My Profile

  5. Can’t beat squats of all kinds–so much benefit in so little time! Thanks for emphasizing that box squats are great for beginners. Plenty of women are afraid of squats, so let’s reduce the fear factor.

    And speaking of pauses . . . many years ago a friend taught me a squat variation he called oscillations. Using a relatively light weight, you descend to your lowest squat position, pause briefly, then rise to just above parallel, then go back down, and repeat. Those suckers are intense.
    Mary C. Weaver, CSCS recently posted..Is your diet endangering your muscles?My Profile

  6. Never done box squats before, but will try it. It will further asshance by backside, which is developing very nicely.
    Yum Yucky recently posted..Battle For The Pie SliceMy Profile

  7. I haven’t tried squats in such a long time. They are now on my list to give them a try. 🙂
    Jaki (Slim Down U) recently posted..I cheated 🙁My Profile

  8. Ah, box squats. Great for depth check but dangerous if you’re at risk for dropping too quickly to the box. Also, if you’re looking for growth, the pause is great but don’t underestimate putting even extra effort into slowing the eccentric (the way down). Box squats are great training for the concentric from static which will help you in sports and explosion.

    Great article. On my way to the gym now. Thanks for the inspiration. I’ll be back for more reading later. Cheers!
    Geoffrey Hale recently posted..Commitment, Back In The Game, One Giant Leap At A TimeMy Profile

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