In the last Article I gave you about a dozen really good reasons why you should be box-squatting (and hopefully cleared up any misconceptions you may have heard about box-squatting). I also told you that every member of Westside Barbell does box squats year-round (with free squats done only in competition), including the 19 Westside lifters who can squat more than 1,000 pounds. Convinced?
You don’t see box squats commonly performed in the gym because the majority of even the most experienced lifters don’t know how to do a box squat correctly. I will now tell you everything you need to know to do box squats the correct way—the Westside way.
I will first teach you Westside box-squatting technique and then some fundamental Westside box-squatting methods so you know how to incorporate box squats into your strength-training program.
BOX-SQUATTING TECHNIQUE —THE WESTSIDE WAY
Anyone can sit down on a box and stand back up, but you have to apply science to the specific execution of the lift. You must learn the systematic procedure to correctly execute the mechanics of the box squat and also become proficient and in command of its execution. After all, if you don’t plan on doing something perfectly, why do it at all?
POSITION YOURSELF FOR THE LIFT
1) Set your stance. You should set your stance as wide as possible, with your knees pushed out to the sides and your feet pointing straight ahead or slightly outward. Using a wide stance when squatting will place greater stress on the posterior chain (glutes, hips, hamstrings, and back) where it belongs, not on the quads (it’s a common misconception that the quads are really important for squatting maximal weights).
2) Set yourself to the bar. Get under the bar, push your neck into your traps, and position the bar in the groove of the upper back (not above the traps). Pulling your shoulder blades together may help you maintain the proper position of the bar. With a wide-hand monkey grip on the bar, pull the bar tightly into your traps, while pulling your elbows up and under to engage the lats (do not flare your elbows out).
3) Set your core. Now that your upper back is tight and you are positioned for the lift, you’ll need to tighten your midsection. Expand your abdomen (not your chest) by taking a deep breath through the diaphragm, pulling as much air as possible into your abdomen by pushing your belly into your lifting belt. In order for the power from your lower body to be maximally transferred to the bar, your abdominal muscles must be tight throughout the entire lift.
This will also stabilize and support the lower back. If your core isn’t tight, there will be unnecessary dissipation of kinetic energy through the core, in addition to the inherent loss of kinetic energy resulting from the collision that occurs when you sit down on the box. This will translate to an overall reduction in kinetic energy and stored stretch reflex that contributes to your ability to explode off the box as you initiate the concentric phase of the lift.
4) Lift the bar from the rack. With the core as tight as possible, lift the bar out of the rack by arching your upper back, lifting your chest up as you drive your head back, then pushing the bar up evenly with your legs. You should also be forcing your knees out to the sides and pushing out on the sides of your shoes, never downward, as though you are trying to spread the floor apart. This is to further activate the hips. You are now ready to descend into the eccentric phase of the lift.
THE ECCENTRIC PHASE— DESCENDING ONTO THE BOX
The eccentric phase begins by breaking the hips first, not the knees. You do this by pushing the glutes and hips rearward (then follow with the head) as you push your feet and knees out, thus forcing you to sit back (not down, or your quads will dominate). This is the only way to activate your hips and glutes to their full potential, to ensure maximum involvement of the posterior chain.
By sitting back, rather than down, you place the glutes and hamstrings in a highly desirable stretched position. While descending to the box, continue to keep your head and chest high, maintain a tightly arched back, and be sure your core is as tight as possible by keeping your abs pushed out until you are sitting on the box.
THE STATIC/RELAXED PHASE (BREAKING THE ECCENTRIC-CONCENTRIC CHAIN)—SITTING ON THE BOX
The static/relaxed phase begins when the backs of your legs come in contact with the box and you’re sitting down completely on the box by rolling back onto it. (Note: This does not mean rocking on the box, dropping down on the box, bouncing off the box, or doing a touch-and-go on the box).
You should immediately release (relax) the hip flexors while keeping the rest of your body tight, especially keeping the remaining squatting muscles of the posterior chain very tight during their brief static contraction on the box (this will preserve stored kinetic energy and stretch reflex not dissipated from the collision with the box). You have now broken the eccentric-concentric chain. Your back should remain arched, the hamstrings and glutes stretched, and the abdominals as tight as possible.
The shins should be straight up and down (perpendicular), or even past perpendicular, placing all the work that’s about to happen within a matter of a second or two when you begin the concentric phase of the lift directly on the hamstrings, glutes, hips, and spinal erectors (lower back).
The momentarily relaxed state of your hip flexors and the momentarily static, stretched state other squatting muscles of the posterior chain are about to be overcome by being engaged all in unison in an explosive dynamic contraction in which you leg-curl yourself off the box into the concentric phase of the lift. These static/relaxed-overcome-by-dynamic-work methods are the cornerstone of why box squats are such a powerful lift for the development of absolute and explosive strength. Now it’s time to jump.
THE CONCENTRIC PHASE— ASCENDING FROM THE BOX
After you pause on the box, you will begin the concentric phase of the lift by ascending from the box in an explosive manner in which you simply reverse the sequence of movements in the eccentric phase. This means the head moves first, followed by the glutes and hips. Specifically, begin by being sure your core is tight by pushing your abs out against the belt, then driving the head and upper back into the bar, which engages the spinal erectors and allows you to forcefully flex the hips, glutes, hamstrings, abs, and finally quads while you arch the upper back, drive the feet outward, push straight up into the bar, then jump off the box by leg-curling yourself up.
Now that I have taught you correct Westside box-squatting technique, it’s time to teach you some fundamental Westside box-squatting methods, so you can put your newly acquired skills into practice in your strength-training program.