Box Squats for Raw Powerlifters - Execution and Programming
The box squat is an effective exercise variation of the conventional squat and is an especially useful tool in training multiple types of special strengths. For powerlifters, the box squat can be used as a max effort lower variation and is regularly used as the main exercise for dynamic effort lower workouts.
If you are familiar with Conjugate-style programming, then it is likely that you are familiar with box squats. They are a staple in our training, and anyone who has utilized box squats can attest to the benefits of this exercise. Unfortunately, misinformed coaches have perpetuated the idea that box squats are either ineffective or disadvantageous for raw powerlifters.
Below, we will cover the basics of box squats in terms of execution and how raw powerlifters should program this exercise.
Proper Execution of a Box Squat
When it comes to the effectiveness of a box squat, it depends on the lifter's ability to perform the box squat properly. As with most exercises, improper execution of a box squat lowers the movement's effectiveness while raising the risk of injury. Knowing that execution is everything, what is the proper way to box squat?
The first step is to line the box up with the bar to ensure you have the right amount of room to perform a squat, but not so much space that you have to try and find the box as you sit back. Lifting in a monolift makes this easy; you will set the box up directly behind you as you unrack the barbell.
If you are walking squats out from a rack, you will want to set the box up to allow yourself to take a step back with each foot to clear the rack. The idea is to get the box as close to you and easy to find as possible. Otherwise, you will potentially have to look down to locate the box then reset your upper back and torso while under tension.
Once you have the box adequately lined up, you can lift the barbell out of the rack. At Westside, Lou has always taught us to expand our diaphragm as much as possible when unracking squats. You may have heard the cue "big air," which is telling the lifter to expand the diaphragm to brace the torso as much as possible to support a neutral spine position throughout the lift.
Now that the bar is unracked, you can begin your descent. With box squats, the intent of the lifter is of the utmost importance. Without the proper intent and movement, a lifter can potentially leave a lot of gains in strength and speed on the table.
Your first movement will be a slight sit back to allow your hamstrings and glutes to travel over the box, allowing you to sit onto the box properly. Next, you will break at the knees, like a standard squat, and sit onto the box. Now that you are seated on the box, the next step is to allow the hips/glutes/hamstrings to relax while maintaining rigidity in the rest of the torso/upper body. At that point, you will once again engage the hips/glutes/hamstrings to flex off of the box as strong and fast as possible. This is where intent plays its most significant role.
A lifter enters a static state by sitting onto a box and relaxing the hips. The dynamic work occurs when the lifter contracts the hips, flexes off the box and completes the squat with as much speed as possible. Once again, intent.
You'll often hear folks criticize box squats by saying someone is "rocking on the box." As long as you are relaxing your hips and not using the box to rock back and create momentum, you are not rocking on the box. Aside from the static-dynamic method, box squats are considered relaxed overcome by dynamic work. You must release tension in the hips when seated onto the box for this to be possible.
Do not quickly touch and go on your box squats; you are better off squatting without the box at that point.
Programming for Raw Powerlifters
Now that you know how to execute a proper box squat, it is time to learn the best ways to program them into your training plan. Over the years, I have used a variety of approaches when programming box squats in my raw powerlifting training. I typically take a max effort box squat once a month for max effort work.
This lift is usually performed with the giant cambered bar, bow bar, or SSB. Further variations are sometimes used, whether adding accommodating resistance or performing the lift beltless. Box squats for max effort are excellent for raw lifters because they are easier to recover from, and squat depth can be controlled to force the lifter to meet the competition standard on each rep.
Dynamic effort box squats are where you can begin to get creative in the way you sequence your weeks or waves. Below, I will go over a few of the three-week waves I use when programming box squats for raw powerlifting training:
Week 1 - 5 x 5 @70% with box
Week 2 - 5 x 5 @75% with box
Week 3 - 5 x 5 @80% with box
Week 1 - 12 x 2 @75% with box
Week 2 - 10 x 2 @80% with box
Week 3 - 6 x 2 @85% with box
Week 1 - 5 x 5 @70% no box
Week 2 - 5 x 5 @75% no box
Week 3 - 5 x 5 @80% no box
Week 1 - 12 x 2 or 5 x 5 @70% with box
Week 2 - 10 x 2 or 5 x 5 @75% no box
Week 3 - 8 x 2 or 5 x 5 @80% with box
* the first week of the next wave follows the same pattern, beginning with no box
Expected Training Outcomes
After implementing box squats into your training for a few months, you can expect to be stronger, faster, and more explosive. The box squat offers a safer way to squat heavy weights during max effort training, while also holding the lifter to competition standard depth. When used for dynamic effort workouts, lifters improve their rate of force development, resulting in improved bar speeds and sports performance.
Do not allow misinformed coaches to trick you into thinking that box squats are only beneficial for geared lifters or athletes. An exercise that will enable you to make gains in strength, speed, and explosive power while lowering the risk of injury and necessary post-workout recovery time is invaluable for the raw powerlifter.
The Westside Barbell Book of Methods; by Louie Simmons
Supertraining; by Mel C. Siff and Yuri Verkhoshansky