The Low Box Squat
Take your lower body strength to higher levels by going lower
By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Spring 2003
The box squat is a BFS core lift that gives athletes and coaches a huge advantage over others who do not use it. Now I would like to introduce a variation of the box squat that will take your training to the next level.
Before getting into the technique of this great exercise, let's review the advantages of the regular box squat and get an overview of how to perform it.
The ABCs of Box Squatting
One advantage of the box squat is that athletes who have never lifted before can do a squat movement usually with great or perfect technique from the first day. This can be accomplished even when large groups of athletes are training at the same time. The technique of correct body position can then be used with all other lifts. Another advantage is the recovery factor. It is the essence of our in-season program. The box squat is the chief reason that our BFS athletes can keep breaking records during the season instead of just maintaining or even losing strength like non-BFS athletes.
To perform the box squat, sit securely on a box, with your upper legs about two inches above parallel. Settle back slightly in a rocking-back motion and then surge forward and up. Always take care to keep the lower back in a concave position-never rounded. With this motion, you place the weight (stress) on the hips and hip tendons and not the quads, hamstrings or glutes. This is why the recovery time is only several minutes instead of sometimes days as with the parallel squat. The box squat is also one of the very safest of all weight room exercises.
Athletes who do the BFS Program get strong very quickly. After two or three years many high school athletes can reach the levels attained by Tom Busch, our newest BFS Athlete of the Year. Tom was up to an 800-pound box squat. Charles Henderson, one of my high school athletes, did a 1,000-pound box squat, and he also set a world teen record in a competition squat at 750 pounds.
In the past, I recommended switching to a front squat for variation or lowering the box height when the weight began to exceed 600 pounds. Also, we have always said that we do not want a box squat done with a lot more weight than is used with a parallel squat (somewhere between 100 and 150 pounds more is preferable). The boxes we had available were tall, medium and short. The short box was 17 inches, and our 2002 Three-in-One Squat Box goes to a 15-inch level. This offered good variety, but we are now making an even lower box available to meet additional needs of athletes.
Mastering the Low Box Squat
The low box squat is certainly nothing new. I was first introduced to this squat at the West Side Barbell Club in Los Angeles in 1970. The West Side Barbell Club, which is now run by powerlifting guru Louie Simmons, has produced more athletes who have squatted over 1,000 pounds than any powerlifting club in history.
Our new low box is only 12 inches tall. There are two types of athletes for which this new box would provide training advantages: First, the athlete who is very strong and has demonstrated great technique and control with the taller boxes. Second, the beginning athlete who has a very difficult time squatting parallel.
The Very Strong or Experienced Athlete. Changing to the 12 inch offers a whole new world of training. I recommend the very strong athlete start with just the bar, or no more than 135 ponds, just to get the feel of the depth required and to gain confidence with the balance required. Use the same technique as with the taller boxes, but make sure you focus better than ever on your technique. Finally, plug the low box squat into the BFS Set-Rep System and start breaking records.
The Beginning Athlete. Begin by just sitting on the low box to experience the feel of sitting lower. Next, do a low box squat with just the bar to get used to this very low position and to gain confidence. It will also teach you how to balance properly.
There are two variations to experiment with. First, use the box squat technique of sitting and rocking back slightly. Second, try lowering and just slightly touching the box before coming up. After gaining confidence, you may then try a parallel squat. If problems persist, then do the low box squat in place of the parallel squat. In that case, one day of the week do higher box squats and on the other squat day use the low box. However, remember this would be only for the athlete who just cannot parallel squat. The only other reason for doing box squats exclusively is aiding the rehabilitation process of an athlete after knee surgery.
I believe that every weight room should now have at least one low box squat. Good luck! Let us know what you think after you have had a while to train with this new depth. Your parallel squat could very well see a nice jump!