The squat is a great lower body exercise. It involves using leg muscles to move the weight. There are many variations of the movement.

The box squat is one of the variations. It has been used by many weightlifters.

When you are working on eccentric muscle work, controlling the lowering phase of the movement is a great option.

“The lifter can work on the movement’s explosion during the lifting phase.”

Box squats can help you focus on different aspects of squatting, or add variety to your lifting. If you are experiencing a workout plateau, this can help you improve your barbell squat ability.

It is important to know what the box squat is, how to perform it, and the benefits you can gain if you try it.

Image of woman doing a barbell box squat with a spotter
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The box squat is exactly like a standard squat, except that there is a dedicated pause at the bottom of the movement. It involves using a knee-height box that allows you to lower yourself until your thighs are relatively parallel with the ground.

The box squat involves a more vertical shin position than a traditional squat. The trunk is usually more upright than in a traditional squat, and you stand with a wider stance. The hip extensors are emphasized during both phases of the movement.

The lift requires a squat rack and a plyometric box or bench at the appropriate height. The height of the box should allow your thighs to be parallel to the ground when you are seated.

Behind the squat rack, place a box that can hold a lot of weight. This allows you to squat without the bar in your hand.

Start with either a bar or a light weight to practice proper form. The movement uses less weight than the squat.

Next, put the bar on your back, not on your neck. The bar will feel like it is on a shelf. The feet should be shoulder-width apart. Step back and the box is behind you.

Keep your core tight and your feet wide. You can get good control by getting your hips back and bending your knees as you lower your body to the box. Keep your weight on your feet and descend until you sit.

“As you lower, push your knees out to keep them in line with your feet. Some lifters refer to it as putting your feet into the ground. This makes sure your knees don’t cave in as you lower and raise, which can cause stress on your knees.”

If you want to hold the weight, sit on the box for 1-2 counts but keep your trunk tall and active.

Then slightly hinge forward at your hips as you drive yourself upward squeezing your glutes and hamstrings to lift. Return to the upright position.

For 3–4 sets, perform 6–12 reps.

Animated GIF of woman doing box squats with a barbell

“The box’s height will be determined by your height and leg length. When you are sitting, you want a box height that will allow your thighs to be close to the ground.”

The box height will help you modify the exercise. The taller the box, the easier the exercise will be. The lower box increases the range of motion.

However, it’s important to know that joints also have more force on them the lower you go (1).

It is not always a bad thing to have more force on the joints. If you are experiencing pain, then you should choose a higher box. If you have pain with other squatting movements or use a taller box, it would be a good idea to consult a medical professional.

The box squat targets the buttocks. The front shin muscles are working to perform the movement.

Your core muscles in the abdomen and back extensors are stabilizing your trunk during the movement. This keeps your spine neutral during the movement to prevent injury to the back.

The hip abductors are also working to stabilize the hips and knees during the movement. This decreases excessive torque at the knees as you lower and raise. In plain terms, it keeps your knees from caving in as you lower and raise yourself during the squat.

The box squat allows you to focus on the concentric (pressing up) and eccentric (lowering down) parts of the squat separately. It also helps to slow your movement and help you refine and control the entire range of motion.

The box squat adds focus to your buttocks and back extensor muscles as well as the rest of the muscles of the posterior chain.

The box squat can be done on the knees if the pause in the middle of the movement is not used. The knee joint angles are different than a standard squat and may be easier to tolerate.

The standard squat is a variation of the box squat. There are some variations you can make that can add more variety to the movement. They say that variety is the spice of life.

You can always change the variations that target the muscle in different ways.

Note that these variations are more challenging and therefore are typically performed as bodyweight exercises.

Single-leg box squat

The single-leg box squat is performed just like a typical box squat. This version is more difficult and is typically done without using weight. It challenges hip stability much more. The goal is to keep the hips level as you lower and raise (2).

As you raise and lower, keep the knee in alignment. You can check this by doing the exercise in front of a mirror.

Stand in front of the box with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lift the other foot off the floor by shifting your weight onto one leg.

Slowly lower your hips to the bench. Your leg will move in front of you as you lower. As you descend, keep your pelvis level.

Pause for a count. Then drive back to standing and then hinge forward at the hips. The leg should be in the air in front of you.

“If you can’t control the movement, you can reach out in front of you to keep your center of mass moving.”

Each leg will be worked on for 2–3 sets of 4–8 reps.

Box squat jumps

The box squat jump is a more dynamic movement than the box squat. Instead of just driving up forcefully, you are adding the ballistic nature at the top. It’s typically done without weight but can be performed wearing a weighted vest. Just keep the weight light.

The emphasis is on the jump. Good form and mechanics are important.

You would start and perform the box squat. Continue to drive yourself upward after you sit and pause, as you will add a jump at the end. After the jump, perform another repetition and then pause for a 1-2 count.

For 3 sets, complete 4–8 reps.

If your lower body routine has gotten boring or you want to vary the squat exercise, box squats are a good way to add variety to your workout.

They are also good for helping to push past a plateau in your squats. If you can’t add weight to your squats, try adding this movement. Taking the momentum out of the regular squat means you’ll have to work harder on the rising phase of the movement.

Box squats may be able to be performed by people who have difficulty doing a regular squat.

What’s the difference between a box squat and a regular squat?

The box squat uses a seated pause between the lowering and raising phases.

Is a box squat ‘cheating’?

No. The box squat removes the bounce from the squat. It can be more difficult because of the control.

Is a box squat easier or harder than regular squats?

Box squats are more difficult than standard squats. The challenge is increased by removing momentum.

What equipment can you use in a box squat?

Typically, people use a plyometric box, but you can certainly use a weight bench, chair, or coffee table. Any surface that is sturdy enough to hold your body weight, plus any additional weight you are holding, will work.

The box squat is a great way to add variety to your workout and help you push past a plateau in your squatting routine.