Why You Should Be Doing Box Squats

Fitness experts explain why box squats have major benefits for fitness newbies and pros alike — plus exactly how to do the move IRL.

Classic air squats will always be an integral part of any workout program. But if you want to maximize your glute gains and take your lower-body strengthening to the next level, you've got to switch it up from time to time. Sure, you could try any of these bodyweight squat variations, or of course, you could add weight, but you should really be trying your hand (err, butt) at box squats.

"Box squats are a seriously great tool for boosting body awareness, busting through a squat plateau, and, sometimes, for rehabbing an injury," says Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., founder of Training2XL. Because those are some pretty impressive benefits for one movement, here, experts break down exactly how to do box squats and why they're so great.

Box Squat Basics

Box squats are just squats...down to a box. More specifically, box squats entail squatting until your butt taps a box (or bench, or chair) positioned behind you. You can do box squats with just your body weight or weighted with any type of equipment, though they're commonly done with a barbell.

The biggest difference between box squats and box-free squats is that the "bottom" (lowest point) of your squat is dictated by the height of the box. During regular squats, the ideal depth is with your hips below your knees — but that might vary, depending on your strength as well as ankle, hip, and thoracic spine mobility, says Luciani. (P.S. did you know one of the main squat mistakes is not going to depth?)

FTR, you can also do single-leg box squats as a way to work toward a pistol squat, if you're looking for a challenge.

How to Do a Box Squat

The height of the box is arguably the most important part of this whole thing. "Whenever you do a squat, you want to aim to break parallel," says CJ Hammond, a NASM-certified personal trainer. That's why, if it's possible for you, you want to aim for a box that allows your knees to bend into (at least) a 90-degree angle, he says.

If a lack of mobility or an injury keeps you from dropping that low, opt for a slightly higher box, recommends Hammond. The goal is to find a box that's just above where your form goes kaput, where your injury starts to nag, or where your mobility becomes a limiting factor.

Here's how to complete a rep:

A. Set up a box, chair, or bench. Stand a few inches away, facing away from the box with feet hips-width apart, toes pointed straight ahead or slightly out at 15 degrees.

B. If squatting with a barbell, screw pinkies into the bar to activate the lats. Keeping core engaged and chest tall, take a deep breath, hinge at hips, and bend knees to lower until butt touches the box.

C. Keeping chest tall and core tight, sit down on the box.

D. Push feet into the ground, squeeze glutes, and drive hips forward to press back to standing, exhaling on the way up.

E. Squeeze glutes at the top (but don't thrust hips forward).

Let weight determine rep count: If doing bodyweight box squats, aim for 12 to 16 reps. Otherwise, aim for 6 to 12 reps, as weight allows (with good form).

Benefits of Box Squats

Box squats can be beneficial to newbie exercisers and advanced athletes alike — but how each category of athlete uses them will be different. Below, a few reasons to consider adding box squats to your leg day routine.

Work Your Entire Lower Body

The box squat — and the squat in general — is a killer compound exercise that hammers your hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, and core. And, if you're holding a weight in front or behind you (think: barbell back squat or goblet squat), you're also working your upper body. In summary: Box squats build strong bodies.

Strengthen Hamstrings and Glutes

Many people tend to be quad-dominant, meaning their quads like to take over and do more of the work in leg workouts. Box squats can help you tap into the strength of the muscles in your posterior chain — the back side of your body — including your glutes and hamstrings.

"Box squats recruit your hamstrings and glutes more than regular squats," says Luciani. Why? In a regular squat, your center of gravity is further forward. "With box squats, you're actively trying to reach your hips back toward the box, which results in you sitting further back. As a result, the glutes, hips, and hamstrings are more active," she explains.

Build Awareness of Your Squat Depth

"A lot of beginner lifters lack awareness of exactly how far down they're squatting," says Luciani. Because the box is the bottom of the squat, box squats are an excellent way to help new athletes learn what certain depths feel like and get feedback about how low they're going without a coach (or video) telling them, she says. "This helps new lifters become more comfortable and confident in the squat movement pattern," adds Hammond. (

Get Stronger at the Bottom of Your Squat

For experienced lifters who are very comfortable squatting and have stellar body awareness, box squats have another benefit: helping you get stronger — and in some cases, helping you bust through strength plateaus. "Typically, what keeps people from hitting a squat PR is the transition from the concentric (down) to the eccentric (up) portion of the squat," explains Luciani. Meaning, you can lower to the bottom of a squat, but then can't stand the bar back up.

Box squats allow you to become stronger at that specific sticking point. "During box-free squats, even really strong, good movers tend to use momentum to stand the weight back up, which ultimately puts limits on them when they go heavy," says Luciani. With box squats, you can't use momentum. Instead, the box makes you come to a full stop, which forces you to engage all of the squat muscles and use pure strength to return to standing.

Work Toward a PR

Because they help you get stronger at the bottom of your squat, adding box squats to your programming can help you get past a strength plateau. Let's say, for instance, you can back squat 200 pounds (go you!), but keep failing 210 pounds. You might program 5 sets of 5 reps of box squats (with a box that's around where the bottom of your squat usually falls) at 75 to 85 percent of your one-rep max twice a week for six weeks to get stronger at the bottom, says Luciani. After six weeks? Well, no promises, but you very well could be ringing the PR bell.

Rehab Injuries

Box squats are also a great rehab tool. For example, certain knee or hamstring injuries may only allow you to squat down four or five inches. "Box squats allow you to keep training the squat movement pattern in partial reps without aggravating the injury," says Luciani. (Of course, if you're rehabbing an injury, check in with your physical therapist or trainer before adding these to your regime willy-nilly.)

Improve Your Ability to Stand Up IRL

There's also the fact that squats (and box squats) are the ultimate functional exercise. Seriously, just think about how many times you squat down throughout the day to the toilet alone! "The more your train the functional movement patterns when you're young, the more likely you'll be able to do those movement patterns as you get old," says Luciani. Graceful aging and injury prevention? You love to see it.

How to Add Box Squats to Your Workout

Exactly how you incorporate box squats into your workout will depend on why you're incorporating them.

Beginner: If you've never squatted weight before, stick to bodyweight squats. Do 12 to 16 reps at a time, recommends Hammond.

Intermediate: If you're neither a newbie nor a big-time lifter, grab a kettlebell and do 5 sets of 8 reps of goblet box squats, suggests Luciani.

Advanced: If you're ultimately hoping to squat heavier, do 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps, suggests Luciani. "Start light and build up in weight; these will likely be harder than you're expecting. And make sure that you're getting at least 1 to 2 minutes of rest in between each set so that your body has time to recharge," she adds.

Note: The only downside of box squats comes not from the movement itself, but from over-incorporating them into your workout routine, according to Luciani. "Box squats are a great tool, but if you're not injured, you still need to be doing standard squats so you can continue getting stronger at the full range of motion," she says.

Oh, and do yourself a solid and prioritize recovery after leaving the gym. Because you're coming to a full stop on the box with every rep, your lower-body muscles have to work harder than they're used to during each and every rep. So, you might be extra sore during the day(s) after.

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