Box Squat

How To Do A Proper Box Squat
By Alli McKeeFebruary 11, 2016

Box Squat Exercise

The box squat is a great exercise for strengthening the muscles in the lower body, most notably, the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. The box squat is a great option for women who want to learn how to do barbell back or front squats, but don't currently have the technical proficiency, strength, stability, or mobility to perform these more advanced variations.

Equipment needed:

A barbell and a bench/box should be used for this exercise. A traditional barbell may be used and to increase the resistance users may add weight plates to each side. Some gyms have fixed weight barbells which are shorter than a traditional barbell and the resistance is not adjustable. These fixed weight barbells often increase in resistance by 5-10 pounds (50 lbs, 55 lbs, 60 lbs, 65 lbs, and so on). As for the bench/box, the height will dictate the difficulty of the exercise. The lower the bench/box, the more challenging it will be. Make sure you select a height of bench/box that will allow you to use good box squat technique.

Ability level:


The box squat is a great option for beginners who are looking to master the basic squatting movement pattern, and are looking to develop the strength, mobility, and technical proficiency to be able to perform more advanced barbell squatting variations. In some instances, the barbell box squat might be too advanced for women who are just beginning to strength train. If this is the case, you might prefer to start with the bodyweight box squat, or the goblet box squat.


The box squat is a great option for the intermediate lifter. You can perform this exercise on its own, you can pair it with another upper body pushing or pulling exercise as part of a superset, or can you even make it part of a metabolic conditioning circuit. However, if you are planning on using heavy resistance, it should be done towards the beginning of the workout when the body is fresh. Intermediate lifters might perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps of the box squat.


Women who are comfortable with the box squat can choose to perform negative box squats where the lowering phase is increased to 3-5 seconds. This trains the muscles eccentrically. You can also perform the pause box squat variation, pausing for 3-5 seconds when you are halfway down to the box, or you can combine the negative and pause squat variations. You can also increase the weight/resistance for multiple sets (2-4+) of fewer repetitions (3-6). You can also challenge the glutes by placing a resistance band both above and below the knees, and actively pressing both knees out against the bands while performing the box squat.

Benefits of Box Squats:

There are many box squat benefits. The box squat is very beneficial for someone who might not currently have the requisite levels of technical proficiency, strength, stability and mobility to perform barbell back squats. How a woman chooses to use the box squat is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, how much weight is being used, the set/rep scheme used, where the exercise falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general, the box squat can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing lower body strength, primarily in the quads, glutes, and hamstrings
  • increasing core strength, particularly the anterior core
  • building muscle
  • fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
  • increasing conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)
  • improving sports specific performance
  • improving squatting proficiency and allowing women to perform more advanced barbell back and front squat variations

How to perform a Box Squat:

  • Set up a bench or box so it is directly behind you. Make sure that it is close enough to you that you are not going to miss it when you sit down, but not too close that you are unable to break at both the knees and hips without bumping into the bench/box.
  • Set up the barbell in the squat rack so it is at the level of your upper traps/top of your shoulders. You should not have to stand on your tip toes to reach the bar, nor should you have to bend down.
  • Set your feet so they are about hip width apart in the heels and shoulder width apart in the toes. However, if a slightly wider stance is more comfortable, feel free to do that. Some find that a shoulder width stance works best. Most women find that it feels best when the toes are slightly pointed out.
  • Before you get underneath the bar, grab on to the bar with both hands, and position them as you would when you are going to squat. Generally, placing your hands so they are much wider than shoulder width apart works best for most women. However, due to differences in mobility or structure, some women might prefer to use a slightly wider width, and others a more narrow one.
  • Now that your hands are set, position your entire body so it is directly underneath the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down, and rest the barbell on the ridge of your muscle that is your upper traps. The bar should never rest on your neck. Your hands should be gripping the bar firmly, and you should be pulling it down to this ridge of muscle as this will create stability in your upper body and spine.
  • Before you lift the bar, take a deep breath in through your nose (360 degrees of air around the spine), brace your core (imagine that you're about to block a soccer ball with your stomach), and lightly tuck your rib cage down towards your hips (close the space in your midsection), now stand up with the bar on your back. Take several steps back so you are in position. The fewer steps you have to take, the better.
  • Before you descend into the squat, take a deep breath in through your nose (360 degrees of air around the spine), brace your core (imagine that you're about to block a soccer ball with your stomach), and lightly tuck your rib cage down towards your hips (close the space in your midsection).
  • While maintaining muscular control and the same tempo the entire time, simultaneously move at the knees and hips, and aim to sit between your heels and onto the bench/box .
  • Once you are seated on the bench/box, it is absolutely vital that you maintain muscular tension the entire time. You cannot disengage your muscles. This will place you at a greater risk of injuring yourself. It is also important to note that once you hit the bench with your glutes, your body should stop moving. Many people sit down and allow their body to rock backwards.
  • After a brief pause on the bench, stand up by driving your body away from the floor with your feet and squeezing your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • Lock out at the top position by squeezing your glutes, quads and hamstrings, bracing your core, and keeping your rib cage down (closing the space in your midsection) as this will prevent your lower back from arching and will help you maintain proper alignment.
  • With the box squat, you can keep your torso slightly more upright than you would with the back squat (more like a front squat). However, if your goal is to be able to do back squats, you should have more of a forward lean in your torso and should really focus on sitting back with your hips and simultaneously breaking at the knees. The amount of torso lean will also depend on your body structure. Generally, people with longer femurs tend to lean forward more than people with shorter femurs.
  • Make sure that your weight remains in the mid-back portion of your feet but keep your toes down, particularly your big and baby toes. This will improve your stability and strength, and ability to perform the exercise.
  • Maintain a neutral spine for the duration of the exercise.
  • Do not allow your knees to collapse in or fall outside of your feet.
  • Squat only as deep as proper form allows you to go. Do not sacrifice form for depth. If you need to use a higher box/bench, do so until your form permits you to go to a lower box/bench.
  • Reset before each rep, and repeat for the desired number of reps.
  • Make your first set your warm-up set and just use the barbell, and only add more weight when you have good form.
  • All of the above is how to do box squats

Video Transcription: 

At Girls Gone Strong we get a lot of questions about how to squat properly. While squats are a  fantastic exercise, there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of things to think about so it is important that you know the really simple variations before you move on to something that is a little bit more complicated.

The way that we generally start people off is with a bodyweight box squat. You’re going to set up a bench or box - something behind you. You are going to set up with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart.  One thing to keep in mind, as with every exercise but especially your squats, is that your squat form is going to look a little bit different than everybody else's just based on your unique leverages, and your movement history, and your ability, your limb length.  But in general starting with your feet a little wider than shoulders width apart and toes turned out slightly is going to work really well for most woman. Now there are a lot of girls we have seen who may have been taught how to lift by their boyfriends, who are powerlifters or something. We see them starting with their stance really really wide and their toes turned out a lot. While this squat stance works for certain people and certain instances (for example, powerlifters) for our general population, women just want to look good and feel good, we find that a moderate stance makes more sense.

So start with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart, toes turned out slightly, you are going to set your core by taking a big, deep breath in through your nose, blowing your air out and getting your stomach nice and tight, then you are going to breathe in again to help stabilize your core. It's going to look something like this: big breath in, blow your air out and get your rib cage down, get the core nice and braced, fill up with air and then you are ready to squat. This is what helps stabilize your spine throughout the squat. Now we like having the bench or box behind you, because it teaches woman to sit back into their hips. A lot of women, if they come from a dance background or are really quad dominant, will find that they either try to plie down into their squat or they get pulled forward because they are more quad dominant when they really need to be sitting back into their hips, so that's what that's for.

A big breath in, blow your air out, fill up with air,  I generally put my hands right here because eventually you will be holding a kettlebell here.  Drive your knees out and sit back into your hips. You are going to sit all the way onto the box or the bench but you're not going to relax, you are just going to put your weight on there, you are going to brace your core, and you are going to stand up. You will have a little bit more of a forward lean on a box squat then you would a free squat and that's ok. You will especially have a more of a forward lean if you are like me and your torso is really short and your legs are really long. I am going to demonstrate this again. Big deep breath in, blow my air out, set the rib cage, brace my core, breathe in again, fill up circumferentially, sit back and drag my knees out and brace my core and stand up.

A couple of things that you will notice:

-- I am not slamming down into the box. That's really important, especially if you end up box squatting with weight on your back, the last thing you need is to slam all your weight down on the box. I’m keeping it under control by keeping my core nice and tight. I am going to show you again. Big breathe in, blow your air out, breathe in again and sit back.

-- You will notice I am driving my knees out. A lot of woman, especially if their glutes are a little too weak or their hips are weak, have a tendency to let their knees cave. Drive your knees out, brace your core and stand up. Again we find that this stance works really well for woman who just want to look good, feel good, feel healthy and strong.

-- When it comes to bracing your core - when you are doing a bodyweight squat it is not that important to be super, super tense because you want to reserve that for times when you are lifting really heavy weight.  But if you haven't gotten use to bracing your core before then starting to brace a little bit harder on this exercise is totally fine and then eventually keeping the core nice and tight will come a little bit more naturally. But again you generally want to reserve the really hard brace for when you are using a lot of weight.

Now I am going to show you what it looks like from the side. Get my stance set up, set my core, sit back, (you will notice that I’ve got a little bit of a forward lean), brace my core, and stand up. One thing that is really important is that you don't want to let your butt tuck under and then fling yourself up off the bench. You will see a lot of woman sit back, tuck their butt under, then fling themselves up like this. This is not what you want to do. You are going to keep this nice and braced the whole time, sit back, stay nice and tight, and stand up.

The other thing that is really different about a box squat that people need to keep in mind is that there is a difference between a box squat and a squat to box. A box squat is where you actually put your weight on the box, whereas a squat to box is where you just tap it with your butt to gauge depth. This is a squat to box and this is a box squat.

Once you have mastered the bodyweight box squat you are free to move on to a bodyweight squat without the box.


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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at

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