Fitness Tips

Box Squats Take It Easy on Your Joints, While Firing Up Every Muscle in Your Glutes and Lower Back

Saanya Ali

Photo: Getty/Khosrork
Whether you like them or not, squats are an integral part of most workouts. They’re classic, effective, easy to modify to your desired difficulty level, and they target the majority of your lower body, back, and core. The best part about squats is that there are so many ways to mix up the basic move—you can do them with just your bodyweight, with free weights or a barbell, plyometrically, against a wall, or just about any other way your heart desires. One trainer fave to keep in the rotation? The box squat.

In contrast to your typical, “I learned this in PE class,” air squat, the box squat places a bench or box behind your butt to sit on at the bottom of the movement. This allows you to push your hips further back into the squat and activate your hamstrings and glutes even more. (I assure you, sitting on the toilet the next day will be no easy feat—though you could, I suppose, practice your form there.)

What are the benefits of box squats?

They work your whole body

Like regular squats, box squats are compound exercises. This means that they attack more than one muscle group in a singular movement. The squat itself works your whole posterior chain while adding weight to the squat can incorporate your upper body as well, explains personal trainer, Liz Zarins, CSCS. Because in a box squat, the lowest part of the movement is determined and kept constant by the height of the box or bench, you're forced to exercise a heightened level of control and concentration as you dip down, which works the smaller muscles in the posterior chain as well as the bigger groups. This makes the movement slightly harder but does yield serious benefits as a result.

You have to practice control

Additionally, because you have to stay alert, in tune with every muscle in your body, and keep focused enough to sit on the bench or box beneath you when you dip down and push back up without losing your balance, the focus required in the movement also helps keep your breath steady, your core engaged, and exercises your brain, mental endurance, and bodily awareness while it works your lower body muscles, adds Nolan Parker, CPT and Product Manager for TrueCoach. Box squats don't allow you to rely on momentum to come to a standing position after you hit the bottom of the movement the way that regular squats do, you are forced to engage all of your muscles and your mind to focus on stability, mobility, and endurance.

Ready to try a box squat out for yourself? Follow along with step-by-step instructions from three top trainers.

How do you do a box squat?

1. Place a box, chair, or bench behind you. Make sure that it is at a height where, if you try to sit back on it, your knees reach at least a 90-degree angle.

2. Step out from your box or bench and position your feet a hips-width distance apart and pointing straight. If you are using added weight, place the barbell on the back of your shoulders and ensure that your heels are just barely touching the edge of the box.

3. Straighten your spine and engage your core then inhale as you hinge your hips and bend your knees over the box or bench until your bum hits it. “Attempt to keep your shins perpendicular to the box,” advises Nike and Rumble trainer Ash Wilking.

4. Ground your feet, engage your glutes, and push your hips forward to press back up into standing on your exhale.

5. Repeat.

What form mistakes should you look out for?

Wrong height of the box

When you’re doing a regular squat, you usually aim to dip your hips low to reap the greatest benefits. With a box squat, it’s imperative that you find a box that allows your knees to bend to about a 90-degree angle as you squat so as not to injure yourself. That said, if you are already injured, just beginning your training, or struggling with knee mobility, try starting out with a higher box and work your way down as you get stronger and more used to the movement, suggests Zarins.

Sitting too low

Having practiced air squats, it may feel natural to drop your hips far below your knees as you dip down into a squat position, but to practice proper form and control in a box squat, it's imperative that your hip only dips as low as parallel (or barely below) your thighs, explains Wilking.

Moving too quickly

Moving too quickly through box squats usually means that your body isn't coming to a full stop at the base of the move. "By coming to a full stop, we’re forced to start the movement [over] rather than quickly transfer our energy from lowering to standing" by relying on momentum to propel upwards, says Wilking. Focus on tempo. "Control the lower phase [of the movement] and fully sit on the box at a dead stop" before continuing on to the next rep, she adds.

Setting up too far away

"If you reach your hips excessively far back you will be forced to drop your chest which can lead to bad form. This could be dangerous if the weight is loaded on your back," so make sure your heels are touching or close to your box or bench, explains Parker.

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