Start Free

How to Do Box Squats

mindset train Nov 02, 2023

A client looked at his new training program and frowned.

"Squats again, Coach?" he asked.

I gave him a look that said, "There is never an absolute answer to everything, except of course that you have to do your squats."

I didn't actually say this, my look said it.

Squats come in many different varieties: belt squats, box squats, free squats, etc.

You don’t see box squats commonly performed in the gym because the majority of even the most experienced lifters don’t know how to do a box squat correctly.

This move will make you better at picking up the keys you just dropped on the floor or standing up or, well, pretty much everything you do every single day.

How to Do Box Squats

By Joseph Arangio, MS, CSCS

Originally appeared in Men's Journal

For functional leg strength, you'd be hard pressed to find a better exercise than the not-so-common box squat.

Think of it as the lost twin of the traditional back squat — similar looking, yet rarely seen.

The box squat eliminates the bounce-at-the-bottom effect that often happens during a classic back squat. Without the bounce, you're forced to fire more muscles to raise back up.

This makes it a great tool for building your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, along with your mid and upper back.

Start with a box height that allows you to squat so your thigh is no more than three inches above or below parallel to the floor.

Coaching tip: Choose a box as tall as your leg from ankle to knee.

If your box is too short, add a few weight plates or rubber mats on top. If your gym doesn't have boxes, straddle a bench.

On leg day, replace a non-functional machine exercise, like seated knee extensions, with four sets of five reps of box squats (see a video demo here).

The first two sets are your warm-up, so go easy.

For the final two sets, choose a weight that's challenging but allows you to perform the exercise with perfect form.

And keep these five tips in mind:

#1: Get mad at the bar

A quality box squat starts with a focused set-up.

Grab the bar and squeeze tight, like it just insulted you. Use a shoulder-width grip.

Duck under and pull your shoulders back so the bar sits on the natural shelf created by your shoulder blades.

#2: Tear the bar apart

Pull your elbows forward, take a deep belly breath, and tighten your midsection, like you're preparing for a gut punch.

Imagine the bar is a towel and you're pulling it taut, bringing your shoulder blades down and back. This creates tension in your lats, which is transferred to muscles that protect the spine.

Maintain this tightness in your upper body and unrack the bar. To conserve energy, take only two steps back.

Make sure one corner of the box is angled forward so you can straddle that corner. Set your feet wider than shoulder width and turn your toes out slightly. 

#3: Push your hips back

Keeping core tight, back flat, and chest up, reach your hips back while driving knees out. Think of someone standing behind you, pulling you by a rope that's tied around your waist.

When you can't shove your hips back any farther, push a little more. Sitting way back on the box allows you to keep shins perpendicular to the floor, which helps reduce knee pain.

#4: Sit on "broken glass"

Slowly lower to the box without rounding your upper back or losing belly tension.

Don't plop down. This places excessive pressure on the lower spine.

Instead, imagine you're sitting on broken glass — you should only pause on the box for a second or two.

This pause allows elastic energy, built up in your muscles and soft tissues, to dissipate as you change directions from squatting to standing.

You'll reduce injury risk while boosting the effectiveness of the exercise.

#5: Blast off the box

Drive through heels, push knees out, and explode through hips to stand. To build better strength, resist the urge to rock off the box.

Something else to consider.

When it comes right down to it, I want what you want… right?

We both want to escape the problems and challenges we have today and arrive at a place where we are able to do what we want, have what we want, and feel like we want.

And, at least for most people… when that journey gets difficult… the appeal of the "easy road" gets bigger.

Some of this is just how we, as humans, are wired.

We’re attracted towards the promise of easy-and-fast over the hard-and-slow.

It’s nothing new...the story of the Tortoise and the Hare has been told for centuries.

Remember the Hare who ridicules a slow-moving Tortoise?

Tired of the Hare's arrogant behavior, Tortoise challenges him to a race.

The hare soon leaves the tortoise behind and, overconfident of winning, takes a nap midway through the race.

Tortoise continues to move very slowly but without stopping... and finally it wins the race.

The moral of the story is that you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than by acting quickly and carelessly.

And I agree 100%.

Be the tortoise.

I'm here to tell you I've never met a successful client-athlete who wasn't committed to doing the work...

Being consistent.

"Playing the long game," as you've heard me say.

And enjoying the process too.

To your success,

Coach Joe



Joseph Arangio helps 40+ men and women get leaner, stronger, and happier. He's delivered over 100,000 transformation programs to satisfied clients around the globe. If you want to lose weight from home, with the best online personal trainer, or you want to visit the best personal trainer in the Lehigh Valley, you can take a free 14-day trial.

Don't Boil the Ocean

Cyber Monday Savings

Fall Phase 2: Week 9

Start Your Free 14-Day Trial

Learn the proven step-by-step system to lose weight, get strong, and slow aging. Your first two weeks are on us.