Last updated on February 7th, 2023 at 12:52 pm
Your initial thoughts may be that the box squat must be easier because you have a box to support you.
But, the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.
Your overall body position changes during the box squat, which means that you’ll recruit certain muscles to a greater degree than the regular squat.
So, it’s important to understand the various learning points of the box squat.
The box squat when performed correctly is harder than the regular barbell back squat. Some lifters report that they actually find box squats easier, but this is because they are “bouncing” off the box. The aim is to come to a dead-stop on the box, while keeping all the muscles of the body tight. This removes the stretch reflex that is typically used to bring yourself back up from the regular squat. You’ll also find that the box squat allows you to reach back further, so your shins remain more vertical. This means that you’ll work the hamstrings and posterior chain to greater effect.
The Box Squat Performed Correctly is Harder
Firstly, I think it’s important to reiterate that the box squat is harder than the regular squat.
I’ve seen various online forum discussions referring to the ease of box squats, or the fact that many lifters find them far less difficult than the conventional squat.
There are even those who say that they can box squat with more weight than they do with normal barbell back squats.
This immediately points to an issue with form, which I’ll cover in more detail in a moment.
You should definitely be using less weight with box squats.
I know some people will say that the traditional method requires you to squat deeper, and therefore this must make it harder.
But again, I will also explain why more depth doesn’t always equal harder.
As long as you perform box squats correctly you will definitely find them more difficult.
Don’t “Bounce” Off the Box
The biggest mistake I see with the box squat is trainees using the box to bounce back up.
In fact, I have even heard people say that if you want to squat more weight you should incorporate the “bounce”.
In my mind this is completely wrong.
If you’re going to perform an exercise then do it correctly and adhere to strict form.
And bouncing should certainly NOT be part of the box squat.
In effect, bouncing completely negates the effectiveness of box squats.
There needs to be a definite pause at the bottom of the movement.
And it is this pause that makes the exercise more difficult than its traditional counterpart.
Another common error with the box squat is to completely relax during the pause phase.
It’s almost as though you actually sit down on the box and completely relax for a moment or two.
However, it’s important to keep the muscles of the body tight and contracted at the bottom of the movement.
You shouldn’t view this as rest or recovery, but more of a deliberate pause.
Plus, you are less likely to succumb to injury if you keep the body tight throughout.
The Regular Squat Uses Stretch Reflex
When you perform the regular squat you can take advantage of the stretch reflex.
In essence, this is a bounce to come back up from the bottom of the movement.
The stretch reflex is basically the body’s response to the stretching, or lengthening, of a muscle.
It can actually be used with a wide variety of exercises, not just squats.
In the case of the regular barbell back squat you should slowly lower yourself to the bottom of the movement.
Then the second you hit the bottom hole you literally spring yourself back up to the top of the squat.
If you descend too quickly (which many people do when they squat) it is harder to use the stretch reflex to get yourself back up.
Basically, the body’s muscles have to deal with excessive downward momentum.
Plus, if you pause at the bottom of the squat then you’ll be unable to take advantage of the stretch reflex.
This means that the squat becomes harder.
And as I’ve already mentioned, the box squat should incorporate a definite pause at the bottom.
If you use the stretch reflex properly with traditional squats you should find that it helps you create a much stronger squat.
The Box Squat Recruits More Muscles of the Posterior Chain
Something else to consider is the box squat allows you to reach back much further than the traditional squat.
This allows you to keep your shins in a much more vertical position.
In effect, this brings the hamstrings and the posterior chain into play much more.
And this is definitely something that most of us squatters need more of in our lives.
The traditional squat is typically viewed of a quad-dominant exercise, but it should also be working various muscles of the posterior chain.
Now, you would initially think that incorporating the muscles of the posterior chain to “help” would make the box squat easier.
However, in reality you are using the muscles more effectively during the movement.
Plus, you’ll also be hitting the larger lower body muscles to greater effect, which means that more effort is required.
A Quick Word of Depth and Mobility
You should definitely be squatting deeper with the traditional squat.
So, once again your initial thoughts may be that this makes box squats easier.
However, let’s not forget that you can use stretch reflex to literally “bounce” yourself back out of the increased depth.
Unfortunately, you don’t have this luxury with box squats.
I would also say that you shouldn’t box squat as deep as you would with the conventional squat.
You’ll typically find that you won’t be sitting on the correct part of the posterior chain (you usually end up sitting on the pelvis rather than the top of the hamstrings).
Plus, box squatting extremely low can become very awkward.
In fact, due to the pause at the bottom you may not even be able to get yourself back up again.
That being said, you can still increase mobility with the box squat even though you aren’t squatting as deep.
And this will definitely have a carry over to the regular squat.
Key Learning Points
- Box squats are harder than regular squats.
- Regular squats allow you to use “stretch reflex” at the bottom of the movement.
- You can reach back further with box squats, thus meaning your shins should remain more vertical when compared to regular squats.
- You will recruit more muscles of the posterior chain, which once more makes box squats harder.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.