Box squats for athletes

Box squats

Box squats are a handy tool many athletes and powerlifters use to build their athletic power in the lower body and core. In this article, I will discuss who I think should be box squatting and why I believe professional athletes should use different variations of the squat but not in the way powerlifters do. Remember, every exercise is a tool, and the proper application for a specific case must be considered. The athletes I’m talking about are “million-dollar” and not powerlifters.

Who should box squat?

I’ve been fortunate to work with the NFL and NFL strength coaches on the big three lifts (squat/bench/dead). I’ve also had the opportunity to discuss, consult, teach and learn how they prepare their athletes for the games. In 2018, I did a seminar in Las Vegas with Dr. McGill, where we worked with all of the strength coaches in the NFL. NFL athletes don’t need to touch their butt on the ground with squats. They don’t play football that low, so why should they squat that low to the ground? I believe the box squat is a remedy for the problem. Depending on the player’s position, build, and height, they should squat accordingly to the box and not lower. Most set-ups I’ve seen in NFL training rooms have been anywhere from 3″ above parallel to 6″ or more. Again, depending on the group, the coach, where they are in the season, and their positions.

The juice has to be worth the squeeze

Some strength coaches get lost because these tremendous and robust athletes are not powerlifters. They are football players (or name it) and should be trained as such. It’s not a lifting contest; it’s a football contest. It doesn’t matter how much they lift if they cannot play on the field.

During the squat, One way to keep everyone on the same page is to squat in groups according to position (unique demands) and build. For example, linemen shouldn’t be squatting with the DBs and running backs while going to the same depth on the box squat. A set-specific range of motion works well for training in a team atmosphere where time is limited, and things must move fast in group training. I think squatting above parallel to a box for football players is something to consider, and I know many programs that implement high box squats for the main leg movement. In Gift of Injury, Dr. McGill and I discuss the box squatting of athletes in more detail.

Box squats and barbells

I feel that many athletes don’t ever need to have a bar on their backs often, if ever. This pertains to the NBA, NFL, UFC, and many other athletes that aren’t POWERLIFERS. Some athletes can get away with front squats or other variations like Goblet squats and get all they need out of the movement.

On the other hand, some athletes are close to 7′ tall and have an all-legs build, while others are closer to 5′ tall. What are you doing to train these two polar oppositely built athletes differently?  Seven footers? Not exactly the body you want to deep squat, maybe the punt returner at 5’3, 165. You can even take a heavy KB and goblet squat to a box for the taller athletes. Do we need to take it a step further and require more load? Add a KB goblet variation to a belt squat, squat down to a pre-set box, and explode up.

While some can squat to a box with a bar on their back just fine, others don’t have the ability to do so safely. Remember, if they aren’t powerlifters, they should not be training like one. The end goal has to match the chosen exercise and answer the question: will this improve me? If not, keep searching for a better tool.

For those looking for coaching, programming, or consulting, feel free to reach out to Brian Carroll HERE.


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Brian Carroll

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Brian is a retired world-class powerlifter with over two decades of world-class powerlifting. From 1999 to 2020, Brian Carroll was a competitive powerlifter, one of the most accomplished lifters in the sport's history. Brian started off competing in bench press competitions 'raw,' then, shortly into the journey, he gravitated toward equipped lifting as there were no "raw" categories then. You only had to choose from single-ply (USPF) and Multi-ply (APF/WPC). Brian went on to total 2730 at 275 and 2651 at 242 with more than ten times his body weight in three different classes (220, 242, 275), and both bench pressed and deadlifted over 800 pounds in two other weight classes. He's totaled 2600 over 20 times in 2 different weight classes in his career. With 60 squats of 1000lbs or more officially, this is the most in powerlifting history, regardless of weight class or federation, by anyone not named David Hoff. Brian realized many ups and downs during his 20+ years competing. After ten years of high-level powerlifting competition and an all-time World Record squat at 220 with 1030, in 2009, Brian was competing for a Police academy scholarship. On a hot and humid July morning, Brian, hurdling over a barricade at 275lbs, landed on, fell, and hurt his back. After years of back pain and failed therapy, Brian met with world-renowned back specialist Prof McGill in 2013, which changed his trajectory more than he could have imagined. In 2017, Brian Carroll and Prof McGill authored the best-selling book about Brian's triumphant comeback to powerlifting in Gift of Injury. Most recently (10.3.20) -Brian set the highest squat of all time (regardless of weight class) with 1306 lbs – being the first man to break the 1300lb squat barrier at a bodyweight of 303 lbs.
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