Why You Should Box Squat

By Brian Carroll

Box squatting doesn’t suck. I know it’s considered cool to shit on box squats these days, but once again, when you’re looking at your own programming—and you want to do stuff that actually works—you need to move past giving a flying f**k what the “cool kids” are telling you to do or not do.

When I first started powerlifting in 1999—my first full meet was in 2003—I remember the following.

1. Ed Coan was already immortal.

2. Steve Goggins squatting 1102 pounds in 2003.

3. How badass Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell were, and how cool the WPO and Mountaineer Cup looked.

I still respect and admire all of these people and things just as much as I did over a decade ago. In fact, I actually have a greater respect for all of it than ever, because I now understand how hard it is to stay around this game for decades. It’s not easy. Anyone can be a short-term flash in the pan, but success over the long haul is another story altogether.

Calling Bullshit

I’ve heard lots of people say lately that Louie Simmons’ system doesn’t work. I’ve also heard people say that it’ll only work with certain types of lifters. Both of these claims are absurd to me. If something isn’t working, the solution could be as simple as replacing box squats with free squats, and vice-versa. We’re all different, and we all have different anatomies, but you can’t use this as a reason why an entire system isn’t effective.

That’s silly. As Joe Rogan would say, “Don’t be a silly bitch.” If you’re going around saying Louie Simmons doesn’t know what he’s talking about, you’re being a “silly bitch.” It’s that simple. He does know what he’s talking about. I’m not telling you to be a zombie and do everything he says to do, but it’s also not a good idea to impugn his entire system just because one or two moderately strong people tell you to.

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With any program, the key is to adapt everything to your individual needs. Louie and I may not agree on every little detail concerning training, but why would we? Still, discounting everything the guy has to say after he’s spent nearly fifty years under the bar would be idiotic on my behalf.

Rick Hussey and Louie had two totally different ways of going about peaking their athletes, and they both produced a crapload of great lifters. More than anyone else combined, in fact. That’s why I’m always telling you not to be a “program jumper,” because you don’t know how good a program can actually be until you’ve been coached. This applies directly to box squatting. You won’t know what it can do for you until you give it the time it deserves.

Strength Is Not A Static Process

Here’s the thing about strength:

We’re all wired differently. Mentally and physically, we won’t all respond to the same things, and there are many variables we need to consider. As far as box squats are concerned, they work, and they should be used at one time or another as a main movement in your programming. At the very least, you should try using them as an assistance movement for a period of time, just to see how you’ll respond.

Here’s a little history:

I started training with Adam Driggers in 2003. Prior to that, I did my own thing, training with progressive overload and the occasional deload here and there. Once I joined forces with Adam, we did a straight Westside program—which did wonders for my squat, but didn’t move my deadlift very much. Was this as a result of box squatting? No, but at the time, that’s what I thought the problem was.

After training this way for about a year or so, I took away the box for my main movements and started free squatting—even though I’d added 100 pounds to my squat while doing box squats. What happened? My squat and deadlift took off even more. What the f**k?

My point in all this ambiguity? You have to experiment to see what works for you, especially if you’re a beginner. You have to put your time in and see what works for you over the long haul—as opposed to jumping programs every ten or twenty weeks. Jumping to something else every time you see someone hitting big numbers is not a good idea. That’s the whole purpose of 10/20/Life—to help you custom design programs for your needs. Switching things up and seeing improvements was what worked for me at that point.

Finding What Worked

Once I started to free squat more, I felt more comfortable and locked in at meets. Most people seem to get a lot of help with their deadlift from box squatting, but I didn’t. I can’t make the blanket statement that box squats don’t work, however, because there could have been other factors playing in. It’s possible that I was box squatting wrong, I wasn’t tight enough, or that we’d simply programmed them incorrectly.

Ten years later, after a few world record squats, box squats are something I would advise for assistance work, because that’s where they did work for me. Then again, however, depending on your injury history, they may actually be the best thing for you.

The point here is that there’s no singular gospel truth I can offer you at this point, and nobody else can give it to you either. Blasting you with a definitive yes or no would be unwise, because it really depends on a lot of different factors. I needed to practice like I played, and free squatting gave me more confidence to handle heavy loads. The point here is that any program can work with you make the right adjustments and give it time to play out. Box squats served their purpose at that point in my development, and I’ll bet they’d have similar positive benefits for you.

Working Them In

If you’re in need of squat help and you’re only moderately experienced, you probably have a weak posterior chain, and you’re a quad squatter. You can do well as a quad squatter, but after time, your goal should be to start maximizing your potential by using every muscle group at your disposal. This is where box squats can help.

Used in the offseason, box squats help you practice getting faster out of the bottom, without the rebound of a free squat. Combined with light/form free squats, this can be a very effective way to develop speed and break up the monotony of a ten week cycle. Now, I rotate box squats with pause squats and front squats as part of my assistance work. They’re a great way to open up your hips, and you can even use them as a warm-up for squatting or deadlifting.

The reality here is that you’re just going to have to try box squatting for yourself. It might work for you. If it does, then box squat often, because for everyone who says box squatting sucks, I can introduce you to two dozen people who swear by it. Honestly? Unless you have twenty years of training under your belt, you shouldn’t even be talking about this shit. Dave Hoff box squats for some of his main movements. I don’t, but our squat numbers are pretty similar. Two different paths, same result.

After all this back and forth, here’s how I’d suggest adding box squats to your routine:

TECHNIQUE: Don’t just plop down onto the box. Instead sit back and relax your hips without relaxing your back or core. Once you touch the box, explode back up. Don’t move on the box, and don’t rock, because that’s just asking for a back injury.

PROGRAMMING: Consider adding box squats to your offseason work for ten weeks, then transfer to free squats when you’re ten weeks out from your meet or test day. If you don’t want to box squat as a main movement, there are alternatives.

Add box squats in as your “Assistance A” move—see 10/20/Life book—on either squat or deadlift day. If you’re a good free squatter with weak hamstrings or quads, try this:

1. Free Squats: 5×5 (RPE 7)

2. High Box Squats (Heavy): 3×8 (This will hammer your quads).

If you have weak hips and you’re slow out of the bottom of your squat, try this:

1. Low Box Squats (Heavy): 3×8 (This will hammer your hips).

2. Sumo Deadlift: 5×5 (RPE 7)

3. Super Low Box Squats (Moderate Weight): 3×6 (This will teach you how to explode out of the bottom of your deadlift).

Finally, stop listening to weak “gurus.” If you really want to get strong, you can’t discount anything—especially something that’s worked for literally thousands of strong people. Try new things, experiment with different movements, and find what works for you.

Get started the right way on the rest of your career with 10/20/Life.

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Brian Carroll

Brian is a world-class powerlifter with over two decades of elite and pro-level powerlifting under his belt. Coming back from a devastating back injury in 2012 that broke multiple bones and that most experts said he would never recover from, he has returned to the pinnacle of world-class lifting (while 100% pain and symptom-free) and is now dedicated to helping others avoid the same mistakes that he made in the past through private and group coaching in Jacksonville, FL. Brian’s impressive recovery has given him the opportunity to teach and deliver talks to physical therapists, chiropractors, medical doctors, professional strength & conditioning coaches and experts from all facets of sport, on how to avoid injury, while building anti-fragile strength and resilience in athletes.
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