The squat is the quintessential lower body exercise for many folks that lift weights. It involves stabilizing your core and using the power of leg muscles to move the weight. There are many variations to the movement to emphasize different objectives.

The box squat is one such variation. It was popularized in powerlifting circles and has been used by many weightlifters.

Controlling the lowering phase of the movement can be a great option when you’re focusing on eccentric muscle work.

Conversely, the lifter can work on explosiveness during the concentric or lifting phase of the movement.

Box squats can add variety to your lifting or help you to focus on different aspects of the squatting movement. This can help you improve your standard barbell squat ability, especially if you are experiencing a workout plateau.

If the box squat is something you want to try, then it’s important to know what it is, how to perform it, and the benefits you can gain.

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The box squat is exactly like a standard squat, except that there is a dedicated pause at the bottom of the movement. It involves using a knee-height box that allows you to lower yourself until your thighs are relatively parallel with the ground.

The box squat typically involves a more vertical shin position than a traditional squat. In addition, the trunk is typically more upright than in the traditional squat and you stand with a wider stance. This positioning emphasizes the hip extensors during both phases of the movement.

The lift requires a squat rack and a plyometric box or bench at the appropriate height. The height of the box should allow your thighs to be parallel to the ground when you are seated.

Place a plyometric box approximately 3 feet behind the squat rack. This allows enough distance for you to comfortably squat without the bar running into the rack.

Also, start with either the bar or one very light weight to practice proper form. This movement uses less weight than the regular squat.

Next, step under the bar and position yourself so the bar is on your upper back (not directly on your neck). It will feel like the bar is on the natural shelf made by your shoulders. Position your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Unrack the weight and step back so the box is just behind your feet.

Keep your core tight and your feet wide with toes pointed slightly out. Unlock your hips to sit back, then bend your knees as you lower your body down to the box with good control. Keep your weight (center of mass) over your feet and descend until you’re sitting.

Think of pushing your knees out slightly as you lower to keep them in line with your feet. Some lifters refer to this as screwing your feet into the ground. This ensures your knees won’t cave in as you lower and raise, which puts undue stress on your knees.

Allow yourself to sit on the box for a 1-2 count but keep your trunk tall and active to continue holding the weight.

Then slightly hinge forward at your hips as you drive yourself upward squeezing your glutes and hamstrings to lift. Return to the upright position.

Perform 6–12 repetitions for 3–4 sets.

Animated GIF of woman doing box squats with a barbell

The height of the box you use will depend on your height and leg length. Select a box height that allows your thighs to be close to parallel with the ground when you are sitting.

The box height will also help you modify or progress the exercise. Use a taller box to make the exercise easier or a shorter box to add more difficulty. A higher box puts the joints through less range of motion, while the lower box increases it.

However, it’s important to know that joints also have more force on them the lower you go (1).

More force on the joints is not always a bad thing. However, if you’re experiencing pain, then it’s advisable to select a higher box. If you also have pain with other squatting movements or when using a taller box, it would be good to consult a medical professional before working on this movement.

The box squat targets the gluteal muscles of the buttocks. However, the hamstrings, quadriceps (front thigh), and front shin muscles are also working to perform the movement.

Your core muscles in the abdomen and back extensors are stabilizing your trunk during the movement. This keeps your spine neutral during the movement to prevent injury to the back.

The hip abductors are also working to stabilize the hips and knees during the movement. This decreases excessive torque at the knees as you lower and raise. In plain terms, it keeps your knees from caving in as you lower and raise yourself during the squat.

The box squat allows you to focus on the concentric (pressing up) and eccentric (lowering down) parts of the squat separately. It also helps to slow your movement and help you refine and control the entire range of motion.

The box squat adds focus to your buttocks and back extensor muscles as well as the rest of the muscles of the posterior chain.

Finally, the box squat can be easier on the knees given the pause in the middle of the movement. The angles are different at the knee joint and may be easier to tolerate than a standard squat.

The box squat is a variation of the standard squat. Nevertheless, there are some variations you can make to it that can add further variety to this movement. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

You can always substitute one or two of your sets with these variations that target the muscle in different ways.

Note that these variations are more challenging and therefore are typically performed as bodyweight exercises.

Single-leg box squat

The single-leg box squat is performed just like a typical box squat. This version is more difficult and is typically done without using weight. It challenges hip stability much more. The goal is to keep the hips level as you lower and raise (2).

Also, keep the knee in alignment with the foot as you raise and lower. You can check this by performing the exercise in front of a mirror.

Stand in front of the box, facing away from it, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Shift your weight onto one leg and lift the other foot slightly off the floor.

Bend your hips back and slowly lower down to the bench. Your leg in the air will move in front of you as you lower. Remember to keep your pelvis level as you descend.

Pause for a 1-2 count. Then hinge forward at the hips slightly as you drive back to standing. Keep the leg in the air in front of you throughout the movement.

If you have difficulty controlling the movement, you can reach your hands out in front of you to keep your center of mass forward.

Perform 2–3 sets of 4–8 repetitions on each leg.

Box squat jumps

The box squat jump is a more dynamic movement than the box squat. Instead of just driving up forcefully, you are adding the ballistic nature at the top. It’s typically done without weight but can be performed wearing a weighted vest. Just keep the weight light.

The emphasis is on the jump in this version. Thus, good form and mechanics are vital.

Start and perform as you would the regular box squat. However, after you sit and pause, continue to drive yourself upward adding a jump at the end. Pause for a 1-2 count after the jump and then perform another repetition.

Complete 4–8 repetitions for 3 sets.

Box squats are good for adding variety to a workout if your lower body routine has gotten stale or you want to vary the squat exercise.

They are also good for helping to push past a plateau in your squats. If you can’t add weight to your squats, try adding this movement. Taking the momentum out of the regular squat means you’ll have to work harder on the rising phase of the movement.

People who have difficulty performing a regular squat may be able to do box squats as they call for a longer pause between sitting and standing.

What’s the difference between a box squat and a regular squat?

The box squat uses a seated pause between the lowering and raising phases of a squat.

Is a box squat ‘cheating’?

No. The box squat removes the momentum from bouncing at the lowest point of the squat. It can be more difficult because it requires more control.

Is a box squat easier or harder than regular squats?

Box squats tend to be more difficult than a standard squat. They remove momentum, which increases the challenge.

What equipment can you use in a box squat?

Typically, people use a plyometric box, but you can certainly use a weight bench, chair, or coffee table. Any surface that is sturdy enough to hold your body weight, plus any additional weight you are holding, will work.

The box squat is an excellent way to add variety to your workout as well as help you push past a plateau in your standard squatting routine.