When it comes to leg exercises, squats are king.
There’s something special about loading a barbell with a heavy-ass weight, descending into hell and summoning all of your inner strength to power back out of the hole, right?
If I had to choose, I’d class barbell squats as the only exercise to rival the deadlift in terms of it’s effectiveness.
And over the years, squats have proven themselves as the definitive leg exercise which requires more raw strength and power than any other in it’s class.
Or so we thought.
Researchers recently discovered an exercise which requires us to summon even more strength and power than the barbell squat.
Better still, the benefits of using this “secret weapon” exercise can carry over and dramatically improve your performance during regular squats!
The exercise I am speaking about is, of course, box squats.
Although a very useful lower body exercise, this variation of squats is widely overlooked by the masses in favor of the old favorites on leg day; leg extension, leg curl and calf raise.
It’s often put into the same bin as Front Squats and Sumo Squats, filed under “I want to try this, but am worried in case I do it wrong.”
But there’s no reason to do this.
A box squat is simply a regular barbell squat with a box (or bench) placed under your butt at the bottom of each rep.
Don’t allow yourself to “sit and relax,” instead pause for a brief moment as your butt touches the box before powering back up.
The brief pause at the bottom serves two primary objectives:
- Improves technique and control.
- You will be able to overload the bar with weight.
I mainly use this exercise during two separate phases with clients.
The first of which is as a correctional exercise designed to make sure that a client is getting to at least parallel on their reps.
By having that comfort zone of a box/bench under them, it removes the fear of falling and teaches them how to sit back into the rep – a very effective technique to use if someone has never squatted with a free bar before.
But the added security of taking a brief moment on the box before powering back up allows you to pack on some serious weight.
Once someone doesn’t need to use it as a security blanket exercise for real squats, the gloves can come off.
No longer is it the friendly cousin of barbell squats.
It’s the fucking monster hiding under your bed.
And every so often it bursts out, fucks shit up, then heads back into the darkness.
Kinda like The Undertaker.
You see, with a box, you should always be expecting to be able to squat substantially more weight.
And you’ll notice that whenever I include this exercise in my free workouts plans, I call for you to use heavy-ass weights.
Because as far as increasing max lifts is concerned, this exercise is just damn effective.
Whenever a client wants to increase their squat and he or she isn’t already using box squats, it is one of those reliable supplementary exercises which is immediately drafted into their program and always delivers on it’s promise of brutality.
It’s also a very useful squat variation for those with lower back issues.
Much more useful than granny squats.
Box Squats vs Regular Squats
Given the fact that you can pack more weight on the bar during this exercise, it has long been theorized that this makes it a real threat to barbell squats for the title “King Of Leg Exercises.”
So now we’ll be putting this theory to the test, as we compare box squats vs regular squats.
Researchers from Appalachian State University, USA, set out to get some facts on the subject. (1)
They looked at the muscle power and force generated by participants during both versions of the squat, and they recorded a noticeable difference in results.
In fact, when subjects performed box squats they were able to summon significantly more strength and power than when performing regular barbell squats.
A New King?
Steady on there, cowboy.
I’m sure some controversy-seeking media outlets who stumbled across this study may have ran out there screaming that you should immediately replace squats with this new, “better” exercise.
But that’s not what you should do.
You see, one of the reasons we are able to generate more power during box squats is due to the fact that it allows us to load the bar with a heavier weight than we could normally lift.
And the reason we can do this?
Because it eliminates a lot of the smaller muscles involved in a barbell squat, such as your abs and lower back.
So while the box squat is very useful for increasing your lower body strength, it’ll not give you the secondary benefits associated with a regular barbell squat.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably remember a recent article in which I taught you the benefits of using a trap bar deadlift to increase your strength on regular deadlifts. In that article, I talked about how the trap bar would enable you to lift a heavier weight by eliminating some of the smaller muscle groups and, in the case of that exercise, switching the center of gravity.
Those benefits can then pass over to your regular deadlift (you get stronger = your deadlift gets bigger).
This findings of this study on box squats vs regular squats should be viewed in much the same way.
Overall, the regular barbell squat must remain the king of leg exercises without question.
What we have here in box squats, however, is a very useful supplementary tool for increasing your performance on your biggest exercise.
By incorporating this into your routine every few weeks, or when you hit a plateau with your squat weight, you will see a fantastic return when it comes to boosting that one rep max!
Now it’s time to get to work and apply the knowledge in today’s article. If you enjoyed reading this piece on box squats vs regular squats, give it a share.
Don’t forget to jump on my free email list (notifications of new training articles) at the bottom this article, and you can find all my workout plans here.
- McBride, J. M., et al. Comparison Of Kinetic Variables And Muscle Activity During A Squat Vs. A Box Squat. J Strength Cond Res 24(3):779-84, 2010.