Cliff Notes on Box Squats

While the box squat is generally considered a fairly advanced movement (and it is), it might come as a surprise to know that we use them quite often with beginners at CP- particularly with regards to teaching proper squat technique.  Lets be real, most people don’t come remotely close to squatting to full depth (for the record, full depth equates to the point where the anterior surface of the thigh is BELOW the knee joint), let alone performing anything that you’d actually, you know, call a squat.  Most guys kinda bend their knees a little bit and call it squatting, like this guy.

Nice try, thanks for playing.  My eyes hate me now.

Nevertheless, the box squat is a superb way to keep people honest and “groove” the proper pattern we’re looking for.  And, while I understand that this is a pretty extensive topic that people write books about, it’s 5AM as I type this, cut me some slack.  Besides, considering the fact that most people have ADD as it is, and won’t read past the first two paragraphs anyways, I figured something short and to the point that hit on a few bullet points would be beneficial.  Oh look, shiny!


First off, as far as box height is concerned, I’d say a rough guesstimate would be 12-13 inches for most.  As Mike Boyle has discussed on several occasions, and as it relates to squatting, tibia length doesn’t differentiate much from person to person.  Once you start talking about guys who are 6-5 and above, however, that changes things.  That being said, a box height of 12-13 inches is a nice start for most.  If you don’t have a box available, then you can use aerobic steppers and adjust them to the proper height using those stacker thingamabobs.  If you don’t have access to either, your gym sucks and you need to find a new one.



I’d argue that the set-up is the most important part of the box squat.  If you don’t take the set-up seriously and just get under the bar without any thought, it stands to reason that performance is going to suffer- not to mention you’re more likely to get hurt.

  • Many place the bar far too high on their neck, and well, it hurts.  The shoulder blades should be pinched together (retracted) so that the upper back makes a “shelf” that the bar will lie on.
  • Grab the bar and CRUSH it.  Meaning, you literally want to pull DOWN on the bar and try to rip it apart.  In doing so, you’ll “activate” the lats, as well as the thoraco-lumbar fascia, which will help stabilize the spine.  As well, elbows should be pointing towards the floor (not straight back), and your chest should be up/tall.


  • Arch your lower back as hard as you can, brace your abs, and “get your air.”  Ready?

The Descent (BTW, if you ever want to destroy the back of your pants, rent the movie of the same name).

  • Your initial movement should be to sit back, keeping a vertical shin angle (knees shouldn’t come forward).  Physical therapist Charlie Weingroff talks about this quite a bit, and I like this cue a lot.  Of note, you should be “straddling” the box so that it’s sitting between your legs.  Feet should be slightly past shoulder width apart, with your toes slightly externally rotated, but not too much.


  • Put another way, you want your first movement to be hips BACK, not knees forward.  Far too often, trainees tend to be “ankle squatters,” and their initial movement is to push the knees over their toes.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (although I’m sure there are plenty of aerobics instructors who will disagree), but it does place a lot more stress on the patellofemoral joint, so it’s something to be cognizant of.  Just remember, SIT BACK!
  • Also, I generally prefer that people do these barefoot, or in a pair of Chuck Taylors.  In doing so, it will make it easier to “activate” the glutes and hammies to a greater degree.
  • As you sit back, you’ll want to “push” your knees out relative to your feet.  Meaning, your feet shouldn’t move.  Rather, your knees should flare our somewhat (again, to the right and left) in an effort to help “open up” the hips more.
  • Again, while maintaining your arch, continue sitting back until your butt gentlytouches the box.  As you sit, though, imagine that you’re sitting on broken glass.  You shouldn’t just plop onto the box.
  • Pause for one second on the box, without rocking back.
The Ascent
  • Again, keeping the chest tall, as you come off the box, you’ll want to think about driving through the heels pushing your hips forward.  All the while, as noted earlier, making sure to pull DOWN on the bar and staying as tight as possible.
  • From there, you’ll finish by “standing tall,” and firing those hips through as fast as you can- making sure to squeeze the glutes.

Repeat and be awesome.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel it gets the point across.  If I left anything out, or, if you have some tips of your own, share them below!

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About Tony Gentilcore 2 Articles

Tony Gentilcore is one of the co-founders of Cressey Sports Performance, which really should have been called “Cressilcore Sports Performance” because that sounds like an awesome castle where a wizard lives (and plays sports).

He’s no longer coaching there, but his legacy remains. Tony’s Techno Tuesdays will live on forever.

When he’s not picking things up and putting them down, he trains top-level athletes and clients in Boston, MA, contributes to the top fitness magazines and websites around, and sets up a camera in his garage to record his lightsaber skills.

He lives in Boston. With his wife, Lisa.

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