Louie Simmons on the Box Squat
At Westside Barbell we have about 24 lifters. Seven of them have squatted 900 or more. In the 220 class, Chuck Vogelpohl has made 900. Mike Ruggiera, SHW, has gone from a meager 780 to join the elusive 1000 pound club, along with the late, great Matt Dimel. Mary Phillips set many world records by box squatting, as did the late Lee Moran. There is nothing new about box squatting.
The original Westside Barbell Club in Culver City, CA, was years ahead of its time in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Their Muscle Power Builder articles were my foundation in training. Roger Estep traveled from West Virginia to Culver City, and his squat jumped from a low 600 to a world record 765 at 198 due to box squatting. I noticed he was not only much stronger but also much more explosive.
I started doing box squats in the late 1960's. In 1973 I entered a meet that was what they now call raw: no power equipment, even to the point that I wore an Olympic weight belt backwards, so that the narrow side was in the back. Box squats mad it possible for me to squat 630 in the 181's and deadlift 670 to total 1655 in that meet. I made a 920 squat 27 years later at 235. The only man on the planet to do more in 2001 was Eddie Coan.
That's enough history. Let's get to why one should box squat.
Box squatting is the easiest way to learn to squat properly. Most everyone will start descending correctly, but at some point problems occur. To fix this, start on a box several inches above parallel. Squat down to the box. Then have a training partner take out a ½ or 1 inch mat or board. Again sit back, not down, on the box. When this feels right, take out a mat or board again until you are breaking parallel. Anyone can squat correctly if your coach or training partner is smart. You can't teach what you don't know.
You can squat very deep when using a box. Angelo Berardinelli has used a 6 inch box, and Amy Weisberger has squatted on a 4 inch box. Olympic lifters squat very deep, but they bounce out of the bottom. We flex.
Because one sits on a box and then flexes to overcome the resistance, box squats will quickly improve your pulling strength for deadlifts or Olympic pulls.
Box squats are much less taxing on the lifter, and by training at 50-60% of a 1 rep max for 10-12 sets of 2 reps, you can easily break your squat record. The muscular soreness is much less than with regular squatting. One of my former training partners, the No. 1 198 in 1984, could full squat only every 10 days due to the extreme soreness. However, learning to box squat, he found he could squat twice a week, once for speed day and once for max effort day, without any difficulty.
Many trainers have found that a great deal of flexibility can be developed while box squatting: by going lower than normally possible, and by using a wider stance.
You can isolate all the correct squatting muscles by sitting extremely far back on the box. By sitting back on the box to the extent that your shins are positioned past vertical, the glutes, hips, hamstrings, spinal erectors, and abs are totally pre-stretched and overloaded simultaneously, producing a tremendous stretch reflex.
When squatting on a box just below parallel, all your squats will be just below parallel. When doing regular squats, when the weight gets heavier, one will invariably squat higher and higher.
Doing static-overcome-by-dynamic work will build a great amount of explosive and absolute strength. Going from relaxed to dynamic work will also build tremendous explosive and absolute strength. Both types of work occur when box squatting. Some muscles are held statically, while others are actually relaxed.
Safety is always important. In powerlifting as in all other sports, injuries occur. I suffered a complete rupture of the patella tendon in 1991. At that time my best squat was 821 at 242. Rehabbing myself, I gained full range of motion and came back to squat 900 in two meets at 52 years old. I have never used knee wraps in training. I have used bands and bar weight combined at the top to equal over a grand with the weight on the box around 800 with no knee problems at all. How? I sit back for enough on the box where there is no pressure on my patella tendons.
Box squatting has made it possible for me to make a Top 10 total in 1972 without gear and to be no. 3 in 2001 in the open division at 242.
Let's finish with how and how not to box squat. First, how not to. The term rocking box squat has confused many, and this is understandable. At Culver City Westside Barbell Club, Bill West invented a method referred to as a "rocking box squat". First they would place a squat bar on safety rack pins at a level that would allow the lifter to sit on a box and by just arching the back the bar would clear the pins. A spotter from behind would place his arms around the lifter and by rocking him backward and then forward, the lifter could stand up with a large load assisted on the first rep and unassisted on a rep or two more. That is a rocking box squat, 60's style. They may or may not have slammed their feet down in a shock method. Here is the more modern, Columbus Westside method. First, use as wide a stance as possible. Wear groove briefs or a suit with the straps down. Position your feet so they point straight ahead and sit back, never down, until you are sitting on the box. The back is arched, the chest is held high, and the knees are pushed out to the sides. Use a wide hand grip to prevent biciptial tendonitis, and pull the elbows up and under to utilize the lats. When you are on the box, relax the hip muscles for an instant, then forcefully flex them by pushing against the bar. This will cause the spinal erectors to instantly flex, which activates the hips and then the hamstrings. The action is like doing a jerk in Olympic lifting. Try to flex on the box strong enough to stand up in one motion.
We are not trying to build muscles, but rather a huge squat. Your quads will sometimes get smaller, but your hamstrings and hips will grow greatly.
Remember to raise the traps into the bar first to ascend. If you push the feet into the floor first, you will find yourself in a semi good-morning position, which is wrong and dangerous.
I know someone out there will say there have been great squatters who never box squat. Well, are you one of those greats, or one of those who can't squat off the toilet with the Sunday paper?
Give it a try. I've given many reasons why you should try box squatting, and I can't think of one reason not to.
I love reading stuff by Louis, he tells you how it is. I have been box squatting for a while now and I feel a lot stronger. And it has definitely helped by deadlift also.
Good article BTB!
When I first explored powerlifting, I read everything Louie wrote. There is so much you can learn from him.
i owe most of my overall strength to the box squat
although i stopped doing them now to focus on olympic squat and front squat
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