There are millions of articles posted on the squat and variations thereof. While I could sit here and discuss the subtle nuances of front squat, back squat, and overhead squat I would rather take some time to direct my readers away from a more problematic lift. Today’s post will detail the inherent risks associated with the box squat.
I want to discuss a general concept that personal trainers and really any reasonable human being shares. It is the concept of risk vs. reward. Understand that every activity you perform (riding a bike, brushing your teeth, and even putting your clothes on) has an inherent risk associated with it. The reason we continue to perform such activities is because the potential reward outweighs the risk. The same applies to exercises.
The box squat has “proposed explosive adaptations” and can even “highlight the quads.” I’m here today to discuss why this is false and why it’s important to steer clear of this exercise. The largest associated risk arises from spinal compression. In the back squat, the weight of the bar is pressing down on the spinal column. This isn’t a huge problem when the weight is evenly displaced across the knees, hips, and into both legs. The problem begins when you sit on the box and create a base for force transfer. Instead of spreading the force of the weight across multiple joints, it now is bottled between the bar (pressing down on your spine) and the box (pressing up on your pelvis). This leads to spinal compression and is a degenerative problem that will result in injuries. This is the main risk associated with the box squat.
Now, the proposed benefit is an explosive adaptation. But how often do you need to explode from a seated and resisted position with relaxed muscles? It’s not often seen in sports. If you are looking for explosion from a squatted stance (applicable to football and basketball), there are a few primary differences to what you seek and what actually happens in sports. First, the muscles don’t beginning in a relaxed state, you are more likely under tension during a pre-loaded phase. Secondly, producing force from a squatted position is generally done with a quarter or half squat, which is an optimal length for force creation (known as cross-bridge interaction). Finally, the box squat encourages momentum that teaches improper lifting mechanics. As opposed to creating force from the hips and rising vertically, you are inclined to lean forward. This simultaneously decreases muscular contraction of the glutes and quads as well as limits time under tension.
Now that we see the increased risk and limited benefits associated with this lift, it is obviously contraindicated. If you want to isolate your quads, try the front squat. If you want to promote depth in your squats, then use the box but don’t sit on it, simply tap the platform and then being your ascension. If you want explosive adaptations, try plyometric exercises (squat jumps, box jumps, tuck jumps, etc.).