Among the numerous squat variations, there are few as effective at building explosive muscular strength as the box squat - so much so, in fact, that it even has its own form of custom equipment simply known as a “box”.
However, setting up the box squat often needs a little more trial and error than its counterparts, with the elevation of the box needing to be set so as to allow maximum range of motion while still requiring an explosive transition to the concentric phase.
The height of the box can significantly alter the mechanics of the exercise itself, affecting mobility requirements, range of motion, rate of force development capacity and a number of other factors that must be accounted for when performing the box squat.
The box squat is a free weight compound exercise that makes use of an elevated platform in order to arrest the momentum of the squat movement. This, in turn, forces the exerciser to explosively push themselves upwards so as to complete the repetition.
Generally, box squats see the most use in powerlifting or athletic training programs wherein they are meant to reinforce proper squat mechanics or otherwise build general athletic power.
Several other changes in form and mechanics set the box squat apart from other squat variations, but are of a more technical nature and as such are only truly relevant at the more advanced levels of competitive powerlifting.
Performing the box squat with the incorrect box height can lead to issues in its performance and even defeat the entire purpose of the exercise.
Box heights that are too low run the risk of breaking the lifter’s form due to them dropping beyond their mobility limits in order to reach the box, as well as can defeat the entire purpose of the exercise by failing to arrest the “bounce” that is meant to be negated from the movement.
Box heights that are too high, on the other hand, will reduce total range of motion and fail to recruit certain muscle groups in the legs - also defeating the purpose of the box squat.
The majority of squat boxes are measured in terms of inches, with certain brands being of the adjustable variety and others requiring some creative improvisation in order to adjust.
Keeping this in mind, we should also acknowledge that picking the correct box height is more than just a matter of comfortability - a proper box height should allow the lifter to reach a parallel squat depth at the least, alongside also being compatible with the lifter’s own unique proportions.
Furthermore, a history of injuries or poor mobility will also have an effect on the appropriate height of a box - with some individuals even using box squats as an alternative to the conventional squat due to the latter exercise aggravating past injuries.
Taller lifters or those with more narrow squat stances may prefer boxes as high as 15 inches in height - though boxes this high will likewise prevent proper squat depth for individuals with a deeper squat.
If unsure of what box height is best for you, we advise that you try different box heights while perpendicular to a mirror so as to assess whether you are reaching parallel squat depth.
The majority of lifters will find that their ideal box elevation is somewhere between 13 and 15 inches, though those with poor mobility or individuals that are particularly tall may be outside this range.
While the most suitable box height for general training purposes is one that allows the lifter to achieve a parallel squat, more specialized training programs can specify a certain level of elevation in order to remedy errors made in conventional squat execution.
In particular, a higher than parallel box squat height is used to fix sticking points in the concentric phase of the back squat - something that is often overshadowed by other methods of doing so, such as pin squats or bottom up squats.
Likewise, box squat heights that are lower than the lifter’s usual depth can be used in order to aid in achieving “A-T-G” squat explosiveness, something that is vitally important in many strength-related athletic competitions.
Unless specifically needed in your training program however, it is best to stick with a box squat height that allows for parallel or below-parallel squat depth - both for safety reasons and because improper box height can lead to poor squatting form habits.
Though there are no ways to reduce the height of a non-adjustable box, it is actually quite easy to raise one with the use of boards or weight plates that may be placed atop the box so as to raise the maximum depth of your box squat.
Alternatively, many lifters resort to using plyometric boxes, regular benches or even simple everyday stools if their gym does not have a box at the correct height for them.
The parallel elevation of the conventional back squat is not always at the same depth as that of the box squat, as many lifters will often need to execute a wider stance in order to create more explosive force at the bottom of the repetition.
This means that simply going by your conventional back squat depth may not be applicable to choosing a box height.
Instead, lifters will find the best results by starting with the highest box height they can, and testing progressively lower box heights until reaching their ideal squat depth.
Furthermore, individuals recovering from injuries or incorporating greater mobility work in their routine will find that their ideal box squat height progressively lowers over time - requiring that they subsequently adjust.
Finding your ideal box height isn’t particularly tricky, and with the factors we’ve covered in mind, picking the best box height for you is just a matter of trial and error.
So long as the box is sufficiently low enough to allow a parallel squat depth, yet not so low that mobility is a limiting factor; performing the box squat should be quite simple.
1. Brown, Lee E. EdD, CSCS, *D; FACSM. Performance Box Squats. Strength and Conditioning Journal: February 2003 - Volume 25 - Issue 1 - p 22
2 Bryanton, Megan A.; Kennedy, Michael D.; Carey, Jason P.; Chiu, Loren Z.F.. Effect of Squat Depth and Barbell Load on Relative Muscular Effort in Squatting. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: October 2012 - Volume 26 - Issue 10 - p 2820-2828 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31826791a7