Yup, that’s the one sitting backwards and downwards to a box, pausing and then exploding up into the standing position.

Seems simple, right?


Fitness and strength training have trends that hugely affect the behaviour of people in gyms around the world. I can remember when I first read 5-3-1 by Jim Wendler, which must be nearly 10 years ago now. And it was polarizing, and to be honest, life-changing.

Then geared (suited) powerlifting’s mighty influence started to dominate more and more. And yes, that affects how some trainers will train their clients. Maximal strength rather than optimal for the goals dominated, and so did accessory lifts that are better suited to the sport, and people got injured and perhaps not the results they had hoped for.

A similar effect has come over into the industry with the re-growth in popularity of Olympic lifting. Crossfit has some fantastic things to offer, but the influence is hard not to notice, all across the board more gymnastic movements and badly performed Olympic lift variations fill gyms. And plenty of people wondering why they are still not in any better shape, and why their body is glowing like an ember from the inflammation.

Raw powerlifting is powerlifting’s true form and quite rightly so.

Dependent on which federation a lifter competes in, different gear can be allowed. In some you could be permitted to use a belt and sleeves, in others, you can compete with full knee wraps and in some others still, nothing but the singlet and lifting shoes. Either way these badass competitors are putting up huge numbers on a regular basis. And world records continue to be broken.

The ‘Geared’ terminology refers to a lifter wearing a single or multiply leotard style lifting suit that’s made from polyester material. Almost like a wetsuit, and even harder to get into. It’s incredibly tight construct makes the full range of motion near impossible. If you have never been around powerlifting, you can’t squat down with just your bodyweight in a squat suit. You need weight on the bar. And when you are competing in the big three lifts (the bench press, squat and deadlift) you have assistance from the suit’s amazing elastic nature. For example, a squat suit will amplify your stretch reflex at the bottom of the movement and a bench shirt allows for a far greater eccentric load to be tolerated; among other benefits, this equals far greater poundages. But more importantly it means that the accessory work and training methodology is different to that of a ‘raw’ lifter.

This is where my rant comes from.

It stems from the geared powerlifting writers providing the information that the average gym rat and trainer began taking on board. The problem was that this information has its roots in that specific sport. That doesn’t make something wrong, but it seems to have left a huge mark in the industry.

Now, the clients we are training and ourselves, I would imagine, are not involved in that part of the sport. And if they were, they probably would not be interested in what I have to say anyway. But I find it interesting that I see countless YouTube videos telling people how its bad for you and that it has no crossover; well erm yes, that’s because the information just wasn’t applied the right way.

This is for the girls and guys who want to learn proper squat mechanics that will last you a lifetime, keep you injury free, make you bad-ass strong and give you great lower body development.

When you watch the ‘geared powerlifting’ squat they tend to ‘plop’ down in the last 2 inches of the movement with less control, as their glutes and hamstrings touch down (I’m sure my SI joint could live without that experience). They then switch off slightly between the eccentric (lowering) and concentric (standing with the bar). I dare say that under high loads there is still a lot of tension, but there is now a big gap between the 2 sections of the movement. Then they rock back until they are nearly upright, and then use momentum to catapult themselves back into the concentric phase, back to standing. The reason for this style is because it mimics the effect of the suit’s ability to help you through the hardest part of the lift.

That’s great. If you are in equipped powerlifting.

But it is very unlikely that this is the case.

So what should we do?

First, ask yourself why am I box squatting?

‘I’m learning box squats so I can then become more proficient at the free squat’

Well then this ‘plopping and rocking’ will have no carryover. If we take away the box and these patterns have become ingrained, then it will be a case of the lifter plummeting to Earth as they will not be able to create the right degree of tension where it is needed most!

Think of the pause squat, one of the best ways to develop confidence and strength in the bottom position. Super effective, and at the bottom, we are teaching the lifter to create huge tension throughout the body to stabilize the bottom position before driving out.

‘I’m doing it as I have bad knees’

The box squat performed properly is a squat pattern that starts with a hip break, momentarily, before the knees are pushed outward (not forwards). It is not the same as an Olympic high bar squat, front squat or bodyweight squat. It has more similarities to a sumo (wide) stance back squat. But why would you want to risk losing tension and possibly hurting yourself, and generating momentum?

‘I’m doing it to help my athletic performance?’

Well the squatting is one of the most primal and athletic human movement patterns! And the break in the pattern that the ‘geared’ box squat provides is not natural and does not represent anything particularly athletic. The explosive power generated by lowering yourself to a box and keeping FULL tension on the box, then exploding back up from the box, can create a huge carryover. With the rock back, however, it’s good for a competitive lifter but for me, I’m sorry to say it just doesn’t make any sense. I’m not a big believer in it.

Sports specificity, for the most part, is just getting people stronger and more powerful where they need it and letting them practice their art away from the facility. If it were that important to practice sitting upright and driving up into a jump, well then get a low and high plyometric box and away you go. Rather than just loading your body for the sake of it.

Training Economy – minimum dose, maximum response!!!

‘I am teaching the box squat for an absolute beginner’

Then you can use a gentle touch, and take an approach where some of the hamstrings will rest on the box (loading about 50% of the total) before starting to drive back up to standing. And the same system applies for working to decrease anterior pelvic tilt in the squat pattern, and when working around an injury. Starting with a higher box and slowly decreasing the height, working down to parallel, or whatever height is most suitable for the lifters mechanics. Starting with bodyweight and then the goblet squat before exploring other methods.

These great powerlifters, a lot of whom have huge social media followings, are brilliant at what they do. But you must ask yourself why am I doing it? And, far more importantly, why am I telling other people to perform exercises in this manner?

What should I do instead?

Teaching and breaking down this awesome exercise is a full blog, that I will be writing soon. But here is a helpful analogy, stolen from the boys at DeFranco’s training systems. Imagine the box is a scale. If my client weighs 200lbs, I will ask them to try and only load 125lbs on the box. This way they will ease their way down to the box, and as they push their hips back on to it they will lose very little tension. If they put 150 lbs on then no problem. If we keep drilling this into their heads they will learn to not switch off in anyway on the box. As the load increases and the bar/Dumbbell/Kettlebell is loaded, they still have this tension programmed in. The angle is the same as the squat. You are slightly leant forward unless its a goblet or front squat/safety bar squat where you are more upright; the angle is dependent on mechanics, and will differ from lifter to lifter. When they are on the box, it’s more like a huge isometric contraction. No rocking back and driving forward and up, although a tiny amount when using maximal loads is understandable.

Total body tension and super high levels of concentration, followed by crushing power as they drive from that momentary pause is why I love this exercise.

Don’t buy into everything you see, and like my buddy Craig says. “Don’t be one of the sheeple, be a wolf”.

Don’t blindly follow, get under the bar, again and again. Make up your own mind from experience.

I will follow this up in a couple of weeks with how I teach, set up and how to program the box squat for strength power, and gains in muscle.

Stay strong,

Coach Fletch.

Author - Fletcher Dalrymple - Personal Trainer & Mentor

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