Two key members of the Westside Barbell Club in Culver City at the 1969 Senior Los Angeles Championships. George Frenn is spotting Bill West. Both of them pioneered the use of box squat training and put it to use.
Box squatting is the most effective method to produce a first rate squat. This is, in my opinion, the safest way to squat because you don't use as much weight as you would with a regular squat.
Let me say first that, no, they won't hurt your spine, you don't use 1000 lbs. on a 25 inch box, you don't rock on the box, you don't touch and go, and there is no need to do regular power squats before a meet. No knee wraps are worn nor are the straps of the suit pulled up.
By doing sets of 2 reps for at least 8 sets with short rest periods, you will get about a 200 lb. carryover to your regular squat. Two of our lifters finished their lifting cycle before a meet with 8 sets of 2 reps with 505 lbs. off a slightly below parallel box, and both squatted 700 for a meet P.R. One was competing in the 242s and the other as a 275. Two years before, in his first meet, our 275 pounder squatted 465 -- quite an improvement!
There are many advantages to box squatting. One of the most important is recuperation. You can train more often on a box than you can doing regular squats. The original Westside boys (Culver City, CA) did them three times a week, which I feel is a bit extreme, but they paved the way for this type of training.
Here: "Power Rack Box Squats" - Armand Tanny
A little more from a little later here: "Single Door Garage Training: Early Westside"
And here: "Box Squats" - Garry Benford
Here: "Box Squatting for Big Gains" - Louie Simmons
Here: "How to Execute a Proper Box Squat" - Louie Simmons
Here: Box Squatting Benefits - Louie Simmons
We do them for the squat part of our workout on Fridays and occasionally on Monday to build hip and low back power for deadlifting. The NBA's Utah Jazz do box squats for the same reason -- recuperation. Greg Shepherd, their strength coach, is a former member of the Culver City Gym.
The second reason is equally important. It is generally accepted that you should keep your shins perpendicular to the floor when squatting. With box squatting, you can go past this point (that is, an imaginary line drawn from your ankle to your knee will point toward your body), which places all the stress on the major squatting muscles -- hips, glutes, lower back, and hamstrings. This is a tremendous advantage.
Thirdly, you don't have to ask anyone if you were parallel. Once you establish a below parallel height, all of your squats will be just that -- below parallel. I have seen it over and over. As the weights get heavier, the squats get higher. This can't happen with box squats.
If your hips are weak, use a below parallel box with a wide stance.
If you need low back power, use a close stance, below parallel.
If your quads are weak, work on a parallel box.
If you have a sticking point about 2 inches above parallel, as is common, then work on a box that is 2 inches above parallel. Our advanced squatters use all below parallel boxes. This builds so much power out of the hole that there will be no sticking points.
As an added bonus, box squats will build the deadlift as well as overloading the hips and lower back muscles. Your ability to explode off the floor will increase greatly. One of our 275 pounders, Jerry Obradovich . . .
. . . put 50 lbs. on his deadlift in 3 months by doing extra box squats during that time period, going from 672 to 722 at the 1994 APF Junior Nationals. Chuck Vogelpohl . . .
. . . deadlifts only about once in 8 weeks, yet pulls 793 in the 242s. Chuck relies on wide box squats on a low, 12 inch box and does a lot of reverse hypers and chest-supported rows.
Now, how do you do a box squat?
They are performed just like regular squats. Fill your abdomen with air, and push out against your belt. Push your knees out as far as possible to the sides, and with a tightly arched back, squat back, not down, until you completely sit on the box. Every muscle is kept tight while on the box with the exception of the hip flexors. By releasing and then contracting the hip flexors and arching the upper back, you jump off the box, building tremendous starting strength. Remember to sit BACK AND DOWN, not straight down.
Your hamstrings will be strengthened to a high degree, which is essential. Many don't know this, but the hamstrings are hip extensors. Some great squatters have large quads and some do not, but they all have large hamstrings where they tie into the glutes. Remember to sit on the box completely and flex off.
Now, how do you know how much you can full squat if you box squat all the time?
Well, let's say you have squatted 600 lbs. in a meet and decided to box squat. Let's say you can do 550 off a parallel box; that's a 50 lb. carryover. Now you are doing only box squats and you take a weight 4-6 weeks into the cycle. You hit a 575 squat, a 25 lb. jump on that particular box. This will carry over to your 600 contest best. So now expect a 625 at your next meet.
I recommend that you train with 65-82% of your box record on each particular box height that you use. Change box heights every 3-4 weeks. Do not base the training weight on your full squat record! Box squats are much harder than full squats!
Do 8-12 sets of 2 reps with 1 minute rest between sets. This is a tough workout! The week that you reach 82%, reduce the sets to 6. Don't train with more than 82%. You can try a max the week after you train with 82%. If you are going to a meet, take a weight 2 weeks before the meet. The week before the meet use 70% for 6-8 sets.
This type of squatting is hard work, but each rep shouldn't be hard. Don't get psyched up to do your sets. We have found that 2 reps is ideal because any more may cause bicipital tendonitis and if you are doing 12 sets, you are doing 12 first reps per workout. After all, the first rep is the most important one. This will make your contest squat much better. Our most talented lifters will do best on their first rep and then tire quickly whereas our lower skilled people will do better after the first rep is completed because they use the first rep as a body awareness tool. As they become more skilled, their first rep will be their best.
I know box squatting is not common, mostly because no one knows how to do them. After reading this or watching my squat tape you should be fully aware of the benefits. Many great squatters have done box squats including Marv Phillips. Larry Kidney, Roger Estep, Matt Dimel, and of course George Frenn . . .
. . . who did an 853 squat in track shorts in 1970.
If box squats don't work we wouldn't do them. We have 20 lifters who have squatted over 700 lbs. in a meet, including a 198 who has done 804.
I hope this article clears up any misconceptions and leads to great success on the lifting platform.
SUPPLEMENTAL LEG TRAINING
by Louie Simmons
As most know by now, we don't do regular full squats. Instead, we do low box squatting, to boxes ranging from 10 to 13 inches in height.
This type of squatting is done to overload the hips, glutes, low back, and hamstrings. The advantages are that all reps are done below parallel with the lightest to the heaviest weights, and they are much more stressful than conventional squatting. That's precisely why we do them.
There are too many advantages to box squatting to mention here, but there is a disadvantage I must talk about. Because box squatting works so well for building the crucial muscle groups for squatting, they neglect the quadriceps. We know that if we neglect one area, it could spell failure on meet day.
I realized as far back as 1974 that I needed more leg strength.
I would visit Ohio State University to use a leg press and a thigh extension machine. After a few months of experimenting, I realized these exercises did very little. Having the money to waste but not the time, I gave up on machines and started looking at old Iron Man magazines. I saw Bill Good doing hip lifts with enormous weight.
The Good Barbell System, Courses One and Two:
The Good Barbell System, Courses Three and Four:
Gary Sanger and I made a belt, but found that we constructed it wrong for our purpose of obtaining a record squat. We had not placed the stress in the right place to stimulate squatting. No wonder Mr. Good and others could use such heavy poundages -- increased leverage.
In our opinion, this was the same problem with leg presses. So with some thought, we fastened the weight hook in front so the weight would force us forward like regular squatting, while decreasing the amount of stress placed on the lower back. It still works the lower back, but in a manner that doesn't aggravate it. In fact the BELT SQUATS seem to stimulate the lower back by stretching and pumping blood into the hips and glutes without the constant compression of regular squatting. Any stance can be used, including doing them on an incline to overload the quads or on a decline, which will heavily involve the glutes. To do the decline version you must have flexible ankles, and watch the Achilles tendon.
To do belt squatting you must use a special belt like the one we sell (a dip belt will not work), and you need a platform to stand on. Two benches will work, with a third in front to place the weight on; however, this system may be a bit precarious. We use and manufacture a platform that is approximately 28 inches high, 5 feet wide, and 8 feet long. For any training facility this system is a must.
The reps for an advanced squatter are 4-6 for about 6 sets, with weights between 65 and 85% of your best set of 5 reps. For example, 500 lbs. for 5 reps for a max set would translate to 440 for sets of 4 reps, 325 for 6 reps would be light (65%) and would build explosive power.
Now, I will discuss a method for building real size and real power in the quads. Being open to other people's techniques to help my lifters, I got the idea of incline squats from Hollie Evett. Looking through Iron Man I came across an article entitled "When Your Back Says No, But Your Legs Will Go." It basically talked about doing squats on an incline.
Not to be confused elevating just the heels, these are done by placing the entire foot on an incline of about 30 degrees. They are done just like regular squatting except you don't lock out your legs. The reps should be 8-15. This is a size builder and it will leave your legs paralyzed!
It is my job to put a few pounds of muscle on Mike Francois . . .
. . . a pro bodybuilder, in his off season. Having Mike do 3 or 4 sets for 15-20 reps left him a clump on the floor. If you have seen his legs, you know they are pillars of muscle.
Of course, calf work is a must. I recommend seated calf work for the most part. Doing calf work will help protect the knees from injury, which no one wants to experience. Well developed calves will also help one to rebound out of a deep squat. We perform high reps (4-5 sets of 20 reps).
Don't forget to stretch! Stretching will keep you healthy as well as maintain your explosiveness.
As I stated earlier, our quads were always behind our hips and glutes. In addition to belt squats, incline squats proved to be a real squat saver.
If there is a key to success, it is building your weak area. I travel all over the U.S. to meets, and I always ask questions of great lifters, quizzing them on their particular outstanding lift, picking up valuable pointers, and then utilizing the new found secrets on my lifters, with the hopes of defeating the very ones who gave me the information. Yes, it's true . . .
I steal from the strong and give to the weak.
I would always talk to Larry Pacifico about benching. Vince Anello about deadlifting, and Mike Bridges on technique, as well as many others. With my own innovative methods accumulated over the years and with the help of many Westside members, I hope to shorten your trip to the top of powerlifting.
Check this out . . . Yes!
Second set of 50 reps . . .
Enjoy Your Lifting!