I’m about to tell you that box squats suck.
Now before all you Westside Barbell fanboys go losing your shit, listen: they don't suck for everyone all the time. Just most people. Most of the time.
But how can I say one of the most popular squat variations of all time sucks? Box squats are a staple of countless popular powerlifting and strength training programs. Hell, you can’t go a day at the gym without seeing someone give ‘em a try.
Thing is, most people do them for the wrong reasons. The box squat is a great tool for injury rehabilitation or athletes looking for very sport-specific squat form training, but for most people? They’re just not the best option. And that goes double for raw lifters.
So why are they so popular?
Box squats were popularized by equipped powerlifters, who wear squat suits designed to be “sat back into” to provide better rebound out of the bottom of the squat. This style of squat involves directing your momentum slightly backwards until you stop on the box, instead of maintaining a completely vertical bar path into the hole.
The supposed benefits the box offered mostly had to do with ensuring below-parallel squat depth and better recruitment from the posterior chain (hips, hamstrings, and glutes). Before long, though, they became popular with raw lifters too. After all, doesn’t everyone need to make sure they squat to depth? Of course they do.
But my problem with box squats isn’t that I don’t believe in these benefits. My problem is that as a coach, I’ve seen time and time again that they often reinforce improper technique. Unless you fit into a very specific niche of lifters, the fact is they just suck.
With all this hate for box squats, you must have a better option right?
You bet your ass I do. Let me introduce you to the ultimate successor of the box squat: the pin squat.
Pin squats can be performed at any height, but they’re most commonly performed with the pins being set so that the bar touches them either ½ way down or at depth depending on the location of your sticking point. The best cue to keep in mind when doing a pin squat is to try to make as little sound as possible when touching the bar to the pins. This allows for a lifter’s regular bar path to be maintained and encourages more control.
Pin squats are one of my favorite variations to program and are superior to the box squat for a the following reasons:
Pins can be placed at any height, allowing us to target a lifter’s sticking point perfectly. Be it a loss of tightness at a specific point or a lagging muscle group causing the bar to slow down, the pin squat will force a technique correction and cause the lifter to do more work in their weakest range of motion.
2. Technique Reinforcement
- Bar Path: The pins themselves don’t change the direction of a lifter’s bar path, instead allowing for the regular bar path to be maintained with a bit more control. This is the primary reason I prefer them to box squats, as there’s no option for a lifter to sit back. Specificity is significantly higher.
- Depth: Pin squats are a great option for lifters who struggle with depth as well, as setting the pins at or right below depth allows for great reinforcement, forcing a lifter to hit depth without relying on too much rebound out of the hole.
- Control: While some lifters feel comfortable dive bombing a box squat due to the box “catching you,” this is nearly impossible with a pin squat as the pins will only stop the bar, not you. This forces the lifter to keep much more control in the hole.
- Bar Security: While an unsteady barbell can cause massive hip shifts during the squat, pin squats force a lifter to secure the bar throughout the lift as even a soft collision with the pins will knock the bar out of position otherwise.
The box squat takes advantage of none of these benefits, all while encouraging improper technique. They may have been your high school PE teacher’s favorite lift, but it’s time to move on.
Looking to give pin squats a try? Get on it ASAP. And don't forget to contact us if you have any questions.