Traditional Squat vs Powerlifting Squat vs Box Squat

Prior research by Frye showed that the powerlifting style squat (well sort of but not really), though quite safe for the knee joint, was inherently dangerous for the spine. I’ve always been uneasy regarding the methods and biomechanical calculations involved in Frye’s research, and thankfully new research by Swinton et al. has just arrived delving into the differences between the traditional squat, the powerlifting squat, and the box squat. This Paul Swinton dude is quickly becoming my favorite researcher. First he conducted a study on powerlifting practices, then a couple on deadlifts, then one on vertical jumping, and now this study (all of which I’ve reviewed either in my blogs, my TNation articles, or my research review service). If you’re not sure about the technique between the different types of squats, here are a couple of videos you can watch:

Squat Form

Box Squat Form (the study I’m reviewing utilized the high box squat which is second in this video)

I’ll try to sum this up quickly. The study examined 12 male powerlifters (average age was 27, average weight around 220lbs, average max squat around 485lbs, average years lifting experience 9 yrs) and utilized biomechanical equations, inverse dynamics, markers, 9 cameras (VICON), 2 force plates (KISTLER), and software (VICON) to calculate joint angles, joint torques (moments), velocity, peak power, rate of force development, and ground reaction forces.

What the Researchers Found that Was Not Surprising:

  • The widest stance was the box squat, in the middle was the powerlifting squat, and the narrowest squat was the traditional squat
  • During the eccentric component, the lifters sat back much more so in the powerlifting and box squats than they did in the traditional squat
  • The powerlifting and box squats involved more hip abduction (knees out) than the traditional squat
  • The powerlifting squat involved the most hip flexion
  • The traditional squat involved more knee and ankle flexion
  • Ground reaction forces, velocity, and power were reduced in the box squat due to the gradual shifts in loading between eccentric and concentric phases
  • The powerlifting squat created the most hip extension torque
  • The box squat led to the most “vertical” tibia of the variations
  • Traditional squats allowed for the greatest velocity and power
  • Powerlifting squats and traditional squats created the greatest force (very similar across loads)

What the Researchers Found that Was Surprising:

  • The traditional and powerlifting squat involved similar torso angles (leans), and the box squat had the least forward torso lean out of the three styles
  • The traditional squat displayed the highest loading on the spine (highest torque at L5/S1), as well as the highest loading on the ankle joints
  • The use of a box decreased peak hip extension torque and spinal extension torque while increasing peak knee extension torque
  • The box squat displayed the highest loading on the knee joints
  • Rate of force development (RFD) was 3-4 times higher in the box squat than the other squats. This is INSANE!

Study Strengths

  • The study investigated experienced powerlifters who are skilled in the various squatting movements
  • The study utilized a VICON with force plates, etc. which is a thorough way to investigate joint torques and other data
  • The researchers are well-versed in powerlifting techniques

Study Limitations

  • Loads used in the study were 30% of 1RM, 50% of 1RM, and 70% of 1RM. Based on my experience, preventing forward trunk lean (which dramatically impacts torques at all the joints) during a maximal box squat is quite difficult. I wonder if the results would be different if maximal loads (or at least submaximal loads at 90% of 1RM or higher) were used
  • Powerlifters might perform “traditional” squats differently than other lifters – the subjects in this study exhibited slightly more (only .5 degrees) forward trunk lean during the traditional squat than they did the powerlifting squat. I wonder if Oly lifters (obviously especially if heeled shoes are worn) or even lifters who simply stick to full squats most of the time would fare differently on this study
  • The researchers didn’t attempt to explain the unusually high RFD shown in the box squat. I can personally relate to this – when performing dynamic effort box squats sometimes I feel very springy off the box even though the SSC should have dissipated

Conclusions

I’m sure this study will raise some eyebrows but I’m very well-versed in Biomechanics and the results actually make sense if you understand the interplay between the segment positions and barbell displacement in relation to the joint centers, but if I tried to explain it further I’d probably confuse my readers. In other words, this study seems very legit to me.

The box helps lifters sit back while staying upright (at least with submaximal loads), which actually decreases hip and spinal loads and increases knee loads (prior research by McBride supports this notion in terms of quadricep EMG activity – there wasn’t much of a difference between squats and box squats). The lifters paused for an average of 1.7 seconds during the box squat which most likely decreases contribution from the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) and would explain the decreased force and power production. Something about the pause on the box really seems to help create a ton of RFD which could indicate that it transfers nicely to sport.

The researchers pointed out that knee loading isn’t the only factor to consider in determining joint safety – it’s also important to consider knee ROM and displacement of the femur relative to the tibia. For these reasons the traditional squat is most likely the hardest variation for the knee joint.

The box squat is clearly an excellent alternative for those with restricted ankle mobility (dorsiflexion) who are unable to perform a full range squat (ass to grass) as it will allow for an excellent training effect and the adherence to proper technical form.

Really this study just illustrates that when determining the safety of squat variations you don’t just have to consider how far you sit back, how far the trunk leans, or how far the knees travel over the toes; you also have to consider how far you shift forward or backward with the bar relative to the feet, as this influences joint torques considerably. For this reason, box squats and powerlifting squats could indeed be “safer” for the low back compared to traditional squats.

58 thoughts on “Traditional Squat vs Powerlifting Squat vs Box Squat

  1. John Petrizzo

    Nice Review Bret,

    I am wondering if the researchers discussed bar placement on the upper back during each of the three squat variations as where the lifters were carrying the bar would obviously affect all of the joint angles and torque produced during the lift. Unfortunately, most of the research I have read in regards to the squat usually ignores this fact, although judging from your review these guys seem to have covered most of their bases.

    Thanks again,

    John

    Reply
  2. Jason

    Good stuff, Bret. Interesting info on the box squat RFD issue…however, not completely surprising if the subjects are powerlifters. More than likely they have some experience with box squats, and will be stronger concentrically when the SSC is eliminated as opposed to an athlete who doesn’t have experience box squatting (or pause, etc.). What do you think? Hope this makes sense. Its early and my thoughts aren’t all in line just yet..haha..Also, I was wondering if you’re still planning on writing a piece about the KB swings and sprint/broad jump performance…Thanks

    Jason

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Hi Jason, I definitely agree. I’ve seen vids of some of the Westside guys and they explode off the box, so practice definitely appears to help. But to me, when you have triple the RFD, you need to try to come up with some reasons as this is crazy! I will definitely write up my KB swing article in the near future. Thanks for the reminder, BC

      Reply
      1. Mark Buckley

        Hi Bret…

        Triple the RFD in box squats – this is massive!

        Louie Simmons often makes reference to the box squat with sub max weights (dynamic effort method)creating a high RFD due to a static phase preceding the dynamic phase – but i am sure this quantified total will make his jaw drop!

        But the question still remains why?

        lol for a bit of fun i will throw this idea on the table

        The box squat is a set and go movement – where you pause (stay tight) on the box before hitting the BOOM switch

        Could it be possible that during the support phase on the box there is a brief drop off in neural drive (decreased jaw and grip clench reducing the jendrassik maneuver)- which serves to potentiate neural drive when the BOOM switch is hit?

        After this ‘pause’ when you hit the bar hard with the ‘intention’ of acceleration – most lifters will re-clench their jaws hard and grip the bar tighter – potentiating the Jendrassik maneuver!

        Why is this important?

        A study looking at jaw clenching in concurrent activation potentional during the counter movement jump – showed that RFD was 19.5% greater when the jaw was clenched

        What ya thnk? :)

        Oh and an interesting side note

        Louie says the SSC can last up to 8 seconds (personal finding)when an experienced lifter performs the box squat!

        Reply
        1. Bret Post author

          Mark, I’ve been trying to come up with potential mechanisms and all I can think of is that the SSC still remains but the brief relaxation allows for some re-charging (and sure the “irradiation” from all other muscles probably comes into play as well). What’s more important is that you threw out the “Jendrassik maneuver” haha! Great to hear from you buddy!

          Reply
  3. Shan

    Great info! Bret, question for you. I had been doing all types of squats for almost a year but now my knees have been aching during normal activity. I want to take a break and then try to continue my routine. I was thinking maybe BOX squats are the safest. Your opinion?!

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Shan, I think you should definitely take a break…that’s a no-brainer. Great question…based on this research, the knee moves through the least ROM in a box squat (but has the highest load), but the powerlifting squat has the least load (and the ROM was in the middle). So I’d go with the powerlifting style squat. Actually I’d rather see you stick with hex bar deadlifts, hip thrusts, back extensions, and glute ham raises for a few months with the occasional Skater squat type exercise thrown in for fun.

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Thoughts On The Box Squat For Raw Lifters « Greg Robins

  5. Deb

    Thanks Bret, great article and informative video. I’m one of those folks with long femurs and find the squat fairly challenging since I tend to lean forward to keep the bar over my feet and to keep my balance (otherwise I tend to fall backwards). Any suggestions to help correct this? My trainer said to pull my elbows back to help the bar sit lower on my back, and keep my head and chest up – what are your thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Deb, you’ll never correct it. Stop thinking that you will and accept it. Those of us who suck at squats never seem to be great at them…but we can become amazing at deadlifts, hip thrusts, back extensions, etc. so don’t sweat it. There are things you can do, but I don’t like the pulling elbows back suggestion (Rippetoe says the same thing and I don’t agree). Just trying to be brutally honest so don’t hate me! Keep working on your form and trying to improve (you will get stronger and more coordinated at them), but your squat will probably always pale in comparison to your deadlift, and this is normal for many folks.

      Reply
  6. RickP

    Another great piece of analysis by Bret Contreras. Deadlifting without a few days between a bout of narrow stance or normal squatting sound unwise unless one intentionally wants to overload the spine.

    Reply
  7. Rich

    Brett – your website is one of my favorites for great, relevant information. I read some of your articles 2 and 3 times over. Thanks.

    Reply
  8. Vicki

    Thank you for mentioning the problem for those of us with extra long femers and a long torso. I’ve always had a strong forward lean squat with others telling me to just sit upright and not believing me when I demonstrate how I fall over backward when I do.

    I herniated my L5S1 and have only been doing Goblet Squats now. I’m 63 and backing down from striving for max strength.

    Any suggestions? Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Vicki, this is very common so don’t sweat it. Natural squatters don’t get it and never will. They think you struggle with form because you aren’t trying hard enough, etc. The truth is that you probably shouldn’t squat ever again (save for Goblet squats). Stick to single leg knee dominant work and tons of hip dominant work. Keep up the great work Vicki! Proud of you.

      Reply
  9. Kelvin

    Good article… Would this study give credence to the front squat as well and the same biomechanics of the squat? I question that because I posted a video of a VB player doing and front squat – and I received major feedback; negative and positive. She did not have a very wide stance, nor did she sit back for the designated seconds. The weight was rather light as well (100+). The way she, as well as all my athletes perform the box squat is from a biomechanical perspective of the sport, movement of the sport and how long it takes the athlete (whether basketball or VB) to get off the ground and to perform and explosive movement. I believe the transfer is very credible. If the athlete pauses and sits back it does not transfer as well as those that touch, hold and explode.

    Just my perspective.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Kelvin, I love the front squat…and your rationale is definitely plausible but I need to see her form. Can you link the post here?

      Reply
  10. Will Levy

    Good stuff as usual Bret.
    Being that you’re the research guy, and I’d rather save time and just read your reviews than delve too far myself, what have you got regarding compressive loads on the spine re these squat comparisons?
    Regarding spine safety, the big argument from Boyle (and I understand you two have a few differing opinions on several training aspects – healthy for the industry, and I enjoy reading both your work) is the concept of the spine being wedged between a box and a heavy load in a box squat, thus he never box squats.
    Personally I love box squats, use them myself and with healthy clients. But I also don’t work with anyone putting up the type of numbers a pro athlete does like Boyle trains.
    Interested in either your opinion on this or any research you have at hand on this.
    Cheers.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Hi Will, I appreciate Boyle’s approach and have learned a ton from him. That said, I don’t feel that many folks in the profession have a sound understanding of biomechanics. The majority of compressive forces on the spine come from core muscle contractions. Sitting on the box (assuming you don’t plop and don’t lose your lumbar arch) isn’t going to add a ton of extra compression, and anecdotally the box squat is incredibly safe. You can “spin” danger upon any exercise or variation, but you must look at the real-world. And in the real-world, many of the exercises that Boyle doesn’t like (hip thrusts, back extensions, box squats) aren’t hurting folks, and some of the exercises he does like (hex bar deadlifts, power cleans) do still hurt folks. Of course, this is very hard to quantify due to form, but you can definitely teach folks to use proper form on these lifts. At the end of the day I love that Boyle is out there preaching “safety first” and having an eye for eliminating exercises that are commonly screwed up, involve too much risk, etc. But sometimes I question his logic and wish he’d be a little more fair. To be fair to him, If I were in his shoes and had a huge facility (actually multiple facilities) with interns and young coaches doing most of the training in groups, and the training involved pro athletes, then I’d probably think more like him. But in my opinion he needs to understand that everyday lifters know the risks and are willing to accept them, and that personal trainers who don’t train large groups can supervise people’s form and ensure they don’t go too heavy or extend the set too far (and therefore they can safely employ exercises that he deems unsafe). Finally, I’m a big fan of Boyle’s system and I actually don’t want him engaging in squats, conventional deads, etc. as this is what makes Boyle Boyle and makes his system unique. MBSC is a premier institution that is doing great things – being innovative with exercises and showing the world how strong folks can get off of one leg. They’re getting people incredibly fit and athletic without hurting them. How could I fault him for this? I realize that I’ve just contradicted the hell out of myself and rambled, but I didn’t sleep much last night so forgive me. Take care! BC

      Reply
      1. Will Levy

        Haha, appreciate the lengthy response Bret.
        Certainly didn’t intend to drag you into any Boyle vs Contreras philosophy debate – I respect the Hell out of both of you. Just wondered if any hard numbers existed to either deny or confirm the potential risk via compressive load. And, I realise that the only danger exists with severe form breakdown when someone both ‘plops’ onto the box and/or relaxes into any flexion.
        Good point about the coaching logistics in a 1 on 1 setting vs. large groups too.
        As I said, I use them as do my clients. I actually use them first in my squatting progression.
        Thanks again.

        Reply
  11. Angela Jones

    That sounds like a very long winded and politically correct way of saying that Mike Boyle is wrong about a lot of stuff, and is impolite and arrogant, but also wields a large sphere of influence.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      To be honest I find many of the greats in our industry to be a bit too arrogant…and I believe it contributes to their greatness by allowing them to be full of confidence and absent of doubt. This allows them to boldly promote their theories. So it’s a double-edge sword in some respects because often the theories are wrong. This doesn’t apply just to Boyle; it applies to many of them – including me ;)

      Reply
  12. Ted

    Just in case somebody might be interested in Charles Poliquin’s view on box squats:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uo2nRoR5Cfw
    (I disagree with him, and we all know the great success Joe DeFranco has with his athletes that he has box squatting regularly.)

    As for Michael Boyle, in my view he often “hates” (he actually doesn’t, but it often looks like he does) on exercises just because he does not have the time to coach people to do them properly. His recent T-Nation article annoyed me, too, to be honest. I actually laughed my butt off as, if I recall correctly, Prof. Stuart McGill explained in a Youtube video that Boyle’s argument for single leg work (the lower back only has to take half the load) is totally incorrect.

    For those who commented they have problems with their squatting, I recommend you take a look at Gray Cook’s work. He often states to maintain the ability to squat deep but to train the deadlift. I once asked him a question but he never replied, so I will ask it here. As some of you might know Pavel some years ago suggested to only do the deadlift and bent press. That’s it, just these two exercises.
    And I was wondering when one focusses strongly (if not excessively) on the deadlift, will problems in form of imbalances arise, such as the hamstrings being way stronger than the quads, particularly the vmo (should these fibers exist, which I think they do)?

    Ted

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      I actually liked Boyle’s recent TNation article and have been experiencing the same thoughts lately (which is what I wrote in my last TNation article – the d-handle pulldown is awesome in my opinion).

      Regarding McGill, I didn’t see that video but I agree (wouldn’t be half the load – probably 75%). However, these are technicalities and what I really like about Boyle is that he first came up with the idea. I had been doing heavy BSS for quite some time so this concept wasn’t shocking to me, but many coaches didn’t realize how heavy athletes could go with them, and you can indeed get just as much leg loading with less spine loading (as Boyle professed). So kudos to Boyle for pushing the boundaries in this aspect of strength training.

      Regarding Cook, why not train both the deep squat and deadlift? Sure you could see good results not doing so, but I think optimal results involve loading every pattern.

      And I’m a big fan of Pavel, but he typically writes to everyday lifters. If he were the head strength coach for a football team, I guarantee he’d be putting them through a myriad of exercises. Pavel really knows his stuff.

      If one stuck to this approach (bent presses and deadlifts), I do not think any imbalances with the VMO would arise. The quads are heavily recruited in a deadlift (though they don’t move through a full ROM), and the I don’t really believe in “posterior-chain dominance” like I do “quad-dominance.” In other words, it’s bad to have strong quads and weak posterior chains, but everyday life strengthens the quads (standing up from a chair, walking up stairs, etc.) to some degree, so you don’t ever get too much discrepancy between chains. But having strong glutes and hams and weak quads (if it could happen) wouldn’t set you up in life for injury IMO. Of course, this approach wouldn’t be optimal as I’ve said earlier.

      Reply
  13. Will R.

    Bret,

    I appreciate your sound evidence based approach. What are your thoughts on Kelly Starrett’s opinion on the squat with the “knees out” approach similar to oly lifters. As you know he preaches the importance of a vertical tibia, feet straight, knees out to reduce patellar compression forces, tighten the femoroacetabular capsule and activate the glute max. Do you believe that genu varus is healthy in the long run since as we age, osteoarthritis usually (not always) occurs in the medial compartment of the knee? I would appreciate you’re thoughts on this. I’m definitely not trying to hate on K.Starr…he’s an incredibly smart guy and I believe in a lot of what he preaches, just wondering you’re thoughts from a biomechanical approach.

    Best,
    Will

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Great questions so far on this post! I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time too. I’ve always preached the “knees track over the toes” concept and have found it to work very well. However, I think there could be tons of merit with Kelly’s approach. I don’t agree with the feet straight advice (if that’s what Kellie preaches) as I’ve found that most people do best with feet-turned out 30degrees. I would presume that knee varus would stress the outer compartment of the knee, not the inner compartment, which would therefore spare the compartment most prone to osteoarthritis (assuming you’re correct about that – which certainly jives with what I’d predict).

      I’m open to the fact that Kelly knows more than me about this topic, and I’m sure that if I heard his rationale and/or studied it more extensively I’d have better advice to lend.

      Reply
      1. Bret Post author

        Just found a blog that discussed this (I’m sure I could find good stuff on Pubmed but I’m too lazy). So knee valgus would produce compression on the lateral knee and gapping on the medial knee (stressing the MCL), and knee varus would produce compression on the medial knee and gapping on the latearl knee (stressing the LCL).

        I’ve seen Kelly’s vids (never seen him discussing this topic), but I don’t feel he’s bowing out very far at the bottom, and since muscle forces will be required to keep the knees out (they’ll be working against the natural tendency to collapse inward), this makes the practice safer in my opinion.

        In other words, I don’t think it would be problematic over time in terms of knee deterioration. But I could be wrong and would love to hear what Kelly says on the topic.

        In general, neutral is always a wise approach. But sometimes I stray from this advice (I think the bottom of a deadlift should involve slight lumbar extension and the top of a deadlift should involve slight posterior pelvic tilt). Again, great question!

        Reply
        1. Derrick Blanton

          I’m a huge Kelly Starrett fan. He is playing chess, while more than a few are playing checkers. Also, he is incredibly generous with his knowledge, (much like Mssr. Contreras).

          Kelly advocates a 5-12 degree turnout with the foot. This is the goal. Just point yourself in that direction, and move towards it. He’s got a ton of fixes (dude has over 400-posts with video just dealing with proper positioning during exrcs) that I can tell you firsthand, really work to help you get there. Front squat, I got it. Back squat, a little wider, still getting there. I prob at 18-20-degreees.

          5-12 degrees is enough to un-impinge the hip, get DEEP, and get the torque at the hip to stabilize it. That torque is all glutes, BC, so your teachings and his mesh nicely. The further the foot externally rotates, the further the hips have to make up to torque the hip. Too far and you are going to run into active insufficiency, and the hip is going to pull medially, and that’s where problems begin. Either that, or the glutes aren’t in their sweet spot in the force/tension curve.

          My experience is that quad dominance also contributes to valgus collapse, which really, really jacks up your hips and knees. Remember how you said that you were able to correct one of your female clients valgus collapse just by working the glute max, and not even specifically training the glute med?

          I love discussions like this. I’m a nerd.

          Reply
          1. Bret Post author

            Derrick – I originally intended to watch all his videos but life was hectic last year and I didn’t watch nearly as many as I wanted to. I can tell that Kelly is incredibly intelligent and his usage of band mobs is simply awesome. Good to know about the 5-12 degree turnout. I need to watch more of his vids! I also need to study up on more joints; I’m very well-versed in the hips, pelvis, spine, and scapulae, but I need to study up on the knees, ankles, and shoulders. I want to clarify something: to fix Karli’s valgus collapse (she had a nasty case of it), I did everything. We practice form over and over, we performed tons of glute activation work in the form of bridging, quadruped, and side-lying moves, as well as band walks, and most important I’d film her heavy lifts from straight on and then show them to her for immediate feedback. One more thing – to my knowledge “active insufficiency” involves biarticular (2-joint) muscles, such as the hamstrings. For example, flex the wrist and then flex the elbow…you’ll notice it’s now hard to make a fist. When weakness occurs in a monoarticular (1 joint) muscle, I suppose you’d just say that the length-tension relationship isn’t ideal and thus optimal tension is compromised. I love discussions like this too and have no qualms about being a nerd :)

        2. Will R.

          Bret,

          Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Its an interesting topic for many reasons but I guess my question mainly focusing on the longevity of performing squats with the “knee out” approach. If you watch KStarr in his vids, his feet are straight (or 5 deg of ext rotation) and knees go out. I do think they go into genu varus and stress the medial compartment of the knee. Is it a good idea to squat like this with loads over years? I’m not sure. I would also love his opinion and maybe I’ll comment over there which will unleash the CFers on me.

          I’m looking for ways to maximizing my power while remaining (relatively) injury free into my elder years. Just as an example, google “OA knee x-ray” and check out the images. Before the knee is completely compromised the medial compartment goes first in many cases. This is scary to think about! I know the main problem we focused on was valgus (myself included) especially with the younger athletes but as you know, there are many forces vectors occurring at each joint. Great to see the convo that started up over this!

          Best,
          Will

          Reply
          1. Derrick Blanton

            Ha ha!! “Unleash the CFers”..that conjured up some hilarious imagery of a bunch of Crossfit warriors chasing you down a course using kipping pullups to propel themselves forwards..

            Obviously, I have a very vivid imagination.. Anyways, good one, Will.

            I think the goal is to keep the knee directly centered over the “tripod” foot, with the hip packed, or torqued. Maaaaybe a shade to the outside.

            If you can achieve those 3-things, (knee perpendicular, foot equally weighted, and hip torqued), I don’t think it is all that significant whether you are toes out, or toes neutral. When athletes run, cut, and jump, it’s usually off toes neutral postion, but that may be neither here nor there.

            Having filmed myself a few times and thinking that I was going well outside the knee (varus), I would watch the vid and discover that my knees were actually almost dead center perpendicular to the ground.

            Bret’s advice below about filming the movement and immediately getting feedback is spot-on. If it looks athletic, it probably is, and no I didn’t come up with that expression.

            Anyways, interesting thoughts..

          2. Bret Post author

            I’d like to learn more about what Kelly feels is the most stable hip position at the bottom of a squat. I suppose he feels deep hip flexion, slight abduction, slight external rotation (but with feet narrow and pointed rather straight)? The close-packed position of the hip involves a combination of full extension (20°), abduction (50°), and internal rotation (40°). Of course this is not attainable in a squat since you’ll be in flexion, but something interesting to consider. Good thoughts Derrick.

  14. Derrick Blanton

    Doh! You are correct, sir, “active insufficiency” was the wrong term to describe that sub-optimal length/tension relationship. Clearly, I’m still trying to learn “checkers”, ha ha..(which is why I have to watch those MWOD vids literally over and over, and even stop them every 10-seconds, and have a mini-review session. Plus, he talks fricking fast, but I digress..)

    I was trying to describe what I have experienced with my right, very quad dominant leg rolling in on heavy squats, and even DL’s. Once I took a pretty heavy set of DL’s to 12-reps, and my right hip hurt for months. Seriously, I might have slightly torn my labrum, or something. It sucked. And all b/c I couldn’t keep the hip torqued and stable under higher loads.

    Also, didn’t mean to suggest that you just had Karli do a few birddogs, and like magic no more valgus collapse, (see, easy! :) I just thought I recalled that you said that you were having good results with more general glute extension exrcs. as opposed to specialized glute abduction exrcs. which were the conventional wisdom moves to solve the problem, (monster walks, etc).

    Actually, here’s the link from 2010 which stuck in my memory: (Nice to know the search function on your blog works effectively!)

    http://bretcontreras.com/?s=karli+valgus+collapse

    “I’ve been attacking her glutes like a madman and she has responded extremely well. What’s ironic is that I haven’t done any hip abduction work; just a ton of hip extension work with a focus on having her keep her knees out and lowering weights under control.”

    Regardless, of how you did it, the finished product speaks for itself!

    Anyways, I feel like I’m hijacking the hell out of this post, so thanks for the indulgence. You rock!

    Reply
    1. Derrick Blanton

      PS: That quote is at the bottom of the page under “Kickass Karli’, first paragraph. Then, as now, I remember thinking, “this guy knows what’s up!” Mad scientist!

      Reply
    2. Bret Post author

      Definitely not hijacking the post Derrick; questions are great.

      I believe that “fixing” valgus-collapse during squatting has more to do with patterning than it does strengthening of the muscles responsible for hip abduction, hip transverse abduction, and hip external rotation. Let’s say one coach kept having the athlete squatting heavy and simply implemented some x-band walks, squats with bands around the knees, etc., it wouldn’t help improve valgus collapse much. Let’s say another coach demonstrated to the athlete ideal form and then explained what valgus collapse was, and then filmed the athlete doing progressively heavier sets and showed the athlete immediate feedback, it would help improve valgus collapse to a much greater degree.

      With Karli, she had a glute max imbalance so I attacked her weaker side in isolation. But we did a lot of specific work with squatting, front squatting, and box squatting and video-feedback. I think the optimal approach involves doing some targeted glute movements for muscle strengthening along with plenty of patterning work with progressively heavier sets (with less weight the fix is easy but then ugly form tends to rear its head when going heavier).

      Eventually the pattern becomes automatic and the athlete naturally forces the knees out when squatting deep. Hope this explanation helps!

      Reply
      1. Bret Post author

        I’ll be more specific…Karli would look great with bodyweight, then 65lbs, then 95lbs. At 115lbs is where knees really wanted to cave. I’d film her and show her and she’s say, “Wow, I really thought I kept the knees out…I didn’t know they were coming in. Then we’d redo 115lbs and she’d nail it. I’d then move up to 125lbs and 135lbs, etc. This process was incredibly efficient as she couldn’t wait to watch the videos after her sets and see how her form looked. Within a few sessions of this everything clicked. Here’s a vid showing great progress; when I first started training her she had one of the biggest tendencies to collapse that I’d ever seen:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FskVWPv_2wI

        Reply
        1. Derrick Blanton

          I’m sorry, uh.. I got a little distracted watching that video..uh..what were we talking about? Valgus something?? ;)

          Seriously, though, nice work…and thanks for dropping the knowledge.

          Reply
          1. Bret Post author

            Haha! Thanks Derrick. On another note I had a great talk with my friend Rob Panariello tonight regarding knee biomechanics during deep squats. One of these days I’ll formulate an article on the topic.

  15. Arthur

    Bret from your use of EMG do you think there would be a change in the recruitment between the three types of squats with 70% of 1rm versus 80 or even 90% 1rm?

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Hi Arthur, of course there will be. As you add load you’ll see higher levels of activation in all the muscles. However, all squats tend to elicit moderate levels of mean glute and hamstring activation with incredible levels of mean quad activation. Also, don’t just consider the EMG, also consider the muscle lengths (joint ROMs). This is why I like to pick a squat or single leg squat (quad activation), pick a deadlift or good morning variation (hamstring activation), and pick a hip thrust variation (glute activation). No single lift will maximize all three.

      Reply
  16. Derrick Blanton

    Well, that was me deviating from the MWOD playbook, and going to the “Derrick playbook”. I try everything, and see if it works for me.

    Worth noting that almost every elite Oly lifter that I see has 1. externally rotated feet, and 2. an extended neck.

    So somewhere, Kelly Starrett and Charlie Weingroff are gnashing their teeth. (That was a joke, people..)

    Not exactly sure what the party line is on perfect deep squat hip/foot ratio. I saw a vid of Kelly squatting powerlifting wide with completely straight toes, strangest thing I’ve ever seen.

    Ok, I’ve officially reached a new PR on nerding out on exrc. form..

    Reply
  17. Phil

    Brett/Derrick sorry to interupt the flirting but Brett back to you 2 vids on box squats. I am that person with no dorsi flexion in one of my ankles (-10 due to injury) I am using what you call the high box squat at the present time and with wide stance. Why wouldn’t you progress to the low box but still have a wide stance. After all the issue of the wide stance with feet rotated out is designed to eliminate the issue of lack of dorsi flexion. When you go to a narrow stance you immediately bring the lack of dorsi flexion back into play and you have to adjust the rest of the mechanics to compensate? Your thoughts Assman?

    Reply
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  21. Eric

    Hey Brett, great article. My squat is something I’ve struggled with so much, I just do the forward lean when it gets to heavy weights. Recently I’ve been made aware of the long femurs and being “built to squat” may affect form but I’m not 100% sure it’s that.

    I’ve always noticed my legs are about as long as some of my taller friends, I’m 5’7.5 and I wear size 32 length in jeans. Torso is really short too, when I sit next to people that are the same height as me, or shorter, the top of my head usually is below there’s.

    I’ve taken the suggestions here, as far as the box squat, so I’m working on that right now. I’ve struggled in the past to “know” where parallel is because I have to travel so far down, lol. I think I’m going parallel but I’m not even close…and forget it I can’t do heavy full squats without the forward lean.

    I’m hitting legs on a split routine with box squats and either hack squats or front squats on the other day. I don’t feel I have a weak lower back, I’m working on my ham strength, I can’t do glute ham raises. I just don’t want to make excuses for not back squatting. I would at least like to squat 2x by bw with decent form before I just concentrate on other squats that will help with hypertrophy.

    Thanks for the article and the tips here.

    Reply
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  24. Bubba Joe

    Just my 2 cents worth…well a bit more than 2 cents and a lollipop…

    Looking at the general population of lifters (athletes, crossfitters, oly lifters, power lifters) if they have good mobility, we should only have 2 types of squats based on mobility and “rules” of federation. The first type of squat is a squat that has an apparent ssc. This squat appears to have a quicker decent with a “rebound” look. This movement is a full rom with limbs making large contact. The 2nd type of squat is used mostly by powerlifters either in “taboo” federations or those with some crazy aceatablum type. This squat is wider stanced, without an apparent ssc. The eccentric portion is more controlled, there is no drop and rebound, rather it looks like the lifter comes to a complete stop for a slight second and then begins the concentric portion, with little limb contact.

    Both of these examples refer to raw squatting. My definition of raw is no Artifical Stretch Reflex Gear (ASRG) which includeds any type of squat suit or knee wraps. Anything that provides a stretch reflex that isnt yours.

    With that in mind, lets look at the types of box squats. There should also be only 2 types of box squats. The first is the “sit back” type which normally includes a quicker decent than a normal squat, and a rocking motion before the concentric. The second type of box squat is the “sit down” type which has a more controlled decent, a pause, and a straight up bar path. The height of the box has very little relevance to what Im explaining here. Im assuming that boxes are always hips below knees. Because, just because.

    So looking at that then you can have combinations of those. Where Im really going with this is here…

    When you box squat using the “sit back” method (disreguarding stance), you are going to be able to move weights faster than using the “sit down” method. This once again assumes that you have no mobility issues and no major imbalances.

    If you watch the bar path, the furthest away from eccentric bar position at the end of the rock back, to the original eccentric and now concentric bar position, youll notice that is where all that rate of force and speed is developed. This is unacheivable in the “sit down” method do to fully static break.

    I wont pretend to understand this phenomenon cause Im just a hillbilly powerlifter, not a physicist. Does it have something to do with linear torque and transitional lift? Like a helicopter taking off.

    Every lifter that argues why the box squat is the super movement always says 2 things. 1. The box squat works the posterior chain. 2. F = m x a. Thats why they do the box squat the way they do…… Well thats great and all, but we also know that the greater the acceleration, the lesser the force, so that throws the relevance of that formula and what it means in terms of carryover to the free squat right out the window. Ive done enough box squats that I can say it doesnt matter wether its close or wide stance, a box squat smashes your posterior chain for reason of its execution. Most lifters try to stay tight and static in the free squat. In the box squat we should aim to raise the chest first. Look at this < as your chest and legs. Just think about creating more space between them. Even if you do not, most times youll catch yourself leaning a bit too far forwards and have to really use those erectors to not fall forward… So yes, box squats, hurray for pc.

    Then that begs the question of whats more important?

    Creating more force? (moving 2 plates from a dead start) or Creating a higher rate of force development and acceleration? (moving 2 plates off a box with a rocking movement really fast) To me theres no question on which I want to produce as a powerlifter.

    There are many reasons to do a box squat. Confidence handling heavier weights than normal at a greater acceleration, increase posterior activation, box squat as a 2 for 1 movement instead of squatting and pulling in the same workout, to break the eccentric / concentric to produce greater force with lesser poundages, to break the e/c to take stress off of certain joints…

    I am going to say this strongly but gently. I think Louie Simmons is wrong ….about the wide stance squat being superior…. and…. about the technique of the box squat he is an advocate of….

    Just my 2 cents.

    Reply
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