A National Approach To Box Squatting By Sakari Selkäinaho and EliteFTS
Today many lifters talk about box squatting. Opinions vary alot. Some still state that using a box is a trick which has no effect to contest maxes at all. Some say that it will only work at APF meets where you don´t have to go so low. After hearing and reading different opinions I decited to give you mine. It is based from what I have seen and heared from lifters in Finland during the last five years.
Jarmo Laine was one of the first Finns to try the box squats. At the summer of ´96 he wanted to try them immediately after I told him my impressions and how it worked even for a tired and crippled veteran. Having had enough big lifts at gym and failures at meets, he was ready for something new. Old habits die hard and like many, he first box squatted with too much weight. But after a few months learning, he was on the right tracks. Having most likely the best squat tecnicue ever seen in Finland, he was already able to utilize his hip strength in the squat. So it was only a short moment when he noticed the key points and benefits of using a box. He never really tried records on several box heigths, only did a lot of short sets on box below parellel. His hard work paid off at the ´97 nationals where he got three whites for his easy 680 pounds at 165 bodyweigth. Jarmo Virtanen´s European record was moved in history by one pound margin. After a couple of injuries, a building project he came back this year to 165`s again. In april he came up 683 like a toy and shocked everyone with three picture perfect squats of 661, 694 and 711 pounds. The box benefits his deadlift too. His former weak link is now 683 pounds, done at our Deadlift Record Breakers in september. Having troubles to lockout a big one, he gave the low & high boxes a steady rides to max. In WPC & WPO meet in Las Vegas we will see him challenging the best middleweights in the World.
Janne Toivanen, a two-time IPF World Champ, is one of the finest sportsmen I`ve ever known. If you read about Janne´s deadlift training of the past issues of PL USA, you have noticed how hard he trains - six times a week. Being an olympic type squatter, he never got as much out of the box squats he might have been able to with a wider stance. But for his super sumo deadlift, box squats developed a lockout that didn´t fail even if he was forced to four deads like happened in Salzburg. I knew that when the bar came past his knees, he would make the lift. His squat was ”only” at 727 pounds and stayed there because he finished lifting after that thrill in Salzburg. At the last year of his career, he was in the army and had excellent training conditions. Many have asked me, what he would have been able to do if he decited to keep on training after returning to his regular duties as a service product manager at Valmet Corporations. I have always stated that a 800+ squat at least plus a high 800 deadlift. That much he had left in him. So far, nobody has argueed.
Sakari ”Daddy” Mäntylä is maybe the most fanatic powerlifter in Finland. He is quite famous nationally not only from his lifting but also for coaching with a heart. Some lifters goes crazy and some do not. Daddy goes nuts always, whether on platform or coaching. Among friends and team members, he was also famous for his big squats that were all really high. Once he called me and told that he did 755 in practice. He admited it might have been a bit high, maybe by a size of a matchbox. I told him that he lights his cigarrettes with a full size logs. That was during his preparation to ´93 IPF Worlds in Jönköping Sweden. At the meet he could come up with 650 which was redlighted three times. That was the old Daddy.
Three years ago he decited to start box squats. He had a very strong back but weak glutes and hamstrings. The first result was that he was able to do more than one lift in a three lift meet. After being able to catch a legal depth, he finally started to get some results. At the WPC World´s in Graz he came with an easy 694 and was able for more. At ´99, I expected him to make that 755 pound ”matchbox squat” at 198 from a legal depth but he was injured, had a divorse and did not compete the whole year. Although he has reaches 46 years of age, he will still improve. His tecnicue has never been better. High volume training will keep up his work capacity. The test is in Vegas where I expect my long time friend to make his best squat and total ever during his 25 years in the sport.
I think I´m the first Finn to ever try the box squats. Training for ´95 IPF World´s, I ruptured my patella tendon. I was forced to widen my squat stance to move the weigth from thighs to hips. The box squats seemed perfect to that. I spent two months learning the tecnicue, three weeks in bed with a fewer but then I was finally able to start my first real box squat cycle by percents. After two and a half months of training with 240-300 pounds, I came up with 578. A carryover I never met anywhere before. I was more than convinced. After that my knee has not bothered me and also the lower back problems are very much history. The reverse hyper machine has a lot to do with that but that´s another story. Now I squat at 8 to 15 inch boxes and have progress on both squat and deadlift.
This list could go on and on. During the last years, I have wrote articles, given seminars and coached and consulted lifters of different levels. All who have tried box squats have had at least some benefits. Very tall and lifters with long thigh and who had for some reason not moved their squat stance wide enough have made the smallest gains. Some have used it only to strengthen their glutes and hamstrings but many have also adopted the Soviet percent training to their program. It can be done by box based maxes. Start with sets of 8x3 or 12x2 at 65% of the box max and finish with 4-6 doubles at 80 or 85 percent. After that, go for a meet or try for new box record. Another method is based on maxes on contest. At Westside Barbell, the Mecca of box squatting, most lifters go from 50% to 60% of a best contest lift. The results are known everywhere.
What makes box squats so exceptionally effective ? Louie Simmons has pointed that out many times in his articles, but let´s review. First, it teaches the perfect tecnicue by allowing one to sit complitely back and not down while descenting. All know that you come up from squat like you have descented. Secondly, it takes the speed off from the lift at bottom which is the most critical part of the lift. By cutting the consentric-eccentric rhytm it forces one to produce max force at very short time period to come up. These two things are the main factors for a successful squat. It really overloads the main muscles of squatting. The percent training will also allow one to do more lifts in one training session. Doing only one tough set of 3-6 reps will in long period make you good at reps but lousy at singles. After all, the opposite is what we all are after. Some lifters have even stated that they are able train the deadlift more effectively simply because of smaller weights at squats.
Another question is how to start box squats ? Here´s a system that has proved to be succesful. For learning the mechanics of box squat, the best way is to start with a box which is 2-3 inches above parellel. Use only 20-30% of your contest max and get used to the movement. Remember to pause and relax the hips and legs at bottom. After a few weeks try, do not increase the weight but lower the box to parellel. After that, work another few weeks and lower the box 2-3 inches below parellel. After another few weeks, you are finally ready for training on boxes. Move back to a box that is an inch or two below parellel. During the ”test drive” you need to do some regular squats to stay in productive training weights. But after you are familiar with box squats you may want to stick to them only.
I have heard many wondering why do so many types of goodmornings ? So, at kinesiology course during my massager studies, I had a chance to find out. I measured EGM´s on hamstrings, glutes and lower erectors. At arched back goodmornings glutes and hamstrings did far more work than in others forms but to my surprise, 30-40% less lower back work than in bent over goodmornings. The goodmorning/squat combination stresses all three main muscles almost equal and has proven to be an exellent choise for lifters who fail in the squat or sumo deadlift because of weak lower back.
Rickey Dale Crain has done box squats for 20 years and Neville Primich uses them regularly. Watch him going for 400 kilos / 881 pounds after his move to 198`s in the future. Many other top lifters do them also. But they will boost your squat up whether you´re a world class squatter or beginner. I have entitled this article by Herb Glossbrenner`s, the legendary statistian, word´s. Opinions vary and may even argue sometimes, but results speak for itself.
I would like to thank Louie Simmons for his time, support and innovative thoughts. Thanks again my friend. Powerlifting needs more people like him who give away their time and efforts just to get the sport moving forward.