Response to Reader Question on Box Squats

Recently a reader asked me for an opinion on back squats vs. box squats for rowing training.  At the time I was not familiar with box squats.  On a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest I worked out at CrossFit Amped in Bellevue, and received some coaching on box squats.  While I have only begun to try them out, I am able to offer some initial thoughts:

Box squats train the finish, back squats train the catch, and deadlifts + kettlebell swings train the peak of the power curve through mid-stroke.  For this reason, I think I will  be adding box squats into my strength routine.  They seem to really train hamstring and ankle flexibility, and they were activating something weird and deep in my core/torso that I have never felt before.  I am not a physiologist, but intuitively I felt that all of the trunk tissue that is key to having a strong, stable, and upright finish connected to a powerful hip drive were being trained by the box squat.

Interestingly, while I think box squats will really help me get better at back squats, I do not believe they will significantly contribute to an explosive catch catch and drive in rowing.  The front of the drive in a boat is tied much more to quad activation than hamstring, and for that reason I believe back squats or front squats are better for training the early stage of the drive, especially since we do not get as “deep” in a rowing boat as you do in a box squat.

What they will help with is evening out my ability to squat heavy.  Right now I can handle decent weight (1.6x bodyweight) if I don’t go lower than 90 degrees, plus I can lift it explosively.  The issue is that I can’t handle nearly as much (1.2x bodyweight) if I go deep – the deepest few inches of the squat motion are the weakest, and this limits my overall max squat.  If I can improve the deepest part of the squat by practicing box squats, that will let me train the middle of the squat at a higher weight as well, which will help my catch/drive motion, etc.

It’s great to learn new skills.  I also got coaching on hollow rocks.  I have done leg circles for a long time in rowing training, but the hollow rock takes it to a whole new level of pain.  I am going to work these is for variation.  This is one of the reasons I love the integration of CrossFit and rowing – the concepts are nothing new, but CrossFit gives the rower a whole new arsenal of tools and skills, keeps it interesting, and keeps your body guessing and adapting.

I’d appreciate reader comments and experiences with box squats.

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Thanks to CrossFit Amped + Surprise PR!

A big “Thank You!” to Crossfit Amped in Bellevue, Washington for hosting me at their box this week.  Great box, great coaches, friendly people.  The funny thing is that I woke up at 5:15 AM, still on east coast time, crawled out of bed on very little sleep, and decided that I would drag myself to the box even though I felt dazed and confused.  The WOD consisted of snatch work (20 minutes on the minute) followed by rowing sprints.  On the first 500m piece I sat down, didn’t even check the drag factor, and just blasted off without thinking.  I ended up setting a surprise PR of 1:29.2 and got to ring the “PR Bell” at the box.  This is the second time recently that I’ve set a PR when I felt absolutely horrible – go figure, sometimes it happens when you least expect it.  I’ll tuck those away for the days when it goes much worse than planned!

If you are in the Seattle area check them out!