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.