The box squat is one of the best exercises for perfecting squat technique. It eliminates the “bounce” technique that can be used in a traditional squat forcing your body to learn how to maintain tension in the bottom position.
However, many people are unable to perform the box squat. For some, it’s as simple as not having access to a box. For others, it may be a difficulty in performing the exercise, whether it’s technical faults or physical deficits.
Regardless of the reasons, numerous alternatives use different types of equipment and movements and are just as, if not more, effective.
The 5 best box squat alternatives are:
- Anderson Squat
- Partial Squat
- Hatfield Squat
- Pause Squat
- Goblet Squat
In this article, I’ll assess each one in detail, including why they’re a good alternative to box squats, how to do them, and some pro tips for performing them effectively.
What Makes a Good Box Squat Alternative?
A good box squat alternative will achieve one of the following:
- Target similar muscle groups used in the box squat
- Support improved squat technique
- Increase concentric strength
Muscles Used in Box Squat
Being a squat variation, the box squat works every lower body muscle to some degree. The muscles worked in the box squat are:
- Erector Spinae
Depending on the box height and barbell position, the box squat can activate most of the posterior chain, with the glutes acting as the main movers, which is the case if the box restricts your hips from dropping below parallel.
A lower box will increase quadriceps activation more since your knees have to bend deeper into the bottom range of motion.
Takeaway: An effective box squat alternative will primarily target the posterior chain, glutes, and quads
Want to learn more about squat anatomy? Check out my article on the Muscles Used In The Squat.
Improved Squat Technique
Box squats are an effective exercise for isolating and tackling an athlete’s sticking points in a free squat. Particularly for those who struggle halfway up or at the top of the lift, athletes can adjust the height of the box to just below their sticking point and work through the difficult range.
The inability to bounce up and down like in a free squat means you’re unable to use momentum to reach the top of the squat. Therefore form and technique are essential for driving up in each phase of the squat position.
Takeaway: An effective box squat alternative will support the development of squat technique and help address sticking points the lifter may have in a standard squat, particularly in the mid or top-end range of motion.
Increase Concentric Strength
The pause at the bottom of the box squat takes away any bounce and momentum the lifter might be tempted to use on the upwards drive. As a result, the lifter is left to rely solely on concentric strength (the strength required to go from a dead stop in the bottom position) to get back to a standing position.
This will support both increased quad strength (and size) and a stronger lockout on standard back squats.
Takeaway: A good box squat alternative should place a lot of focus on the concentric phase of the squat.
Related Article: High Box Squat: 5 Reasons Why It Makes Sense
What Can You Replace the Box With?
Many lifters may want to perform the box squat, but simply don’t have access to a box. In these cases, it may make sense to merely use an alternative piece of equipment to act as the box, rather than an alternative exercise altogether.
This method will retain all the benefits of doing a box squat. A suitable alternative to the box would need to be stable, relatively adjustable in height, and large enough to pause on. More advanced lifters may want to try techniques that don’t require a box.
Stacking Olympic plates would allow for an adjustable and wide platform to squat onto. One con is that the platform could be unstable if the weights aren’t stacked properly.
Laid correctly a dumbbell should be stable and wide enough to perform a box squat. However, adjustability is an issue, and the width of your stance wouldn’t be forced so wide meaning you might end up hitting different muscle groups.
A bench is both reasonably adjustable and suitably stable to perform box squats on. Again, the width may be an issue and it will require fairly good control of the weight to ensure you center your pause.
If you’re looking for an exercise replacement altogether, then the following will discuss 5 exercises that have similiar benefits to the box squat.
Box Squat Alternatives: 5 Exercises
1. Anderson Squat
The Anderson Squat is a back squat variation that sees the lifter begin each lift with the concentric rather than eccentric movement. The emphasis on increased concentric strength makes it a suitable alternative to the box squat.
It can also help to train explosive strength, which is the ability of your body to produce a muscular contraction quickly. This is done by bringing the bar to a dead stop on each rep, and then thinking about bringing the barbell off the pins by pushing as fast as possible.
How to do it
- Set the bar on the safety pins in the power rack. This should be as close to the bottom as possible whilst still allowing you to get under the bar
- Attain your regular squatting position under the bar. Establish tension by gripping the bar, flexing the abs, and corkscrewing your feet into the floor.
- Begin the ascent to a standing position lifting vertically and keeping the core tight.
- Once fully extended, lower yourself and the bar back into the starting position and ensure the barbell comes to a dead stop.
A key function of the Anderson squat is to improve squat technique. One way of ensuring this is to concentrate on keeping the bar path directly over the center of your feet to ensure you are going straight up and down.
Related Article: Box Squat vs Back Squat: Pros, Cons, Differences
2. Partial Squat
Partial squats activate the glutes more and allow lifters to overload the weight more than they would in a normal squat. Crucially, they are great for breaking through sticking points in the squat, which is why they are one of our alternatives to the box squat.
The loading demand in a partial squat is always greater on the hip extensors (glutes) as you are always in the top half of the squat range of motion. Working this range of motion also allows athletes to both build confidence squatting with heavy weights that they normally would not handle in the full range of motion.
How to do it
- Set up as you would for a standard back squat. Stand feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lower towards the squat position hinging at the hips. Once you reach your desired range of motion (this will depend on where your sticking point is – usually halfway between parallel and standing)
- Drive upwards back into the starting position
Set the safety catches to the bottom of your desired range of motion. This way, when you lower into the squat position the barbell will touch or almost touch the catches at the bottom of each partial rep.
When doing this, be careful to not rest the bar or bounce off the safety catches. As well, it’s important to have these safeties because you’ll be handling heavier load with the Anderson squat compared with the normal back squat or box squat.
3. Hatfield Squat
The Hatfield squat requires less mobility and less balance or coordination compared to a standard squat. This allows it to act as a regression exercise to back squats or box squats, allowing lifters to work on their squat technique, and guide themselves through sticking points
When compared with the box squat, it activates the quads to a greater extent because you’re expected to go into a full squat, which would be lower than a typical box height
How to do it
- Find a power rack or squat stands and set up as you would for a safety bar squat
- Stand up to unrack the safety bar, then find your squat stance and grab onto your hand supports – these could be the band pegs, an extra barbell, or the uprights.
- Begin to lower into the squat position, hinging and the hips whilst continuing to grip the hand supports.
- Once you reach your desired depth, push the floor away and begin your ascent
When on the descent phase, aim to deliberately push your knees forward and out while remaining vertical, this will allow you to activate your quads to a greater extent throughout the movement. If you have a hard time keeping your heels flat on the ground, try raising your heel slightly be squatting on plates.
Check out where the box squat ranks on my list of hardest squats: Which Type of Squat Variation Is The Hardest (14 Examples).
4. Pause Squat
If the issue is lack of equipment, then for more advanced lifters, a pause squat might be an effective substitute. The pause at the bottom of your range of motion replicates the pause found in the box squat, only without the box to rest on.
Because there is no box, the pause squat is more difficult compared to a box squat as the muscles are under constant strain. It does however support concentric strength development, particularly in the quads, as it removes the impact of momentum aid on the upwards drive.
It replicates the benefits of the box squat in every way.
How to do it
- Set up as you would for a normal back squat. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
- Lower into the squat position, hinging at the hips
- Once you reach your chosen range of motion (i.e. the height you would have the box) pause and hold the position for 2-seconds. Keep your hips motionless and don’t sink any lower.
- Return to a standing position by driving straight upwards from the pause position with as much power as possible.
Don’t slow down as you drop into the pause. It’s important to maintain the same tempo you would for a normal back squat rather slow because you know you have to pause.
Learning to control the bar efficiently enough to maintain tempo and stop the bar on command during a squat is an advanced skill and will enhance the benefits you get from a pause squat.
5. Goblet Squat
How to do it
- Stand with a kettlebell in both hands and with feet shoulder-width apart and toes angled outwards.
- Holding the weight at your chest, engage your core, and look directly ahead. Hinge at the hips and lower into the squat position.
- Once you’ve reached the limits of your mobility, return to the standing position by driving through your heels and pressing your feet forward.
Try to keep the kettlebell as close to your chest as possible to prevent the arms and biceps from doing any work.
This places the most of the focus on the leg muscles which both activate the desired muscles and allow for greater weight to be lifted as the legs are capable of dealing with more weight than the arms.
Want to increase your squat proficiency? Check out my article on the 11 Squat Progressions (From Beginner To Advanced).
A good box squat alternative will target the posterior chain muscles and activate the quads whilst also supporting athletes looking to confront sticking points in their traditional squat. Increasing concentric strength may also be a consideration when choosing a good box squat alternative.
Whichever you choose, each of these alternatives offers variety and benefits to your lifting program if box squats don’t quite cut it for you.
Other Lower Body Alternative Exercises
- 10 Best Hyperextension Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Best Bulgarian Split Squat Alternative (With Pictures)
- 15 Leg Extension Alternatives (At Home, Bands, Free Weight)
- 9 Best Barbell Hip Thrust Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Best Leg Press Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Best Hack Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 8 Best Pistol Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Best Cossack Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 10 Highly Effective Deadlift Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Best Romanian Deadlift Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 9 Highly Effective Belt Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 10 Highly Effective Front Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 17 Best Leg Curl Alternatives (Dumbbell, At Home, Cable)
- 17 Sissy Squat Alternatives (With Pictures)
- 7 Wall Ball Alternatives (Dumbbell, Kettlebell, Bodyweight)
- 10 Best Box Jump Alternatives (With Pictures)