The “Touch and Go” Box Squat
Jose Salas, MS, ATC, CSCS
The squat has often been called the “king of exercises” and rightly so. It’s a closed-kinetic chain exercise that builds functional strength and power from the ground up. The squat, both back and front versions, is a staple in many strength and conditioning programs. It is, however, not the only form of squatting that is used. It’s contraindicated for some players because of structural, medical or other reasons and for others due to the phase of the training year. Just because a player can’t perform a traditional squat, however, doesn’t mean that should not squat. For many players, the solution is the “touch and go” box squat. The “touch and go” box squat is used both as an alternative for those for whom the back and front squat is contraindicated. It is also used to provide variety within a given training week, cycle and training phase as well as to reduce the risk of injury due to structural, medical or other reasons.
The “touch and go” box squat is not the box squat advocated by Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell. The Westside version has athletes sitting down with their entire body weight on the box and briefly disengaging the hip extensors before returning to the standing position2. In the “touch and go” box squat, the athlete starts from a standing position, performs a controlled squat down to a box, touches it briefly with his glutes and then explodes up to the starting position.
Advantages of the “touch and go” box squat. In addition to being an effective method to improve strength, there are other advantages associated with the “touch and go” box squat to include:
- It teaches athletes how to sit back. The key to squatting properly is to sit back, not down so that the hip extensor and posterior chain muscles are involved. Some athletes, especially those with limited lifting experience, tend to bend first at the knees instead of at the hips. This, in turn, causes the knees to move too far forward and shifts body weight from the heels to their toes.
- It provides a target. For those who have trouble sitting back far enough, the box gives them a target. It tells them where to go and lets them know when they get there. The box ensures that they go down to the depth prescribed by the coach.
- It ensures consistency of depth. Some athletes don’t squat deep enough and some squat too deep. Squatting too deep can increase stress on the knees and squatting too high can limit gains. For max results, most athletes are encouraged to squat to parallel. Stopping before parallel increases the mechanical advantage at the hips and knees which allows an athlete to lift more weight through a partial range of motion but does not produce significantly more strength at all points in the range of motion. For coaches working with a group of athletes, it is often hard to ensure that every athlete is squatting deep enough on every rep. Grouping athletes by height and setting up boxes that are appropriate for each group can help ensure that every athlete automatically knows if he has squatted deep enough on every rep.
- It helps maintain tightness and control of the core and torso. In an effort to go deeper, some athletes relax and drop into the bottom position of a squat. This causes undesired movement of the pelvis and rounding of the low back which can increase the risk of back pain.
How to do it. The set up for the “touch and go” box squat is very similar to that for the traditional box squat.
- To ensure safety, squat inside a rack with safety bars positioned slightly lower than the lowest point the bar will reach during the squat.
- Place a box or bench inside the rack that is approximately tibial height, which for most players will be between 14 and 16 inches and allow approximately 110 degrees of knee flexion3.
- Step inside the rack with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and place the bar on across the traps.
- Inhale, set the core and squat down under control until the buttocks lightly touch the box and then explode up into the standing position. Exhale as you ascend from the bottom.
- Set the core and take a deep breath before each rep and exhale after each rep4.
- Keep the head up, chest out and core tight throughout every rep.
- Start the squat by driving the hips back before bending the knees and sit back with weight on the full foot, not the toes.
- Touch and go – lightly touch the buttocks to the box at the bottom. Don’t sit down and rock back and forward to create momentum to get off the box.
- Avoid resting on the box, FEEL the box and then push the feet into the ground to que the hip extensors to fire first before the knees and trunk extensors to start the ascent.
- Maintain proper posture of the trunk at the bottom of the squat5.
- Maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement, i.e., avoid butt wink and elevation of the ribs.
- Maintain intra-abdominal pressure throughout the movement
- The head is the last thing down and the first thing up.
- Avoid coming up with the butt first, i.e., don’t scoot it forward – drive it forward.
Variations. For variety, the “touch and go” box squat can also be performed using front, dumbbell and goblet squats. Box height can also be raised to allow injured players to work around an injury and gradually lowered throughout recovery.
When to use it. “Touch and go” box squats can be used both during off-season and in-season workouts, especially with players who have trouble performing traditional squats or may still be learning the proper technique. The “touch and go” box squat serves as a guide to help the athlete know how deep to go and helps ensure that every rep is performed properly. With traditional squats, some athletes don’t go deep enough or struggle to know exactly what they need to do. As a result, some expend extra energy performing extra reps to get it right; energy that could be better used on the field.
The “touch and go” box squat is not just a good exercise for getting strong, it’s also one of the best tools engrain in the CNS the habit of using the floor to generate ground reaction forces for running, jumping, hitting, throwing, starting, stopping and changing directions1.
During the season, a safe program is to perform “touch and go” box squats once per week and do 3 sets of 5-6 reps with 70-85% of max.
- Mcbride, JM, et. al. Relationship between maximal strength and five, ten, and forty-yard dash times. J Strength & Cond Res 23: 1633-1636, 2009.
- Mcbride, JM, et. al. Comparison of kinetic variables and muscle activity during a squat vs. a box squat. J Strength & Cond. Res, 24(12): 3195-3199, 2010.
- Schoenfield, B. The Science of Squatting. https://wwww.nsca.com/education/videos/the-science-of-squatting, 2019.
- Ulm, R. Stability and weightlifting-mechanics of stabilization-Part 1. NSCA Coach, 4(1): 20-27, 1017.
- Ulm, R. Stability and the front squat: front loaded versus back-loaded squatting-Part 4. NSCA Coach 4(4): 18-29, 2017.
Jose Salas, MS, ATC, CSCS is a Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Philadelphia Phillies.