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I will go on the operating assumption anyone reading this blog has heard of CrossFit. The term is pervasive in today’s fitness culture and has even begun to be used in general popular culture. In addition to CrossFit, there is another term that has worked its way into the collective fitness consciousness and that is functional fitness. Finally, hybrid athlete is now being bandied about in the fitness world. What all of these terms have in common is they reference a level of fitness that goes beyond the training specialization focus of the previous several decades.
CrossFitters, those who train for functional fitness, and hybrid athletes all become more physically fit across a broad spectrum. CrossFit in particular addresses virtually all of the components of physical fitness: strength, strength endurance, endurance, and skill. A high level CrossFitter is going to be above average at virtually any form of physical fitness.
One thing that each of these forms of varied training have in common is they include movements which are hard on the knees. All of them include some form of running, most of them jumping, and most of them some form of strength training.
The human body is a wonderful machine, but overuse injuries can and do occur and the knees are no exception. Strength training is a key to overall fitness and performance enhancement, but strength training for anyone other than a competitive weightlifter or powerlifter should be used as a means to enhance performance in their sport of choice. Unfortunately, that is NOT what occurs at most boxes and gyms, even at the highest levels. One need only watch training videos posted by strength coaches, box owners, and others to include Division 1 and professional athletes. Poor form is the order of the day, and that is nothing short of a recipe for disaster for the athlete(s) in question.
If you CrossFit, train for functional fitness, or are a hybrid athlete the majority of your lower body strength training should consist primarily of properly performed box squats. The reason for this is simple, box squats train all of the musculature of the traditional back squat, but they reduce the forces directed to the knees. It should be clear, but in case not, reduced knee stress when strength training makes injury on the field of play during execution of the athlete’s sport less likely. It also makes injury in the gym less likely. In short, it does exactly what strength training should do for an athlete by increasing the force production potential of the involved musculature without increasing the chance of injury.
I know, you CrossFitters are thinking this blog does not pertain to you because the box squat differs too much from Olympic style squats. You are concerned your Olympic movements will suffer if you heed my advice. In truth, you DO need to practice Olympic style front and back squats, but not in the manner you think. What you want to do is incorporate the actual Olympic lifts in order to build skill for those movements, but use box squats to increase the force production capacity of the involved musculature. The increased strength production capacity in your lower back, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes from box squats will then translate into bigger Olympic lifts once you master the skill of the movements. All the while you will be reducing stress to your knee joints and increasing your chances of remaining injury free which is a key to athletic progression.
Watch the video below of Laura Phelps demonstrating both perfect, and improper box squat form. This video was from a Westside Powerlifting Certification class for CrossFitters. Your author is narrating.
Poor box squat form is almost as bad as poor free squat form. Whether you are a coach or an athlete, learn to box squat like Laura. Make box squat variations (different bars if you have them, and different box heights) with perfect technique the primary source of your squatting volume for strength training and you will reap the benefits of enhanced athletic performance and reduced injury rates.