Core Strength: Box Squat To Balance Pelvis

Published by Liz Koch on May 11, 2009 in Articles

Gain core strength while maintaining a supple psoas by choosing to make pelvic integrity a priority. Too often what appears to be a weak psoas muscle is really an overused, misused and abused psoas due to pelvic disruptions. In an attempt to compensate for unstable pelvic sacral-iliac joints, the psoas ends up sore, tight and overworked. Most people do not have weak psoas muscles they have exhausted psoas muscles because this smart tissue is being relied upon for core support.

To balance your pelvis requires good positioning, the right idea and proprioceptive awareness. As Core Strength Trainer and Power Lifter Deric Stockton knows, centering the pelvis is not about core tension but developing core awareness:  ”A functional, proprioceptive, and responsive psoas” explains Deric, “enables you to sense L-spine (lumbar) neutrality while moving with bi-lateral equality through the hips/legs.” Power lifting over 700 pounds; Deric has achieved core strength while maintaining a supple psoas.

Pelvic Keystone

Gravity passes directly through the bony skeletal core via the spine, legs and feet; it does so by transferring weight from one spine to two legs through the pelvic basin. What creates and maintains pelvic integrity is a web of ligaments called the sacral iliac joints – this pelvic keystone transfers but does not bear weight.  The psoas protects and attempts to prevent injury to the lumbar spine, pelvic keystone and nervous system. When torn, frozen or lax these proprioceptive rich pelvic ligaments communicate disturbed weight bearing signals that demand that the psoas,  as messenger of the central nervous system, get involved. If weight does not move smoothly through the  pelvis (evident by a torque, tipped or instable pelvic basin) it will be impossible to maintain a supple psoas.

The Box Squat encourages a somatic connection to the pelvic keystone by intentionally  centering the pelvis while both standing and sitting.  The Box Squat assists awareness in weight bearing activities by encouraging spinal, joint and psoas input via gravity and by revealing your natural spiral rotations – helping you somatically locate a centered core.

The Box Squat

Begin in front of a full-length mirror to help you visually organize your position and then once your bones are well aligned and the movement is flowing through both hips and feet evenly, close your eyes to deepen your internal cues and enhance proprioception (internal awareness).

STEP 1: Use a simple wooden box – the higher the box the easier the exercise. Begin with a comfortable height so awareness, not stress, is the focus of your attention. Center your pelvis and align your feet wider then your hip sockets. Be sure both feet are even.  Have the right ideas! Good positioning is the point of this exercise so take your time and be precise in your alignment.

STEP 2: Stand with legs wide apart with your weight balanced equally between both feet. Be bare footed or wear a light canvas shoe so you can feel the weight along the outside of both feet. Stand with legs straight, and arms at breastbone height straight out in front – one hand on top of the other. A variation is to hold a flat stone or medicine ball close to the chest. Head is up, eyes neutral.

STEP 3: Once your pelvis is balanced and you are centered, take a breath and sit down. Watch in the mirror and be sure to sit straight down initiating the movement from the pelvis not the knees. Think and feel the sits bones (tuberosities) hitting the box first – both at the same time. Know the box is there so the movement is smooth and direct. Hips first – knees second (see practice exercise below).

STEP 4: Rock your pelvis slightly forward and with weight on the whole foot push down into your whole foot and stand straight up with knees fully extended. DO NOT lead with your head or neck. Remember this is a core awareness exploration, so stay centered in your belly (pelvic) core.

STEP 5: Be sure there is weight in the heels and along the outside side of the foot. Pause at the top and take a breath and begin again. Practice with the idea of improving balance and centering your pelvis with each squat.

STEP 6: Once perfected lower the box,  use foam padding, and/or hold a medicine ball to challenge your proprioception.

EXTRA PREPARATION: Practice unhinging the hip and freeing pelvic to swing on leg, tail bone is released and free to move before box squatting.

Deric recommends the box squat for everyone and especially anyone lifting weights or building core strength. “It will help you gain the body awareness and messaging from your psoas to neutralize any scoliotic patterns and equalize the stress of repetitive tasks in the L-spine, sacrum and hip joints.” The result is a balanced pelvis, which functions as part of the core – and a supple juicy psoas.

Marguerite
Posted on May 27th, 2009 | Permalink

Thank you. Not only is this a great exercise, but the way you describe the alignment and internal attention is excellent.

Liz Koch
Posted on May 30th, 2009 | Permalink

Thanks! Be sure to check back soon – there will be photos and a video added to help readers understand how-to practice the Box Squat.

Walt
Posted on June 2nd, 2009 | Permalink

There are some great guidelines here for doing the squat and getting the most out of it.
I first started doing squats at age 15 and was instructed by an international track and field competator.He gave me a wonderful start.
This is a carry over exercise that has helped me in many sports.I even ended up doing some power lifting competion.
Good description of how important the weight bearing is on the foot.In the early 1960’s they taught lifters to place your heels on a 2×4 board,that would raise your heel two and a half inches above your toes.That led to some balance and movement issues.The present teaching is much better.
Eventually I backed off on the huge poundages lifted and went to placing the barbell on the front of my shoulders for better posture during the exercise,this also allowed the squat work to be more effective for my body.Also lower weight allowed me to include more muscle groups.
Walking lunges with dumbells in both hands also made the workout apply better to day to day things I do.
Over time I developed an imbalance in my flexor/ extender relationship, in my quadraceps to hamsring area, that I resolved by including Pilates work in my exercise program. Walt

Liz Koch
Posted on June 3rd, 2009 | Permalink

I asked Deric to comment and here he is:
Walt,
I too began squatting at a young age… but I hurt my knees and back (C,T,L , and Sacrum) repeatedly for years doing them too balistically, with too much knee flexion, and not enough engagement of my core to maintain spinal position.  You were lucky to have a good coach early on.
Due to an ankle injury (motorcycle) I now have limited range of motion with my left ankle.  So, if I squat with a narrow stance and more knee flexion, I choose to wear my olympic lifting shoes (with a heel).  But if I’m squatting in my strongest groove (wide/sumo), using my hips… I wear Chuck Taylor Converse.  But I like to squat both ways… both can teach us slightly different structural patterns as to how we move, and how to correct our mechanics for neutrality and equalization.
I more often than not squat with a Safety Squat Bar… much less stress on the shoulder girdle, and an increased emphasis on core strength due to the camber angle.  15lbs – 75lbs Medicine balls and roundish stones work good to hold on the chest in a Zercher/Front squat position while doing squats and lunges.  Again, really comfortable on the shoulders, and emphasizes core strength to stay upright.   
We squat off boxes, foam, stability balls of various heaights… we use different bars… we use various foot positions with varrying amounts of hip / knee flexion, we use the Contrast Method to accomodate resistance with bands, chains, and weigth releasers.  So I do alot of squatting… but with alot of variety. 
I train by the Prelipin % chart. Originally defined by Russian weight lifters and interpreted by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell.  I have my own skew on the program which I feel is more conducive to overall health than the Westside Plan.   But I basically rotate Dynamic Effort method, Max Effort method, Repetition Method, and Assistance Workouts… for both upper and lower body.   
Posterior chain and hip conditioning is vital… most people develop quad/knee dominant leg patterns… getting the hamstrings, hips and low back healthy and functional will allow greater strength potential in the body.
Band leg curls, Reverse Hypers, Glute/Ham Raises, Single Leg Squats and Single Leg Straight Leg Deads, and Walking Lunges with medicine balls and knee pads on, so you can tap your knee, safely on the ground each stride, using core to stay upright and maintain pressure on heel of front foot each step (for posterior neurology).
Abdominal strength is key… I can’t believe I’m going to be attempting an 804 squat at my upcoming meet!  At 40 yrs old.  Healthy and strong core, posterior chain, and hips is vital.
Best Regards,
Deric-
You can see Deric’s recent rep work at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLsS5BQcT-c

Jeanne Franks
Posted on March 19th, 2010 | Permalink

Going to try this exercise. Is there any warm up needed?

Liz Koch
Posted on March 28th, 2010 | Permalink

Constructive Rest Postion (CRP) is the place to begin. Spending 10 minutes in CRP helps create a more neutral midline. As gravity releases any tension in the Psoas all the bones are free to fine a natural balance. the spine elongates, the pelvis centers, the hip sockets open….after you get up you’ll probably notice more weight through both legs and an equal weight throughout each foot. A great place to begin box squatting. If you need a refresher on CRP go to my articles page – most every article has a picture and description of working in CRP.

Amelia
Posted on November 11th, 2010 | Permalink

Hi, Liz. Really great to have found your website. I’ve been trying the CRP for the last 2 days and felt it’s a great way to start.

You mentioned above that a video of the box squat is coming… is that still in the plans? It’d be really great to have a voice and visual guidance!

I’m reading through your articles, and am looking forward to more learning experience from you. THank you!

markus
Posted on March 14th, 2011 | Permalink

i like the step by step and the pictures shown.. i didn’t it is this way to do squats… tnx alot…

Pam
Posted on December 10th, 2011 | Permalink

Do you have the video of this squat?

Liz, your work is MUCH appreciated. I’m a former runner who never warmed up, ran 15 miles at a time – out of touch with my hips! I’ve spent thousands of dollars on chiropractors and physical therapists – asking for help with the chronic pain in my right hip. None had spoken about the psoas – that’s the problem! Because of your work and my practicing it, I can now walk without my right hip numbing out. I can run around with my 3.5 year old grandson, too! I recommend your books to my clients. I do life coaching and I’m a mental health therapist. Body awareness and body healing are key to emotional health! Thanks!



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