When you think of using a box to work your legs, your brain may instantly go to those 80s step classes or even simply Box Jumps. But those aren’t the only uses for a box, step or bench in your leg workouts. The box is actually a great way to challenge your legs WITHOUT adding weights. It can also help you add in some fun variety to your workout routine!
The box can allow you to make exercises more challenging by increasing the range of motion of the movement and by adding in instability. The higher the box you use, the harder most of these moves will be!
Not only can you make these moves more challenging and add in more variety to your leg workouts, but you can also isolate and work each leg individually to correct imbalances, which will help you prevent injury. Below are 7 leg exercises using a box:
1. Balance Lunges
Balance Lunges are a great way to make the basic lunge or split squat even more challenging without having to add weight. This move will really work on your balance while isolating each leg.
To do the Balance Lunge, place one foot back up on a box and then hop or step your front foot forward so you are in a nice wide stance. Then sink down, sitting your butt back as you drop your back knee toward the ground. Keep your chest up and bend your front knee to 90 degrees. Really sit back into the lunge.
You may hinge slightly forward at the hips if needed, but do not round over.
After sinking down as low as you can, drive back up to standing, driving through your front heel and the back foot. Don’t go forward as you drive up. Then repeat, sinking back down. Use a lower box to make the move easier.
2. Step Downs
If you want to really work your glutes and correct imbalances while improving your balance, you need to try Step Downs. Step Downs are different from Step Ups in that you start on top of the box and never fully touch the other foot down. This prevents you from being able to use the other leg at all and can really activate and work your glutes!
To do the Step Down, start standing on one side of a box so that you can step off to the side. Have the other foot just hanging off the side as you stand tall on top of the box. Then slowly sit your butt back and begin to bend your standing knee as you lower your other foot down to the ground.
As you bend your standing leg, make sure to sit your butt back and hinge forward slightly at the hips. Really sit back into your heel and do not round your back as you hinge. Lower your other foot down as close to the ground as possible, but do not put the foot fully on the ground. You do not want to be able to push off the ground to help yourself come back up to standing.
Once you’ve gone as low as you can, drive through your foot on top of the box to come back up to standing. Feel your glute working to push you back up to standing. If you feel this in your low back, do not go as deep and also make sure you are really sit your butt back to load your glutes and not your knees.
Beginners may need to start with a lower box.
3. Box Shuffle
The Box Shuffle is a great cardio movement to really toast your legs and get you moving laterally. Because it is supposed to be an explosive movement, you may need to start with a lower box. It is important that you move quickly even as you use a higher box.
To do the Box Shuffle, start standing with the box at your side and then place your foot next to the box on top of it. If the box is on your right, place your right foot up on top. Then sit your butt back and slightly squat down with your foot on the box before quickly jumping up and over the box to land with the other foot on top of the box and your other foot on the ground.
Jump quickly up and over the box.
Once you’ve “shuffled” over the box, explode back up and over the box to land with the other foot on top. As you land, bend your knees and squat down just slightly to load your glutes and help propel you up over the box each time. You can even swing your arms back and then up overhead as you jump to help propel you up more.
Quickly move back and forth over the box, jump up as high as possible while moving as quickly as possible.
4. Explosive Step Ups
Explosive Step Ups are another great cardio and leg exercise. Again, you may want to start with a lower box because this move is meant to be quick and explosive!
To do Explosive Step Ups, stand behind the box and place one foot on top. Sit your butt back slightly and even just slightly bend your knees, before driving up off the box and jumping up in the air over the box.
As you jump up, switch your feet in the air so that you land with the other foot on top of the box. As you land, bend both knees and then drive back off your foot on the box and the other on the ground to jump up quick and land back the way you started.
Continue jumping up as high as possible while moving as quickly as possible, switching from side to side. Use your arms to help propel you up as you jump. When you land swing your arms back and as you jump swing your arms up overhead.
5. Step Up to Balance
The Step Up to Balance is a great move to really work your legs and glutes while also improving your core stability and balance. The higher the box you use, the more you will be able to really work your glute; however, do not pick a higher box if you are really having to push off the foot on the ground to step up!
To do the Step Up to Balance, stand with the box right in front of you and place one foot on top of it. Stand nice and tall and then drive through your foot on top of the box to come to standing on top of the box without touching your other foot down. Really drive through your heel and feel your glute work to power the step up.
Drive the back knee up as you stand up on top of the box.
Lower back down and then step back up, again driving the back knee up without touching that foot down. Really contract your glute at the top and stand up nice and tall. Do not round forward as you step up or go forward onto the ball of your foot. Really drive through your heels to engage your glutes. You do not want to feel your low back taking over or your knees loading.
Complete all reps on one side before switching.
6. Box Jacks
A great explosive box jump variation, that is way more fun than the basic box jump, to work your glutes and adductors is the Box Jack. This move needs to be done with a lower box to start and you must make sure to land lightly and sit your butt back to protect your knees. Beginners can start with a step variation or not use a box at all.
To do Box Jacks, start standing straddling a box. Then sit your butt back and slightly squat down to load your glutes. You can swing your arms back as you do.
Then explode up off the ground and, as you jump, tuck your knees up slightly and bring your feet together so that you land on top of the box. As you land, sit your butt back and slightly squat to help absorb the impact and load your glutes to jump back out and down.
Once you land, quickly jump back out and down off the box to come back to straddling it before quickly repeating.
7. Reverse Hypers
While you may only be lying on top of the box, this move is a great way to really isolate those glutes and work on hip extension, which is super important if you want to prevent low back, hip and knee pain and also lift more and run faster!
To do Reverse Hypers, lie face down on the box with your hips on the edge of a bench and your legs out straight. Start with your feet touching the ground and your legs close together. You can place your heels together and turn your toes out if you struggle to feel your glutes engaging during the movement.
Then, keeping your legs straight, drive your hips down into the bench as you lift your heels up toward the ceiling and extend your hips. Squeeze your glutes as you lift and keep your core braced. Lift your legs to about parallel to the ground and then lower back down. Make sure you don’t swing your legs and use your low back to lift up higher. You want to extend your hips and only lift higher if you don’t feel your lower back taking over.
Hold at the top and squeeze your glutes then lower back down and repeat.
Use these 7 Leg Exercises using a box to challenge your lower body and add some variety to your workouts!
Cori is the owner of Redefining Strength, a functional training facility in Orange County, California focused on helping each client find their strong. She started training and writing a fitness blog in 2011 because she wanted to empower people through diet and exercise so that they can lead healthier, happier lives.