The Box Jump
Box jumps are a lower body (primarily) exercise used to build explosiveness, landing mechanics and force absorption. Box jumps are a valuable addition to any workout regimen, but they must be progressed according to fitness level, goals and experience.
In short, the average number of box jumps per workout should be 20-40 repetitions.
A person can do more or less, as this is by no means the law of the land.
This is my opinion deeply rooted in personal experience with athletes, my own training and my observation of modern evolution of box jumps.
- Primary Muscles: Glutes, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves
- Secondary Muscles: Hip Flexors
- Body Area: Legs
- Modality Types: Body Weight
- Equipment: Plyometric Boxes
Training intent: Reinforce jumping and landing mechanics OR leverage as exercise to increase work-capacity in a different movement pattern.
I personally do not use (or recommend) box jumps as primary method (or as a part of) of enchancing cardio or as a vehicle to lose fat. There are more effective, not to mention safer alternatives available.
Box jumps (like any exercise) have advantages and disadvantages, risks and rewards.
There’s risk in stepping out the front door every morning, I get it. But let’s take an honest look at things that can happen during box jumps…
The biggest risks are slippage, landing incorrectly or missing the box completely. All carry have a unique consequence, or potential of injury. Nobody works out with suffering injury as the goal, but shit happens. It does.
Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Every repetition of box jumps has a risk of acute injury or if overdone, chronic pain.
Speaking from experience, not every box jump is textbook perfect. As stated before, shit happens. Whether it’s leaving shin skin on the box, mis-judging foot placement and stumbling or hitting the deck after landing on an unstable box, something is likely to happen at some point.
Acute pain would be… leaving shin skin on the box, mis-judging foot placement and stumbling or hitting the deck after landing on an unstable box, something is likely to happen at some point.
Chronic pain is most commonly anterior knee pain, or irritation in the front of the knee. High rep box jumps are incredibly predictable for causing anterior knee pain. Sometimes it’s the landing force contributing to this pain, but I’d say most frequently it’s caused by not stepping down from the top of the box but the impact from jumping down and poor absorption.
The impact force exceeds the tissues capacity to handle the force, pain appears.
This likeliness increases exponentially as physical fatigue accumulates. I’ll argue this point with anyone, anytime. If you’re jumping onto a box with heart rate at 80-90% max, short on breath, in an altered state… the risk of a failed box jump attempts increases.
Especially factoring in that box jumps are landing onto a surface, a target. Each attempt must successfully clear the height of the box along with the horizontal distance, finishing with foot placement reasonable enough to stabilize the landing mechanics.
Doesn’t always happen and it gets progressively more sloppy with fatigue. The attention to detail drops. Reps and time (finishing the workout) become the most objectives, not technique and safety.
Again, when tired, distances and heights can look different, body positions are perceived differently and in general, poor decisions are common (versus being fresh).
Perception of body position in a fatigued state is an interesting topic. The gist is, are you in the position that your mind’s eye thinks your in?
Often times, you’re not. Your brain thinks you are, but you’re not.
Scare tactics, right? So, the moral of the story is to boost awareness that there are risks in jumping onto a box. the risks we’re talking about pertain to perception of the purpose of box jumps. My belief is box jumps are a tool for developing explosiveness and landing mechanics in a low-volume (less reps) controlled environment.
Finally, the good stuff.
Box jumps are great training method for building lower body explosiveness.
Improving, or at least maintaining the ability to produce muscular power is vital to sport performance, but probably more important to the aging general population.
As we age, our ability to produce power declines. Sad, but true. In fact, one study found power to decline nearly twice as fast as muscle strength…
Therefore, the velocity component of box jumps crucial for everyone. Another study drew several other conclusions about power training…
As a part of a training regimen, improve power generation has great transfer into strength training, overall athleticism and movement capacity.
Box jumps are a plyometric (aka: “jump training”) involving rapid stretching and contracting of muscles. The goal is to produce a large amount of power in the shortest amount of time possible.
Based on this description, it’s reasonable to position box jumps early in a workout, when the body is fresh and able to exert at the highest level.
Jumping when fresh, ensures we can maximize effect of each box jump, the simultaneous extension of the ankles, knees and hips (triple extension). It also gives us the best chances to practice landing mechanics and force absorption.
Aim to land on the box in the same position you took off from. A box height that is too low won’t challenge the velocity of the jump, but a box that is too high will alter the landing position. Landing hunched over with the knees in the armpits is not a desireable position.
It’s one thing to test out the maximum box jump height where you’re attempting to get onto the box by any means necessary, and another to repetitively practice deep squat landing positions. It’s difficult to make an athletic move when the knees are buried in the armpits.
Landing in a position that gives the advantage to the next move (whatever that move might be) is desirable.
Of course, life is not perfect, so it’s not far fetched occasionally familiarize the body with unideal landing positions, to better accomodate the unknown.
Simple cues for box jumps:
- Counter-swing the arms/hands behind the body as the hips/knee flex the body lowers.
- Drive the arms/hands aggressively upward as the hips/knees recoil and begin to extend.
- Actively force FULL extension of the hips, knees and ankles during take off, EXPLODE.
- Land soft and quiet with feet flat on the box in a similar position as the lowest point of the take-off.
That’s it. Not rocket science, just gentle reminders of exercise technique.
The premise of this article is to get people thinking on a deeper level about why we do what we do inside of a workout. There should be purpose and intent behind everything. If you cannot justify or it’s causing harm to one’s body, it might be time for an audit of training methods.
All of my opinions are subject to change. However, what I will say is my opinion on the purpose of box jumps is one that hasn’t seen a shift. I do still believe in the value of training a body to first understand and recognize the technique of jumping and landing.
Once a person can demonstrate physical compreshensive of a basic box jump, sure, progress out as needed. But not before.
Cheers to box jumps, not too much, not tool little, just the right amount.