Box jumps are a movement we do frequently – a powerful jump with a soft landing. Yet, this simple movement can make a lot of people nervous and there are many subtle components to ensure you get the maximum benefit from the box jumps.
Always start with the intention of the movement: Is it strength? Is it speed? Agility? A combination? One of the primary goals of the box jump when used in a warm-up or skill session is to increase explosive power. It take a fraction of a second from when your feet leave the ground to landing on the box. During that time, you go through dipping into a partial squat to set up for the jump, extending through the hips to generate the vertical explosive and back into a partial squat for the landing.
Why are box jumps a good exercise compared to broad jumps or vertical jumps? We frequently have box jumps in our workouts, and much less frequently see vertical jumps or broad jumps outside of the warm-up section. There’s a couple of reasons for this. For a vertical jump, you are landing again on the ground. The distance from the height of the jump back to the ground is much greater than if you are landing on a box. This lessens the stress on your knees. The broad jump is similar, when you are jumping a great distance and then landing, the impact tends to increase with the distance jumped. For most of us, this is increased stress on the joints when the landing is harder. Jumping to a box and stepping down allows us to work the explosion for the jump and control at the landing in a way that lessens the impact stress.
Box jumps are a movement that make many people fearful, and rightfully so. One slip and your shin might show the results. Safety and quality are what you should strive for in box jumps, not always speed. Going only for speed, you may not even engage the right muscles to gain the maximum benefit of the workout and you’ll increase the risk of injury. Focus on the quality of your box jump the next time you have box jumps programmed and take a few moment to think about what you are actually trying to achieve with the box jump. A proper box jump uses your core strength to maintain a neutral spine, proper mechanics from the squat drills for the starting and landing position and explosive hip extension. We’ve probably all seen some crazy YouTube videos of high box jumps (higher and higher), these are more a feat of hip flexibility than what we are usually after in the box jump. Your box jump doesn’t need to be high to be effective.
A few tips for box jumps:
- Soft Landing. You want to control the landing and absorb the shock. This involves holding your core muscles tight and your back straight. Ideally, you want as little sound as possible when your feet contact the box.
- Step down. The jump down, or rebound, puts a significant amount of stress on your Achilles tendon. There’s also increased stress on your hips and lower back from jumping down. For most of us, this is unnecessary risk, and easily mitigated by stepping down with control.
- Full hip extension. Get tall! First, this allows you to maximize the height of the job and allows you to control the landing better. In addition, hip extension is the driving power for many barbell lifts, explosion in sprinting, and many more activities. This is the part of the movement we want to transfer to other skills, speed and explosion through the hips.
- Keep knees neutral and your knee should track over your toes in both the take off position and the landing position.
- Chest is up and core is braced.
Now, box jumps aren’t going to be for everyone, everyday – there are many reasons to step-up, step-down. Typically, the purpose of step-ups when they are programmed is to build strength, usually you’ll see these also programmed with added weight. You train each leg individually, so this is excellent if you have a dominant side that can compensate for a weakness in two-leg activities. It also takes the fear of the box jump out, although I would encourage you when you are comfortable with a jump to still spend some time jumping to a bumper plate or low box to work on the explosion of the jump. The step ups are much more controlled and a strength exercise more so than a speed and power exercise. For these same reasons, step ups and weighted step ups are frequently programmed into our strength section. During the step up, you want to drive through your front leg (heel that is on the box), and try to avoid pushing off with your back foot. Especially if you are doing weighted step ups where the goal is developing strength. And again, the height is not as important as the quality. Try doing a weight step up on a box that is too high to drive through your front heel and you’ll have to push off the back foot which changes the exercise. Developing a strong step-up will increase your strength for other lifts such as the deadlift and squat.
Tips for step-ups:
- Remember to alternate legs. Especially if you have a dominant side, during the workout it may be tempting to keep using your primary side. You don’t need to alternate each rep, but can change the lead leg every 5 or 10 repetitions.
- Drive through the heel on the box.
- Keep your back straight and core tight. Avoid the temptation to lean too far forward.
And as always, remember that your only competition is yourself and trying to be better than yesterday. Focus on the quality of your movements, the strength and power you have, and you’ll walk away from the workout feeling great!