Here's what you need to know...
- Box jumps potentiate the nervous system for gains in strength and size, assuming you do them correctly.
- If you're not getting full hip extension, you're wasting your time.
- Those young geeks you see doing 50-inch box jumps just have fantastic hip flexibility rather than great jumping ability and explosive power.
- Quality is more important than quantity. Maximize the hip extension and land with sound technique.
- Perform box jumps as a potentiating exercise before you lift, not as a conditioning tool.
Get Faster, Get Stronger
No one cares how strong you are if the speed at which you produce force is best described as glacial. You need speed to bring your strength to new levels and the quickest way to get explosive is with the box jump.
Jumps are an awesome display of power, athleticism, and relative strength with directly applicable qualities to nearly every sport. And yes, they'll get you more jacked, too. The problem is, they're often over-prescribed and performed with atrocious form.
Let's fix that. Let's examine the muscle and strength building benefits of box jumps, along with how to do them properly, and how to program them into your workouts for rapid gains in explosive power.
The Benefits of Box Jumps
Most of the impressive box jumps you see aren't what they appear. That 14-year-old kid hitting a 50 inch-box jump is impressive, but it's a product of a pretty good jump and fantastic hip mobility rather than pure explosive power.
Even worse than some of these phony-baloney jumps, people set themselves up for bloody shins, dangerous wipeouts, and faulty landing mechanics due to inappropriate prescriptions of jumps.
Like every exercise, box jumps are a tool that must be treated carefully, not randomly thrown into your programming and conditioning.
Low Impact Landings
Box jumps are the most common jump variation in exercise programs for good reason – they decrease joint stress and provide a low stress environment to express power and practice sound landing mechanics.
When compared to the landing height from a vertical jump, the box jump has significantly less compressive stress. Likewise, when compared to the broad jump, the box jump has less shear stress and compressive stress at the knee.
Overall, there's much less joint stress so you can keep your knees healthy while still developing explosive power.
And because box jumps have a low overall impact, they allow for a greater training frequency compared to other jumping variations.
Potentiate The Nervous System for Strength and Size
The absence of speed and power movements in training is probably limiting the amount of weight you use on the bar. No, you won't gain muscle doing high volume box jumps, but you will potentiate the nervous system to fire at a more efficient, faster rate.
By improving nervous system efficiency, you'll improve strength, which increases work capacity at sub-maximal weights to build muscle.
Reinforce Your Mechanics
Haphazard, random jumps thrown together allow for sloppy mechanics to take place. Strive for the following:
- Feet are flat at landing rather than exhibiting an anterior or posterior weight shift.
- Knees are neutral, rather than in valgus or varus (diving in or diving out).
- Abs are braced. Any rounding of the back and trunk shows a power leak that will cascade down the kinetic chain.
- Eyes and chest are up. If your landing in any sport leaves you bent over and looking at the ground, you'll get lit up.
- Pause and momentarily hold position at the top of the jump to decrease injury risk.
- Step off onto a lower box if jumping over 20 inches. Jumping off the box backwards places tons of stress on the Achilles tendon and poses an unnecessary risk.
What Not to Do with Box Jumps
Box jumps are a great tool to increase performance, but any tool used haphazardly and without planning sabotages gains and becomes potentially dangerous.
Don't Do Box Jumps for Conditioning
Every exercise requires a risk-reward analysis and box jumps fail miserably when used for conditioning.
For starters, jumps used as a conditioning implement often cause a breakdown of form in landing mechanics, which leads to battered shins and the engraining of poor mechanics like pronation of the feet and valgus collapse, both of which open the door for injury.
In addition, jumping for high reps and pushing the tempo minimizes full hip-extension, which ain't good. Full hip-extension is the primary driver of a solid vertical jump and transfers to activities like sprinting, the lockout of a deadlift, or the end of your squat.
How you practice is how you play. If you use faulty mechanics in training, it's going to show up when the lights come on. Keep box jumps where they belong, early in your workout as a power exercise and opt for low-impact jumping like the jump rope for conditioning.
Don't Use Box Jumps If You're a Non-Athletic Desk Jockey
Most "general fitness" folks rarely exercise and aren't conditioned for high-force, high-impact exercises. Sedentary desk jobs, low-impact steady state cardio, and machine exercises are the norm for them.
If this is you, incorporating jumps without first engraining technique and conditioning the tissues for impact is a recipe for acute and chronic injuries.
Work into box jumps with low impact movements like skipping rope to condition the legs for a week or two. Then, start at a low-box height and master landing mechanics before progressing to greater heights.
Programming Box Jumps
There's a checklist of factors that must be taken into account with any exercise. First, if it hurts, don't do it. If you can't do it properly, regress to a shorter box. Likewise, if it doesn't match your training goals, don't do it.
Assuming those precautions have been addressed, the low impact nature of box jumps makes them great for lifters. They're a great tool to improve athleticism and power without the risk of higher impact jumps or the technicality of sprinting.
Box jumps are an explosive exercise and should be programmed before lifting and after a warm-up. In order to increase your vertical and potentiate your body for better lifts, start with static box jumps for 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps.
Remember, high volume isn't important – high performance is. Two to four sets of 3-5 reps are fine for most people.
A Sample Progression
Perform box jumps two times per week after a dynamic warm-up.
- Week 1 – Jump Rope 5-10 min. (pre- or post-workout) 3x week
- Week 2 – 2 x 5
- Week 3 – 3 x 4
- Week 4 – 4 x 4
- Week 5 – (Increase Box Height) 3 x 5
- Week 6 – 4 x 4
- Week 7 – 4 x 3
- Week 8 – (Increase Box Height) 3 x 3
Remember, full hip extension on your jump and building sound landing mechanics is the most important thing, not height. Leave your ego at the door because there are no box-jump world championships.
Without full hip extension, you'll limit the carryover to explosive lifts and athletic events, thus minimizing the training effect. You'll also look like a doofus in the process.