Exercises You Should Be Doing (Better): Box Jumps

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Today’s guest post is brought to you courtesy of Michael Anderson: friend, strength coach, and fellow lover of dead animal flesh (and Alicia Keys).

I felt this was an outstanding post and something I’m hoping people will take to heart.  As Mike notes below:  box jumps, while considered “easy” and much of the time haphazardly tossed into programs without much thought, are actually a lot more complicated (and coaching intensive) than people give them credit for.

In this post Mike discusses some common mistakes as well as offers a few coaching cues to help set the record straight.

Enjoy!

Note from TG:  apparently the videos are a little wacky for some people. Depending on the browser you’re using, you’re either going to get the appropriate box jump videos (Chrome, IE) or the same squat video for every video except for the last one (Firefox).

I have no idea how to fix the issue, so I apologize in advance for those who aren’t able to watch the actual videos.

Hey, it could be worse:  they could have linked to a whale giving birth instead.  Either way, the internet is stupid!

There are a ton of new exercises that you should be mixing into your training, but today I want to show you how to get the most out of an old favorite: box jumps.

Everybody and their mother has been doing box jumps for ages; it’s almost always the first plyometric exercise that is taught to young athletes and thus people continue to keep them in their routine for years and years. It’s simple right? Set up a box and jump onto it. So easy a caveman could do it. Well, not quite.

There’s a bunch of ways to screw up this seemingly simple exercise.

First off, let me show you what a good box jump looks like.

The big thing to notice here is the vertical displacement of my hips (Thanks to Chad Wesley Smith for  confirming the use of that phrase. It’s something I’ve been using for a while now).

I’ve created a line for the lowest point of my hips and the highest point, and the space between them is significant. This is caused by full triple extension and the intention of jumping as high as I can. You can see that I’m jumping straight up and landing softly on the box. This is the reason we do the exercise; it allows the athlete to jump as high as they can without having to experience the eccentric stress caused by the landing of the jump.  

Without really exploding through your hips, you’ll be missing a lot of the benefits of this exercise.  This is what a box jump with incomplete hip extension looks like:

You’ll notice that when compared to the other video, all I’m really doing is moving my feet from the ground to the box as quickly as possible.

My hips don’t move very high when compared to the jump with complete extension. When left to their own devices, a lot of athletes will revert to this because it feels faster, so it must be better…right?

Wrong, these athletes aren’t even actually jumping! They’re just efficiently moving their feet from point A to point B. Cue these athletes to get tall during the jump or to try jumping over the box.

Another common fault is the rebound jump; this often happens for a variety of reasons. One is that it’s a faster way to do box jumps if you happen to be doing them for a timed event. Another reason is that coaches feel that it’s more plyometric in nature so that’s how they coach the exercise.

Still, other coaches feel that linking jumps together like this allows for the use of higher boxes and is more “sport specific”…because jumping on a box repeatedly happens all the time during sports.

This action actually places a ton of stress on the body and has recently resulted in a slew of Achilles tendon tears. And trust me, you don’t want to tear your Achilles tendon.

Landing loudly is something that a lot of athletes will do with this exercise because it’s not something they think about.

A jump is a jump, right?

It’s up to the coaches to catch them landing loudly and to fix the problem. I like to tell my athletes to land like a ninja. Have you ever heard a ninja land? Hell no!

Note:   while doing the stomp for this video, I was reminded of why to not do it, because it hurt so damn badly!

Lastly, another common fault with the box jump is very specific to female clients and athletes; landing with your knees together.

Concurrently, this also happens quite often during the takeoff portion of the jump – many athletes (female AND male) will initiate the movement by allowing their knees to cave in.

Teaching athletes to both start and land with the knees out will do a ton in regards to ACL care/prevention.

The stress placed upon the knees when they are allowed to cave or drift in – as demonstrated in the video above – is huge. Preventing ACL injuries in female athletes is one of the hallmarks of a good strength and conditioning program, so please make sure that this simple drill doesn’t work against your overall goals.

If the athlete’s can’t keep their knees out, either lower the height of the box or work on a different drill.

And for my own edification (and because I feel it should be common sense): please don’t do box jumps onto absurdly high boxes.

This isn’t an expression of your ability to produce power so much as an expression of your hip mobility. The box jump isn’t an e-penis measuring contest, so please keep the boxes at a safe height.

To the best of my knowledge box jumps aren’t a contested event, they are just a training drill. Keep them as such, and don’t end up like this guy:

Note:  As a final note, I’d like ask everyone to please check out this great cause and consider donating!

I hope everyone found this useful! Have a great day, and go lift something heavy!

Author’s Bio

Mike is a Boston area personal trainer and currently interning with Boston University Strength and Conditioning. Mike is also finishing his degree in Exercise and Health Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He loves bacon, beer and his 7 year old pit bull Lexi. You can reach him with any questions, comments or notes of affection at michaelkaneanderson@gmail.com. You can also visit his website:  http://commercialgymtrainer.blogspot.com/

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  • Alison Minton

    I like how every video in here is of you doing a 300 lb squat (except for the fail vid)… might wanna fix that 😉

    • Mike Anderson

      Videos all come up correctly for me, Ali! Must be user error 🙂

      • Craig S.

        All squat videos on my end as well.

      • Alison Minton

        Ha ha. Still all squat vids. I know you just wanna show off your squat. It’s cool.

  • jc wise

    that had to be crossfit…

    • jc wise

      OK, I’m on Win7 and viewed this with Firefox. wrong videos. IE they work fine. I didn’t realize this was crossfit…

      • Mike Anderson

        Not sure what you’re getting at, JC. Because I filmed the articles at a CrossFit facility? Haha?

        • TonyGentilcore

          Yeah, not sure what you’re getting at here JC.

  • TonyGentilcore

    Hmmm, I don’t know what all the issues are. All the box jump videos come up correctly for me as well. This is kinda weird.

  • Mike

    Try a different internet browser, Safari showed all squat vids, but firefox showed the correct vids. I like the article, especially the vertical displacement of hips video, really illustrates the point!

    • Mike Anderson

      I use chrome and its working fine. weird.

  • Steve Gurtowski

    Finally! Thank you Tony and Mike for explaining and demonstrating the box jump, emphasis on vertical hip displacement (great term) and a soft landing. Back in my athletic days, box jumps were the third stage of our plyometric training. We didn’t start with them. When I began training others, one of the first books I read was Plyometrics by Don Chu, PhD. Does anyone reads it anymore? He explains it all. Personally, I prefer jumping over an obstacle to improve power rather than the box jump. Using an adjustable hurdle (or several for consecutive jumps) makes it quantifiable.

    • Mike Anderson

      Steve, I’m a huge fan of hurdle hops as well, but certainly it’s a more advanced exercise. With hurdle hops you have to deal with the eccentric stress of landing, and with hurdle rebounds you have to be able to absorb/produce force in a short amount of time. The box jump is also a much more commonly seen exercise (in every gym, commercial or athletic). Thans!

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  • Jared

    Not sure this has an effect on anything but I noticed the videos in the posting are a playlist and not just a single video.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Yeah, sorry about that Jared. For some reason it’s a browser issue. For those who use Chrome and IE, everything is fine. Firefox, for some reason each video is the same.

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  • Overall very good article.
    But, I disagree on the idea of landing “soft” on the boxes as a necessary cue.
    Oftentimes athletes focus too much on the soft landing, leading to to jumps involving greater forward lean, less hip extension, and poor landing mechanics.
    If an athlete can land soft on the box while still maximizing triple extension and landing flush, great… but the overall stress of landing on a box is very minimal.
    Great video demonstrations btw.

    • Mike Anderson

      Eric, I apologize, I just noticed this comment now while referencing this article for some athletes.

      The “land soft” cue is somewhat of an exaggeration towards one end of the spectrum for when athletes are landing by stomping their way onto the box. If you cue them to land silently, then oftentimes they will end up somewhere in the middle (just where I want them). By landing softly, the athletes will demonstrate their ability to contract/relax/contract quickly, which is what makes great athletes, in my opinion.

      and thanks! the videos were fun to do

      • Emily

        I don’t know if this is still being checked but I figured if comment here with my question on soft landings: I was doing box jumps today and a trainer told me I was being mean to my joints. I tried to do them the way he showed me, landing softly, and that was actually what hurt more than anything else (on my knees). For me the soft landings meant landing more on the balls of my feet, while the loud landings I land squarely on all the touch points of my feet. Maybe I just need more work…

        • TonyGentilcore

          Landing like a ninja is a cue I use a lot with my own athletes Emily. While most people think box jumps are more about developing explosive power (and they are!), one huge benefit they serve is to teach people to ABSORB FORCE.

          If you land with a loud thump, you’re not doing that.

          And if landing soft hurts, I’d suggest it comes down to your actual landing mechanics (knees caving in?).

          It’s going to take some practice for sure, but the more you do them (correctly) the better off you’ll be.

          Think about landing IN THE MIDDLE of your feet. Not on your toes or heels.

          • Mike Anderson

            I was going to leave a note but tony said what i intended to, verbatim.

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