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.


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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