Box jumps are one of the simplest ways to train for power. Defined as force multiplied by velocity (or more simply, how quickly you can apply force to something), power isn’t just important for athletes. As we age, power tends to deteriorate faster than strength and endurance, so training it in the gym is essential to staying spry and athletic.
Like many exercises, box jumps carry significant benefits if done properly but can be risky when done incorrectly. What’s more, they can be intimidating for novice exercisers who have never done them before.
Here are five rules to follow to make sure your box jumps are on point:
LEARN TO LAND FIRST
When learning how to box jump, it helps to start from the end: the landing. Most box jump snafus occur when landing on the box because the body has to absorb the impact of the landing. This is no easy task, as you’ve only got a split second for your muscles and joints to get into the right position. Luckily, there are a few simple drills to teach optimal landing mechanics.
Hip Hinge: Start with the basic hip hinge — an essential movement for anyone looking to get stronger, the hip hinge is the foundation of staple exercises like the deadlift, hip thrust and kettlebell swing. This teaches you how to load your glutes and hamstrings (the strongest muscles of your lower body) so you don’t use your lower back or knees to move the weight. These are the muscles we want absorbing the force when we land.
Try the kettlebell handcuff hip hinge to groove this pattern. Grab a light kettlebell behind your back as if you were getting handcuffed. Then, slightly bend your knees and push your butt backward into the kettlebell without letting your lower back arch or round.
Snapdown: Now that you’ve learned the hip hinge, it’s time to add speed to the movement. Unless you’re on the moon, jumps don’t happen in slow motion, so it’s important to learn to hip hinge quickly. A misconception about box jumps is that you should land softly in a deep squat instead of a hip hinge. The snapdown teaches you exactly how to land and firmly absorb force.
Reach your arms overhead and hop up as you rapidly drop into a hip hinge position while swinging your arms down like a skier and stomping your feet into the floor. Imagine you’re trying to pop balloons under your feet.
JUMP AND LAND IN THE SAME POSITION
Now that you’ve learned to land, it’s time to apply the same technique to the takeoff. Like the landing, the most common takeoff mistake is dropping into a deep squat position. Squatting deep builds plenty of strength, but the movement is too exaggerated for jumping.
Instead, drop into the same snapdown position before you jump. Make sure your hips stay above your knees and your knees don’t cave in toward each other.
While you may be tempted to replicate the heroic 50-inch box jumps you see on your favorite athlete’s social media feed, resist the urge and start with a low box. Most plyo box sets will have boxes as low as 6 inches, which is suitable for most novice trainees who are new to box jumps.
Here’s a simple rule: If you can’t stick the landing in the snapdown position, the box is too high. If you’re landing in a deep squat position with your knees pulled up to your chest, check your ego and use a lower box. And don’t progress to a higher box until you can hit a set of 5 perfect jumps on the current box you’re using.
STEP DOWN FROM THE BOX
Sticking the landing on a box jump is tough enough, so don’t double the amount of landings (and opportunities to roll an ankle) by jumping down from the box. For your own safety, step down from each box jump onto a smaller box. For example, if you’re jumping onto an 18-inch box, place a 12-inch box beside it so you can step down safely.
A little-known fact: Landing from an elevated surface creates high levels of eccentric stress (think lowering the bar down slowly on a bench press or running downhill), which leads to increased muscle soreness. Spare yourself the aches and step down from the box instead of jumping.
DON’T DO BOX JUMPS FOR HIGH REPS
High-rep box jumps have somehow become popular as a conditioning tool for cardio or fat loss. It’s risky business to use a highly coordinated exercise like box jumps in a fatigued state, as one false move can lead to a rolled ankle or bruised shin.
Save box jumps for power development and do 3–5 reps per set. Rest for 60–90 seconds between sets to make sure you’re fully recovered and ready to put maximum effort into each rep. If you’re dead set on using a jumping exercise for cardio, opt for jumping rope or doing burpees.
HERE’S TO BETTER BOX JUMPS
When done properly, box jumps are a fun and exciting way to become more powerful. Learn how to land, choose your box height wisely and you’ll be hopping like a pro in no time.