Breaking Down the Box Jump – Phase I Plyometric

The addition of power training to someone’s workout program is essential for not only athletes but for the active population as well. For athletes, explosiveness and power are important for sport, but also the aging athlete as power is one of the least trained and most important aspects of maintaining health and overall performance. Anaerobic performance has been shown to be the first of the energy systems to be affected by age, in a 2013 article Gent and Norton stated that “Linear regression showed significant changes in anaerobic performance with aging”.  One of the best ways to increase power is through box jumps. The box jump is one of my personal favorite exercises to achieve this goal in a manner that is both safe (if performed correctly) and with little equipment. 

 

Benefits of box jumps are as follows: 

 

Less Joint Stress and improve mechanics

Box jumps are a common jump variation that help build a foundation for other jump techniques. They have the ability to decrease joint stress and the ability to practice sound landing mechanics. In a 1997 article Fowler et al stated “When landing from plyometric jumps, the body is exposed to high-impact loading, which leads to compression of the spine” and lower extremities.  However, the box jump has lower impact landing compared to a vertical jump. This means box jumps have less compressive stress at the hip, knee and ankle.  As a result of these benefits the exercise can be programmed more often without the fear of soreness from excessive eccentric forces.

 

Progression Based

The box jump is a movement that can be utilized in a rehabilitation setting as a precursor to more physically demanding jumps because of the reasons mentioned above.  When advancing through a plyometric progression, box jumps are often programmed early in a program as they require less eccentric force absorption. Here we can build the foundation in a safe and effective manner. 

 

Increase in Nerve Signal

Another great benefit of adding the box jump is to potentiate the nervous system for gains in strength and size. This is a fancy way of saying “Preparing the nerves that help your muscles respond”. The nervous system is put through a great deal of stress when training and just like muscle groups, we want to prepare and warm up the nervous system. A 2010 article by Ebben et al,states “Explosive plyometric exercises may improve the neural efficiency through enhancement of neuromuscular coordination”.  Again, this is a fancy way of saying utilizing box jumps after a warmup and before main lifts can improve the nervous system’s efficiency which can improve strength and work capacity.

 

How to Perform Box Jumps

  • Stand roughly 1 foot away from the box, feet shoulder width to slightly narrower than shoulder width apart, knees tracking over the pinky toes.
  • Raise your arms above your head, swing the arms down to initiate the jump. 
  • Pushing through the ground with your feet and swinging your arms upwards
  • Jump! Achieving full hip extension and landing in the center of the box with your head and chest up, core tight and braced. Land in a power position.

 

Important note:  When getting off the box after completing the jump, use a smaller box to step down to the ground. If the box is low enough walk off the side. Do not jump backwards off the box as this is a risk for a potential injury.

 

Key Points

What matters most in the box jump is not the height of the box but the movement of the center of mass.  Once you get to a certain point it becomes a matter of who has the best hip flexibility, not who can jump the highest. 

We like to use the Globe and Mail approach. If this were to make the news would it be on the front page because someone got hurt performing a box jump? or in the health and wellness section because of the benefits of a great exercise? 

You should jump and land from the same position. For example, if you take off from a ½ squat position, you should land in a ½ squat position.This is by far the most common flaw I have seen with the exercise and can be fixed by performing the exercise correctly. 18”, 24” and maybe 30” boxes are more than adequate to perform this exercise safely and efficiently.

You want to start by reaching up as tall as you can. This puts your body into a position to drop down fast so you can use that momentum to explode/spring back up into your jump.

Example of a poor landing.  Head and chest facing downward, knee and hip flexion into full deep squat position.

Example of a good landing in a power position, head and chest up, knee and hip in ½ to ¼ squat position, core is braced and tight.

 

You must get full hip extension.  Achieving what is known as triple extension (ankle, knee, and hip extension sequentially) is the sole purpose of power-based training and what allows one to get the desired training effect.  This is one of the many reasons box jumps should not be used as a form of conditioning.  The box jump is a power exercise, and must be treated as such.  Performing many jumps without adequate recovery will lead to fatigue which can alter mechanics and increase the risk for potential injury.

 

How to implement into training

If you haven’t done any jumping prior, implementing a jump rope routine progressively for 1-2 weeks prior to adding in box jumps to your program can be a beneficial way to add jumping without doing too much too soon.  Once implemented you can use the following progression as guidelines

 

Progression – 1-2 weeks of jump rope

2×5

3×4

3×5 

Increase jump height

2×5

3×4

3×5 

Increase jump height and so on and so forth.

 

 

Debra Nicole Gent & Kevin Norton (2013) Aging has greater impact on anaerobic versus aerobic power in trained masters athletes, Journal of Sports Sciences, 31:1, 97-103, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2012.721561

Fowler NE, Lees A, Reilly T. Changes in stature following plyometric drop-

jump and pendulum exercises. Ergonomics. 1997;40(12):1279-1286.

Evaluating plyometric exercises using time to stabilize.

Ebben WP, Vanderzanden T, Wurm BJ, Petushek EJ

J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Feb; 24(2):300-6.

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