I’m going to start off by saying that I love box jumps. They’re incredibly fun and make you feel like an athlete. I remember starting at a gym a few years ago and had many clients performing them, especially since we had the soft plyo-boxes. They’re much more forgiving of a missed jump. While I do love them, I do feel that they are over-programmed. It’s a simple matter of using a hammer when a screwdriver would better suit the job at-hand.
First-off, let’s establish what a box jump is and what it’s for. It’s an explosive movement where one digs their feet into the ground, squats/hinges and then drives themselves up to an elevated surface. This is a movement that requires a certain amount of skill and coordination. Therein lies the first problem, programming. While the box jump is meant to be explosive and performed for low reps to preserve movement quality, many coaches have clients/athletes perform high rep sets. This is mistaken for two main reasons. First, this changes the training emphasis from explosive power training to high intensity interval training.
This also creates the second problem. What happens to movement quality once we’re fatigued? It plummets quickly. This is especially dangerous when performing a movement as technical as a jump. To add to that, many simply jump down from the box after each rep (as opposed to stepping down) placing unnecessary stress on the joints and tissues. Bust out a phone for an Instagram post or a timer at a group exercise class and it only gets worse. The only objective is to get as many reps in as possible, feel the burn and “activate beast mode.” While it might look cool on the internet, the entire point of training has been lost and the chance of injury has gone up tremendously. This is a topic for another day, but just because something is physically difficult to perform doesn’t mean you should be doing it.
I want to circle back and emphasize my main point earlier: I still love box jumps! But, like any other exercise it has its limits. You wouldn’t use a hammer to dig a ditch! When I program box jumps for a client, I use the following guidelines principles:
- Should they jump to a box, and can they do so safely? Will it help them reach their goals effectively, or is there another way?
- Low reps, typically in the 3-5 range. This will maintain movement integrity. In my professional opinion, the box jump is not a cardio/HIIT exercise and should never be one. There are much better and SAFER alternatives out there!
- Step down from the box, don’t jump down. This drastically reduces the chances of injuring the joints/tissues.
- You’re probably not training for the NBA, so stop worrying about height. Look, I’ve been there. You want to see what you can do. With your lifting partners around, it’s fun to test yourself sometimes. I’ve seen some really bad accidents from folks trying to jump to a height well past their current capacity.
While often misunderstood and (in my opinion) programmed ineffectively, I still absolutely love box jumps. Never forget the most important question to ask: What is the goal? Let that be your guiding principle when selecting any exercise/movement for a program. If I can’t explain the “why” to a client about a particular exercise it’s tossed aside. If you’re looking for a movement that will train your power and help you “feel the burn,” I suggest the kettlebell swing. Aside from there being no impact to the joints, notice a similarity in this description of the movement. It’s an explosive movement where one digs their feet into the ground, squats/hinges and then drives the kettlebell to an elevated height.
Train your body. Feed your mind.