Everywhere you look, from CrossFit boxes to traditional health clubs, there's been a surge in the popularity of Box Jumps. As more people include this potentially valuable movement in their programming, more are committing one or more of the five fundamental mistakes listed below. Unless you've gotten some solid instruction, you're probably guilty of at least one of them.
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Mistake 1: The Box is Too High
How can jumping too high be a problem? After all, one of the principle benefits of a Box Jump is that it reduces landing impact forces by elevating the landing surface. If you can jump onto it, can it really be too high?
If your goal is explosive force production (and it should be), then yes, the box can be too high. If it is, rather than focusing on an explosive jump onto the box, you're probably focusing on pulling your feet up under you and not losing your front teeth.
The goal of the Box Jump is explosive knee and hip extension (think standing tall), but the "too-high-box" mistake results in explosive hip flexion instead. Rather than trying to impress your friends and social media followers with how high you can pull your feet up, choose a box just below your maximum jump height. As your feet pass the lip of the box your legs should be straight, bending only as you land on the box.
Mistake 2: Experience
Box Jumps are part of a larger category of movements known collectively as plyometrics. Although things like Box Jumps, Hand-Clap Push-Ups and even Depth Jumps all look pretty cool on YouTube and Instagram, they require a lot from the athlete.
Before jumping (pun intended) into these drills, some basic strength prerequisites help ensure both safety and effectiveness. If you can't quite meet these standards, you'll benefit more in both the short and long term by building up your strength first. Ultimately, plyometrics occupy one point on what is known as the force velocity curve, and although they're helpful, younger and less experienced athletes benefit most from improving their overall strength and speed initially. Plyometrics and other intermediate speed-strength and strength-speed methods are better reserved for more experienced lifters.
The following standards (adapted from the NSCA) assume proper form and depth throughout, and factor in both strength and speed requirements.
- Your 1RM Squat is at least 1.5 times your body weight
- Your 1RM Bench Press is at least your body weight (if over 220 pounds) or 1.5 times your body weight (if under 220 pounds)
- You can Squat 60% of your body weight five times in five seconds
- You can Bench Press 60% of your body weight five times in five seconds
Mistake 3: Programming Order
The aim of plyometric movements is to create maximal power by taking advantage of a neurological concept known as the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). In its most familiar form, the SSC is responsible for the literal knee-jerk response that occurs when your doctor taps your patellar tendon just below the knee; a sudden lengthening of a muscle results in its reflexive contraction. By tapping into this neurological "hack" of sorts, an athlete can generate more power than he or she would be able to to exert if limited by a voluntary muscular contraction.
Because the entire process is contingent upon the nervous system, fatigue is an important factor to consider. Although there's a seemingly logical reason to finish a workout with Box Jumps–after all, if you can jump when you're tired, you should be even better when you're fresh–this fails to consider what's actually happening to the body.
When looking to improve jump height, distance, power production and the like, Box Jumps and other plyometric movements should be programmed at the beginning of a workout, and you should allow for plenty of rest. Generally speaking, a work to rest ratio of 1:12 is recommended.
Mistake 4: Frequency
For many of the same reasons that Box Jumps should be prioritized in your programming, careful monitoring of frequency is important. Too much too often and will not only limit your ability to progress, it will increase your chances of injury.
When considering frequency, two variables are important to take into account: the total number of contacts (each time your feet touch the box), and the number of days you include Box Jumps in your workouts. If you're jumping off the box to get back down, you're actually performing a second plyometric movement and those contacts should be counted as well. I often use a shorter box to step back down to ground level.
Beginners (those with little or no plyometric experience) should limit total weekly contacts to 80 to 100, while intermediate and advanced athletes (generally those with a year or more of experience) can program as many as 120 to 140 contacts per week, respectively. Determining the number of contacts per workout and workouts per week is simple math, though most experts recommend at least 48 hours and ideally 72 hours between sessions for full recovery due to heightened nervous system demands.
Mistake 5: Knee Mechanics
People are creative. Thus, there's a laundry list of Box Jump mistakes out there, and new ones are invented every day. That being said, letting your knees cave in as you jump or land stands out as the most common as well as the most dangerous.
Known as a valgus fault, this issue can stem from a weak or inactive glute complex, among other things. The danger is that the increased angle on the knee (known as the Q-angle) places the ACL under greater strain and heightens the risk of ACL tearing, either while training the movement itself or while cutting or landing during sport. Perhaps the most famous example of this kind of fault was Robert Griffin III's Vertical Jump test during the 2012 NFL Combine. There's no certain way to ascribe his later ACL tear (a non-contact injury) to those mechanics, but it can at least serve as a warning on the importance of proper form, since exercises like Box Jumps ingrain movement patterns into the body, and poor mechanics there will be revealed at the worst possible moment.
1. Baechle, Thomas R., and Roger W. Earle, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, (2008) 2nd ed., Champaign: Human Kinetics.
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