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Ever watch a slow-mo video of someone doing a vertical jump onto plyo boxes? At first you’re thinking, They can’t get all the way up there! And then, in a full-body wave of intensity, they do. But what good is that kind of training for anyone besides basketball players? Turns out, plyo box jump training can push all the rest of your training into overdrive.
Here are tips from exercise scientists and performance coaches on how to go from a baby step to the big leagues to build strength and improve your overall conditioning with a single jump.
Plyometric movements “can increase power, reactive ability, jumping ability, and decrease injuries,” says Kim Goss, M.S.,
a former strength coach for the U.S. Air Force Academy. That’s exactly why this do-it-all training modality has become so popular and why the plyo box jump, executed well, is a great move to advance your training.
Box jumps, due to the impact they apply to joints, can help boost much-needed bone-mineral content and collagen, both very important factors as women age. Yet in comparison with other jumping exercises, box jumps actually create a relatively lower impact on the joints, according to verticaljumping.com founder and pro vertical jump and speed coach Jack Woodrup.
You’ll train your body to become more explosive, which will complement the raw strength built during a deadlift or squat. “Box jumps are great for building power and firing up the central nervous system,” Woodrup says, “and are therefore perfect to add prior to weight training. They are also an effective warmup before squats.”
The goal is to fully and rapidly extend your hips at the top, when both feet have landed. This training will complement lifts like the snatch and the thruster, which need a similarly fast extension at the top of the movement.
Another benefit of the box jump is the cardiovascular intensity it demands of your body. While you’re jumping, rather than doing leg presses, squats, or deadlifts, your body is consuming a greater amount of oxygen (aka boosting peak oxygen intake) during this dynamic movement. So it trains your heart to utilize oxygen more efficiently to pump blood to the muscles, and it can lower your blood pressure post-workout.
So how do you boost your plyo box jump the right way? Start small. Pick a 6-inch box to start, or one that “when you land on it you’re in a proper ‘athletic stance’ with feet shoulder width, knees inside the feet, neutral back, and chest over feet,” Woodrup says. “Once the landing position starts to get to the point where your knees are above waist height (i.e., quads slightly below parallel to the floor), then you’re not challenging your jump height but just how much you are bringing your legs up.” Focus on landing softly and keeping the knees in line with the long toe. “If you can do that consistently and have several inches of clearance over the box when you land, you may be ready to increase the box height,” Goss says. But beware, going big for extended periods of time may do more harm than good. “The injury risks of performing a high number of reps of more intense plyo exercises like these may outweigh the benefits,” she explains.
(See chart above)
Jamie Hagiya, a CrossFit Games competitor, former pro basketball player, and co-owner of Torrance CrossFit, knows a thing or two about box jumps. Her top exercises, at left, will help with power, speed, and explosiveness to seriously boost your vertical. Woodrup further suggests doing the moves in the given order to push your body between plyo and strength training. Stick with lower-rep sets of high-quality reps to get the most out of it, he adds.
Try these: Low box jumps with hands behind the head. This variation forces you to use a lower box because you can’t use your arms to assist with the movement. Jumping with your hands behind your head also encourages you to develop a more powerful leg drive, plus it improves your balance, both of which will assist with so many other exercises. Two-legged box jumps that begin with a step/hop are also good conditioning.
Try these: Box jumps from a seated position on a Bosu ball. This advanced variation increases the range of motion required and removes the countermovement benefits you get from a standing box jump. It also helps improve joint mobility and creates higher levels of glute involvement. You can’t jump very high from this seated position, so lower the box accordingly, but it’s a great way to build explosive strength and fire up the glutes. You can also do box jumps with a weight vest.