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Whether you are a box-jumping legend, or have stayed away from this training apparatus altogether, the same general principles can be applied for improving your performance. While higher jumps are no doubt great for the ego, owning the correct technique to get those extra inches will bring significant fitness benefits for all.
Christopher Spell is 25 years old and holds the Guinness World Record for the highest standing box jump at 67 inches. The Cortlandt, NY, native credits his football experience at the University of Buffalo as being a great springboard for a jumping career.
For Spell, much of his success his owed to his lower-body strength. “I was able to jump 60 inches on my first day, because of my solid base of strength and explosiveness,” he says. But no matter your starting level, “a beginner should just start,” he adds.
For the purposes of this guide, we are focusing on higher jumps to work on your explosive power and speed. If you are looking for box jumps that are beneficial for endurance, you should be aiming for a lower box with higher reps and shorter testing times.
Since high box jumping requires complete effort and expenditure, it makes little sense to attempt them at the end of the workout. “I suggest performing high box jumps before a workout, because this exercise requires maximal intent in order to be effective,” says Spell.
Good body mechanics require that you are ready to perform, so make sure to warm up with some lighter, less demanding stretches and jumps. Calf stretches, kettlebell swings and stepping up and down the box are a great way to activate the muscles that jumping recruits. For serious athletes interested in a more detailed warmup, Spell is a NASM CPT and PES certified trainer, and offers a World Record Jump program.
“Core training should always be a part of any training program,” says Spell. A stable core is necessary for holding your start and end position when making a jump. Likewise, your core will be utilized to drive your body skyward. The plank is a great exercise to build core strength and stability, and will greatly support your box jumping efforts. Strengthen your back and glutes with exercises such as single leg, back extensions.
As kids, we’d leap up and down with no fear, and although the average box may not look all that imposing (often ranging from 3 inches to 2 feet), the process of actually moving your grown-up body onto one can be more difficult than first imagined.
For many of us, a sedentary lifestyle with luxuries such as elevators and escalators have only served to rob of us our balance and coordination. It is not uncommon to second guess yourself and make false, or half jumps when getting started. To top it off, some boxes are made of hard wood and can take a dent out of your leg if you get it wrong. So, use a sturdy foam-based box as a great way to combat the fear of hurting yourself. “Start on a soft box, and start at a lower, appropriate height,” says Spell”
Once you’ve committed to getting both legs off the floor at the same time for a few reps, your mind and muscle connection should make future jumps far less intimidating. This was a journey that even Spell, himself, had to overcome. “This went away with building the pattern of following through with the jump every time,” he says.
To gain the additional muscle required to exert more power, studies have shown that high intensity, low volume training with plenty of rest time is key. “Properly programming volume, and adequate rest, is vital for longevity and vital for making progress in the long term,” says Spell.
Work yourself upward from one to three sets, jumping for three to five reps per set. Since box jumping is a plyometrics exercise, it’s all about improving your explosiveness, harnessing your ability to create speed and resistance.
From the quarter-squat position, your body is replicating a coiled spring. Making sure that you are close to the box, lift upwards rather than outwards, to make efficient use of all that potential energy.
Face upward and lift your chin up. Push down with the balls of both your feet and swing your arms up towards the ceiling as this will lift your torso. It don’t mean a thing (if you ain’t got that swing), so thrust those arms forward with force. At the same time, lift your knees up towards your chest, initiating the jump. As you move towards becoming air born, extend your knees and hips to progress the jump further. Swing those arms forward fast and early, aiming for hyperextension.
Hip mobility is an essential aspect of a great box jump. “You need to quickly go from full hip extension, to hip flexion,” says Spell. “This rapid change takes skill.” Many people suffer with a low range of motion in the hips, and this may explain why progress is not being made with increasing the height of your jump.
Hip flexion can be achieved by bringing your knee to your rib cage, and this is something you can test to check out your own range of motion. If you are unable to raise your knees all the way to the ribs, or suffer pain when trying to do so, you may need to work on your hip mobility. Unlocking your hips will have a huge impact on your jumping performance, but don’t be discouraged by your individual limitations.
“Some people say that box jumps are mostly about mobility and flexibility,” says Spell. “But they are also an excellent way to increase lower body power and hip flexor explosiveness, which can then translate to faster sprint times, longer broad jumps, and higher vertical jumps. Hip mobility is definitely important and will make things a lot easier, but contrary what people think, I do not have great hip mobility or flexibility.”
Goal setting is an important part of making gains with box jumping, and Spell is no exception. As a two-time world record holder, he’s already eyeing up other jumps, such as the single legged jump, to add to his list of accolades. For the rest of us, goal setting is just as important. “A master box jumper would be working on training consistency, injury reduction and proper volume management to squeeze the last bit of potential out of themselves,” says Spell.