Unless you’re regularly playing leap frog with your kids or pets, you’re probably not launching yourself into the air with all your might on a daily basis. Still, exercises that challenge your ability to spring upward — including the box jump — shouldn’t be left out of your training routine just because they don’t mimic everyday movement patterns.
Case in point: The box jump can boost your athletic performance (even if you're just in a recreational sports league); improve your tendon, muscle, and cardiovascular health; and more. Convinced the heart-pumping move is worth your while? Steal these tips from pro trainers on how to safely and effectively perform the box jump and its variations. Plus, find out more about the key benefits the box jump has to offer.
How to Do a Box Jump
In case the name didn’t clue you in, a box jump is a lower-body exercise that involves leaping from the ground up onto a box, says Tawnya Nguyen, C.P.T., C.F.S.C., a strength and performance coach and co-owner of Movement Society in Los Angeles. In order to do so, you’ll call on your muscles’ ability to generate power, or rapidly produce large amounts force, she explains. In turn, the box jump is considered a plyometric exercise.
Having trouble visualizing the exercise? Watch Rachel Mariotti, an NCSF-certified personal trainer in New York City, demonstrate the box jump exercise below.
A. Stand in front of a plyo box with feet hip-width apart and arms raised in front of chest, elbows slightly bent and hands in front of face.
B. Bend knees slightly and swing arms down and behind body, then press through the floor to jump up onto the box, simultaneously raising arms back in front of chest.
C. Land softly on the box with both feet, knees bent at roughly 90-degree angles, and chest proud. Push through feet to straighten legs and return to standing. Lower arms to sides, then step backward off the box one foot at a time.
The Key Box Jump Benefits
By regularly powering through a few rounds of box jumps, your muscles, tendons, and cardiovascular system will score a few health benefits.
Boosts Athletic Performance
A classic plyometric exercise, the box jump calls on your ability to generate explosive power as quickly as possible, which can help improve athletic performance, says Nguyen. “It helps you learn explosivity and how to put force into the ground and use it as a trampoline,” adds Mariotti. In fact, research shows plyometric training improves jumping performance in basketball, soccer, handball, and volleyball players. And doing just two to three sessions of plyometric training a week for four to 16 weeks has been found to improve jump height, sprint, and agility performances in team sports players, according to the JHK information.
Your Guide to Plyometrics
The box jump exercise can have mental perks as well. "It helps build your cognitive agility — being able to think fast, maneuver your body, and land gracefully," says Mariotti. "And you have to have courage to jump up onto something and land properly." Translation: Incorporating box jumps into your routine can make you a better athlete both mentally and physically, a key benefit if you're hoping to win your family's annual backyard volleyball match or your town's intramural basketball tournament.
Improves Tendon and Muscle Health
In order to produce the power necessary to launch yourself on top of a box, you’ll utilize the stretch-shortening cycle. During this process, your muscles are lengthened to build up potential energy (the eccentric phase), then rapidly shortened to release it (the concentric phase), research shows. “The lengthening of the muscle followed by a concentric action where it’s shortening the muscle actually helps to improve the elasticity within your muscles and tendons in your lower body,” says Nguyen. “Box jumps are something that can really help improve the ability to be agile, to be quick, and be elastic with your movement.”
Functions as Anaerobic Training
Box jumps may not look as exhausting as a 30-minute run, but trust, they serve as a serious cardio challenge. Specifically, box jumps are a type of anaerobic exercise, says Nguyen. During this type of training, your body uses ATP (aka adenosine triphosphate, an energy molecule stored in your muscles) or glycogen (a stored form of glucose) for fuel — not oxygen, Rachel Straub, C.S.C.S., Ph.D., co-author of Weight Training Without Injury, previously told Shape. In turn, your body can only perform this exercise for a short amount of time. The good news: Regularly engaging in anaerobic exercise can help improve cardiovascular health, according to research published in the World Journal of Cardiology.
Box Jump Muscles Worked
In order to tackle the plyometric exercise, you’ll call on most of the major muscle groups in your legs, including the quadriceps (which flex the hip, help with balance, and stabilize the kneecap), glutes (which help extend the hips and stabilize the pelvis), hamstrings (which bend the knee and extend and rotate the hips), and calves (which flex the foot and ankle), says Nguyen. Your core will also come into play, as it will work to keep your spine stable and protected while you power through each jump, says Mariotti.
Box Jump Exercise Variations
The traditional box jump may not feel right for your body, goals, and fitness level — and that's okay. Instead of sticking with the classic version, try these box jump modifications and progressions to find a variation that works best for you.
Modification: Vertical Jump
If you don’t feel ready to launch yourself off the ground just yet, try scaling your box jump back to a snap down, suggests Nguyen. You’ll first stand up on your tip toes with your arms extended over your head. Then, you’ll quickly drop your heels to the floor while swinging your arms down behind your butt and sinking into a squat. This low-impact alternative helps you practice the proper landing position so you can feel confident when bringing a plyo box into play, she explains. “If you don’t exactly how to absorb force when you’re landing, that can be really detrimental to the joints of the body, especially in the lower half,” says Nguyen.
Once you're ready to work on building power, try a simple vertical jump — an equipment-free modification that's a bit safer than jumping onto a box, says Mariotti.
Progression: Single-Leg Box Jump
Looking to amp up the challenge of the traditional box jump? Start by increasing the height of the box. Once you’ve maxed out on that front, consider holding a light dumbbell (think: less than 5 pounds) in each hand while you jump, suggests Nguyen. Or, try a single-leg box jump, which challenges your stability and your ability to generate power (you are using just one leg, after all), says Mariotti. With this progression, you’ll want to lower the box to about half the height you were using with the traditional box jump exercise, says Mariotti.
Common Box Jump Mistakes
While it’s tempting to try box jumps for the first time with a two-foot-tall plyo box, starting off too ambitiously is a recipe for injury. Instead, start with as low of a box as possible — or even use a workout step — then build from there, says Nguyen. “Start with something you’re not afraid of, get used to the motion, and then increase the height from there,” adds Mariotti.
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How to Add the Box Jump to Your Routine
While anyone can benefit from — and simply have fun with — incorporating box jumps into their routine, the box jump is particularly beneficial for athletes, given the power generation involved, says Nguyen. "Every athlete needs to be able to sprint faster, jump higher," she says. "And jump moves, especially box jumps, are so efficient in that sense." Athlete or not, you'll want to check with your health-care provider before trying box jumps if you're experiencing any chronic pain or injuries, adds Nguyen.
If you get the all-clear, you’ll want to make sure you have a few prerequisites covered before you start leaping. First, you’ll want to build lower-body strength, particularly in your quads, glutes, calves, and hamstrings by performing squats, deadlifts, and other compound movements to ensure your muscles are actually capable of developing power, says Nguyen. (ICYDK, muscle strength and muscle power go hand-in-hand, she explains.)
Having adequate ankle mobility, ankle strength, hip mobility, and knee stability are also key. “When you’re landing from a jump, the first thing to hit the floor is the foot and ankle, and if you can’t sustain impact through there, your body’s going to find another strategy and it’s usually going to travel upward toward the hips, lower back, and trunk,” explains Nguyen. “You want to make sure you have the proper foundation so that your body can actually handle the landing.” To determine if your ankles are ready for the box jump, do a simple bodyweight squat; if you need to raise your heels or your calves feel tight, take it as a sign to work on ankle mobility, says Nguyen. Practicing those squats and deadlifts can also give you an idea of your hip mobility and help you improve it, she adds. “Strength training is always gonna help improve mobility in a major capacity,” she says.
Once you’re ready to give box jumps a shot, avoid doing too much too soon: Start with just two to three sets of three to five reps and place them at the beginning of your workout, suggests Nguyen. “Box jumps are very demanding on your nervous system,” she says, and performing more than necessary when your body is already tired can put you at risk for injury (e.g. slamming your shins against the box or falling on your face). If you want to amp up the volume as you progress, increase the number of sets and make sure you have enough rest time between them, she notes.
Most importantly, remember to have fun with it. As an adult, "you forget to embrace your inner kid," says Mariotti. "And the best benefit of the box jump is getting over the fear of jumping you build as you get older."