Box jumps are easy right? I used to think so as well, until I started teaching others. Having coached high jumpers, young athletes, and your average joe just looking to get fit, I am fully convinced that box jumps are not as easy as they look.
Most mistakes seen in your typical box jump come from:
1) Fear – Jumping on a box for the first time can be extremely intimidating (especially if you are older when you first start) and most people will err on the side of caution out of fear for their safety. Why wouldn’t you?? When the hell do most people above the age of 25 ever jump???
2) Desire for Improved Performance – Box jumps should be used mainly for teaching somebody how to develop power in their lower body. However, many people gauge their ability to jump by the height of the box. Once again, why not?? You don’t want to be the only one who can’t jump on the medium box!
Let’s quickly break down how these factors can develop improper box jump technique.
Fear makes fools of us all. And in box jumps, despite our desire to keep ourselves as safe as possible, fear results in the adoption of less safe jumping techniques. What are most people scared of? Missing the box, hitting their shins, tripping, etc. It’s not fun to think about. I have matching scars all the way up my shins from this exact issue.
When people are scared, their first tendency is to start from their toes. This is usually due to a lack of familiarity with the development of hip power, which is vital to a successful box jump. Instead of using the hips to jump, it is common to see somebody pitch forward into the ball of their foot, using mostly quads and calves to make their jump. Not only is this a less powerful jump, it commonly results in landing on the ball of the foot as well, which is a recipe for an ankle or knee injury. Why is this so common? Well, this position gives a sense of control to the jumper. They feel safer being on their toes, even though they are increasing the likelihood for injury.
If you are one of these people, it may be useful to use a very low, soft box to retrain yourself to feel safe while using a full foot contact during your jumps. See the video below for a visual representation of the proper box jump.
Desire for Improved Performance
Whether you are the most or the least competitive person at your gym, NOBODY likes to be the worst at a box jump. Unfortunately, social media and bad coaches have popularized the box jump by showing athletes jumping onto extraordinarily high boxes. Don’t get me wrong, these types of performances are impressive as all hell! However, most of us need to remember that a box jump is a tool for improving performance, just like any other exercise. Just because you can squat 300lbs once, that does not mean you should try to squat 300lbs twice a week for sets of 8. That’s just dangerous nonsense. When a person is solely focused on how high a box is, it is common to develop bad habits, such as not fully finishing the jump. But wait, how can you jump higher if you don’t “finish” the jump?
Jumping onto a really high box requires two actions:
1) The Jump – This is everything before takeoff. A good jump requires power development in the hips, as well as full extension through the hips and ankles prior to leaving the ground.
2) The Landing – The landing is all about mobility! To land effectively on the highest box possible, you must be able to bring your feet up, as close to your hips as possible.
As a jumper looks to improve their max box jump, often they will adopt several bad habits. When a jumper has not taken the time to understand how to jump from the hips, they will adopt the same bad habits that are outlined in the “FEAR” section. Another bad habit is taking off from the ground prior to full hip and ankle extension. This is usually caused by the jumper rushing to get their feet up into position, which is further emphasized when attempting a maximum jump. This habit will limit the force delivered to the ground by the jumper, which in turn limits the potential height that can be jumped.
To fully develop vertical jumping power, I recommend using a submaximal box height at all times. Place the focus on loading the hips properly and exploding vertically with an emphasis on full extension at takeoff. The smart jumper that wants to develop faster and show-off less will always be focused on how high their hips are off the ground at the peak of their jump, rather than their feet. Watch the video below to see me explain these concepts in person and, as always, train smart, THEN train hard!