Box jumps can be one of the scariest general fitness exercises to conquer. Most of us have not spent the past 5 years practicing how to jump as high as possible, and we have not been practicing jumping onto a stiff box that can eat up your shins when we overreach. But performing box jumps does not have to be a daunting task, this movement is something you can practice at home and here’s how:
Phases of a Box Jump
To understand how to improve your box jumping abilities you must first understand the movement. Though a box jump seems like one fluid movement, it can be broken down into 3 distinct phases: the load, the jump, and the land.
A box jump begins by spreading the feet into a typical squatting stance, sinking the hips (as if you were squatting) and prepping the body for this explosive movement. During this phase, the key is loading your weight into the hamstring, glutes, and quads. These are some of the largest and most powerful muscles in the body which will help propel your body off the ground and through the air.
To perform this phase successfully place feet hip to shoulder-width apart; the distance depends on personal preference but for proper muscle recruitment, stay within these standards. Then sink the hips back and down, as if performing a squat.
The biggest variation in box jumps is seen in this step. The higher the box is, the lower you will have to load. A box that is 12” will require less load (something equivalent to a quarter squat) than a 48” box (this will be closer to a full squat).
The legs have been loaded properly and now is the time to use all the stored energy. When transitioning from the load to the jump do so with speed and force; this can be accomplished by quickly trying to squeeze all the muscles of the lower body especially the glutes. The glutes are the primary movers of the hips, so squeezing these as you leave the ground maximizes power output, lifting the hips the desired amount.
After pushing all the way through the legs and feet, trying to hit full extension in the hips, knees, and ankles, you will need to use the core muscles to lift the legs above the height of the box.
As the legs are lifted upward and shifted over the top of the box, the body will prepare to land. This is the easiest time for an injury to occur and is often related to improper landing mechanics.
The toes should be the first part of the body to come in contact with the top of the box (not the heals!). As the toes touch down, the weight will be shifted from the front to the back of the foot.
The entire foot is then used to absorb the initial impact as the body lowers down onto the box and back into a squatting position. If done properly little to no noise will be produced and you will land in the same squat position you started in, just on top of the box instead of on the ground.
Check out the video below to watch different box jump variations explained and done in real-time 📦
Physiology of a Box Jump
When performed correctly, box jumps are a great exercise to build explosive power and train reaction time.
If your furniture at home isn’t durable enough for jumping and landing safely, check out these built-for-purpose boxes on Amazon here.
There are three types of muscle fibers every muscle is comprised of: type I, type IIa, and type IIx. The portion present in each muscle is largely dictated by genetics but can be altered (to a degree) through training. Box jumps primarily target the fibers referred to as type IIx.
These fibers are typically known for their high nerve conduction velocity which greatly increases their ability to contract and produce force and power. These fibers are also linked directly to the anaerobic energy system, meaning they are trained in the absence of oxygen and are best used for short bouts of a powerful movement.
Training the box jump, and increasing your maximal jump height, has a direct correlation with increases in speed and power output. This is due to the increase in nerve conduction seen with type IIx fibers and the body’s ability to train type IIa fibers to more closely resemble type IIx.
Both fiber types are trained in anaerobic conditions and in an attempt to adapt to such conditions, the body can convert a small percentage of type IIa fibers into type IIx. They are close in characteristics, but this shift further increases a muscle’s ability to produce force, power, and speed.
In addition to these improvements, training the box jump and increasing type IIx fiber characteristics also enhances the efficiency of the motor-neural connection.
For a brief overview of your skeletal muscle’s structure, check out the video below 🦵🏽
Brain And Nerves: The Mind-Muscle Connection
The belly of each muscle is stimulated by a series of nerve conductions that originate in the brain. When loading the hips and legs during the first phase of the movement, a signal is created by proprioceptors (pressure sensing nerves) in the muscle that triggers the motor, premotor, prefrontal, sensory, and visual cortexes of the brain to prepare for movement.
The prefrontal cortex quickly decides which muscles need to be activated and in which order; the premotor cortex follows up by triggering this sequence, and the motor cortex controls the force of the signal to create an accurate contraction in the muscle (Source).
These signals travel through the spinal column to the appropriate efferent motor neurons, which trigger the intrafusal and extrafusal fibers of the muscle spindle to contract at a high velocity, creating the appropriate power needed to reach the top of a box.
This series of events takes the body through the jump phase. When transitioning to the landing phase, the sensory and visual cortex take over to produce a safe landing. The visual cortex is triggered first to determine feet placement upon the box. Once the brain has decided where to place the feet, the sensory cortex lights up from signals produced in the proprioceptors of the foot.
If placed correctly above the box, the pressure is produced signaling to the sensory cortex that the foot is indeed on top of the box and can handle the load of body weight. A proper landing sequence can then be executed.
If, however, there is a lack of signal from the proprioceptors or an abnormal signal, the sensory cortex is quick enough to understand that the foot (or feet) are not securely placed and the body needs to be prepared for another course of action. All of this is done in fractions of a second and is carried out in conjunction with signals from the cerebellum which helps regulate coordination. (Source).
As you practice box jumps this pathway becomes solidified and can happen at quicker rates. This efficiency is the primary benefit that carries over to sprints, jumps, and other athletic movements that are predominantly explosive. Movements such as these utilize the same neural pathways and patterns of muscle recruitment and directly benefit from your ability to jump on top of higher boxes.
For a deeper look into the motor pathways, check out the video below 🧠
Box Jump Workout Plan
Make sure you land safely, sprained ankles can delay your training cycle for weeks. Check out the best boxes available for jumping on Amazon here.
As you can see, the box jump can be a highly complicated movement. To help practice box jumps try some of the following drills:
Jump rope- this movement can help develop the pushing power of the lower legs and increase the ability to hit full ankle extension
Dropdowns- standing on top of a box and stepping off to land in a squat will help solidify proper landing mechanics
Tuck jumps- while staying in one spot, jump and pull the legs to the chest to practice midair mechanics
Box jump ladder- set up a series of box jumps of varying heights, after successfully landing on the first box move up in height to the next to train the visual and frontal cortexes
Jump overs- to build the confidence of making a particular height set up a rope or bungee that you can practice jumping over, this will also train the visual portion of the box jump
These drills, in addition to box jumps themselves, can be used during training sessions or as a form of activity recovery. When incorporated into a workout, the muscles and their neural pathways are taxed to a greater degree due to fatigue onset. To avoid this, utilize box jumps on active recovery days to keep the legs fresh and neural networks response high.
On days such as these make sure to incorporate plenty of rest between jumping bouts and keep the volume to a minimum (for example 5 intervals, 30seconds maximum repetition box jumps with 3-5 minutes of rest in between to maximize ATP regeneration).
Improving your box jump does not have to be a worrisome task and can easily be done from the comforts of your own home. Break the movement down, find your weakest phase, and target that section with some of these drills.
Practicing box jumps in any form will help train your fast-twitch fibers and neural networks so you can continuously reach new heights 😉⛹️♂️🏀