Box Jumps for Conditioning: Is It Worth it?
Box jumps are a phenomenal tool for building explosive power and strength. As part of regimented plyometric training, they can help an athlete become faster, stronger and more powerful, ultimately enhancing performance where it matters.
For the general population, they can increase strength and muscle size by improving the lower body’s ability to exert maximal force.
Unfortunately, many trainers and trainees lack the knowledge of when and why to implement box jumps into a training program.
Even worse, box jumps tend to be a staple in many group training settings, where sound execution comes second to effort and exertion. As a strength coach, there’s nothing that irks me more than seeing inadequate exercises being prescribed to the wrong clientele.
The good news is that, unlike burpees, which offer practically no benefit to anyone (yup, I said it), box jumps can be greatly beneficial when done properly and for the right reasons.
In this article, I’ll highlight why repeatedly jumping onto a box is an ineffective fat loss and conditioning tool, as well as when to best implement box jumps into a training program.
Where It All Went Wrong
With the rise of Crossfit and high-intensity training over the last decade, fitness enthusiasts all over the world are embracing competitive, fast-paced, puke-inducing workouts more than ever.
Similarly, trainers who are more invested in beating their clients to a pulp rather than promoting sustainable training often opt for box jumps when designing conditioning circuits. Pair that with the average trainee’s lack of physical readiness for explosive, high-impact activity, and you have a recipe for disaster.
I’m all for well-rounded fitness, but I believe there’s a time and place for training that is higher-risk compared to more traditional modalities.
When the goal is conditioning and cardiovascular fitness, plyometric training isn’t always a suitable option for the general population.
How Does It Work?
Plyometric training has one purpose, which is to increase force output by taking advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle of muscles.
In short, elastic energy is stored within a muscle during the eccentric phase of a movement.
If the transition from eccentric to concentric phases is quick enough (a period known as the amortization phase), then the stored energy will increase muscle activation and, in turn, power production.
Why Box Jumps Aren’t a Conditioning Tool
Jumping up and down from a box for high-repetition sets may seem like a viable idea for increasing heart rate while achieving some kind of lower body training effect.
In a conditioning scenario, not only is the box jump as a tool being entirely misapplied, but there is often little care for its execution. What you end up seeing is lots of failed attempts, bruised legs, knee valgus, pronated feet, and overly inflated egos using boxes that are way too high for their level of athleticism.
The box jump should resemble a quarter squat, at its onset but also in its landing position. If you cannot land in the exact same position you started with, with the knees lower than the hips, you either need to reevaluate your technique or consider using a box of lower height.
The fast-paced environment of conditioning circuits also hinder the lifter’s ability to perform full hip extension at the top of the jump. If you’re skipping this vital step, you’re missing out on many of the jump’s benefits for strength and power development.
Additionally, jumping down from the box (instead of stepping down with one leg at a time) can eventually lead to rupture of the Achille’s tendon.
- Plyometric training requires flawless technique and landing mechanics. Many lifters doing box jumps for conditioning lack the foundational knowledge and skill to correctly perform them. Even when that’s not the case, technique quickly deteriorates as the number of repetitions increases and fatigue sets in.
- The risk of injury goes up as one gets fatigued, this includes missed landings and battered shins.
- The purpose of plyometric training is maximal force output. How many repetitions do you think one could perform at an absolute maximal effort? Probably not many.
Although box jumps are a safer exercise compared to many other plyometric variants, the risk versus reward tells us there are far better options when the goal is to improve overall fitness.
Sled work and sprints can yield better results for the average trainee, without setting them up for injury in the long run.
Jumping rope is also a much friendlier alternative to jumping onto boxes; it is relatively low-impact, accessible and easier to learn.
When to Use Box Jumps
Box jumps for the non-athlete are best implemented as a CNS primer for heavy compound lifts. I’m talking primarily about the squat and deadlift, although you could also include the Olympic lifts in this category.
Plyometric training done for this purpose is extremely effective at potentiating the nervous system for greater gains in strength and size.
In this scenario, you’d be looking at very low repetitions for a low number of sets. We’re talking 2-3 sets of 3-5 reps at most, prior to your big lift of the day.
Similarly to a maximal effort squat, plyometric training is extremely taxing on the nervous system, so recovery in between sets and in between training sessions matters.
If you’re looking to maximize your results and avoid overtraining or overuse injuries, give yourself at least 48 hours of rest in between sessions. For the average lifter, especially those with little experience with plyometric training, I would suggest no more than two plyometric sessions per week.
Exercise selection is one of the many tools in a trainer’s toolbox. When combined with the knowledge of exercise science, it can be a gamechanger for performance, strength and muscle size.
Box jumps, unfortunately, are rarely employed correctly, but that doesn’t mean you should give them up altogether. Using them as a primer before your strength work can assist your CNS in recruiting muscle fibers faster and more efficiently.
I hope this article has helped shed some light on the contraindications of high-impact jumping for general fitness, as well as when to best implement box jumps into a training routine.