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Without a doubt, I can honestly say that box jumps are great exercises. Explosive leg power development, counter-current movement, elastic spring, cardio development, dynamic core stability, minimal eccentric loading of the lower extremities upon landing, plus they look hella cool when you do them. Here’s a video fo my good friend Rob King crushing a 48 inch box jump, at a perceived height of 56 inches. (kidding Rob!).
One thing I’m not a fan of box jumps for is developing vertical jumping ability. Now I know everyone out there probably thinks I lost my left frontal lobe on this one.
Come on Dean, how is jumping for height not good for building your vert?
Quite simply, the mechanics aren’t the same. Let’s take a look at the positioning of a vertical jump test.
The hips knees and ankles are in full extension to provide maximal vertical velocity, and the head and shoulders are significantly above their starting position. Now if we compare this to a vector analysis of repeated box jumps using a normal box jump approach:
The hips, knees and ankles become fully flexed upon landing, and the vertical displacement of the head and shoulders is not very significant in relation to the height of the box. The horizontal lines are the maximum vertical height of Maurice while still in contact with the floor. On a side note, Maurice here is in his mid-fifties, and has the agility of a cat.
Another common occurrence with box jumps is the use of a run start to add horizontal momentum to the movement, which would allow the jumper to have their feet elevated and essentially allow their own momentum to carry their weight up to their feet, and allow them to jump higher without having any change to their torso vertical displacement. This is an insanely high jump from one of Joe DeFranco’s football players, but watch the lead-in.
Damn is right.
Since the body isn’t being pushed vertically as much as the legs are being brought up and forward, it’s not as effective at generating a vertical leap as performing vertical jump tests or drills where the body or arm is reaching for a height. However, one thing it is really good for is developing rapid concentric hip flexion and abdominal stabilization. The body has to go through a rapid cycle of triple extension and then triple flexion in order to pull the feet up to the level of the box before the individual does an epic face plant and winds up shinning themselves into oblivion.
While I’ll be the first to say that jumping onto a high box is still as impressive as hell, and the combination of power, control and coordination are off the charts from an athletic standpoint, there are other ways to do the movement and get some vertical jump improvements at the same time. One way to approach this is in addressing how the individual lands on the box, specifically what position their legs are in when they touch down. The best measure for vertical height would be to have the legs as straight as possible on contact, which would necessitate the biggest vertical displacement of the torso to complete the jump relative to the feet.
By trying to get the legs as straight as possible, the exercise is now less about achieving the height and more about pushing the vertical component of the jump. Good to see I still have some hops after all these years off the basketball court. While I’ll never win any dunk contests, I’m happy with something like this.
As an aside, another great tool to use for testing and developing vertical jump capacity is a vert mat, the first of which I saw while watching a video on Eric Cressey’s site.
These use measurements of the time between takeoff and landing, as well as the vertical force pressed into the mat to determine the height of the jump. I would looooove to get my hands on one of these bad boys, so if there’s anyone reading this from their company,
HI. I like your stuff. Please send me one and I’ll talk about it.
On a semi-related note, I saw this video the other day and almost whacked my head on the desk falling out of my chair laughing. Seriously, it’s hilarious, and even has an example of “elite” box jump form in it.
Check out the box jumps at 1:17. Actually, check out the entire video, it’s pretty fabulous.