Box jumps are a common love-it-or-leave-it movement for many athletes. I’ve been doing them for two decades as part of my regular exercise routine and as a personal trainer.
Box jumps provide many benefits to our legs, lower back, and core. They also improve other exercises, like jump rope or running, and are incredibly functional.
Summary of the Key Findings
- You should follow three steps to do box jumps correctly.
- There are several alternatives you can use if you don’t have a plyo box.
- Box jumps are hard on the body. There are a couple things you can do to make it easier for you.
- Once you’ve mastered box jumps, you can try several other variations of the exercise.
How To Do Box Jumps Correctly
In 2016, Evan Ungar made a Guinness World Record by jumping onto a box 63.5 inches (1.61 meters) tall from the floor.
You might not be trying to break a world record anytime soon, but it's good to know what people are capable of.
Box jumps follow three basic steps:
- With your feet hip-width distance apart, facing in front of the box with your toes about six inches away.
- Bend your knees slightly and push off the ground with the balls of your feet, firing all your calf muscles and exploding into the air.
- In mid-air, just before you begin to descend from the height of your jump, bend your knees, swing your arms forward, and land softly and quietly with both feet on top of the box.
Extend your hips all the way up, then step down, repeat, and do it again and again.
How To Incorporate Box Jumps With Or Without A Box
Just because you don't have a typical plyo box sitting around doesn't mean you can't exercise as if you're doing a traditional box jump.
The benefit of a box jump comes mostly in having a deep squat, your power output on the jump, and being able to land softly and quietly at your surface destination.
Think Outside The Box!
You can get just as much benefit from these common plyo box exercise alternatives:
- A park bench
- Sturdy, wide stone or brick walls
- A workout bench
- A solid chair
- Stairsteps that are wide enough for you to land on safely
Any sturdy elevated surface about 12-21 inches (30-53cm) tall is a great starting point. Make sure the box, bench, chair, or whatever you're using doesn't wobble. Position them like a box with your feet just in front.
As you practice and develop jump training exercises into your workouts, you can use a higher box, around 21-31 inches (53-79cm).
Improve Your Box Jump With Explosive Power
Box jumps are a fast exercise movement and require a lot of explosive lift off the floor. They develop your body's type II muscle fibers, the kind needed for quick, explosive movements.
You can probably imagine yourself doing a box jump even if you've never tried explaining or thinking about it. And a lot of things can happen, including shin scrapes from slipping off the front of a box.
Hip, Feet, And Knee Placement Before, During, And After A Box Jump
Remember these pro tips for box jumps:
- Start from a deep squat or a partial squat. Depending on your mobility and comfort with squats, the deeper you go, the more power you'll have to jump higher.
- Always land on the box with both feet. Experienced athletes can do one-leg box jumps. Single leg jumps are what those sound like: jumping with the force from only one leg. But always land on the box with both feet for stability. Don't try this unless you're comfortable jumping, and you can develop explosive power from each leg.
- Swing your arms for more stability and to build power on the way up and down. Your arms have a surprising amount of force behind them. Use that to your advantage during box jumps.
- When you land onto the box, land in a quarter-squat stance, then stand up fully. This extends your hips and gives you the full range of motion.
- Knees can take a beating if you don't try landing with soft feet, from ball to heel or heel to ball. Landing with flat feet pushes a lot of energy up into your knees which can become tiresome and painful.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with the box one foot in front of you. Keep your feet flat on the ground. As you bend your knees, you’ll automatically put your center of gravity in the safest position.
- Use a lower box if you're recovering from an injury or just need a good scale.
Box Jump Scales And Maintaining Proper Form
As plyometric exercises go, nothing helps you build explosive power in your lower body than performing box jumps. But there are some ways to make jumping gentler on your body.
Adjusting Vertical Jump Height
Simply choosing a lower box height is the easiest option. You can get one as low as 12 inches (30cm) and still get a lot of exercise, especially if you're jumping on to it.
Consider this if you're just starting out, have an injury, are recovering from past exercises, or have a fear of the box. If you can't adjust the height of your box, consider adjusting from a quarter squat to a full squat when jumping.
Overcoming Box Jump Phobia With A Mirror, Phone, Or Partner
Speaking of a fear of the box: it's real. Even if the box doesn't seem scary, a lot of people panic mid-jump they're going to fall, or they feel like they'll miss.
This is a normal response from our body, but one that can be conquered.
The surprising truth is most people jump way higher than they think they are.
I've seen people jump onto a box thinking they're only a few inches or centimeters above it when they really have 4x that space.
You can see it yourself if you place a mirror or your phone's camera in front of or beside you.
Do a jump and see how much space you really have and be surprised at how much more speed and power you truly have during box jumps.
“Our results suggest that feedback involving a combination of self-feedback and expert video feedback with oral instruction effectively improved lower extremity kinematics during jump-landing tasks .” - Jena Etnoyer Slaski, researcher and certified trainer
Absent a mirror or your phone, a trusted partner can watch you and tell you how much hang time you have. If it's 6 inches (15cm) or more, it's time for a higher box.
Protect Your Shins As You Fatigue
Know your limits. The fast-twitch muscle fibers in your legs will fatigue the more jumping you do. And your core will get wobbly as you land.
The most common issue is people misjudge the landing zone, land too far back, and a shin comes scraping down the front of the box.
In my experience, this typically happens because people are going too fast, and their form degrades or goes wrong.
Keep your knees bent on each jump, slow down, and be thoughtful. The benefits of this workout come from achieving height, not speed.
3 Additional Plyo Box Exercise To Consider
1. Box Step-ups
Box jumps are great, but they're not for everyone or all the time.
Simply stepping up on the box, as you would on stairs, are also great ways to improve athletic performance. Twenty or more reps of a step-up, and you’ll be feeling it.
Step-ups also reduce the impact on your feet and knees. It’s a less explosive movement, but an excellent scale for anyone with prior injuries or mobility issues.
2. Pistols From A Box
Pistols are a great warm-up and intense on your lower body. Unlike jumping with fast movements, pistols are slow and controlled.
Pistols are great for our body's "slow-twitch" muscle fibers, whereas type II muscle fibers use "fast-twitch" muscles during brief, powerful periods of activity.
- Stand with both feet on the edge of your box
- Bend one knee and push the other outside leg straight out. You'll be balancing on one foot.
- Bend all the way down and see if you can lower your single standing leg to the point your heel wants to raise up.
- Then stand back up and repeat, alternating sides.
Do three to five reps on each side, and you'll improve your ankle, calf, glute, hamstring, core, and quadriceps at the same time.
3. Weighted Jumps And Step-ups
Grab a weight vest, dumbbell, plate, kettlebell, or some other weight like water jugs for your step-ups.
I typically don't recommend jumping with a dumbbell or kettlebell because your center of gravity is all wrong. But a weighted vest is great. And It doesn't have to be much. A 20lb (9kg) weight vest is a lot for a box jump.
You can also mix-and-match step-ups with jumps. If you're doing a set of 20 box jumps, consider alternating between jumping and stepping, like this:
- 5 jumps
- 10 step-ups (unweighted or with a weight vest or small dumbbell)
- 5 jumps
What Kind of Box Is Best?
There is no "best box." Whatever is sturdy, stable, and accessible for you to do jumping exercises around is great.
How Can I Build Confidence with Box Jumps?
Practice and record or watch yourself in a mirror. Those mirrors in the gym are there for a reason, and they're there to help you improve your form. They can also show you how much height you're really achieving.
How Can I Manage Box Jumps with an Injury?
Ask your doctor for guidance, but generally, you'll want to reduce reps and impact. Step-ups are the best alternative.
My Kneecaps Hurt during Landing. Is That Normal?
Yes and no. Yes, a lot of people get joint pain from any kind of jumping, but that's usually because they're not keeping good form or, as is the case with a lot of athletes: they need regular rest days.
What Should I Do With My Arms during a Box Jump?
I like to swing my arms up and down, almost like I'm throwing a slam ball on the ground. I've seen others who prefer to keep them close to their sides and land with their arms right out in front.
Whatever suits you will work.
What Is the Recommended Height for a Box Jump?
A foot (30cm) is great for first-timers and kids. Around 21 inches (53cm) is pretty standard for most gyms and CrossFit training. Tall people may want to edge up to 24 inches (60cm) as a starting point.
Key Notes About Box Jumps for Your Next Workout
As simple as a box looks, there’s a lot you can do with one in your workout.
For beginners, go with a low box—or even a small table or chair—to practice.
We’ve learned having a spotter or taking a video of yourself is a great way to see how far you can go and get over fears of falling or tripping.
There are lots of ways to scale the movements, too.
To add intensity, hold on to weights or wear a weighted vest.
And to reduce the intensity or protect yourself and your knees as you fatigue, simply stepping up the box—weighted or unweighted—is just as challenging.
Most of the time, when I see people starting out with box jumps, they’re afraid they’re going to trip and hurt themselves. That’s worth paying attention to, but you probably don’t know your own power.
You’ll probably be surprised to know just how much muscle growth and improvement in balance and force you’ll get with regular practice.