We’ve all seen the videos. A guy (or girl) stacks a bunch of tires onto a plyo-box and jumps on top of it, barely making (or sometimes ended in disaster with bloody shins), but none the less celebrating in victory. This is all well and good, and takes some form of athleticism for be able to leap that high, but it completely defeats the purpose of the exercise all together. Maybe we can clarify a few things to square away this box jump debate.
Of course, one of the purposes of jumping on a box is to be able to jump higher. But, just because you can jump and land on a high box, does not mean that you can jump high. The art of landing on a high box is, admittedly, is a skill in itself. You have to have good hip mobility, decent depth perception and enough nerve to trust yourself that you won’t bust your shins up into a bloody mess. Truly, it should never get to this point in the first place. Although being able to jump high is one of the keys to the box jump, it is not the primary training effect we are looking for.
Developing brakes is one of the most overlooked aspects of sport training but also one of the most important. Without good brakes, bad things happen: ACL tears, Achilles tendon tears, meniscus sprains, the list goes on. So what do I mean by brakes? Well, any time you land, whether that be from jumping, cutting or simply running, you put strain on your structural system. If you’ve trained correctly and taught your body how to deal with these constant impacts, it will dissipate the force effectively up the chain. On the other hand, if your body doesn’t have enough stability at certain joints or the structural system has not been developed enough, then it cannot control the impact, putting too much strain on an underdeveloped tendon or ligament, and injuries occur.
The box jump is the perfect example of an exercise is that is meant to teach athletes how to put on the brakes. When performed correctly, the athlete starts with the feet in a hip width position, driving through and off the ground, and landing in a stable, quarter squat position, similar to the position they started in. The key is not letting the butt sag to the floor. If the athlete lands and there is not unnecessary movement, then they have performed the exercise correctly.