Maybe you hit the weight room on the reg, maybe you are a jogger, and maybe you even mix up the two to fit your fancy (I’m a mixer these days).
But is there something else you could be doing to add a little spice into your workout routine? Something that might give you a *huge* metabolic boost, and will help you to become faster, stronger, and all around more of a badass?
Yep, I’m talking about plyometrics.
Plyometrics, or plyos as they’re so lovingly called, is a term for a type of exercise that combines a stretch portion of a movement followed by an explosive contraction. These include many different types of jumps and upper body movements, but I would venture to say that the most popular form of plyos are box jumps.
Whether you’re a cross fit junkie or not, box jumps can play a small part in your programming and still make a huge impact. They’re not an exercise that you need to or should do every day, and they really should only be done at pretty specific times to ensure safety. But even though you won’t be doing these all day every day, they can still pack a mean punch to your progress (in a good way!).
Not all box jumps are created equally, however. There are some key components that you must be conscious of, not only to perform them effectively but also to ensure your own safety. Explosive movements always come with a risk of injury, the key is being a real stickler about form and you’ll be A-ok.
#1: Use Your Arms
To begin a successful box jump, you need to be willing to work with every part of your body. Because this is an explosive movement, momentum is going to play a big part in this, and your arms will help more than you think. To test this theory out, go find a couple of stairs in your house. First, hop up onto the first or second stair with your arms by your sides. Next, crouch into a squat to begin, swinging your arms back and then thrusting them forward with your jump. Do you feel that power behind the second jump? Using your arms and your whole body for a power movement will allow you a bigger, more powerful jump. Thus, better training effects.
These pics were taken at the end of a run last week — see, you can do box jumps anywhere! I was jumping to my 3rd step on the front porch. Use those arms!
#2: Knees Out!
When you land on the box, the most important aspect of the landing is to make sure that your knees do not “cave” in towards each other upon impact. If you are new to box jumps (or if you’ve never watched yourself do these), make sure you either have a mirror set up or that you can take some video footage of your reps to ensure good form. When you land, you want your knees to be facing straight forward, any deviation towards the middle puts you at risk for a whole slew of injuries, both acute and long term. One handy tip to help keep your knees facing forward is to focus on your outer hip muscles while jumping and landing. These bad boys are going to be the main muscle group that control the positioning of your knees believe it or not, and simply being conscious of them while performing an exercise can make all the difference.
If you watch yourself do a few reps and you find that you simply can not keep your knees from winking at each other, do yourself a favor and skip box jumps for now. I’ve got a post coming up soon that will detail some exercises you can do to remedy that problem!
#3: Land Soft, and complete your movement.
Ok, so this is technically two things to remember, but in my mind they go hand in hand. Your goal upon landing (besides keeping those knees out), is to land as softly as possible. This is going to come from landing in a squat position, really absorbing the shock of the landing into your ankles, knees, and hips. Without being careful to land softly, you risk injury by landing on joints that are too “stiff”, slapping your feet down with rigid ankles, knees and hips, not allowing the forces to dissipate. Your goal should be to make as little noise as possible with your landing, and this will come with practice.
Also related to landing is a mistake I see a lot with people performing box jumps. They land nice and soft into their squat, and then they just kind of hop back down off the box while still in a crouched position. If you do this, you’re missing out on a very important part of the movement! After landing, make sure you engage your glutes and squeeze as you stand all the way up straight. Engaging your posterior chain in this way and paying particular attention to squeeze those glutes will help to keep them engaged during the jump portion of the movement, giving you better explosiveness and also helping to prevent injury. Win win!
Stand up straight and squeeze those glutes. Then gently and carefully step down.
Many people are very intimidated by box jumps, or anything where both feet are leaving the ground at the same time. As with any exercise that is new to you, if you haven’t done box jumps before, please start small. Many gyms have several different size boxes for you to use, but if you’re intimidated by the smallest one they have, start out on a set of stairs. First tackle one stair just to get your form down, then try hopping up 2 or 3 steps from the bottom. Work your way up in height gradually, paying particular attention to form before progressing.
Readers: Do you incorporate box jumps or other plyos in your training? What helped you to get over the intimidation of box jumps?