This past week, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt stood in front of a 61-inch pile of soft boxes, and from a standing position, exploded up to land on top of them. To put into perspective what an insane feat that was, imagine looking at yourself in a full length mirror. See your chin? Hitting a 61-inch box jump would be jumping that high from where you stand (approximately, of course).
"Very few people on the planet can perform that feat — and it's particularly impressive, given his weight," says Brad Schoenfeld, trainer and director of the human performance lab at Lehman College. Watt's weight is just shy of 300 pounds, which means he needs far more power to lift his 6' 5" frame off the ground than, say, Peyton Manning would. How much of that ability can you attribute to good genes? "Research suggests genetics plays a huge role, on the order of about 50 percent of the outcome," says Schoenfeld. "That said, training plays a large role as well, and accounts for the other 50-some percent of results."
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In other words, while you may not be able to explode up to the height of your own chin, you can absolutely add inches to your vertical. The best way to do it, Schoenfeld says, is to train your lower body power. "Power is basically the ability to produce force in a minimal amount of time," he says, which involves two primary components: Increasing maximal strength and maximal velocity. Below, how to boost both.
1. GETTING STRONGER LEGS
Back Squats and Deadlifts
Twice a week, do five sets of five reps for each exercise. These should be heavy. You should barely be able to complete the last rep. (Note: Don't do back-to-back days of lifting.)
2. MAKING THEM MORE EXPLOSIVE
Squat Jumps JUMPS and Jumping Lunges
Three times a week, do 30 reps of squat jumps (exploding up from a low squat to touch a point on a wall, and landing softly back in a squat position; repeat) and 30 reps of jumping lunges (starting in a forward lunge position on one leg, and exploding up and switching legs mid-air to land with the opposite foot lunged forward).
3. PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Besides increasing your strength and velocity, to hit a higher box height, you've got to actually practice box jumping. Keep these tips in mind.
Nail the arm movement
You don't want to windmill your limbs all over the place — that actually creates drag. Instead, begin with your arms straight above your head, then swing them as hard as you can behind you, and like a pendulum, immediately swing them back in front of you as you jump to help power you upward.
Pitter-patter your feet You'll notice in the video clip of Watt, he psychs himself up for the jump with a little bouncing on his feet before he squats and loads his legs. More than psychological prep, this actually fires up the muscles in the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves, and readies them to produce max force.
Know you'll land it
The difference in making a 40" box jump and missing a 41" isn't athletic ability or training — it's mental. The majority of maximum-height misses occur because you give up before your feet have even left the ground. It may sound like some inspirational-poster cliché, but believe you can do it, and you will.