J.J. Watt damn near broke the Internet (at least among sports and fitness enthusiasts) last April when a video surfaced of his 61-inch box jump—no small feat for a 6’5″, 289-pound defensive lineman. You may not be ready to go up against Watt in a scrimmage, but chances are you’d like to be more explosive in your own backyard football games, or you’re at least interested in squatting heavier and building muscle. The box jump will help with all of the above, and we got Ben Bruno, trainer to celebs and pro athletes in Los Angeles, to explain the finer points.
How to do it
1) Set a box that’s about 24 inches high on the floor in front of you. (Use a padded box, if possible, so if you wipe out, you won’t get seriously hurt.) Stand with your feet hip-width apart and swing your arms behind you as you bend from the hips and knees to generate power. “Come down to a quarter-squat,” says Bruno.
2) Swing your arms forward and jump up onto the box, landing square in the middle. “Your landing should look like your takeoff.” While you’ve surely seen people land in a deep squat on box jumps, that’s not good form. For a safe landing that trains your body to absorb force, land in a quarter-squat only. Bruno says if the box isn’t too high you won’t sink into a full squat.
3) Step off the box back to the floor—don’t jump off. Reset, and go again. Yes, you’ll see people jumping down from the box in CrossFit classes, but according to Bruno, “it completely eliminates the point of the exercise, which is to train power with low impact.”
“As opposed to vertical jumps or broad jumps, which are harder on the hips and knees,” says Bruno, “the box jump lets you train for power without a hard landing.” Almost anyone can do a box jump, if they start cautiously and use good form. It trains the nervous system to fire the muscles explosively, which improves your potential to run fast, change directions quickly, and accelerate through sticking points on lifts.
Perform box jumps after your warmup but before any heavy training. You need to be fresh for peak power. Do three sets of five, resting a minute between each set. When you feel you’ve mastered a short box, add four to six inches to the height. “If your gym has only one small box, you can progress to seated box jumps, which challenge you by eliminating the stretch reflex.” Set a bench behind the box and sit on it. From there, you’ll explosively jump off the bench onto the box.