Box Jumps For Beginners
Box jumps are a staple in CrossFit® programming. It's commonplace for box jumps to be one of the first movements a beginner learns in their foundations class. Unlike double unders, kipping pull-ups, or handstand push ups... box jumps don't require lengthy instructions, hours of practice, or repetitive failure to learn.
Due to the simplicity of the movement, far too often I see mindfulness go out the window when beginners are performing box jumps. This is evidenced by scraped knees, nicked shins, rounded backs on landing, and strained calves or Achilles tendons.
Almost everyone has at least one disaster story involving box jumps. To prevent you from having a horror story of your own, I'd like to outline a few basic principles anyone can apply when doing box jumps.
Box Jumps For Beginners: Technique
I believe most coaches neglect going in-depth on box jumps. Can we really blame them? The concept is so simple:
- Jump onto the box
- Get down
We’re all so concerned with getting the work done, we often neglect proper box jump technique. #BroReps.
The age old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies well here. But as you know, the WODprep team believes there’s always room for improvement. That doesn’t necessarily mean going faster or bigger. In this case, safety is the leading priority of success.
To make sure you’re covered, read the steps below, then watch the video for visual cues.
- Before the first rep:
- Stand close to the box. I don't mean with toes touching the box. I mean toes as close to the box as possible without your knees hitting the box when loading for the jump. This is usually about 1 foot length, give or take a few inches.
- Feet should be pointing forward and about hip width apart.
- KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE BOX! (look at the spot where you want to land, which should be the center of the box, not the edge.)
- Jump as high as possible while swinging both arms up and forward for momentum. The goal is to land with both feet fully on the box and the hips already slightly extended with arms out in front of you.
- The momentum generated by your arms should feel like they’re pulling you up on top of the box just as much as your legs are pushing you off of the ground.
- Recruiting the arms for momentum in the jump and extension distributes the load in a way that saves your legs from tiring too quickly.
- When feet make contact with the box, drop hands by your side and simultaneously extend at the hip.
- Before jumping down off the box, bend your knees again to brace your legs for impact with the floor. Jump backwards with soft knees to absorb the landing.
Here’s a video of Coach Ben explaining our Box Jumps for Beginner’s Method.
(Apologies in advance for the audio, it was a windy day.)
If you are not comfortable jumping off the box, step down! I use the step-down method more often than not and can’t recommend it enough. Once I’m on top of the box, I step down with my dominant foot first while simultaneously swinging my arms up to about eye level. Then I bring my recessive foot down and swing my arms back down by my sides. As soon as my recessive foot hits the ground, I’m ready to initiate my next jump.
3 Common Box Jump Mistakes
Heels hanging off the box upon landing.
Think about it. If you “miss” a box-centered landing, you’ll probably still land on the box. If you miss a box-edge landing, things could get pretty bloody!
Landing on the box with hips below parallel.
Towards the end of a WOD, your box jumps may lose steam. I see lots of athletes resort to landing in a full squat, exerting as little energy as possible on the jump. The problem with that is, they’re now required to stand up from an ass to grass position. We advise you to front load the work. Exert most of your energy in the jump portion of the movement. Even when it gets tough, do your best to land at or above parallel!
Landing on the box with a rounded back and your chest basically resting on your knees.
So much can go wrong in this weak position. You can strain your lower back. You can tip the box. You can tumble over the box. Keep a nice straight back with an upright torso!
Rebounding Box Jumps Technique
Rebounding Box Jumps is when you minimize the time spent on the ground. Rest, when necessary, is done at the top of the box. To explain the movement from the ground: You jump on to the box, lock out your hips, and stand tall. Then, the athlete hops off the box backwards with both feet at the same time. As your knees absorb landing on the floor, you simultaneously initiate a new jump on to the box. Repeat.
Here's a short video of Ben ranking the 4 types of box jumps as far as speed and safety are concerned.
In my non-expert opinion, rebounding box jumps should only be done in competition. In other words, rebounding box jumps are NOT for beginners. There is no reason to rebound during a regular MetCon, unless you're practicing your rebounding cadence for competition day.
The reason I take a strong stance against rebounding box jumps is because there's a high chance for injury: straining your Achilles tendon or calf muscle, bumping your knee on the corner of the box on the way down, or scraping your shin on the box on your way up.
Furthermore, the amount of time saved by rebounding is insignificant. Step Down If You Like Your Achilles.
Box Jump Phobia: “I’m Afraid to Jump!”
For some, box jumps are fairly straightforward and the only thing that stops them is gravity. 30, 40, even 50 inch box jumps - no problem. For many others, there’s a major factor that rarely gets talked about. It’s something that prevents athletes from jumping and landing with two feet; instead always accidentally “prancing” onto the box with one leg before the other. It’s a huge, almost indescribable barrier that makes them want to avoid box jumps at all cost. It’s called “Box Jump Phobia”.
If you’re an athlete that can’t figure out how to jump and land onto anything higher than 12 inches, listen up. This section is for you!
For athletes struggling with box jump phobia, they resort to the next logical option: step ups. Although there’s nothing wrong with step-ups, CrossFit® HQ recently announced step ups will no longer count for “Rx” in the Open. This means we need to face our fears, or end up in the scaled division FOR-EV-ER…
Here’s a simple step-by-step approach Coach Ben has used to help countless athletes conquer Box Jump Phobia:
- Using bumper plates instead of actual plyometric boxes, find a height that you can consistently jump-and-land onto with two feet without any fear. For this example, we’ll use 8 inches (an extreme case of box jump phobia). In order to get an 8 inch box, use two 45lb bumper plates stacked onto each other.
- Once you’ve done 5 successful reps at this height, it’s time to add a negligible height increase. In between the two 45lb plates, add a 10lb bumper plate. This will add roughly 1.5 inches, and you’ll hardly even notice.
- After completing 5 successful reps at this height, repeat Step 2 until you can no longer jump onto the ‘box” without fear. For this example, let’s assume you were able to add 3x 10lb bumper plates in between 2x 45lb plates, when you tried adding a 4th 10lb bumper plate, you stopped being able to jump onto the box. Congrats, we’ve found your limit - your session is complete! Record your max height of “5 reps at 45lbx2 10lbx3” and keep it in a safe place.
- Two to three times per week, use this same exact method and slowly but surely start to add more height. Each session, start slightly below where you left off in your last session. In our example, we’d have the athlete start with 1x 10lb bumper plate in between 2x 45lb plates and slowly work back to where he/she left off (and hopefully past it!) . Once you can easily accomplish 5 reps at a height without any fear or missteps, add another small height increase. If you stay consistent with this practice, you’ll be jumping higher and with more confidence than ever before!
Note: Why use bumper plates instead of a “real box”?
“From my experience, people are less scared of jumping onto a rounded rubber platform compared to a sharp, square box. Eventually, with the increased confidence the athlete will be able to use a normal wooden plyometric box. I like to start with something less intimidating, and bumper plates are a great option.” - Coach Ben
Mastering Box Jumps: Mindfulness
Imagine this: 21-15-9. Box Jumps and ANY other movement. While you're doing your box jumps, what are you thinking about? The rep count. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. ... What else? Oh right, you're thinking about the OTHER movement. How are you going to break it up for the set of 15? Maybe 10 and 5 if it starts out feeling good. Maybe 3 sets of...
The sound you make when your shin scrapes the front of the box because you're distracted. Sound familiar? Yeah. Me too. And I have the scars to prove it.
For some reason, halfway through a set of box jumps is the perfect time to think about anything besides box jumps. The simplicity of box jumps makes it so easy to forget about the movement.
So how do we become more mindful? There are a few things you can do. I practice the following 2 strategies most often:
- Meditate - Every morning I meditate 7-15 minutes depending on how much time I have before leaving for my 530am WOD. The benefits of meditation stretch far beyond mindfulness, but I’ll save that for another post.
- Positive Self-Talk - A coach at my gym turned me onto positive self-talk during WODs. Using mental cues to talk yourself through steps of a technical movement like the snatch are extraordinarily helpful: "Back straight, butt-down, chest up, no slack in the arms, rip" Assessing how you feel every 5-10 reps of wall-balls or kettlebell swings can help you hold off on breaking: "13. 14. 15. 5 more. 16.1 7. 18. 19. break. I can go for 20 again. 1. 2. 3..." Finally, repeating a simple, yet reassuring, mantra can help manufacture a second wind during a run: "I am strong, fast, fit & healthy".
Wrapping Up: Box Jumps For Beginners
Box jumps require little to no explanation. Therefore, they are understandably overlooked by coaches and athletes alike. At WODprep, we believe it's important the community is educated on an optimal technique to strive towards. We also like to solve world-wide epidemics like box jump phobia.
We hope this beginner’s guide to box jumps sheds a little light on a movement that typically falls through the cracks.
With all that said, we’d love to hear your box jump stories! In the comments section below, share your favorite box jump disaster story.
What will you apply from today’s article to make sure it never happens again?