Increasing your lower body power has huge carryover into everything from Olympic lifts and squats to success on the football field or basketball court. And while training for your favorite strength sport has a lot of complicated components, training for power can be pretty simple. Sometimes, all you need to do is jump.
The box jump is a plyometric exercise used by strength, power, fitness, and sports athletes of all experience levels to increase their lower body power and explosiveness. While box jumps are great for improving power and strength, they can enhance your full-body coordination and cardiovascular fitness.
Especially if you’ve never performed them before, box jumps are an exercise you need to carefully perform and progress. Here, we’ll outline the best beginner through advanced box jumps with tips and programming suggestions for each exercise. You’ll also learn how — and why — to integrate them into your program.
Best Box Jump Variations
Here are the best box jump variations according to your experience level. Progress only when you are ready, meaning that you can comfortably perform multiple reps of each move before tackling a more complex version. Happy jumping.
Beginner Box Jump
Intermediate Box Jump
Advanced Box Jump
- Broad Jump to Box Jump
- Depth Drop to Box Jump
- Hurdle Hop to Box Jump
- Single-Leg Landing Box Jump
- Single-Leg Lateral Box Jump
Beginner Box Jump Variations
Maybe you’re new to box jumps or you haven’t performed them in a while. If so, it’s important to build a solid base before progressing to more difficult variations. Here are four exercises that fit the bill.
Lateral Box Shuffle
The lateral box shuffle is a great alternative if the high impact of jumps bothers your joints. This move helps build a better technique for more difficult variations.
Moving from side to side quickly and explosively will improve your lateral movement, conditioning, balance, and coordination.
Why Do It: This improves your side-to-side movement and lateral explosive power while having a lower impact on your joints.
Coach’s Tip: Start with a low box and then build up speed as you get more comfortable with the side-to-side movement.
Sets and Reps: Three to four sets of 12 to 20 reps per side.
Low Box Jump
Before moving on to higher boxes, the low box jump is a confidence builder. You’ll be able to train power and quickness without worrying as much about banging your shins.
It’s important to get your landing mechanics down, and this variation will help with that.
Why Do It: You’ll train good jumping and landing techniques while sticking close to the ground.
Coach’s Tip: Try to land gently on the balls of your feet and then roll down to your heels. Try to land as quietly as you can to help check in on your technique.
Sets and Reps: Two to four sets of eight to 12 reps.
Static Box Jump
Static box jumps are performed to increase lower body explosiveness with minimal stretch reflex, unlike the countermovement jump — where you “wind up” for the jump with a squat.
This is also a good variation to simplify the jumping movement, as you need greater amounts of coordination for countermovement box jumps.
Why Do It: To train lower body power and to get a gauge on how high you can jump without injuring yourself.
Coach’s Tip: Start with a lower box height to ensure better landing form.
Sets and Reps: Two to four sets of eight to 12 reps.
Countermovement Box Jump
The countermovement box jump is when an athlete throws their hands down and back toward their heels while simultaneously loading their hamstrings and hips — as if they were going to perform a squat.
Once they reach the end of the countermovement, they need to focus on explosively changing directions and jumping, minimizing the delay between the countermovement and the jump.
Why Do It: This variation enhances a lifter’s rate of force development and increases neurological excitation aspects necessary for maximal power and explosiveness.
Coach’s Tip: The start and end of the jump should look the same. If it doesn’t, the box is too high.
Sets and Reps: Two to four sets of six to eight reps.
Intermediate Box Jumps
When you are ready for the next step — erm, jump — these box jump variations take it up a notch by narrowing your base of support, taking the stretch reflex away, and by adding load. Be sure to have the countermovement jump down before doing these four variations.
Seated Box Jump
Seated box jumps are similar to static box jumps, as they take away your ability to utilize the stretch-shortening cycle. This increases the concentric power of your quadriceps and glutes.
The seated box jump is also helpful for you to work on strengthening ranges of motion where you have sticking points or a lack of explosiveness.
Why Do It: The lack of eccentric contraction helps to increase the concentric power of your glutes and quads.
Coach’s Tip: Have your hips roughly level with your knees in the seated position.
Sets and Reps: Three sets of six to 10 reps.
Weighted Box Jump
With the weighted box jump, the goal is to increase strength and force production. When training weighted plyometric moves, be aware that using loads that are too heavy is counter-productive.
Think of it like the Goldilocks principle — not too hot and not too cold. Find a weight that’s just right. Start with five to 10 pounds and progress carefully from there.
Why Do It: Loading this movement lightly will help increase your power and strength.
Coach’s Tip: Hold either light dumbbells by your sides or a weight plate in front of you.
Sets and Reps: Three sets of six to eight reps.
One-Step Box Jump
The one-step box jump has you using momentum as you approach the box by taking one step with the lead foot before taking off and landing with both feet.
When you are performing this, be sure to switch lead legs as you approach the box jumps to build symmetry between both sides of the body.
Why Do It: This has great carryover to athletes who often jump while coming from a forward-moving situation.
Coach’s Tip: Be sure to measure the length of your step and where you will take off from so you can make the box jump without incident.
Sets and Reps: Three to five take-offs on each leg for two to four sets.
Single-Leg Box Jump
The single-leg box jump is done by having a lifter jump off of one foot, either from a static or countermovement position, and land with both feet on the box.
This is also referred to as a one-two box jump, meaning you’ll jump off one foot and land on two. Like the one-step box jump, be sure to train both legs equally.
Why Do It: Trains and strengthens unilateral jumping power.
Coach’s Tip: Be sure to lower the height of the box and land softly on both feet.
Sets and Reps: Four to six reps on both sides for two to four sets.
Depth drops are important box jump variations to learn and reinforce proper landing mechanics and build a stronger foundation for jumping in general.
They are great for increasing eccentric control and coordination of your hamstring muscles while helping you absorb more force safely.
Why Do It: Depth drops teach you to better absorb force so you can apply it to jumping higher, safer.
Coach’s Tip: Alternate the foot you lead with to ensure even reps on both sides.
Sets and Reps: Do four on each side — for a total of eight landings — for two to three sets.
Advanced Box Jump
When you have got the depth jump down, you are ready for these five advanced variations. Using reactive jumps and reducing your base of support will improve your explosive strength and power.
Broad Jump to Box Jump
This jumping exercise combines a broad jump with a box jump.
You do this by starting a few feet away from a box so that you can perform a broad jump, land near the box, and then go directly into the box jump.
Why Do It: This variation will improve your proprioception and both horizontal and vertical jumping abilities.
Coach’s Tip: Do a practice attempt or two without the box to know where you’ll be jumping from before adding the actual box jump.
Sets and Reps: Three to four sets of four to six reps.
Depth Drop to Box Jump
This combination of the depth drop and the countermovement box jump is fantastic for increasing your reactive jumping ability.
By putting the depth drop together with the box jump, you harness the increased kinetic energy from the eccentric loading of the movement. This will help you develop a greater capacity to transition into the reactive and concentric phases of the jump.
Why Do It: This combination will increase your jump height, allowing you to become more explosive.
Coach’s Tip: Make sure the box you drop from is higher than the box you will jump to.
Sets and Reps: Three to four sets of four to six reps.
Hurdle Hop to Box Jump
The hurdle hop to box jump has you do a series of moving jumps over hurdles (which can range from small to large hurdles) with a box at the end of the hurdles. When you approach the box, you’ll jump vertically to land on the box.
This will improve your reactive jumping ability, not to mention your balance and coordination.
Why Do It: This will improve your rate of force production and ground reaction force, which are key for maximal explosiveness, speed, and power.
Coach’s Tip: Two to four hurdle jumps are enough before performing the box jump.
Sets and Reps: Three sets of four to six reps.
Single-Leg Landing Box Jump
The single-leg box jump landing on one leg is a progression of the one-two, or single-leg, box jump.
Taking off and landing on one foot challenges your balance and unilateral concentric and eccentric strength to help combat imbalances between sides.
Why Do It: You’ll improve unilateral leg strength, power, and balance.
Coach’s Tip: Make sure to land softly on the box and floor to minimize joint stress.
Sets and Reps: Three sets of five reps on each side.
Single-Leg Lateral Box Jump
Perform single-leg lateral box jumps to improve your explosive power in the frontal (side-to-side) plane. The frontal plane is often neglected because so much focus is given to sagittal power exercises — think, deadlifts and squats.
Training explosively in the frontal plane works to correct imbalances between sides and improves balance and coordination.
Why Do It: You’ll improve your single-leg stability and strength while fighting and power imbalances between sides.
Coach’s Tip: Start with the smallest box height here so there is less worry about sticking the landing.
Sets and Reps: Two to four sets of five reps on both sides.
Benefits of Box Jumps
When properly programmed and performed, box jumps can do wonders for your performance in and out of the gym. Here are four major benefits of training box jumps.
There are two ways to improve your power, and they both can impact each other. One is when you can move heavy loads more quickly than when you can move heavy loads slowly. This is to clarify what it means to say how box jumps will improve your power. The second is to move lighter loads faster — this is where box jumps come in.
With box jumps, you’ll be priming your muscles to move quickly and powerfully. Then you may notice with your strength training sets that your muscles can generate more force, faster. It may become easier to get out of the hole of your squat if your muscles are trained to produce all the energy you need as soon as you really need it.
Increases Strength and Muscle
Box jumps are not only about power. They can help you get stronger, too. Sure, you might not be lifting heavy barbells while training box jumps, but they will activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers. These muscle fibers have the biggest potential to increase your muscle size and strength.
By training box jumps and waking up your fast twitch muscles, you’re priming your leg muscles to move heavier weight with less effort. This is a win-win for your gains.
Improved Cardiovascular Fitness
You can be as strong as you want, but if you aren’t able to make it through an eight rep set of squats without hitting a wall with your breathing, then you’re likely leaving gains on the table. Box jumps train your anaerobic (without oxygen) fitness, which in turn will improve your aerobic fitness. This will help you recover better between sets of strength exercises and conditioning work.
Box jump variations can encourage you to regulate your breathing while also making your body physically better at processing more oxygen in shorter amounts of time. By incorporating box jumps into your training, you’ll be getting the benefits of conditioning work while getting stronger.
Improve Full-Body Coordination
Box jumps require you to consciously recruit all the muscle fibers you can, as explosively as you can. To perform box jumps with good form and to get all the benefits from them, you’ll need to be better at knowing where your ankles and hips are and how moving one impacts the other. This will transfer to your gym performance and also your daily tasks of hauling groceries up the stairs or spinning your kid around in the air.
How to Program Box Jumps
Box jumps improve your explosive power and strength and are usually high impact, high intensity, and require lots of energy to perform. This is an argument for training box jumps early in your routine — after your warm-up, but before your strength training. Training box jumps when you’re tired might put you at a higher risk of making a mistake and banging your shin or landing badly. Hitting these up before your session may also help prime your fast-twitch muscles for work.
But if you’re sufficiently well-rested and have enough work capacity to perform box jumps after strength training, they might also serve as a solid cardio finisher. Rely on your experience level for this — if you’re extremely taxed from your squats, it might not be the day for box jumps. But if you still feel fresh enough and have enough experience, experiment to see what works best for you.
When you’re training box jumps, the goal is to be as powerful and quick as possible. The moment you get tired, you are inviting injury and a drop in performance. For many athletes, this lies somewhere between four to 12 reps.
With jumps, it is important to measure how many times your feet contact the ground. Each time both feet touch the ground this is equal to two foot contacts. One foot is equal to one foot contact. If you are new to plyometrics and box jumps, 80 to 100 contacts per session is on the higher end. For intermediate or advanced lifters and athletes, 100 to 140 foot contacts per session are a great starting point.
Rest Between Sets
You may feel ready to go after about 30 seconds, it usually takes anywhere from one to three minutes to recover and get the best out of the set. But play around with your rest periods to find what works for you.
Jump to It
If you’re used to working with a barbell, box jumps might be more than a little intimidating. But sometimes, you need a little variability in your program — a skip in your step, you might say. When you want to get a leg up on your power training, trying box jump variations appropriate for your experience level can work wonders both in and out of the gym.
Featured Image: TORWAISTUDIO / Shutterstock