A lot of the the fitnessy things we see on Instagram are done by really athletic people. The impressiveness and difficulty of these feats hilariously compel some of us to try them ourselves. It’s as if the purpose of the videos are to directly challenge us, and our response of this call to action is with a video of our own despite our level of athleticism. What we tend to forget is that for every cool video is an abundance of even more awesome fail videos.
I’m unfortunately part of this prestigious group of individuals with the highest potential of joining the ranks of Darwin Award winners. My history of fitnessing videos are both cringe-worthy and magnificent.
I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy doing max height box jumps because they’re fun. I have no problem with people having fun with their friends and playing with fitness either. We have to accept the consequences of doing ridiculous things like max box jumps, handstand walk obstacle courses, and overtraining.
The concern is that max height box jumps are being used in general gym programming because coaches are misinterpreting their use, and prescribing them to the wrong people.
THE BOX JUMP
The box jump is a classic exercise. It starts from the ground, followed by a jump, and completed by landing on an elevated surface.
When respected, a box jump will provide low impact stress on joints, increased tendon strength, and power development. It’s important to note that this is just one variation of many exercises used in plyometric training.
For simplicity in the context of this post, the term Plyometrics will be used to describe its original Shock Method of training to its widely accepted bastardized definition to include low-level hopping exercises, and everything in between.
The box is more than just a landing platform. It’s a valuable training and assessment tool used with plyometrics.
Alpine Canada uses a 90 second Box Jump Test to evaluate anaerobic capacity as part of their nationwide physical fitness test. As with all their tests, there is a purpose, set protocols, and equipment specifications that are adjusted for the testing group.
PURPOSE OF A MAX HEIGHT BOX JUMP
There has to be a reason why we choose to prescribe a particular exercise over another. We have to consider the demographic, the function of the movement, and have a desired outcome.
The goal of a box jump remains the same regardless of the height. It is to jump from the ground and land on the box. Defining the purpose of a max height box jump is difficult because it doesn’t have any justifiable benefits.
The higher the box, the greater the risks for injury. The minor effects of carelessness and mistreatment are bruised and bloody shins. Box jump abuse becomes a durability test for the body punishable by injuries as severe as broken bones or tendon ruptures.
Landing a max height box jump is an impressive display of athleticism, mobility, and coordination. The only benefit of this achievement is a sweet video to showcase these abilities on social media.
Parkour gyms have justification for programming and practicing very high to the highest box jumps. These padded and foam pitted facilities generally program for age, ability, and even use level systems (Breathe Parkour) that restrict advancement until sufficient degrees of competency are proven through graded exams.
Outside of being a parkour ninja, I was only able to find two real world applications where the max height of a box jump had a purpose.
Other than these reasons, the ability to jump onto a really high box is just the ability to jump onto a really high box.
You can argue that they’re used for nervous system potentiation, and improving the rate of force development but I want to suggest that in fact you’re wrong. Box jumps when prescribed correctly do those things. Max height box jumps do not.
Then why are they still being programmed at gyms? The reason is because well-intentioned coaches are using them thinking that they’re the same as any max effort test.
Weighted maxes or sub-maxes at set reps (5, 3, 1), and movement maxes (unbroken pull-ups, handstand push-ups) are important tests with the purpose of providing strength and stamina benchmarks. These serve as measures of progression and percentages of the outcomes are used for individualizing programs during new training cycles.
Unfortunately, coaches are using box jumps as a vertical jump test and mistakenly equating the height of the box to vertical jump ability.
THE VERTICAL JUMP
Vertical jump tests are a staple for athletic evaluation in sports. Most notably in the NFL, NHL, and NBA scouting/draft combines where athletes showcase their physical and mental capabilities. The tests performed vary depending on the sport but the one that’s used across all three is the vertical jump test.
The data from the vertical jump or any isolated movement test alone could have little significance in an athlete’s ability to play their sport. This is why data has to be collected from multiple fitness evaluations chosen specifically for the given sport. Coaches, managers, and scouts use their experience and individually chosen metrics to correlate the figures to other abilities that may predict an athlete’s potential performance, or whatever outcomes they find valuable or choose to look for.
“A vertical jump is the act of raising one’s center of mass higher in the vertical plane solely with the use of one’s own muscles; it is a measure of how high an individual or athlete can elevate off the ground (jump) from a standstill.” (Wikipedia)
If the vertical jump is defined as raising one’s center of mass in the vertical plane, then the vertical jump test should measure the maximal height at which an athlete is able to displace their center of mass.
DON’T USE BOX JUMPS TO TEST VERTICAL JUMP
The vertical jump test is specific to sports. The only people that need to be evaluated are athletes, not the new to exercise or weekend warrior population. Rarely is maxing out the box height really necessary for athletes and never for gym programming. With that said, if the kind of more than semi-amateur athletic members of the gym want to play than let them play. As with any exercise, certain prerequisites must be met prior to implementation. If all are met, then still proceed with caution.
Chris Luu, SMT(cc), RMT, SFMA, CFSC, FRCms