Strength training is awesome.
Not only does it mean you get to lift heavy stuff repeatedly, but by building strength we can also become faster, stronger (DUH), more powerful, more resilient to injury AND more athletic.
By strength training and getting stronger we see a subsequent increase in our maximum force production (the MAXIMUM amount of force our neuromuscular system can produce).
Now this is great. Ultimately, the more force we can produce, the higher our ceiling for producing power (and subsequently, athletic performance) becomes.
BUT (there’s always a but….).
Unfortunately, for maximizing power development and athletic performance, strength training doesn’t tick all of the boxes.
See, if we only train to improve strength, we become stronger, but we won’t necessarily become more powerful.
To become more powerful we need to train to be fast and EXPLOSIVE.
By training explosively we can increase the rate at which we produce force, which improves our ability to jump higher, accelerate quicker and sprint faster.
For improving athletic performance, quick explosive training compliments strength training perfectly, as strength training increases the maximum amount of force we can produce, and explosive training increases the speed at which we can produce that force.
But how do we start training explosively?
Often improving power is done through the use of moving lighter weights QUICKLY. An example of this would be training using the Olympic lifts (Snatch, Clean etc.) and their variations. Unfortunately the Olympic lifts are fairly technical and have quite a steep learning curve.
Which finally brings us to the topic of the post.
Box jumps are a fantastic exercise that allow us to improve our explosive power, but don’t have the learning curve associated with the Olympic lifts.
Additionally, with box jumps we are jumping onto something high, which results in less compressive forces placed on the body which makes them a very joint friendly exercise variation.
But there are a few key cues that need to be followed to make sure they are done safely and effectively.
Feet are flat with weight evenly distributed on landing.
Knees are neutral (no valgus).
Trunk is neutral and abs are braced.
And a big one - If you land in a position where your femurs (top of thighs) are lower than parallel to the ground, the box is too high. We don’t care about how tall the box is, we care about how high you can jump – there is a difference.
Now, because we are trying to improve power, box jumps DO NOT need to be done to failure. With power training it is always quality of quantity. An example rep range that may be used would be 4 sets of 3 repetitions, where each individual rep is done as explosively as possible.
Similarly, they should be performed at the start of the session, before fatigue sets in. As fatigue inhibits our ability to produce force quickly, it is pointless to train for power when under significant fatigue. Because of this, box jumps should be performed after our warmup but before any heavy loading (eg. Heavy Squatzzz).
An additional benefit of programming box jumps before your heavy lower body exercises is that they ‘prime’ the nervous system, ultimately preparing the body for maximum contraction by potentiating the nervous system to fire more efficiently and at a faster rate. This will in turn improve your ability to produce force (strength), and increase the benefits of the following strength exercises.
An example lower body session that utilities box jumps effectively may look like this:
- Foam rolling and self myofascial release work
- Dynamic mobility warm up
- Movement preparation
- Broad Jumps 2x3
- Box Jumps 4x3
- Back Squat 5x5
- RDL 4x6
- Split Squat 4x8/side
And just like that you have a way to both develop power and improve the quality of your strength session immediately!
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