We all love a good box jump, the mental challenge of attempting to jump on top of a box that is higher than what we consider is humanly possible is a fantastic exercise for us and our clients in itself let alone the physical benefits. It teaches our clients a lot about mental fortitude and self belief.
The box jump is obviously part of the plyometric family and used as a speed/ power development tool for the legs. We can obtain fantastic improvements through our stretch-reflex cycle primarily in our lower legs and Achilles which transfers to a more rapid force output and therefore making us more powerful.
I don’t mind this so much as for the most part our typical clients aren’t training to become Olympic athletes, however! What I do mind is the lax nature in which personal trainers prescribe box jumps to their clients, whom for the most part are not ready for the complexities of the movement. PT’s don’t really understand these complexities and hence why they throw the movement out there like it’s going out of fashion.
When we run we have on average 2-3x our body weight going through our ankles, knees and hips at the point of contact with the ground. The average person only has around 20cm of lift off the ground, so how much force is generated and travelling though our joints when we jump of a 60cm box? The anecdotal answer is...a shitload!
This wouldn’t be a huge issue if our clients were only performing 3x6 with a 3min break between sets (This would be a typical prescription for power development). Instead we prescribe 15-20 reps during a circuit when our stabilisers are fried from the other 3, 4 or 5 movements included in the circuit. This in turn already puts our clients in a vulnerable position even before they have started their box jumps!
Let’s look at the numbers game a little more closely. So if the client has been prescribed 20 box jumps as part of the circuit and they are going to complete 5 rounds of that circuit, some basic maths tells us that equals 100 jumps or 100 contacts which is how volume is measured with plyometrics. Now what if I told you that in a typical power development session performed by novice athletes sees them perform no more than 60-100 contacts in a typical session!
The two really big considerations here is the fact that one, they’re athletes! Comparatively they have had significantly more training to deal with the stresses compared to the barely trained average Joe that’s rocked up to their first small group PT session in the gym. The second consideration is that all the athletes jumps/reps for the most part are performed in short sharp bursts where they are relatively fresh, not fatigued such as in a typical circuit environment where we find most box jumps performed in a gym. It’s the combination of these two points that sends the injury risk sky-high for our client’s, their ankles, knees, hips and lower back all become vulnerable.
So in conclusion be sure to think twice about who you get to perform a box jump, the environment in which you prescribe them and monitor the volume or reps you prescribe. Our average clients don’t need 15-20 jumps per round in a circuit environment, keep that mark closer to 8-10 and have the focus on quality not quantity. No one likes to see 15-20 jumps where the knees are buckled and the back is flexed forward it makes the movement hard to watch and the joints themselves hate you for it!
Tell us what you think, do you use box jumps with your clients? Leave us a comment below!
I’ve always been a follower of the concept that exercises should regularly be changed within a program if the goal is absolute strength gains. In a squat for example, you would rotate through a series of exercises that compliment the squat on a 1-2 week basis to prevent a plateau in performance improvement. This study, "Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength and size", aimed to assess the size and strength effects of varying the intensity of the training versus varying the exercise selection within a program.
They studied a group of 49 male participants, broken into five groups, and assessed the size and strength gains in the Quadriceps muscles in response to squats only, or squat/lunge/deadlift/leg press combination. The groups were also either varying intensity or not.
Their conclusion? “It’s fair to say that strength coaches will often vary intensity and exercises throughout a ST program. The results found here would argue that varying the intensity during the initial phase of a ST program is not necessary in fact might even diminish the potential results from the ST program. The study’s findings would conclude that a higher importance should be on varying exercises throughout the program in order to maximise neural drive and therefore functional adaptation. This point is certainly backed up by the fact that the two groups which varied exercises experienced muscle growth across all four quadricep muscles where the other two groups did not.”
So what does this mean? If the quadriceps that gained the most strength AND size were those that varied exercises, this is probably the way to go if you are working with clients who are looking for overall strength and/or size training. No need to focus so much on intensity at the beginning of their strength training journey, perhaps start to introduce this extra element after a solid base of strength is attained.
This study certainly backs up some of the training methodologies that are currently present is the strength training world. The one that comes to mind the most is the Conjugate Method by Louie Simmons, which is a model for gaining maximum strength based around a concept that exercises should regularly be changed within the program.
Read on for all the technical details, or leave a comment with your experience/thoughts about this theory.
Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength and size
The purpose of this paper was to assess the size and strength effects of different Strength Training (ST) loading methods verses exercise selection or a combination of both within the Quadriceps muscle.
49 male participants were broken into 5 groups
• Controlled intensity controlled exercise – CICE
• Controlled intensity variable exercise – CIVE
• Variable intensity controlled exercise – VICE
• Variable intensity variable exercise – VIVE
• Control group
All participants were considered healthy and active with no illness or ailments. None of the participants participated in ST for 6 months prior to the study.
Each participant performed a 1RM Squat in a smith machine pre & post study. While their Quadriceps were also evaluated using an MRI.
Each group executed a 12 week ST program based around an initial phase of training as all participants had not been actively ST for a sustained period of time.
The ST program focus on a 6-10RM rep range while a standard 2min recovery was given between sets.
Each group had the same volume of sets in their program however each group varied in intensity or exercises depending on the group they were in. The program saw the participants ST two times a week both with a focus on lower extremities.
The controlled exercise groups only performed a squat as their exercise. While the variable exercise groups performed a squat, lunge, deadlift and leg press within each program.
All groups saw significant increases in strength, with the CICE group outperforming the VICE group. The VIVE group which had the most variability outperformed the CICE group which had the lowest variability. The winner on strength gains was however CIVE group who topped all the groups.
Again the CIVE group came out on top with an 11.6% and 12.2% increase in left and right Quadriceps size over the 12 week period. The least favourable results came from the VICE group who scored a 9.5% and 9.3% increases in left and right legs respectably.
Interesting the only two groups to get increases in size across all four quadriceps muscles were the variable exercise groups.
It’s fair to say that strength coaches will often vary intensity and exercises throughout a ST program. The results found here would argue that varying the intensity during the initial phase of a ST program is not necessary in fact might even diminish the potential results from the ST program. The study’s findings would conclude that a higher importance should be on varying exercises throughout the program in order to maximise neural drive and therefore functional adaptation. This point is certainly backed up by the fact that the two groups which varied exercises experienced muscle growth across all four quadricep muscles where the other two groups did not.
If you liked this review be sure to check out my book as I include many more research papers in the strength and power world. Just click the red button below.
Fonseca, R.M.; Roschel, H.; Tricoli, V. de Souza, E.; Wilson, J.M.; Laurentino,G.C; Aihara, A.Y.; de Souza Leão, A.R; Ugrinowitsch, C., Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength and size, Laboratory of Neuromuscular Adaptations to Strength Training, School of Physical Education and Sport, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, Department of Health Science and Human Performance, University of Tampa, Tampa, FL, USA
Thought I’d share a few thoughts on power training with you; I’ve always been a fan of this form of training for its uplifting (or dare I say it, ‘empowering’) qualities!
There are many ways to define power, however from a gym perspective power can be considered as your ability to generate a large volume of force in a short period of time. This force is generally used to overcome an external force; whether it’s gravity in relation to our bodyweight or a weighted object that we are holding/pulling. What defines your power is how quickly you can overcome those forces just mentioned.
This is relevant to not only the athlete but also the average client. Numerous studies have linked power acquisition to improved strength levels, so for a person that wants to improve their chin-ups or perform a squat that’s one or two times their body weight that’s an important point to note. By training our muscles to move quickly, we increase the excitability of our motor neurons, which engages more muscle fibres to contract more quickly, particularly as they come out of the stretch reflex cycle.
My number one tip for power acquisition is this. Your nervous system is highly adaptive; if you train your muscles slowly, they will perform slowly every time. So regardless of how much weight you’re pushing, if you’re not moving quickly don’t bother moving at all!
My top 3 power exercises:
Power cleans: this is an advanced movement, but one that is worthwhile investing time into learning. It represents the perfect blend of speed and strength acquisition.
Split jumps on a box: this exercise creates a safer environment for your client to push themselves as hard as possible during plyometrics, without exposing them to the high impacts that come with other forms of plyometrics.
Squat jumps in a suspension trainer: adding a small active pull against the handles while jumping will give you an extra 10-15% in speed of movement and therefore height. The use of over speed training has been around for some time, and these jump squats are an easy way to apply this methodology. The theory of forcing muscles to move quicker than humanly possible encourages the motor neurons to re-wire and adapt to the new found speed of movement and ultimately creating a more power for you.
If you love power training then my book is a must for you, check it out via the red button below.
Tristan Hill, Masters of Sports Coaching, author of Lifting the Bar and mentor to Personal Trainers.