September 16, 2021
Plyometrics have become a mainstay in many athletic training routines because they can improve performance, boost explosiveness and reduce risk of injury. The plyo box is a tool that is used with plyometric exercises. The plyometric box, plyo box or simply jump box is mainly used for jumping onto, off of or over, to build speed, power, agility and strength. However, the plyo box allows for more exercises than just box jumps such as incline/decline pushups, calf raises, dips, elevated mountain climbers and more. In this post we cover 9 of the best plyo box exercises, how to choose the best plyo box, tips & benefits of using them plus a sample plyo box workout. Let’s jump into it!
The plyo box is also called a plyometric box or jump box. This fitness tool is used to execute a variety of raised exercises which can range from jumping exercises to incline pushups. Plyo boxes come in a number of sizes with different heights and widths and are made of variety of materials from wood to foam to steel. We will get into more of the physical aspects of plyo boxes later in this article.
Plyometric training began in the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War era. Soviet scientists created a new training methodology called “jump training”. The man credited with developing this training technique was Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky. He found that when the Soviet athletes performed a series of jumping exercises, their speed and explosiveness was enhanced. During this time the Soviet Bloc was often winning track and field events.
The original training method involved jump training and the shock method where athletes would drop off of a raised platform then as soon as their feet came into contact with the ground they would explode up into the air. The impact of hitting the ground produced a “shock” to the muscles that created a forced eccentric contraction then upon the jump transitioned into a concentric contraction. This all happened as quick as possible usually within .1-.2 seconds.
An American runner named Fred Wilt, saw this training style and coined the term plyometrics then brought this knowledge back to the US where he and others like Michael Yessis, who worked with Dr. Verkhoshansky, continued to build upon these principles to improve explosive power.
Since then, plyometrics exercises have made their way into mainstream fitness training programs. However, these days plyometrics isn’t only the original shock method but has morphed to include a wide array of exercises that pertain to explosive movements whether it’s box jumps or clapping pushups.
Traditional plyometrics work because of the opposing muscle contractions that take place. This stretch-shortening cycle or SSC describes the “pre-stretch” or countermovement that happens during movements like jumping. The mechanics surrounding SSC in the example of a basketball player getting ready to go up for a rebound.
These muscle contractions enable us to run and jump faster and higher. The exact way in how these mechanisms work to increase athletic performance is often debated by scientists and still isn’t completely understood. What we do know is that SSC training methods produce positive results in output and performance.
Plyometric training is an intense training style that can be used by a variety of people as long as no injuries are present and the person can perform the exercise with correct form. Beginner’s might have a hard time with plyometric exercises so we suggest that they start with easier modifications of the plyometric exercise until their bodies are ready for the more intense workouts. For example, beginners can start with regular jumps on a flat surface then try to continually progress in jump height until confident enough to do with a plyo box.
The box jump might be the most common exercise you’ll see being performed with a plyo box that’s why the plyo box is often called the jump box. The humble box jump requires coordination, power and balance. By performing box jumps you will be able to strengthen your lower body muscles, burn calories, boost power and explosiveness and even improve vertical jumping ability.
Box jumps can be a taxing exercise on your joints, ligaments and tendons so it’s important that you don’t overdo it. The best frequency of doing box jumps should be 2-3 times weekly in order to avoid over-training and risk possible injury.
Plyo box exercises can produce some truly amazing benefits which is why you’ll see them being used so often by performance athletes. You can get a full body workout in using only your bodyweight and a plyo box.
Let’s have a look at some of the benefits of training with plyo boxes:
Versatility: With one piece of equipment and your body, you can get a truly taxing workout done with the plyo box. Whether you’re using it to work lower body muscles in jumping exercises or using it as a platform to perform dips or pushups, you can hit most major muscle groups.
Lose Fat: Many exercises using a plyo box involve explosive powerful movements that require your body to expend a lot of energy. With your body consuming more energy you can burn more calories in a shorter amount of time. This is especially true if you combine plyo box exercises and a HIIT workout format.
Combo Usage: This post focuses strictly on plyo box exercises using body weight but there are exercises that you can do that use both a plyo box and other fitness tools such as dumbbells or barbells, resistance bands and kettlebells. For, example box squats are a popular exercise where you will do a back squat and touch your butt to the plyo box before returning to the starting position. This allows the lower body to be extended further back compared with a regular squat. Box squats can help to improve overall squat form and engages muscles including the hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors and erector spinae.
Improve Explosiveness: Using a plyo box in your workout for box jumps, depth jumps or any other type of jump can enhance your body’s ability to produce explosive force. Your body must produce enough power to lift you off the ground and onto the box in a quick motion. This combination of training power and speed results in improving your body mechanics and efficiency. Performing plyometrics can help to build and create more fast-twitch muscle fibers that lead to faster muscle contractions and improved athletic performance.
Build Stronger Tendons: Jumping up onto a raised box then dropping down from it engages the tendons to become more elastic and stronger over time. Strong tendons in the legs mean lower chances of suffering injuries in the future.
Enhance Athletic Performance: Plyometric exercises such as box jumps can help to improve athletic performance. This study had participants perform plyometric training exercises twice a week for a 12-week period and found that it resulted in improved sprinting, jumping and throwing performances. Plyometrics came into the athletic world around 60 years ago and are here to stay because using these explosive exercises can really give a boost to athletic performance.
Reduce Risk of Injury: We mentioned above that plyo box training can strengthen tendons and muscles. Stronger tendons mean less chance of injury as suggested by this study that showed plyometrics combined with dynamic stabilization exercises reduced ACL injury risk.
Better Balance & Coordination: Using a plyo box in your training means you will need good balance and coordination in order to do many box exercises properly. You might have to jump on and off a small surface area with both feet or one foot at a time which forces you to concentrate on landing properly. The proprioceptors (balance receptors) in your body can be trained just like your muscles, so the more you practice the better your balance can become.
Improve Cardiovascular Health: If doing plyo box exercises at a good pace you will elevate your heart rate and get your lungs working hard. An intense plyo box workout can make your lungs and heart stronger and more efficient. As your heart beats faster, it pumps more blood and oxygen to your muscles. Strengthening your heart means lower blood pressure and lower resting heart rate. While stronger lungs mean they can enhance their ability to absorb oxygen then process it.
While the plyo box has many benefits you should also be aware of a few tips to safely and efficiently train with them. Here are a few things to be mindful of when doing plyo box exercises:
Use Proper Mechanics: Many plyo box exercises involve jumping and landing which require a degree of technical skill as you’re jumping on and off of a raised platform. When jumping onto a plyo box you need to pay attention to the take-off and landing. During take-off if you don’t get proper clearance, you might hit your shins on the edge of the jump box and if you aren’t concentrating on proper landing you might miss the mark which can lead to fall. These mistakes happen when people aren’t properly trained, are super fatigued or distracted.
Warmup: Before doing plyo box exercises it’s vital to warm up the muscles and joints with some dynamic stretches and ankle mobility exercises to reduce the chances of injury. Don’t just jump into a plyo box workout as soon as you start your training session. Go through a proper warmup routine then use a progression in your plyo box exercises starting with moderate intensity.
Watch Volume: Plyo box jumping exercises are taxing on the body if done with high intensity. It’s important to be aware of how many and how often you’re doing high intensity plyo box exercises. It’s best to work with lower rep ranges of 5-8 per set when doing explosive plyometric exercises with a jump box. Of course the volume of exercises is dependent on the person’s fitness level but a general rule of thumb is that you should stay within 100-120 ground contacts per week. These reps can be split into 2-3 sessions weekly. Allow yourself time to recover with at least 24 hours between plyometric exercise training.
The following plyo box exercises can provide you with a killer workout that will have you dripping in sweat.
The box jump is the most common exercise done on the plyo box. When done properly, the box jump will work the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves. This is the perfect bodyweight exercise to add to your body’s speed and power output ability. There are two components of the box jump the take-off and the landing. During the jumping aspect of this exercise focus on increasing the angle between the bodyparts including ankles, knees and hips then drive through the hips. For the landing, try to land in a natural position which should mirror the pre-jump body positioning.
Note: You should land on the box in a similar position to the way your body was positioned before you jumped.
The main focus of this exercise is balance and coordination to land on one foot in the proper stance. This one leg landing box jump necessitates good ankle mobility, strength, balance and body control. Practice this exercise on a flat surface before attempting to do with the jump box.
Note: Some people might find it easier to have the arms out to the side to help with balance.
The single leg box jump is one of the best leg bodyweight exercises to work on unilateral power, balance and explosiveness. In this exercise you will have to lift your body off the ground and onto the box with the power from one leg. By doing single leg box jumps you will quickly realize if one side of your body is weaker than the other. Performing unilateral plyometrics like this can help you stave off future injuries by strengthening the muscles and tendons enough that one leg can support and lift you off the ground onto a raised platform. Start with a short box!
Note: Start with a plyo box that’s half the height of what you would use for a regular box jump.
A super explosive exercise that will challenge your lower body power and explosiveness. With this plyometric exercise it is vital to pay attention to your body’s position in both the take-off and landing to make sure you can successfully jump over the plyo box. A miscalculation could lead to a possible fall.
Note: Complete a few practice reps next to the plyo box before attempting to jump over the box to ensure you have the ability to clear the plyo box.
This is a great frontal plane exercise that works the glutes, hamstrings, hip abductors, quads and calves working hard. The box shuffle requires coordination and balance so that you don’t fall or trip as you move side to side. This is great for the mind-muscle connection and will have you burning tons of calories.
Note: You should stay upright throughout the movement without leaning too much. If you want to boost the intensity, try to pump your arms to speed up the movement.
The pistol squat also called the single leg squat is one of the more challenging bodyweight exercises that you can do. This exercise requires flexibility, body control and strength. Coupling a plyo box and the pistol squat can assist you in learning how to perform this difficult exercise. The plyo box acts as a support so that you can master the form and technique instead of falling to the ground at the low point which is often the sticking point for many people attempting this exercise.
Note: You should use a higher plyo box for this exercise in the range of 20-30 inches depending on your ability to perform a pistol squat.
For the more advanced...
The pistol squat is one of the hardest bodyweight leg exercises that you can attempt but if you can master this move, you’ll reap the benefits. Regular pistol squats help to strengthen core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip adductors and calves. Combining the pistol squat with a jumping adds an extra layer of power and explosiveness plus it requires heightened balance and control.
Note: Be careful with this exercise as it takes a ton of coordination and power to execute plus maximum concentration to land and take-off without injuring the ankle.
The incline box push up is the perfect bodyweight chest exercise to strengthen the shoulders, chest and triceps. The incline pushup is easier the higher the platform as you’ll have to press a lower percentage of your bodyweight. With your hands higher than your feet you will emphasize the lower half of your chest. The terminology might get confusing with this one because incline bench press will hit your upper chest while an incline pushup hits the lower half.
Turn this into a plyometric incline pushup by pressing with explosive force to lift hands off the plyo box. If you really want to get crazy try a clapping incline pushup where you'll clap your hands in mid-air before your hand make contact with the plyo box.
Note: Keep your core engaged, feet together and glutes contracted throughout the movement. Move your hands closer together if you want to hit the triceps more.
The decline push up is the opposite of the incline pushup in that it will emphasize the upper chest. By completing this exercise with your knees on the plyo box it will be easier than if you only had your feet on the box, so make adjustments if it’s too easy for you. As you increase the height of the box the decline push up will be harder to do.
Turn this into a plyometric decline pushup by pressing with explosive force to lift hands off the floor as you push up or you can try to complete the decline clapping pushup for an extra challenge.
Note: The higher the box is the more you will target your front delts so if you want to hit mostly chest don't use a box higher than 20 inches.
We put together a plyo box workout that works both the upper and lower body. With this workout you can strengthen your muscles, improve your balance, burn calories and enhance your coordination ability. As always, check with your doctor before starting any new workout programs and make sure to properly warmup before doing plyo box exercises.
To complete this plyo box workout you will run through this circuit 3 times with rest times of 45-60 seconds between exercises with 2-minute rest between sets.
How To Choose The Right Plyo Box Height?
Plyo boxes come in multiple heights so the right height for a plyo box largely depends on who is using it and for what exercises. A general height that many people would use might be 12-24 inches whereas athletes might need a jump box 30 inches or higher. Beginners to plyometrics would start at the 6-12 inch height until they are ready to jump to higher levels. So, if you have a budget or aren't a beginner and/or don’t want to purchase a full set of plyo boxes then start somewhere in the middle in the range of 18-24 inches. It's important to note that many boxes these days are advertised as 3 in1 meaning you can use each side of the plyo box for a different height, just keep in mind the surface area and sturdiness will change as you flip the box on different sides.
What’s The Best Material For Plyo Boxes?
Plyo boxes are made of a variety materials which are usually categorized by hard or soft. Hard jump boxes can be made of wood, metal or hard plastic resin. Hard boxes are generally more durable and are sturdier but also will be more painful if you fall. Soft plyo boxes are usually made of durable high-density foam with a protective cover. Foam boxes are more forgiving if you fall and offer less impact on the ankle and knee joints. The downsides of the foam boxes are they less durable and are less stable than hard boxes.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of each type of plyo box.
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Does Plyometric Training Increase Vertical Jump?
Yes, plyometric training has been proven to increase jumping ability. This meta-analysis of 26 scientific studies was to determine the effects of plyometric training on vertical jump height. There were four types of jumps measured; squat jump, countermovement jump, countermovement jump with arm swing and drop jump. They found that plyometric training significantly improves vertical jump height ranging in improvements from 4.7% in squat and drop jumps to 7.5% in countermovement jump with arm movement and 8.7% in countermovement jumps. The science is clear that plyometric training can drastically improve your jumping ability.
What Can I Use Instead Of A Plyo Box?
If you want to do some of these plyo box exercises that we covered in this post but you don’t have a plyo box to use then there are a number of substitutes. You can use any type of raised platform that’s sturdy enough to hold your body weight, you can use a bench or a chair or even a bed or sofa if the surface is rigid enough. You can even build your own plyo box if you have the materials and tools available, there are plenty of DIY blogs and videos you can find online.
Final NoteNow that you know a little more about plyometrics, plyo boxes and plyo box exercises you'll probably want to start incorporating some of these exercises into your workout program. Just remember that plyo box exercises are high effort high reward style of training that can take you to the next level. Next time you're at the gym or if you buy a plyo box for home workouts give some of these exercises a try and let us know what you think.
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