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AFM Magazine

Box Mania:Jump and Step to Success

by: Jay Butler
Director of Strength and Conditioning, Dartmouth College
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As many of you know or have learned through recent instruction, using a plyometic box and associated exercises is a practical way to enhance your athletes' body power, agility and ability to change direction. While the "box" itself is often a simple device, variations of lower body power developers (box jumps) or strength developers (step-ups) are simple to adapt and can be used to add variety, intensity and more sport-specific movement.

About Box Design

Remember, there are many different box designs. The most common box is made of plywood with frame supports on the inside. Some newer options are made of metal frames, some have angled sides so that the boxes stack neatly. Some even have padded surfaces.

To guarantee adequate support and stability, the base of the box should be at least two feet by two feet. The height of the box ranges from 12 inches to about 42, usually in increments of six inches, but any custom height can be made. All of our boxes have been made by our own facility personnel.


As discussed in the first segment (AFM Vol. 5, May), there are four different training objectives that can be addressed on the box: lower body power, lower body strength, upper body power, and agility (change of direction). In the first installment, we illustrated lower body power and lateral (rotational) exercises. Now we'll address resistive and lower body strength exercises.


To effectively train an experienced athlete, explosive training requires some amount of resistance in addition to one's bodyweight. These resistive power exercises can be done with dumbbells (DBs) or medicine balls (MB). The resistance can range from 10-40 lbs., depending on the power of the athlete.

Dumbbell Box Jump

Very simply, hold dumbbells in each hand and perform a box jump. Keep the arms straight throughout the exercise to permit the resistance to be translated to the lower body. Start and finish the jump with the dumbbells at calf level.

DB Box Jump with Clean

My all-time favorite. Perform the DB box jump but finish the exercise with the dumbbells at shoulder level, in a racked-clean position. This creates a longer distance for the DBs to travel and greatly increases the intensity of the exercise.

DB Box Jump with Snatch

If you thought the DB box jump with clean is hard, try finishing the exercise with the dumbbells in a racked-snatch position. It is the hardest of all. Start with relatively light DBs and a small box of about 18 inches. Progress only after perfect technique is mastered.

Medicine Ball Box Jump

Start with a medicine ball on the floor and your body set in a good power clean position. Drop your hips and bend your the knees so that your back is flat and chest up. Keeping the arms straight, grasp the medicine ball and explode upward, driving the arms up with the ball. Finish the exercise with the medicine ball overhead and a good bend in the knees.


We use these exercises as a supplement to the squat for our lower body training and as a means for specificity, but never as an alternative to the squat. I am sure you have seen the step-up, so I will not describe that. However, these are several variations of the step-up that can greatly add to your development.

Lateral Step-up

With a loaded bar positioned across the shoulders or dumbbells held in each hand, stand erect about a foot away from one side of the box. Place the lead leg (the one closest to the box) on the top of the box. Shift your bodyweight to the lead leg and drive off to move to a standing position on the box. Make sure you get complete extension of the lead leg before putting the opposite leg down on the box. Step down and repeat. The lateral step-up targets the vastus medialis, glutes, hamstrings, and the adductors.

Cross Over Step-up

Align yourself in the same position as in the lateral step-up. This time the leg farthest away from the box will be the lead leg. Place your lead leg near the middle of the box, maintaining the erect position. Drive off the lead leg, get extension, and finish with both legs on the box. Step back and behind the lead leg to return to the starting position. The crossover step-up targets the vastus lateralis, glutes, and abductors.

Step-up Sequence

To make the routine a bit more interesting and more challenging, you can combine all three of these exercises into one combination. Start behind the box with the left foot on it. Perform a step-up, so that both feet are on the box. Now step laterally off to the left, leaving the right leg on the box and step back up laterally performing the lateral step-up. Now step off and behind the right foot, leaving the right foot on the box. Perform a cross over step-up. This sequence of the three is considered one rep, but is actually three, and hits just about every muscle group of the upper leg. You can perform a continuous set for one leg, or switch legs each rep. It will all depend on the pain factor you are trying to administer. We usually perform 2-4 sets between 3 and 6 reps (actually 9-18 reps) each leg.

This is just one example of a sequence. You can place several boxes in a row and perform any exercises on or over them you want. A step-up series puts a tremendous amount of stress on the muscles involved and helps a great deal with balance and coordination. They are very difficult and take a lot of concentration.

Split Squat Stand in a split position across two boxes, separated by 24 to 30 inches. The height of the athlete will determine the distance the boxes are apart. With dumbbells in each hand, lower yourself until the back knee is below the plane of the box tops. Drive straight up, pressing off the front leg. This allows for a greater range of motion, which will develop flexibility and stability. It also eliminates most of the stress on the knee because of the position of body weight over the heel.

Elevated Split Squat

With a loaded bar on your shoulders or DBs in each hand, get in a good split position by elevating your back leg onto an 18-inch box and separating your feet about 30 inches.

Lower yourself until the back knee comes in proximity with the ground. Drive upward, using mainly the lead leg until it is straight. Switch legs only after an entire set is completed. Work is similar to the box-split squat, but there is more stress on the lead leg.

In the next and final segment, we'll address the final area in which box exercises can offer assistance in your training program: upper body power.


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