If you were wondering how you might go about destroying the strongest and thickest tendon in your body, a simple way to achieve this feat would be to perform high rep box jumps. In this “Come At Me Coach” installment, I call upon the coaches to convince me (and my surgically-repaired Achilles) as to why it’s necessary to have your clients boing boing in repetition despite the inherent risk of injury.
I started writing this post a week ago with every intention of being really persuasive as to why high rep box jumps are fucking stupid and dangerous. Then something happened. Last Friday, CrossFit Games athlete Kate Rawlings ruptured her left Achilles during the box jump portion of Filthy 50. She had surgery yesterday. I guess I don’t have to soapbox this one as hard.
Box jumps began as “depth jumps” or “the shock method” by the late Professor Yuri Verkhoshansky in the former Soviet Union. The athlete drops down from a specified height and subsequently jumps up onto a box as seen here by Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat:
The muscle contraction resulting from the resistance created by the landing is similar to weight training while teaching the muscles to become faster in switching between a force yielding contraction to force generating contraction (stretch-shortening cycle). It’s basically some explosive shit and is fucking badass.
Once the USSR Olympic athletes gained success from this training, it spread worldwide and became misused and renamed as “plyometrics”. Enter the box jump. The stress created by bounding on and off a box is not very different from what is experienced during depth jumps. When done properly and in moderation it’s an effective training tool, but in a high-rep situation your body will only take so much of this stress before it breaks. Then your Achilles looks like delicious spaghetti.
Verkhoshansky recommended the reps and height to be based upon the athlete’s capability. Regardless, he suggested no more than 4 sets of 10 reps (with as much quality and rest as possible due to the stress of the movement and potential tissue damage). You see that picture of D Wade doing depth jumps up there? In this video, his strength coach says he has Wade do no more than 3 sets of 6 reps. That’s it. Keep in mind: Dwayne Wade is a better fucking athlete than you.
“The guy who invented the movement says don’t do more than 4 sets of 10? Fuck you, Professor Verk. You don’t know shit. This is CrossFit. We are elite.” And so, we charge on with our stupidity and people get fucked up. In fact, there are estimates of 80-90 occurrences of Achilles ruptures resulting from high-rep box jumps in CrossFit dating back to 2007. Of note, 2011 Open Qualifier WOD 11.2 yielded an estimated 20-25 incidents of Achilles rupture.
Perhaps those figures are exaggerations. Or are they? Data is everywhere and doubters can take a look here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. Welcome to the club, Kate.
Have I given room for a counterpoint? Maybe not. I think box jumps in general are a valuable thing (specifically, max height box jumps). Coaches should become aware that doing them in such high numbers may get your clients injured. Injuries are a part of life and sport (real sports- not exercising). But getting injured during training is fucking gayer than trees.
My intent for this post was to wake people up about the injuries in CrossFit caused by high rep box jumps. I had no clue this was an issue until I got injured last summer. It would be great if shit could change and fewer people got hurt. That will require affiliates to stop programming high rep box jumps. I’m not holding my breath on that one, though. What’s up, coaches? Post to comments.