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Exercises to Improve Sprinting: The Box Step Up

Box step-ups are a versatile and effective exercise that can significantly enhance sprinting and jumping performance. This compound movement engages multiple muscle groups, focusing on the lower body, to improve strength, power, and overall athleticism. We will delve into the mechanics of box step-ups, their impact on sprinting and jumping, and the importance of factors like shin angle and ankle mobility.

Mechanics of Box Step-Ups:

Box step-ups involve lifting one foot onto an elevated surface, typically a sturdy box or bench, and driving the body upward through the heel of the working leg. This movement mimics the actions required during both sprinting and jumping, making it a functional exercise for athletes seeking to enhance these specific skills.

Muscle Activation during the Box Step Up:

In a 2020 Study researchers showed The Glute Maximus (Gmax) was activated the highest during the step up and its variations.

In our findings, various exercises were identified as capable of eliciting substantial GMax activation. The step-up exercise, along with its variations, demonstrated the most pronounced GMax activation, followed by a range of loaded exercises and their variations, including deadlifts, hip thrusts, lunges, and squats. The outcomes of this systematic review offer valuable insights for practitioners in making informed choices when selecting exercises to strengthen the GMax.

This exercise can be more beneficial in Gmax recruitment than the back squat for example, due to the single leg nature of the exercise, requiring for more stability.

This is why exercise selection matters.

Shin Angle and Its Role:

Maintaining the correct shin angle during box step-ups is crucial for optimizing the engagement of the muscles involved. The shin angle refers to the angle between the shin and the ground. To target the muscles responsible for sprinting and jumping, it is essential to keep the shin angle relatively vertical.

This vertical shin position places greater emphasis on the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings, mimicking the biomechanics involved in explosive movements like sprinting and jumping. It also helps to recruit the posterior chain, contributing to improved power generation and overall athletic performance.

Ankle Mobility and Its Influence:

Ankle mobility plays a pivotal role in executing box step-ups effectively. Adequate ankle mobility allows for a greater range of motion during the exercise, enabling the athlete to push through the heel and engage the muscles more efficiently. Limited ankle mobility may compromise the proper execution of the movement, potentially leading to compensations and decreased effectiveness.

To enhance ankle mobility, athletes can incorporate specific stretches and mobility exercises into their warm-up routines. This not only improves the performance of box step-ups but also contributes to better overall movement patterns and injury prevention.

Impact on Sprinting:

The explosive nature of box step-ups closely mirrors the demands of sprinting. By incorporating this exercise into a training regimen, athletes can enhance their ability to generate force quickly, resulting in improved acceleration and top-end speed. The emphasis on proper shin angle also aids in replicating the biomechanics of sprinting, translating directly to on-field performance.

Enhancing Jumping Ability:

Box step-ups are instrumental in developing lower body power, a crucial component of effective jumping. The upward drive required in this exercise closely simulates the takeoff phase of a jump. By consistently incorporating box step-ups into training, athletes can strengthen the muscles involved in jumping, leading to higher vertical leaps and improved overall jump performance.

These are just some of the key benefits of using a training system that is completely individualized for the athlete.

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Cited Resources:

1. Häkkinen, K., & Komi, P. V. (1983). Electromyographic changes during strength training and detraining. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 15(6), 455-460.

2. Comfort, P., & Kasim, P. (2007). Optimizing squat technique. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 29(6), 10-13.

3. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Mar; 19(1): 195–203.

Published online 2020 Feb 24.

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