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Few things are as versatile as apple cider vinegar or a little black dress. But there’s one thing — which you’ve probably seen at your gym — that comes close: a box.
Sometimes called a plyo box, this piece of equipment is one of the best in the fitness world. Certified personal trainer Morgan Olson, ISSA, CF-L2, founder of Babe Go Lift, praises them: “They allow you to functionally move and strengthen your entire body.”
The best part is you don’t even need a real box.
“You can use a squishy box, bench, or step if your gym doesn’t have a box or you don’t have access to fitness equipment,” Olson says. And if you’re outdoors, you can even use a bench or rock.
Whatever you use should be able to hold your body weight, stay stable, and be 16 to 24 inches tall.
Could anything be more perfect than this no-fancy-equipment-needed New Year’s fitness reboot? We think not.
Here, Olsen provides six no-frill, full-body exercises you can do using only a box. Either incorporate individual moves into your preexisting regimen or make it a complete workout by doing all six.
Ready to get started? Get a plyo box here.
This repetitive step-up, step-down movement will target your thighs, hips, glutes, and core. “The step-up move is gold for people who want to tone and lift their ‘underbutt’ and improve cracky hips,” Olson says. To do this, you need a box (or bench or step) that’s knee-high.
Olson suggests slowing the movements down and avoid swinging your leg or using momentum. This will help further target the glutes.
“Don’t get carried away and put the box too high. If you’re a beginner, a too-high box will interfere with slow and controlled movements,” Olson adds.
- Step your foot on the box, knee slightly out and over the ankle.
- Drive up through your heel by tucking your ribs and squeezing your butt.
- Stand tall, then return to floor by leaning your chest forward to counterbalance body weight.
- On the return, drag your back foot against the box for stability.
- That’s one rep.
- Switch legs and complete another rep. Aim for 10 reps per leg, 20 reps total.
Box step-up tips
- don’t hike hip
- chest centered over knee
- knee over ankle
- drive through heels
- knee pushes out
- relax back foot
Improve your shoulder, biceps, triceps, and back strength with a modification of the classic pressing move.
“If you can do standard pushups, this sounds too easy. But it’s not. Even for expert pushuppers, I recommend this incline pushup because it allows you to train volume and target the upper body slightly differently,” Olson explains.
And if you can’t yet perform a standard pushup, this is the perfect in-between.
Pro tip: “Pay close attention to your elbows,” Olson says. “If your elbows track out, that’s a no-no. If your elbows splay out to the side instead of angling back and close to your ribs, that’s a no-no.”
- Start by placing your hands shoulder-width apart on the box.
- Get in a tight plank position.
- Slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest to the box.
- When you reach the bottom, push back up to starting position by protracting your shoulder blades.
- That’s one rep.
- Complete 10 reps. If you can easily complete 10 reps without fatigue, aim for 20 reps.
Box pushup tips
- maintain plank position
- engage core
- feet together, glutes squeezed
- draw shoulder blades back
- push chest away from box
- elbows to ribs
- keep box below nipple line
“The calf muscle is a slow twitch muscle, so it can be beneficial to do a high number of reps, which will help increase leg power, running speed, and reduce appearance of cankles,” Olson says.
Her suggestion: “Close your eyes, put on some Cardi B, and tune into those little muscles. The superficial calf muscle (gastrocnemius) and the deep calf muscle (soleus) around your ankles or cankles will thank you.”
- Stand with your feet slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart.
- Adjust your foot so both heels are off the box. Shift weight to the balls of your feet.
- Rise to your tiptoes.
- Hold it for 2 seconds at the top.
- Then, lower down until heel is below box height.
- Hold stretch for 2 seconds, then drive back up to your tiptoes.
- That’s one rep.
- Perform 20 repetitions.
Calf raise tips
- hold wall for balance
- heels over box
- knees bent, lower heels
- drive back to tippy-toes
Not only will these make your arms look killer in your workout tank, research has found they’re an effective movement for targeting your triceps, chest, shoulders, and core.
Women in particular don’t often work their triceps, so by strengthening them you can reduce the appearance of “bat wings,” says Olson.
- Facing away from the box, place hands on the edge of the box shoulder-width apart, fingers pointed toward your body.
- Walk feet out until your legs are straight. Lift your butt off the box and put your weight into your heels.
- Keeping your elbows close to your body, bend your arms so your entire body lowers toward the ground. Continue until your shoulders are in line with your elbows.
- Press palms into the box, and return to start.
- That’s one rep.
- Complete 10 reps. If that’s too easy, aim for 20 reps.
Box dip cues
- face away from box
- fingers towards bum
- legs straight, arms straight.
- elbows back and lower
- press balms into box
Both burpees and box jumps are an incredible test of explosiveness and strength. Add the movements together, and you’ll improve your cardiovascular stamina and strengthen your entire body.
Olson says you’ll help tone and tighten your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, chest, triceps, biceps, and abs.
“Burpee box jumps are a lot of work. But your mind will hit mind failure before your muscles or body do. Put your head down, buckle up, and watch yourself become a more explosive exerciser,” Olson says.
- Stand 2 feet from box, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Reach your hands to the ground.
- Jump feet back into plank position. Then lower your whole body to lie on the floor. Release your hands.
- Replace hands and press off the floor into a pushup. Jump your feet under your hands.
- Return to a standing position with your feet under your hips. That’s one burpee.
- Now, jump on the box, landing softly with both feet on the box.
- Step or hop down from the box.
- That’s one rep.
- Aim for 20 reps to improve cardiovascular stamina.
Burpee box jump cues
- hands to floor
- lie down
- press into plank
- jump feet to hands
- jump on box
- back down
Depth jumps are a foundational, plyometric exercise that works your entire body. You’re using your legs in the jump, swinging your arms for additional height, and bracing your core on the landing. “You’ll definitely see and feel your booty grow, too,” Olson says.
This move is all about shortening your reaction time, which is helpful for people on a sports team. And it’ll also increase your lower body strength, which will translate to heavier deadlifts and squats.
- Start by standing upright on the box.
- Step off the bench with your dominant foot. (Note: This needs to be a step, not a jump.)
- Land on the ground with both feet at the same time.
- As soon as you land on the ground, explode vertically as high as you can.
- Absorb the impact of the landing by pushing hips back and bending knees.
- That’s one rep.
- Do 10 reps total, resting as needed. This movement is for quality, not speed.
Depth jump plus jump cues
- stand on box
- step down
- immediately jump into air
- land with bend knees
- Complete each of the 6 exercises above for the number of repetitions noted, in order, without resting between the movements.
- After completing all 6 moves, rest for 1 to 2 minutes, and repeat for a total of 3 rounds.
- This should take anywhere from 25 to 30 minutes total.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.