We see it all the time in the gym. A member will come in a do their normal training (depending on their own goals) and then head to the jump boxes. This is when the foolishness starts. They will immediately stack the boxes up to some ridiculous height and attempt to “jump” onto it.
Now, before I go any farther let me say that a good high box jump is a pretty impressive feat and impressive to watch (there are plenty of them on our facebook page). There is nothing wrong with testing your 1 rm from time to time, it can be a good indicator when determining what box height you should use in workouts…maybe. However, a high box jump is not necessarily an indication of a high vertical jump or power output. It is mostly a demonstration of flexibility and balance. Here is a good explanation from the smart people at Power Athlete, http://powerathletehq.com/2013/05/24/this-just-in-box-jump-dne-a-big-vert/
Now with that out of the way, BOX JUMPS DO NOT ALWAYS HAVE TO BE MAX EFFORT, nor should they be. Box jumps should be used in your training routine in a way that will help you meet your training goals. In almost all cases that will be with a box that is set at a height you can actually jump onto (without contorting your body in some unnatural position) and using a set number of sets and reps.
The height should be set so that you can land with your feet completely on the box, your knees bent at 90-degrees or less (good athletic stance) and be able to easily stand up on top of the box. The sets and reps you use will very much depend on your goals and at which stage in your training you are. The specifics of that are beyond the scope of this post. However, no matter your goal, if you plan on using box jumps it is best to learn to do them correctly (just like any other exercise). Here is a video from Crossfit by Kelly Starrett and Carl Paoli on perfecting the box jump (yes this is useful information for non-Crossfitters too), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZDXc_hLvf4. Here is another from Chad Wesley Smith (a top powerlifter) on using the box jump to help build explosive power for your squat, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OyF8H0wYUPk
The box jump is a great exercise for almost any goal, so treat it like any other exercise. Learn to do it properly and learn to incorporate it into your training routine properly.