Fighters: Optimise Your Conditioning Training, Target What You Really Need And Go Boxing Specific.
Every boxer has a dream: to become the new star, to become a World Champion. This is a long journey, starting young and acquiring the right skills, building an intelligent athletic body. If the ultimate goal is difficult to reach it may be possible for a few. If the boxer wants to be part of the elite, there is no choice but to train hard and smart. This is a process, it takes times, the best never quit, even if they are not super talented. They work month after month, year after year and everything can be possible.
The best training can be complex and confusing sometimes, let’s see the main components and goals every boxer should follow for a successful preparation.
What a boxer needs?
- great endurance
- cardiovascular power
- ability to recover very fast from high intensity rounds
- muscular strength and power
- agility, mobility and functional flexibility
But let be more specific, a boxer is interested in:
- getting powerful for punching power, knockout power
- being able to sustain high intensity 3 minutes rounds repeated multiple times
- ability to recover in 1 minute
So here what we must consider:
1- You have to develop specific endurance:
The main methods to use for specific endurance:
- High intensity interval training + speed
- low intensity run for active recovery
2- You have to do strength training, but…
Here the critical points we have to think about for strength training
- specificity and transfer
- right protocols
- right choice of exercises
- right planning
What are the main physical abilities a good boxer must develop?
Speed, strength, explosive power, specific endurance, agility and coordination, capacity to recover very fast following high intensity efforts.
A boxer has to be a complete athlete but very specialised in the same time: the physical abilities have to be developed strategically (right choice of exercises, planification) and always based on the total body.
Let’s develop two of these important training components: endurance and power.
High Intensity Interval Training
Improve High Intensity Endurance: Be Specific
Let’s talk first about endurance: cardiovascular training must be targeted.
Many boxers use to do long run at a steady pace several times a week for improving cardiovascular endurance. What are the benefits?
Boxing still suffer from the old idea that for developing endurance it is necessary to run for an extensive period of time, let say between 60 and 90 minutes: in this case you develop a strong base of cardiovascular endurance.
Despite it’s not false, we must ask ourself this question: what is the link between a run of 90 minutes at an average of 70% of maximum intensity and a boxing bout? Boxing has nothing to do with the training regimen of a long distance runner…or somebody has to explain…A boxer must develop a very specific endurance.
Long runs for endurance may have their place in a training program but they shouldn’t last more than 45-50 minutes, 3 times a week. 30minutes run at a medium pace is excellent for active recovery, for example following the day of a hard sparring session.
CRITICAL: If the boxer is in a situation he needs to lose weight, very long run workouts are not the best solution, focus more on a very high quality nutrition along with more specific and higher intensity workouts.
High Intensity is the Key
If a boxer needs to improve endurance, he must be specific: shorter distances with higher intensity. The physiological impact and adaptation will be targeted towards the goals of boxing: being able to go through high intensity 3 minutes rounds.
So how to replace these aerobic running sessions? Is there something more effective for the boxer?
Yes of course. A boxer must be competitive for rounds of 3 minutes, these are intervals of 3 minutes with many changes of pace, alternating explosive combinations of punches, and short periods of relative recuperation, always being on movement. Therefore we should build conditioning and cardiovascular workouts around the needs of a boxing round, where the intensity and the ability to recover very fast are critical parameters.
What it means? We must develop interval training programs with sprints. But be aware it is not the quantity but the quality which will gives positive results.
In addition to running, some well designed circuit training may also be very effective and are an excellent complement because it is possible to target the whole body. Specific endurance is not only cardiovascular but also muscular.
Developing Cardiovascular Power
I like to use interval training on tracks. It can be “painful” but this is very effective in term of developing cardiovascular power (VO2max). We must be progressive on intensity and interval durations.
To start I set up a program with 30s-45s-60s, 3 to 5 times, with active recovery between the intervals (equal to the duration), recovery can be slow jog or walking. The interval intensity should be from 80 to 90%. The use of a heart rate monitor can be a big help for measuring how high the heart rate goes and at what value it drops just before the next interval.
This kind of program will evolve quickly towards 3 minutes intervals with integrated sprints. We’ll improve here full cardiovascular power (lactic acid threshold, VO2max) along with speed of recovery. We develop the ability of doing several sprints (duration will vary but stay short) inside each interval. Some of these intervals will be done at 100% but the protocols have to be precise to avoid overtraining and difficulty of recuperation.
I prefer to do this kind of work in pre-training camp, before sparring starts, this is for obvious reasons: the boxer can push more and have more time to recover and it will be in a very good shape when he starts the main training camp (it means better quality sparring sessions right away). If the boxer needs to lose weight, this program is perfect, he will lose pounds and will get ready in the same time: just think specificity and you will not lose your time.
In case this program has to be included in camp, the focus will be on low volume and progressive high intensity. Recovery is the key to avoid negative interferences with the boxing workouts. There are no more than 3 interval training workouts per week and they are relatively short, high intensity but always high quality. For that focus on how you feel after the workout, how fast you recover from the fatigue. It’s important to understand that fatigue is a normal reaction of the body, due to the depletion of your energy level. While recovering your energy level will increase even at a superior level, this is the physiological effect of an effective training plan: surcompensation and progressive metabolic adaptation.
You should be able to train again a few hours later (different workout, can be strength or boxing). Always focus on good nutrition which is a big part of the recovery process along with optimal hydration.
Let’s talk now about strength and power…
Work On Strength Then Transfer Into Power
Improving Punching Power
Is it possible to improve punching power?
Yes I think so, but only if you have the right strategy in your training program.
By experience I see many weight training programs are not specific enough. Sometimes the worst is these programs will interfere negatively on the boxing skills and disrupt the coordination patterns for effective punching and knockout power.
Many weight training programs may you feel strong and solid but will not translate in boxing performance.
Many weight training programs may be good for general physical preparation but the degree of transfer will be poor. Old school boxing trainers know that, it’s why they do not like strength training with weights. By experience they see different problems like being bulk and gaining weight due to an increase of muscle mass. Boxing is a weight class sport and a boxer cannot afford to put 10 pounds of muscle during training, it’s common sense.
Instead they prefer to do bodyweight training like different kinds of pushups and abdominal work: we suppress here the risk created by non specific heavy weight training. But in this case it will be very difficult to improve specific strength and power, bodyweight training used in most boxing gym is only useful for general conditioning.
What it means?
It mean if the boxer is not a natural puncher (here you have to look at the genetics) there is little chance he is going to improve his knockout power in the future.
It’s why many old school boxing trainers do not believe in the possibility to improve punching power, at least on the physical standpoint. A young boxer will be able to improve during the first years of training with good technique, timing and total body coordination, hitting the heavy bag. But once the formation is done and the boxer becomes mature technically and physically, the degree of progress will be very low in this style of training.
So do you think that punching power is only a gift and cannot be made?
Let be honest here: genetics play a big role and it is true that natural punching power is a gift: like a sprinter, a puncher got a dominant pourcentage of fast twitch fibers in the muscles which are responsible for speed and strength, therefore for power.
People who are born with more slow twitch fibers will be more performant in endurance sports.
Other people are just in balance, at the beginning with the potential of average power and endurance.
Let’s say here it is a lot easier to improve endurance than strength and power. Is it the reason why many boxers spend many hours per week of training doing running.
Here is my point:
if a boxer has already a good specific endurance, his job will be to maintain his endurance, it will not be necessary to try to improve again and again. Anyway there is soon a plateau and the athlete may spend a lot of time for minimum return. Instead keep your level with a strategic training plan AND invest more time for strength and power…But we need to be SPECIFIC ! It’s critical here to develop the right strategy and YES you are going to improve specific conditioning, explosive power and possibly punching power.
We need to design the kind of program with the ability of real and quick TRANSFER in boxing.
Hill Sprints for Legs and Total Body Power
Explosive leg power is a big component of punching power (if coordination is right). I believe you cannot get it easily in the gym if you use machines. The best strategy is hill sprints. With these sprints you are developing total body power. This is the most effective way for improving leg power in a short period of time. This training is short and very intense, the sprints should last from 5 seconds to 20 seconds. The metabolic impact is not lactic, it means the recovery between each sprint has to be complete, about 5 times the duration of the sprint: for a 10 second sprint you should recover 50 seconds before the next repetition. Keep the volume low, 8 to 10 sprints at 100% is already a good workout. Warmup carefully and stretch after, not before.
You can finish the workout with a slow or medium intensity run for 15-30 minutes.
Do not over do it, twice a week may be a smart timing.
Transfer is the key, choose wisely the kind of exercises and Improve Your Punching Power Now!
You may get strong but if your strength just apply in your bench press or pull-ups and not in your boxing skills into the ring (in term of punching power), I think it is a waste of time.
You should feel a difference in power in the ring, period.
The solutions here are the right choice of exercises, the timing and boxing integration.
Let see a few exercises you may start to implement in your training program. These exercises may be technical but you’ll improve and create specific nervous pathways you’ll be able to use in boxing.
The exercises involve the full body which is great for total body power. They work with muscular chains which increase inter muscular coordination.
The main tool is kettlebells. The main exercises are the ones used in kettlebell sport:
- The Jerk
- The Snatch
- The Long Cycle
- The Half Snatch
These exercises develop full body power and the degree of transfer is very high.
Due to the ballistic aspect of these movements, the technical aspect is very important and you’ll need probably proper coaching to get it.
The goal here is not lifting a 10 pound kettlebell, it’s not fitness, we are going to use progressively heavy ammunitions…if the technique is under control.
And you’ll feel soon a difference in punching power!
In addition to these key exercises we have developed very specific ones for boxing. If they are well integrated with the overall boxing program, these exercises will have a high degree of transfer, you will be more powerful in the ring.
You can see a few exercises here executed by professional boxers: Specific strength and conditioning for boxing
All these kettlebells exercises are full body workouts and we’ll improve strength and power in the core, the legs and upper body. The most important is you teach your muscles to work altogether providing more efficiency. The results are also a better dynamic stabilisation for producing more power from the legs and the core. The grip will be reinforced, the stabilisation of the shoulders will increase which may avoid cuff rotators injury due to an overload of the front deltoid from punching.
Additional exercises are optional, all depend of the personal needs. As you know a program must be personalised according to what you need. Self evaluation along with the expert evaluation of the boxing trainer is key.
For example when I see a boxer with not enough dynamic strength in the legs I will add some targeted exercises like lunges, plyometric squats, pistol…Some of these exercise are done just with the bodyweight because they can be very challenging.
Low back problem can sometimes be an issue: get a strong low back doing specific movement; the best I recommend is the reverse hyper, great exercise!
Specific abs routines can be an add-on and a nice “finisher” in a complete workout. I like to use hanging let raise with variations, jacknife pushups and reverse crunches on swiss ball…
For specific upper body strength, pull-ups are always great. Pull-ups build a powerful back.
For a great challenge do pull-ups with ropes and you’ll build a powerful grip and very strong hands and forearms in the same time.
There are many great exercises for fighters, some are less specific so you have to make some choices according to the length of preparation dedicated for general strength and conditioning. In all cases, in the last few weeks before a fight, always be very specific.
One more thing: many boxers do some strength training for several weeks then stop everything in the last few weeks due to heavy sparring. I believe this is a mistake. You have to keep some strength work, just cut the time of the workouts and be very specific. If you stop too long you will lose strength and it’s even more critical when you start to drop some weight. Be strategic and keep your strength you have developed in the previous weeks.
By Dominic Paris, conditioning coach.
Workouts and camps in Las Vegas. Contact: dom @ knockout-coaching.com
A High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)-Based Running Plan Improves Athletic Performance by Improving Muscle Power. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: January 2017