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Look to the past for new training ideas

Nick La Rosa considers where coaches gain their knowledge from and raise the question of why we do not explore the old methods.

At the start of my coaching career, I felt I had two choices:

  1. I could coach people believing that I knew everything there was to know, or:
  2. I could learn as much as I could from whatever source I could.

I do not think this is very unusual, as every good coach would follow the second path. The sources we tend to consider when following this path seem to be (not necessarily in order):

  • Our own experiences
  • Other coaches
  • Formal training qualifications
  • Textbooks
  • Science and other experts


The one path that we may not usually consider or explore however is history. It is interesting how much the techniques of those that have gone before us can be ignored. Is this because modern methods are better or because those methods are lost as each generation passes through?

This question of "old versus new" is a debate that often rages in the sport of boxing. The general arguments seem to be that the old-time boxers were better skilled and "tougher" than today's boxers. This is often countered with the argument that with modern training methods and nutrition, today's boxers are physically superior to those that preceded them. I have never been one to rely on a statement or argument that lacked the evidence to support it, so over the years. I have examined the history of the sport and how the training regimens have developed over time.

One of the statements that still rages, as fiercely as a summer bushfire, is whether weight training is beneficial or harmful to boxers. Modern boxers have taken to weight training to increase their power and strength in a way that their predecessors would have never accepted. The statement they believed was that such training made boxers "bulky" and "slow". Given that modern sprinters have adopted this type of training and the outcomes have been consistent improvements in times is this a fallacy?

A study of history and the findings of the research will conclusively state - well yes and no. The problem is that boxers throughout time have ALWAYS used various weight-training methods in their routines. They used bodyweight exercises, they employed skipping routines, and they used medicine balls. I even read of one boxer in the 1800's training with metal candle holders tied to his legs (today we would call them ankle weights). What they did not use were very large weights. They also had much more repetitions in their routines.

The first thing that has to be said is that "old-time" boxers did use weight training in their programs; they did not recognise it as such. The second thing that has to be said is that the weights employed were much lighter than those used in current free weights. The repetitions of the exercises were also significantly higher than those used today. The most critical difference is the speed at which those exercises were performed.


While any analysis of boxing will show that inherent power is an essential physiological characteristic for boxers, what is overlooked is that this needs to be effective. It is no good being able to throw a punch that is the equivalent of a 300kg bench press if you are too slow to land it. It is also of little help if you can throw such punches only 5 to 10 times per round before you fatigue. This is an important lesson for all sports and all coaches. It drives home the need to consider the training principle of specificity when designing a programme. Understand the demands of your sport and design the training programs accordingly.

The specificity of training refers to designing programs that are meant to improve the performance of the muscle groups or cardiovascular characteristics specific to the activity being trained for. A study by Bell, G.J., Peterson, S.R., Quinney, A.H. and Wenger, H.A. (1989) aimed to prove that rowers could increase power and rowing ergometer performance through a resistance program using the muscles that are involved in the sport.

"The results showed that there were specific changes in the performance of the specific resistance exercises; that is, the athletes became better resistance exercisers. Those changes were specific to the velocities of training."

This study implies that training routines should be designed to produce the desired characteristics of their sport and not a general routine that is meant to enhance that sport's performance. Consequently, my training programs for boxers are designed to be completely boxing orientated. That is, any weight training system is designed with the demands of boxing; any running system is designed to reproduce the demands and rigours on the cardiovascular system as demanded by boxing and so on.

I have learned these ideas from all of the sources I mentioned earlier, but what particularly confirmed my training ideas was closely examining the methods and techniques of the past. I suggest closely examining the techniques of your predecessors just to make sure that you are not missing out on techniques or ideas that modern science is turning a full circle on.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • LA-ROSA, N. (2005) Look to the past for new training ideas. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 23 / June), p. 4

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • LA-ROSA, N. (2005) Look to the past for new training ideas [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Nick La Rosa is a Level 2 Boxing coach (highest level for a boxing coach in Australia) and a member of Australia`s high-performance coaching team. He has been coaching for 14 years and has had international level success with his boxers.