The Art of Boxing
Jamie Wadman explains why the traditional training undertaken by boxers is unsuitable and how it could be improved.
Go into any amateur boxing club today, and you will see the athletes go through four activities:
For years this has been the training layout in the typical boxing gym. Usually, 3 to 4 rounds of each exercise will be performed with bodyweight circuit training at the end of the night.
A typical circuit training session is composed of:
Ten repetitions per exercise are the typical standard of practice when performing this circuit. You will see nothing wrong with the layout, and it is the way 99% of clubs do it so it must be right? Wrong!
Boxing is a very complex sport needing a scientific approach to training. Boxers have been successful using the same regime for years, but the reality is they could have been so much better. The first thing that can be improved is circuit training.
A typical boxing bout is four 2-minute rounds with one minute's rest in between. So where is the logic of performing a set of exercises for ten repetitions day in day out?
Circuits need to mimic actual fights; therefore, it would be more useful to perform a set of exercises for 30 seconds until 2 minutes of activity has been completed, let us look at an example:
This routine makes up 2 minutes of intense exercise, and with boxing being 80% anaerobic this format makes more sense. After one round has been completed, rest one minute then repeat 3 to 5 times. It is best to exercise one more round then you will be fighting to overload the system, remember, fight night is much more demanding than a few exercises! You can be creative when creating the round drills, and you can use shuttle runs, skipping, all forms of press-ups - the list is endless. Let us look at another example:
Each round you do can incorporate different exercises, be creative and have fun!
Another common mistake
Something else I am used to seeing in gyms is shadow boxing in front of mirrors. The mistake here is that in performing in front of a mirror, you will tend to keep looking at yourself and lack movement. This can develop bad habits inside the ring - if you are used to always looking around at a mirror when shadow boxing then it is likely that you will lack concentration inside the ring. Perform your shadow boxing routine at an intense pace inside the ring, with no mirrors. Use the space you have and imagine your opponent is standing in front of you.
A myth shattered
The most popular myth among boxers and trainers alike is that weight training is counterproductive, and some think you will lose mobility and become muscle-bound; nothing could be further from the truth. Research has shown that a properly designed program can increase range of motion as well as speed and power. Muscular endurance and strength are both improved through weight training, therefore, you should find time for a good weight training routine; you will thank me on fight night! It is important to remember that you must train in a manner that is specific to boxing (we are not bodybuilders); slow weight training is not the best way to train. As I said earlier, boxing is mostly anaerobic; therefore, our training should reflect this.
During anaerobic work, involving maximum effort, the body is working so hard that the demands for oxygen and fuel exceed the rate of supply and the muscles have to rely on the stored reserves of fuel. For boxers, this creates an oxygen debt that we must pay back between rounds. It is clear to see that lifting weights at a faster pace is the most effective way to train, but it is not the only way. Every 4 to 6 weeks, it would be a good idea to change the routine slightly. We can also work on explosive strength to get us ready for fighting entire rounds with explosive speed and power.
We must focus on maximizing speed and explosive power, and plyometrics is the way to go if we are going to achieve this objective. Plyometrics consists of bounding, jumping, and hopping exercises and teaches the body to react quickly and explosively. Plyometric training emphasizes quality, not quantity - each exercise should consist of 10 to 20 repetitions for 1 to 4 sets.
These exercises combine strength and speed to create power essential for the sport of boxing. Plyometric training in a boxer's routine should be performed 2 times per week e.g. Monday and Friday.
Putting it together
So far, we have looked at round drills, weight training and plyometric training, but when do we perform all these exercises? These are all pieces to a larger puzzle that must be put in the right places. I would recommend that the same exercise is not performed on consecutive days, e.g. weight training should not be conducted on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The following is an example of a week's training program:
The training objectives change throughout the week, and in the build-up to a fight, it is advised that weight training and plyometrics are stopped at least one week before the competition. It is also essential to progress over the course throughout the season, i.e. if you have six weeks to prepare for a fight, then it makes sense to build up the intensity of your training slowly. Sparring should not be done at full pace until the last couple of weeks, and round drills should gradually increase leading up to a peak in anaerobic conditioning.
The following is an example six-week program involving the round drills:
Week 4 does not progress as it is important not to overload the body too quickly, and it also gives you time to get used to 4 intense rounds.
This is the most important part of the puzzle, without skills, all the fitness in the world would not help you in the ring. Shadow boxing is typically used to warm-up and comprises of a couple of rounds at a slow pace. Shadow boxing needs to be done at an intense pace in the ring and should be conducted before and after training to get you used to perform under fatigue. An approach similar to the round drills program above can also be used for shadow boxing, building up from 2 rounds to 5 rounds. This can be done up to a couple of days before the fight, but always make sure you get complete rest the day before
Skill training after sparring
After sparring, it is common to take your gloves off and head for the showers - this is the wrong thing to do. It would help if you got used to fighting through fatigue, and the gym is the perfect place to start. After sparring you should keep the gloves on and hit the bag, hard! Move left and right constantly throwing punches.
Boxers always tell me how they run 4 to 5 miles every morning, and my response to this is - why? What is a nice long-distance jog going to do for you in an eight-minute fast-paced fight? Boxing is 80% anaerobic; therefore, the training needs to reflect this. Interval running is not easy, and this probably explains why many boxers do not do them. The following is an example of an interval session:
After completing this 2-minute run rest one-minute and repeat 3 to 5 times.
What about the other 20%?
I have said that boxing is 80% anaerobic, but what about the 20% aerobic part of our sport? The aerobic part of a fight is when you are circling the ring without throwing punches at a fast pace. We still need to train the aerobic part to have a fitness base on which to work. I recommend aerobic running (no more than two miles) 1 to 2 times per week with interval running 3 to 4 times per week. You should not devote more time than this to your aerobic training as this would mean you are training your slow-twitch muscle fibres as much as your fast-twitch muscle fibres. This could be counterproductive because this would mean your slow-twitch fibres may become dominant, which in turn would slow you down in the ring. As fighters, we need to remain explosive in the ring, so the majority of our training needs to be explosive.
It is clear to see that boxing is more than just a few rounds of skipping, bag work, etc. We need to run, lift weights, perform plyometrics and undertake the punishing round drills. Many clubs today continue to use the same routine day in day out, week after week with no apparent progression. Our training is a complex puzzle, and to maximize performance, coaches need to start taking the time to plan their training cycles, being careful not to introduce overload too often or not often enough. This is harder than it seems, but if we are to move the sport forward with advances in sports science, then we must take this time to improve our athletes.
Train hard and smart!
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About the Author
Jamie Wadman is a boxing coach and personal trainer and is currently coaching several professional boxers.