Strength Training for Boxers

Strength Training for Boxers

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that a Maximum strength bias program can easily fit into a boxer’s current training regime in allowing the developments of a more conditioned and resilient boxer/fighter without the negative view of putting on too much bulk. The paper will relate it to the specific strength elements that a boxer needs in order to be an efficient and properly prepared athlete. In addition it will touch on elements of speed, flexibility and energy system adaptation to athletes conditioning. Its view is to demonstrate with sample programs and recommendations that having a strong base of maximum strength to build from not only benefits boxers at all levels put has a positive influence on other sports. It also ties in the other elements required in the overall development of a fighters conditioning without interfering with the old school way of thinking that only boxing specific training in this day and age is sufficient for a boxer to be successful. A sample strength bias program that is flexible in application is included to support authors view.

In the past many old school Boxing trainers have frowned upon the use of free weight in the preparation of their boxers, taking the view that too much weight training would inhibit the movement of the boxer by making them less flexible and rigid. In addition the perception was that their boxer would get muscle bound rendering them “too bulky” and unable to move freely in executing their skills. This old way of thinking is now somewhat coming to a close with now a more educated field of experienced strength/boxing coaches who are taking a more rounded approach in periodising their athlete’s combat training in a more comprehensive way. Boxers and their coaches can now give themselves a better chance in fully maximising the potential and skill set in a more organised effective way as they now cover in their training several of the strength traits that a fighter needs in their preparation for a bout.

Strength is a quality that is necessary for boxers; it is made up of strength of body, strength of mind or resilient strength. To varying degrees all are trainable. (2)The proper training for boxers should emphasises neural training and myofibril hypertrophy which does not cause significant gains in muscle mass.  (Boxers are not bodybuilders; therefore should not train like bodybuilders) In addition weight training that involves full range movements has been shown to promote and increase flexibility. However boxers should not get too carried away with being flexible as boxing does not require a great deal of flexibility. Boxing does require adequate flexibility but excessive flexibility is detrimental to force production.

Boxer’s today train with weights much more that they have in the past, as a result they have become stronger and quicker that they ever were in past history of the sport. An undisciplined and poorly designed weight program will not help boxers when in the ring.  Getting it wrong with weight training can have a negative effect of making the fighters slower and stiff. The following are strength skills that a boxer needs to excel in this uncompromising and demanding sport.

  • Required Strength element in boxing; (1)
  • Maximum strength
  • Explosive strength/Power endurance,
  • Reactive power,
  • Muscular endurance of medium duration and
  • Muscular endurance of long duration.

Maximal strength

Maximal strength training normally requires the highest force that can be performed by the neuromuscular system during a contraction. When designing their boxers overall program, a coach should work on building solid base of Maximal Strength, then develop the other traits on top of this foundation. “Maximal strength drives so many other physical qualities – it gives speed and power, it gives efficiency and through that mechanism aids recovery between rounds. How much strength is needed in boxing? Enough to be at least as strong as, if not stronger than your opponent”.(4)For example a fighter in a given weight class would be able to bench press or squat at least his own bodyweight would be quite a solid base of strength, anything else over 1-1/2 body weight bench or twice bodyweight squat would likely get to a point where the strength reaches a point of diminishing returns. Maximum strength will aid with structuring a specific strength program in complimenting the boxer, and not just randomly working out with weights. In boxing and other combat sports the more resilient the body becomes, the better the body can cope. It’s primarily this reason why it’s essential to have an adequate strength base in support of your chosen sport. In our case Boxing.

The development of maximum strength is probably the single most important variable in most sports. The ability to increase maximum strength depends on the diameter of the cross sectional area of the muscles involved, the capacity to recruit fast twitch muscle fibres, and the ability to synchronise or simultaneously call into action all the primary muscles that are involved in the movement (3) Maximum Strength is the heaviest load an athlete can lift in one attempt and is normally expressed as 100% of maximum. (1RM) it’s generally a good idea for an athlete/coach to keep a track of 1RM for the major movements in prescribing more accurate maximum strength programs.

To understand the relevance of maximal strength training, it is important to first understand how the body functions then able to relate it back to the direct benefits of possessing a solid base of maximum strength. Firstly muscle fibres are grouped together within a motor unit. A motor unit contains hundreds of muscle fibres and one nerve that deliver a signal to the muscle fibres. All of the muscle fibres contained within the motor unit are of the same type. Either fast twitch or slow twitch. When the signal is passed for the motor unit to contract, all of the fibres within that motor unit will contract. So if you are only moving around a lighter weight and not a max weight, you will most likely only be recruiting a minimum amount of the fast twitch fibres and not building strength. It is only during a maximum lift effort that a greater portion of fast twitch motor units are recruited. It is this reason that maximum lifting is regarded as a superior method of improving inter and intra muscular coordination.

The following quote from Supertraining explains it in the following manner: “Strength is not primarily a function of muscle size, but one of the appropriate muscles powerfully contracted by effective nervous stimulation.” (5) In targeting the nervous system you will gain strength. This can be effectively done without weight gain. The example of Olympic weightlifting could be used to confirm this process. Similar to boxers, they compete within several weight classes suggesting a strong emphasis in an increase of pure strength been the key, not weight or bulk.

As previously mentioned the following strength related traits relevant to a boxer should be developed on top of the base of maximum strength in creating a more well rounded and conditioned athlete.

The development of power endurance (P-E) and explosive strength are an essential requirement in the arsenal of a boxer, the ability to continuously generate the power output round after round is reliant on the endurance engine of a properly prepared boxer. To be successful the boxer has to train endurance as well as power as they will be required to perform the striking action anywhere from 50 – 150 times per round on average with the sole intention of hitting an opponent with impact. Just having power is not enough for a boxer. The continued ability to generate punching output during an intense round is required given the very nature of the sport. When training for power development, the boxer/athlete must target the fast twitch muscle fibres. If the exercise does not stimulate a fast twitch motor unit, the muscle fibres contained within the unit will not adapt to the training (critical for a boxer). Essentially, if the motor unit is not recruited, no response occurs. So the old saying of training like you fight holds true when we discuss power endurance in combat sports.

Explosive strength is a critical strength quality for any competing boxer. Explosive strength is defined as the ability to express significant tension in minimal time. Vladimir Zatsiorsky, highly regarded strength and conditioning consultant for the Soviet Union Olympic teams, has mentioned that:”The ability to produce maximal forces in minimal time is called explosive strength. Strong people do not necessarily possess explosive strength.” (7)  This is where an athlete has to build on their strength base and convert to power, not simply continue to get stronger. Clearly, the development of one strength quality (MS) does not guarantee the development of another (ES). Explosive Movements/exercises recruiting the fast Twitch fibres would consist of examples such as Power Cleans, Dumbell Snatches, Dumbell Power Jumps. This type of training will also increase speed and power explosiveness.

Reactive power is best explained as the ability of the athlete to jump immediately following a landing. (1) In the case of boxing it’s the ability to continually move around the ring under duress constantly utilising both footwork and head movement in either defensive or attacking manoeuvres. This attribute needs to be worked on as part of the skill segment of training and it’s a strength component of the boxer’s skill-set they cannot do without. The ability to move fast and efficiently (flow) in the ring during a fight/bout that is supported by a properly planned strength and conditioning program would allow a boxer to remain out of range when required and be in ready state to execute their own game plan. Without reactive power movements the boxer increases the opportunities of their opponent in striking them causing a potentially knock out or loss on points.

Power endurance of medium/longer duration is basically the endurance required to maintain the intensity over a time period of two to five minutes long. This is of benefit when preparing for amateur boxing rounds that are two minutes in duration, with each bout consisting of three rounds. For the professional ranks a longer power endurance (of long duration) should be developed as these rounds are three minutes in duration but can last up to twelve rounds during a professional fight. A clear difference in the conditioning and skill set is evident within professional and amateur boxing.

Speed work

In addition speed strength is also very important for fighters. Unfortunately, many athletes train improperly, hence sacrifice this strength quality. World-renowned sport scientist Yuri Verkhoshansky and colleagues established that: “Excessive maximum strength training can impair speed-strength and technical skill in boxers.” (6) This is where the strength coach should take into account how strong the boxer is required to be, otherwise the boxer will reach a point of diminishing returns in their strength program. This training time would be best used up with boxing specific conditioning.

Flexibility

A common myth related to strength training deals with flexibility and range of motion. Many trainers believe that free weights will compromise flexibility. This is completely untrue. Taking the example of an Olympic weightlifter you would accept that these are some of the most powerful and strongest athletes in the world. Yet they are able to also execute the lifts with a high level of flexibility.  The two competitive lifts (clean and jerk and snatch) along with the various supplementary exercises demand both flexibility and power. It is worth noting that most weightlifters spend a great deal of time stretching and working on their flexibility. If athletes that do a great deal of heavy weight training do not do much flexibility work they will get stiff and have poor flexibility.

Energy system utilised in boxing.

The primary energy pathway utilised in boxing is the glycolyctic pathway which is part of the anaerobic system. The dominant energy systems are made up of 10% alactic,40% lactic acid and 50% aerobic.(1) Boxing is not a predominately aerobic sport. There is no need to run 8 klm’s every day. Done on occasion this would be fine. In general running 3 to 5 klm’s 3-4 times per week is recommended. Sprinting is more beneficial for athletes involved in boxing. Sprinting at a moderate or low intensities can be performed 2 days per week. While sprinting at high intensities is performed once per week. For example the 400metre distance at a perceived exertion of 85% + could be run to tax the anaerobic system by a well conditioned boxer , alternatively a series of shorter distances of 40-100 metres sprint’s in explosive short bursts and a perceived exertion of 90%+ would challenge most well conditioned athlete/boxers. A series of 3-5 repeats would be plenty with a rest period of 30seconds to one minute rest or even allow the time they take to lightly jog back and then repeat effort. Ideally a coach will keep a record of times run in order to benchmark performance and monitor their athlete. It’s a matter for the coach to determine what element they will be focusing on the day without disrupting the main program of boxing time.

In summary a basic strength training program should be used to build a solid foundation, giving you muscle density and strength gains. The workouts should consist of compound movements for each muscle group. “Compound exercises such as Military press, Bench Presses, Squats, Power cleans, chin ups and Deadlifts”(4). These major movements exercises will develop strength, along with helping to increase overall structural balance throughout the body. The matter of food comes into play requiring calories been monitored so that the physical size being gained is quality muscle and not additional weight made up of body fat. A strength workout two to three times per week will keep you fresh for specific boxing work with the number of reps per set never exceeding the three to five range in keeping with strength protocols. Rest periods of approximately five minutes between sets with the Intensity kept above 80% of your one rep max. Body Exercises and Core Training such as Pullups, Pushups, Hindu Squats, Box Runs and Medicine Ball drills to name a few. A properly selected set of exercises will preserve the Boxer’s body for its operational/functional purposes.

A strength program should be designed to improve the performance of the boxer. A properly implemented strength program should not drain a fighter of their hard gained energy reserves and rendering then too fatigued when training. Objectives such as skill, tactical, strategic work and conditioning should not be negatively affected. Similarly a boxer’s strength workout should not leave the boxer sore for days like in bodybuilding programs as they will be unable to properly function through the following drills involved in sparring, use of heavy bag and trainer held focus pad sessions as required. A balanced approach with the emphasis on complimenting the fighter’s skill and conditioning should be the focus on the strength program.

 

Recommended strength program for boxers of Medium to high level of condition.

This is a sample (strength bias) weekly training for a boxer that is quite adaptable and can be

Altered depending on status of athlete/boxer.

Strength work should be performed before boxing training.

BOXING

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Med intensity Med – high intensity Medium intensity – long training duration Light aerobic workout , light shadow , circutr work partner work High intensity Sparring night Light Recovery for the fighters and REST
75-85% 80+ 75-85% 50- 75% 80 -100% 75-85% Stretch
  1 Minute recovery between rounds Light sparring for multiple rounds with 1 minute rest 1 minute recovery between rounds 1 minute + recovery 1 minute for 3-5 rounds short sharp and high intensity “game time approach” 1 minute recovery between rounds  1 Minute recovery between rounds

 

Day 1 and 2 are to be included with strength block with possibly the 3rd day as optional based on the judgement of the coach keeping in mind overall workload.

Day 1
Exercise

sets

reps

load

Deadlift

5

5×5

85%

Military press

5

5×5

85%

chin ups

5

10x 5

B/W

 

Day 2
Exercise

sets

reps

load

Bench press

5

5×5

85%

Power cleans

5

5×5

85%

kettlebell jerks

5

10×5

70%

 

Day 3 Optional based on current levels of Strength and conditioning of boxer
Exercise Sets Reps Load 
Kettlebell swing 5 5×20 swings Light
Kettlebell TGU 5 1x medium KB light
Kettlebell snatch 5 5x 10 each side Light

 

(1)  Bompar, T., Carerra, M., Periodisation training for sports,2nd Edition , Human kinetics,Champaign, IL. 2005.

(2)   Enamait, R Strength training for fighters.  Available at: http://www.rosstraining.com/articles/strengthtraining.html . Accesses Sept, 2012.

(3)   Howard J,D., Ritchie, M,R., Gater, D,A., and Enoka, R,M. Determining factors of strength: Physiological foundations. National strength and conditioning journal, 7(6):16-21. 1985.

(4)   Read, A Fuzzy Strength. Available at:

http://strengthconquers.com/category/combat-sports/boxing-combat-sports/

Accessed Nov, 2012.

(5)   Siff, M.C. Supertraining, 6th Edition. Supertraining Institute. Denver, CO. 2003.

(6)   Verkhoshansky, Y.V. Fundamentals of Special Strength-Training in Sport. Sportivny Press, Livonia, MI. (Original work published in 1977, Moscow, Russia: Fizkultura i Spovt). 1986.

(7)   Zatsiorsky, V.M., Kraemer W,J., Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL. 2006.

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