THE SHORT VERSION-
What you’re currently doing for strength and conditioning may not be adequately preparing you for optimal fight performance.
You need to be doing strength work, power work, work on your posture and movement and training all the different facets of your energy systems. If you’re not, you’re leaving a lot of your talent untouched. You need an intelligent, progressive strength and conditioning plan to make it all work together and not ruin your recovery.
Boxers are some of the hardest working athletes I’ve ever seen.
The sweet science certainly instils a rock-solid work-ethic into its participants.
This desire to work and put in 100% effort is awesome to coach. It’s rare that an athlete tries to do more than you ask.
With that said, sometimes boxers can spend that energy, enthusiasm and drive in the wrong way.
It’s impossible to knock their hard work.
BUT here's the Truth-
Intelligently planned hard work beats just hard work.
It’s always better if you can take that insane determination to give 100% and direct it into exercises and drills that don’t just make you better at doing hard work but improve the physical skills you need to thrive as a fighter.
There needs to be a point and a definite carry over into actual ring performance for any exercise to be worthwhile. It needs to improve your physical skills.
You’re probably already doing some work on each of the skills listed above. But, the poison is in the dose…
Very often fighters will be spending a detrimental amount of time focussed on certain types of training and not developing other skills accordingly.
So, to help you get into the best fight-shape possible, here’s a checklist of things you need in your strength and conditioning program to build yourself a well-rounded physical skill set. A skill set that’ll see you arrive in the ring a faster, more athletic, more powerful, more dynamic fighter.
1. SOME STRENGTH WORK- If you want to throw with devastating power you’re going to have to spend some time building up your force capability (I’m not talking about Jedi here…) You see, you need a high degree of force to create power. The higher your force base, the more power potential you will have at your disposal. It comes down to a simple equation- POWER = FORCE + VELOCITY. This tells us that in order to improve our power output we can either improve our force, our velocity or (optimally) both. You’re now wondering how you build force. Here’s how. You get progressively stronger on heavy, compound movements- deadlifts, squats, presses and pulls. In short, you need to build some old-fashioned horsepower.
2. SOME SPEED/POWER WORK- Wait, didn’t I just say that we needed to build force to improve our power? Yeah, I did. But it’s not quite that simple. Building force through heavy lifts grants us the capacity to build power but doesn’t optimally convert to power if it’s done alone. In order to convert your new-found strength into terrifying striking power, we need to teach the body to use its force quickly. Remember POWER = FORCE + VELOCITY. So, to develop our power, we need to move with forceful intent and high velocity. If you’ve got a coach capable and competent to teach you some Olympic weight-lifting variations, then these are a great fit for your power work. Other great exercises and drills like med ball throws, various jumps and hurdles can and should also be used to improve your power and rate of force development (how fast you can generate the highest percentage of your force capacity for the given window of opportunity). The devil is in the dose with this kind of exercise. You want to do low rep sets, with plenty of rest in between sets. If you try and develop power whilst in a fatigued state, you’ll be stalling your power-development. Keep power work separate from endurance.
3. PLENTY OF UPPER-BACK WORK- It seems counter intuitive that upper back strength would be important to a boxer, but it’s absolutely imperative. If you take nothing else away from reading this, then remember to train your upper back. Doing plenty of upper back exercise will make a huge difference to the heath of your shoulders. You know how you get all those aches and pains in your shoulders? Yeah, upper back training can reduce that. This won’t just help you during your boxing career, but it’ll mean you’re still heathy and pain free when you’re drawing a pension. Training your upper back re-addresses the strength balance between your over-developed anterior deltoids (front of your shoulders) and chest from all the punches and press-ups you do and the muscles of your upper back that oppose them and are meant to keep your shoulder in a heathy postural position. Not only can doing plenty of upper back work help reduce those shoulder pains and risk of injury, but improving your posture will also have a dramatic effect on your power. Get in plenty of face-pulls and dumbbell rows.
4. TRAIN ALL OF YOUR ENERGY SYSTEMS- Boxers are rightfully worried about getting their conditioning right. No amount of skill and power will help you if you’re too tired to use them. However, many fighters spend too much time worrying solely about their aerobic conditioning and hammering away at the roadwork. Remember earlier when I said that the poison is in the dose? This applies to roadwork. Some roadwork is needed. Doing it every day is overkill and can have detrimental effects. I won’t go into too much detail, (as this could be an entire article all by itself) but too much road work can damage your knees and ankles and leave you with less power. Boxing is also a very long way from a purely aerobic sport (roadwork is largely aerobic). There’s a huge anaerobic and lactic component to boxing. If you’re not adequately developing your capacity across all of the energy systems that are demanded of a fighter during a fight, you’re risking getting caught out. In order to train these systems, you need to include intensive, short interval type training and more extensive intervals. A perfect workout for your short intensive intervals is a Tabata- work hard for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, repeat 8 times. You can do that on a rowing machine, spin bike or (If you’re a real sadomasochist) you can do it with weighted exercises like kettlebell swings. These types of intervals will work really well with your power training and teach your body to maintain a high power output under duress (i.e perfect training for throwing combinations). For your extensive intervals you’ll do less intense work, but for longer periods of time. A spin bike is great for this because it limits joint impact stress (when compared to something like running) you’ll do work at 80% of your max output for 1-2 minutes at a time working on a 3 to 1 ratio, that is for every 30 seconds of work you do, you get 10 seconds of rest. Do 5-10 rounds depending on your current conditioning level. Mixing in both types of interval will go a long way towards improving your fight-specific conditioning. Remember, you’re training to fight another human, not run a 10k…
5. TRAIN MOVEMENT AND MOBILITY- Looking after your body, your joints and your muscles is a completely necessary part of being a high-calibre fighting athlete. If you were racing cars, you’d make sure every component was working efficiently for maximal performance. Why wouldn’t you do the same with your own body? Your body is the tool you’ll be using to compete with. Make sure it’s running as optimally as you possibly can! Making sure your movement and mobility are on point are immensely important to running optimally. In short, this means working on your joint health, your posture and movement patterns. A strength & conditioning coach worth their salt will not only recommend that you do some work on this, he’ll build these goals into the rest of the program so that everything you do reinforces these goals. They won’t let you get away with moving crap. You’ll rarely see a world-class athlete that moves like garbage, and even world champs will still be working on their movement and mobility! It carries over into everything you do- improving efficiency, endurance and power and reducing your risk of injury.
Now the real magic is in how you put it all together.
Unfortunately, this isn’t really a one size fits all kind of a thing. It really depends on where you are in terms of your development as a fighter, age, how long you’ve been training, when your next fight is, injury history and many other circumstances. There are some very general guidelines you can use, but your progress will really become apparent when you get a plan that works specifically for you. If you’d like a free 4-week strength and power plan, then drop your email in the box below and I’ll send it over for you!
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Dan Mennell is a Personal Trainer and Strength Coach working in Staffordshire and Shropshire.
He writes regular fitness articles and creates other informative free-content.
If you're looking for Strength and Conditioning advice or a consultation, email firstname.lastname@example.org