Strength Training for Boxers
Jamie Hale explains the benefits of resistance training for boxers
Recently athletes from all sports have begun to realize the importance of weight training. So, why have boxers been reluctant to realize the importance of resistance training? It is because they think they will get too big and slow or lose all of their flexibility. Let me share a few secrets with you.
Functional muscle will make you faster.
Every movement you make is the result of a muscular contraction. Increasing the size of the functional unit of muscle tissue (myofibril hypertrophy) will result in faster more powerful movements. As far as getting big is concerned; this is not a simple task. People that become large from weight training put a great deal of effort in attaining maximum muscle mass. This requires large amounts of food and proper training and does not happen by accident. If getting big was as simple as just lifting weights, then everyone who spent endless hours in the gym would look like bodybuilders. On top of the dedication and hard work, proper genetics must also be present to display high levels of muscularity and mass.
The proper training program for boxers emphasizes neural training and myofibril hypertrophy which does not cause significant gains in muscle mass. (Boxers are not bodybuilders; therefore, they should not train like bodybuilders). Weight training that involves full range movements has been shown to increase flexibility. Yes, there are people who weight train that are inflexible, but there are also people who have never seen a weight that are inflexible. Incorporate a proper stretching program with your weight training and your flexibility will increase. 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.
High reps and light weights are the chosen weight training method for most boxers. This is the complete opposite of what the weight training regimen should look like. High reps and light weight do little to improve absolute strength and speed-strength (we will discuss these motor qualities in detail in a moment).
This too often used method of weight training is a form of muscular endurance training. Done on occasion this regimen would be fine. When you hit heavy bags, run, jump rope, etc. you are performing muscular endurance work. When you step into the weight room it is time to switch modes. Boxing is a sport that requires the development of multiple motor qualities. Speed, strength, and endurance are all motor qualities that must be developed in boxers.
Force Production by Muscles
1. Intra Muscular coordination - Motor unit recruitment
All muscle fibres are grouped together as motor units. A motor unit is a nerve and all the muscle fibres innervated by the nerve. All the muscle fibres in a motor unit are the same type. If the fibres are slow twitch in a motor unit, the unit is considered a low threshold unit. This unit requires light tension for recruitment. When the fibres are fast within the unit it is considered a high threshold unit. Heavy tension is required for the recruitment of high threshold motor units. When a motor unit is sufficiently activated the entire pool of fibres contract. If the message from the nerve is too weak nothing happens. This is called the all or none principle. Increasing the number of units recruited increases strength. Beginners usually have little success in recruiting numerous motor units. Advanced athletes have the capabilities of recruiting multiple motor units, which increases force production.
2. Intramuscular coordination - rate coding
The firing rate of motor units usually increases with training. This is called rate coding. When a muscle fibre is stimulated it twitches. With increasing nervous system stimulation, the twitches begin to overlap. When this happens rate coding is in action, which causes increased force production. When intensity levels are between 50-80% of 1 repetition max (RM) increased motor unit recruitment is the main contributor to strength increase. When the intensity level reaches between 80-100% of 1RM in a given movement, the main contributor to increasing force production is the increased firing rate of motor units.
3. Intramuscular coordination
This refers to the body's ability to maximize the synergist effects that varying muscles display in order to perform a movement.
Absolute strength is the maximum amount of muscle-skeletal force that can be generated for one effort (1 RM). According to Tudor Bompa (Romanian strength coach), no visible increase in power takes place without a substantial gain in absolute strength. Absolute strength forms the foundation for increasing speed-strength.
Strength divided by time, or force x distance divided by time. In Charles Staley's book The Science of Martial Arts Training, he lists 3 parts to speed-strength.
1. Starting strength
This is the ability to turn on as many muscle fibres as possible at the beginning of a movement. Examples: coming off the line in sprinting or throwing a quick knockout punch.
2. Explosive strength
This is the ability to leave on the muscle fibres once they are stimulated, referred to as the rate of force development. Examples: 100m sprint, shot-put).
3. Reactive strength or reversible strength
This refers to the body's ability to store potential kinetic energy in the eccentric phase and convert it to actual kinetic energy in the concentric phase. Example: bending down at the knees and immediately jumping upwards. When developing programs for boxers, keep in mind each athlete's requirements are different, a fact many strength coaches fail to appreciate. The same program will not be appropriate for every boxer. The law of individuality should be recognized to maximize training results. Apply the priority principle (giving special attention to weak areas) when designing programs. Before we discuss specific training regimens I would like to address a few subjects that are relevant to boxers.
The primary energy pathway utilized in boxing is the glycolytic pathway which is part of the anaerobic system. Boxing is not an aerobic sport. There is no need to run 5 miles every day. Done on occasion this would be fine. In general, running 1 to 2 miles 3 to 5 days per week is recommended. Sprinting is beneficial for athletes involved in boxing. Sprinting at moderate or low intensities can be performed 2 days per week. While sprinting at high intensities is performed once per week
The purpose of plyometric drills is to enhance reactive strength. Fatigue should be avoided when performing plyometrics. Before beginning an athlete on a plyometric program make sure the athlete has sufficient muscularity and conditioning. Plyometrics can be stressful to the connective tissue, the nervous system and muscles. Begin programs with light intensity plyometrics and advance to higher intensities. Allow adequate recovery time between sets. If the speed of movement declines, terminate the movement. Stop plyometric activity 1-2 weeks before a competition.
The abdominals include the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, and internal and external obliques. The main function of the rectus abdominis is flexion of the trunk. This happens when the distance between the sternum and the pelvis decrease. Keep in mind sit-ups and hanging leg raises provide minimal stimulus to the rectus abdominis. These exercises are primarily hip flexor movements. The middle layer of the abdominals is called the external and internal obliques. Their main function is rotation and flexion of the trunk. Performing side bends do not work the obliques. This exercise stimulates the side flexors. The transverse abdominis is the deepest layer of the abdominal wall. This is primarily a respiratory muscle. This is a deep-lying muscle that has no visual effect. Training this muscle for appearance purposes is a waste of time.
I can do 100 crunches, therefore, I have great abdominal strength. Doing 100 crunches is not an accurate indicator of abdominal strength. Performing multiple repetitions is endurance training.
A test for abdominal strength
Lie on a decline bench and place 35lbs. behind your head. Now begin to perform crunches. This would be an example of strength training for the abs. When your abdominal strength increases your overall strength will usually improve. Perform abdominal training 2 to 4 days per week and include one strength training session per week.
Training Program design
Before designing training programs for individuals there are things you should know. I administer a questionnaire to the athletes before I design their programs. Questions include things like a current training program, experience, nutritional profile, medical problems, etc. I also perform a length assessment which measures flexibility. Muscles need adequate length to perform optimally. When a muscle is too short the actin-myosin overlap is too great which limits force production. The optimal overlap between actin-myosin filaments is 50%. Short muscles also contribute to postural problems and insufficient movement patterns. I would recommend contract-relax stretching to increase the range of motion. A muscle can also be too flexible which results in reduced force output. Excessive flexibility means the myosin-actin strands are too far apart. If you suffer from excessive flexibility avoid stretching that particular joint or muscle. You will find with the assessment each individual is different. Our main goal is to develop the athlete's weak spots and develop muscle balance and neuromuscular efficiency.
The following program is for an experienced boxer who has a sufficient strength and conditioning base. This program is not recommended for an inexperienced boxer.
By following the guidelines and principles presented in this article your power and speed in the ring will increase.
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About the Author
Jamie Hale is a Sports Conditioning Coach in the USA, member of World Martial Arts Hall of Fame and contributor to numerous exercise and sports journals.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: