Strength and Conditioning for Boxing Athletes

Most boxers are reluctant to undergo strength training because of fears of gaining weight or feeling slow. These provide barriers for strength and conditioning coaches, as athletes will often enter competition in a state of fatigue, dehydration, and rapid weight loss, which have multiple side effects harmful to their health and long-term success.

This short piece will rationalize the use of strength and conditioning within boxing and dispel any of the myths that seem to prevail to this day in some of the current boxing folklore. This will present athletes and coaches with evidence-based practice that can easily be applied to a boxers current preparations to enhance training and competition performance.

Introduction

Obviously professional bouts can vary from 6 x 3 minute rounds, to 10 x 3- and 12 x 3 minute rounds depending on the governing body and other factors. Amateur bouts are currently 4 x 3 minute rounds, with fights every 2-3 weeks sometimes depending whether they’re club shows or competitive bouts (ABA regional or nationals, for example). Previous scoring (and the outcome of the contest) was based on impressionistic judgements, whereas now boxers are rewarded for landing punches of sufficient force upon the opponent’s target area. Obviously, this has implications for strength and conditioning due to punches requiring ‘sufficient force’ to score points. Weigh-in times will also vary depending upon whether the bout is an amateur or professional, and can vary from the day previous, the morning of, or 6 hours prior to the fight/competition.

Physiological Requirements

There is no doubt that sparring provides the most specific stimulus in terms of optimally adapting the energy systems for competition. However, sparring won’t be present in training all the time so it up to the coaches or strength and conditioning coach to identify the demand for energy during competition and create training interventions to elicit the required physiological responses. There is a high demand of the PCr system, and anaerobic glycolysis, with moderate demand for aerobic metabolism. The bout has the potential to last 36 minutes (12 x 3 minute rounds), but research has shown heart rate ranges of 170 – 180 bpm for sparring, producing 9 – 12 mmol/l blood lactate levels at the same time. This will obviously be affected by the tactics or style of the fighter and their opponent. The fight has the potential to go all the 12 rounds, but the intensity the fighter can take it to will be dependent upon the PCr system, and anaerobic glycolysis, with the aerobic system requiring to be efficient in order to recover from the high intensity bouts. Boxing athletes have shown VO2 max values ranging 57 – 64 ml/kg/min depending on weight category, which isn’t surprising. Most of their work will be predominantly long runs and circuit based body weight training which will increase aerobic endurance. This is an old school way of training and because previous athletes had success doesn’t necessarily mean it was an effective means of training, and research supports there are far more effective ways of improving aerobic endurance and high intensity performance.

Biomechanical Requirements

Whether it’s a jab or a rear hand punch, each punch involves proximal to distal sequential triple extension whereby the ankle, knee, and hip extend, and using the additional links of the kinetic chain (the trunk, shoulder, and arm) they then apply this force to the opponent. The below table from work by Verkhoshansky in an article by Anthony Tuner, illustrating the higher level of the athlete, the higher the contribution from the legs in punching.

Boxing Mastery

Research has shown fast movements in boxing implicated contraction times between 50 – 250 milliseconds, indicating the importance of explosive strength (rate of force development), but there is also a high need for maximal strength. For instance, a boxer could have a high rate of force development but if the overall level of force is low, it doesn’t matter how quickly the force is developed. The goal is to develop high levels of strength, and apply this force in rapid time.

Nutritional Requirements

Boxing athletes utilize several pre-fight strategies to make the weight. Most of the time they make the weight, but this can be harmful and cause potential side effects. Common strategies include restricting food intake, restricting fluid intake, dehydration, excessive layers of clothing, sauna, and laxatives. As a result, here are potential physiological side effects such as sever dehydration, hormonal imbalance, reduced strength, nausea; psychological side effects like headaches, sleepiness, reduced cognition ,reduced vigor; and performance side effects like reductions in anaerobic performance, decreased myocardial efficiency, and reduced time to exhaustion in aerobic activities. It is the coach and strength and conditioning coach’s responsibility to educate the athlete and provide healthy alternatives to long-term nutritional compliance than short-term rapid weight loss strategies. Boxing athletes tend to undertake high volumes of training requiring moderate carbohydrate intake (~7 g/kg/bw) in order to support glycogen storage for training and recovery. The carbohydrate intake should be individualized to the athlete depending on training volume, type, and weight category. Protein intake for power sport athletes is 1.4 – 1.7 g/kg/bw and will support muscle growth and repair. The biggest opportunity the coach may have to increase carbohydrate intake may be the post-workout shake/meal. Adding simple sugars such as dextrose to a protein shake will promote glycogen and protein synthesis whilst gradually increasing the overall carbohydrate intake within the diet. Another easy method is to utilize a carbohydrate based drink before and during training sessions to remain hydrated. Simple isotonic drinks will suffice or make your own by using 500 ml water, 50g dextrose, cordial, and salt.

Common Injuries

Boxing injuries primarily occur at the hand, wrist, shoulder and elbow. Over a 10-year period, hand and wrist injuries occurred most during sparring, training and competition. Lower extremity injuries were observed at the knee, ankle, leg and foot, respectively. As the head is required to absorb blows, eccentric strengthening of the neck may have defensive benefits impacting the brain.  Boxers also tend to develop anterior musculature more than posterior likely due to the amount of punches thrown and circuit training built on bench press and press ups.

Performance Testing

Skinfold Assessment: to identify body fat percentage (research has shown body fat % between 12 – 17 depending on weight category in amateur boxers. (It is likely to be lower in professionals)
Vertical Jump: Measure of lower body power through the Sayers equation
Barbell Bench Throw: To measure upper body ballistic strength, can also be performed with a medicine ball throwReactive Strength Index: provides a good indication of the stretch-shortening ability of the athlete
1RM Bench Press: maximum upper body strength, and can prescribe ballistic barbell training loads from 1RM value
1RM Chin Up: maximum upper body pulling strength. Should be equal to 1RM bench press by adding resistance
1RM Power Clean: only perform if the athlete has adequate technique

Strength and Conditioning Programme

The following programme is an example of 2 sessions per week as typically boxing training will take place on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, leaving Tuesday and Thursday ideal to fit in strength and conditioning sessions. As the volume of boxing training is likely to be high, a selection of ‘bang for your buck’ exercises is warranted to effectively use your time with the athlete. Therefore, the volume of strength and conditioning work (sets x reps) will remain moderate-to-low, whereas the load will be high. This doesn’t mean training to failure, but enough stimulus to challenge the neuromuscular system. A general rule is ~80% 1RM. Progressing to power sessions involves varying loads as different exercises elicit contrasting power outputs across a spectrum of loads. For instance, power output in the Jump Squat is greatest at 0% 1RM, whereas it is 40 – 60% of 1RM Power Clean in the Mid-thigh Clean Pull.

Strength Boxing

Exercises such as plyometrics can be included as part of a movement preparation or during the rest intervals between sets. As the rest intervals should be >2 minutes, this allows ample time to perform low level plyometrics such as drop landings, box jumps, hurdle jumps, gradually increasing the height of the drop, or performing lateral jumps and/or single leg variants.

Recommended Reading

Aagaard P, Simonsen EB, Andersen JL, Magnusson P, Dyhre-Poulsen, P. (2002). Increased rate of force development and neural drive of human skeletal muscle following resistance training. Journal of Applied Physiology, 93(4), 1318-26.

Burke, L. M., Kiens, B. and Ivy, J. L. (2004). Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery. Journal of Sports Sciences, 22,1, 15-30.

Capello, G. (2011). Amateur boxing – Needs analysis and strength training recommendations. Journal of Australian Strength and Conditioning, 19(2), 38-60.

Cormie, P., McCaulley, G. O., Triplett, N. T., and McBride, J. M. (2007). Optimal loading for maximal power output during lower body resistance exercises. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39 (2), 340-49.

Kawamori, N., Rossi, S.J., Justice, B.D., Haff, E.E., Pistilli, E.E., O’Bryant, H.S., Stone, M.H. and Haff, G.G. (2006). Peak force and rate of force development during isometric and dynamic mid-thigh clean pulls performed at various intensities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(3), 483–491.

Khanna, G. L., and Manna, I. (2006). Study of physiological profile of Indian boxers. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 5, 90-98.

Turner, A. (2009). Strength and Conditioning for Muay Thai Athletes. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 31 (6), 78 – 92.

Benefits of Interning

Internships, whether paid or unpaid have many benefits. I’ve done my fair share of internships. Here are some benefits.

Develop a System

Unless you’re working alongside one coach, internships will allow you to observe coaches from a variety of departments – performance, skills, technical, rehabilitation, nutrition etc. This is good as coaches have different ways of coaching and communicating with their athletes. This isn’t just verbal communication, but their visual (body language) forms of communicating. Plenty of teams I’ve had the chance to work with had coaches of differing styles – autocratic, democratic, loud, reserved, alpha-male, the list goes on, but it’s how you get to the end result of improved performance and the athletes buying into you as a coach and person, not the programme. The same goes for programming and periodization. Working with many coaches isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong, but what ideas can you take from all the coaches you work under, and implement them into your own coaching system and methodology going forward.

Learn Cultures

During my time in Australia and the USA I was fortunate to work with so many sports. This is huge for interns as all sports have their own culture, their own banter, codes of conduct etc. It requires you to adapt your coaching style to fit the needs of the sport and athletes. The more you can adapt and talk their language, whatever their sport, will only improve your chances of coaching it successfully. There is talk that having previous experience in certain sports increases your chances of employment. I can understand that it demonstrates experience of culture, scheduling, etc but nothing will ever replace good coaching and education. I’ve been fortunate to play sport to a pretty decent level, with many team-mates and previous opponents going on to play semi-professionally/professionally, but don’t know the first thing about the needs, demands or how to coach at all. I think it’s the culture the profession has been brought up in, but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right.

Earn Respect

This goes for earning respect from coaches and athletes. It’s pretty likely you’ll go into an internship and do nothing but setup and breakdown equipment for the first month or so. This isn’t because coaches just see you as an extra pair of hands. This is a test of your attention to detail, organization, and initiative. If you can’t follow a set of basic instructions to setup a few cones and equipment in an order so the session flows smoothly, then how can the coach trust you coaching a technical lift with their star player? You have to earn the right to coach those players. Do the small tasks extraordinarily well and you’ll get your chance to coach. The same applies to building the respect between yourself and the athletes. Most interns are too quick to go in correcting technique when they haven’t even introduced themselves or asked the athlete their name. I think the saying is ‘athletes don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care’ and this is true. I heard a podcast recently featuring Jon Gordon who calls it ‘tough love’. Yes we want to be tough on our athletes, hold them accountable to their part of the training process, but before we can be tough we must love the athletes. Coaches need to go deep inside the athlete and find what makes them tick, what motivates them, why they do what they do. In a squad setting, differing personalities exist, and again we need to be adaptable and call on our experiences of working with different coaches, sports, sexes, and cultures.

Work Hard

The two best experiences I’ve had in life were again in Australia and USA. I’ve never worked so many hours on the floor as I did there, but I loved it. Long days, 5:30 am start to get a workout in, 4-6 groups per day, 2-3 groups in the evenings, finishing at 8:30 pm, there is really nothing better in my opinion. This is just session delivery, not accounting for the planning and evaluation, what went well, what didn’t, what needs to change, what can stay. If you are successful in attaining an internship in a big organization (well done), but you’ll also be doing the ugly jobs. Laundry every hour, wet and dry cleaning the gym floor, organizing the equipment storage, prepping pre-and-post workout shakes. All the little jobs which you think you’re above, but you’re not. I’ve witnessed coaches who’ve been in the game for 20+ years still doing laundry, replacing cutlery, picking up trash off the floor. If you think you’re better than those miniature tasks you’re wrong. I heard several Undergraduate students complain when they were handed their Semester 2 timetable because they had lectures everyday. Firstly, lectures everyday means you’re learning more continually, so if you pay attention you should retain more information. Further, lectures are about 2 hours maximum. If you’re complaining about having 2-4 hours of lectures every couple of days then you will be in a big shock upon entering  employment. Saying that, you probably won’t get employed for the reasons just mentioned.

Become Part of Something

I’m sure most people look at internships as another step on their ladder to the end goal. That is fine, but don’t get drawn away from the here and now. You should look to leave a trail of success on all your positions, no matter how good or bad they appear to feel at the time. Yes you could be at a prestigious club/company but if you didn’t contribute anything whilst you were there then it’s worthless. The person who’s interning with a less glamorous sport/organization and performs exceptionally well is more equipped when it comes to making that next step than those aim to use the status of their employers, as opposed to their skills and initiative. By truly embracing the experience you’ll definitely get more out of the internship, it’s what you make of it. If you show that you’re willing to learn and want to contribute, coaches will go out of their way to help you. This relates back to earlier points regarding respect and hard work. I’ve been part of staff and intern teams that were incredible. We all had goals we were chasing, but worked for each other and got our rewards as a result. For me it’s all about the people. The athletes, other coaches, interns – how I can help others achieve their goals. If you can surround yourself with the right people it is so important in achieving your mission.

CT

Choosing a Periodization System to Maximize Individual Performance

Here is a link to another video from 2012, this time from Nick Winkelman at the 2012 NSCA National Conference titled ‘Athlete Profiling: Choosing a Periodization System to Maximize Individual Performance’. Nick is the Director of Training Systems and Education at EXOS (Formerly Athletes’ Performance) overseeing all mentorship education courses and heads up the NFL Combine preparation at the EXOS Arizona facility alongside his colleague Denis Logan. He has completed his Masters in Strength and Conditioning at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia, and presents all over the USA on the Perform Better circuit. Nick was recently a Keynote speaker at the 2013 ASCA National Conference and will be a Keynote speaker at this years UKSCA National Conference. I was fortunate to work with Nick during my Internship at EXOS last summer when he wasn’t around the world presenting or coaching on mentorships and  it was a great honour to go to him for advice and I learnt lots from someone who is playing a pivotal role at the forefront of improving athletic performance and education. This video is a great resource for any coach/student and you don’t need to be a member of the NSCA to view the video. Below are some notes which I took from the presentation and I have also attached the lecture slides courtesy of the NSCA.

http://www.nsca.com/Videos/Conference_Lectures/Athlete_Profiling__Choosing_a_Periodization_System_to_Maximize_Individual_Performance/

Winkelman Athlete Profiling

Nick began his talk with special thanks to a handful of people including Mike and Meg Stone – again recognition to two of the most influential people within sports science. Nick outlined that there has never been a lecture explaining the entire continuum of periodization, coaches will present how they periodized their athletes training, but is that how we should train all athletes? This presentation gives us perspective of which periodization style to use in your environment.

There are certain critical factors that allow you to select a form of periodization such as environment (gym space), time in season (in-season, off-season), level of athlete (elite, youth, college, military, beginner, untrained).

Just as the body is dynamic in adaptation, we must have periodization that is dynamic to match that adaptation.

You do not get performance enhancement until you walk through the door of recovery.

Maximize recovery to elicit performance effect, to coincide with in-season capabilities.

It is important to monitor training. How do you know if volume, intensity, and volume load is doing precisely what it’s prescribed to do? Tracking volume load (sets x reps x load) daily, weekly, and monthly gives the coach an objective view of the training process. We also need a subjective view (rate of perceived exertion) to make adjustments – one athlete could report a 4 whereas another 9 for the same workout, one finds it easy, another hard.

Why periodize? Diminish overtraining by managing load, intensity and recovery.

The goal is to optimize performance over the sporting season (longitudinally).

Sports specificity vs. sports relevance. Is a back squat specific to sprinting? No. Is it relevant? Yes. Relevance creates the basis for specific work. By working on strength in say, the back squat. You are increasing the strength and anatomical adaptations needed for when it comes to progressing to more specific exercises (bounding, plyometrics, accelerations). Nick used the analogy “take the care in the garage to work on the motor. We’re not working on the driver, but if we work on the motor we optimize the drivers capabilities on the field”.

Winkelman Considerations

Ask yourself, is what we are doing in the weight room transferring to their sport?

Understanding what the sport helps you develop/maintain is different to understanding what they need to be successful in the sport. What do I need to train vs. what can I get as adaptations from the sport.

Use of an unload gives the body time to catch up (supercompensate). For example a 4 week training cycle would usually require 4 weeks to achieve a peak. The taper in the NFL Combine at 4 weeks prior to combine has given athletes more consistent performances.

Elite athletes can push past the typical 3:1 paradigm, sometimes 4:1, 5:1 or 6:1.

Using sequential/potentiation will merge qualities – hypertrophy >> strength >> maximal strength >> power. Optimal transfer = result of complimentary sequencing.

If using a concurrent approach, we want no change or an increase, definitely not a decrease in performance.

More overload during the off season is non specific, but does its job to maximize overload. The most specific task athletes can do is play their sport, every other derivative in non specific.

Strength in appropriate areas will build coordination. Using the back squat and plyometric example from before, back squat will provide the overload, the plyometrics decrease ground contact time, provide morphological and neural  adaptations – resulting in greater transfer to sprinting than the pure back squat itself.

Winkelman Progresseion

Early to ripe, early to rotten. The shorter you have to develop a quality, the shorter time you have to use it. If you have not worked on a quality long enough and enter the in-season, the quality (or lack of) will decrease quickly.

Winkelman Residuals

Novices will adapt to anything.

Non-periodized periodization works with untrained due to their lack of training history. There is no difference in undulating vs. linear theme of periodization. Lack of differences due to laying down the anatomical adaptation from new stimuli, without knowing how to express that new found strength.

A linear model seems to prepare the body better moving forward through longer exposure for anatomical adaptation by saturating the system, laying the foundations for future higher intensity work. If performing daily undulating or weekly undulating periodization – the body has less exposure for saturation to occur, therefore no sequencing for adaptation.

When working with intermediates increase variation on 3 levels – phase, weekly, and daily through summated microcycles and heavy and light days.

Phase by phase to weekly undulating intensity manipulations provide suttle manipulations rather than large variations. See the slide below with the changes in relative intensity rather than changes in themes. The sets and reps can stay the same, but by simply reducing the intensity by 10% the focus can shift from strength to power rather than a completely different theme.

Winkelman Undulating

Off-season = focus on saturation
In-season = maintenance. Don’t over saturate by changing between speed and force days, not themes! Think exposure but not depletion.

Long season sports – manipulate the 3 levels – phase, weekly, daily.

Advanced athletes can make use of delayed transformation through concentrated loading in conjugate sequence model. Focusing on one stimulus saturates the system with limited concurrent development of other biomotor abilities.

Conjugate Sequence

Conjugate sequence is ultimate overreaching and best for high level athletes. Preferably with an Olympic sport, but can be done in team sports/long season sports in short dosages.