Are you thinking of getting fit to start boxing, or starting boxing training to get fit? Well this guide on boxing training and fitness is for you!
We are going to take you through the components of fitness that are key to boxing. Then how to build this relevant fitness with non-boxing specific training. This will not only prepare you for the first day at a boxing gym, but get you feeling fitter and healthy for everyday life.
The aim is that when you make that first step into formal boxing training, you do not flag through lack of fitness. Thus, enabling you to get into the more specific boxing training with greater ease. Even if you are not planning on boxing, these exercises are a great way to build your base fitness level.
What are the key components of fitness required for boxing training and fitness?
It may be worth reading our guide to components of fitness if you are not already fully up to speed with what each of the components of fitness are. A quick list:
Boxing is a sport that requires high levels of each of these elements. In fact, there is probably no other sport/activity that requires such a well-rounded level of fitness.
As we go through this guide you will start to see how many elements of these types of fitness are inter-linked and therefore how training for them is also inter-linked.
Aerobic and Anaerobic fitness in boxing
Boxing also requires a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic fitness, and as such training will concentrate on both of these areas. If you are unsure of the difference between aerobic and anaerobic fitness and exercise you could have a quick read of our guide here. A very quick breakdown:
Aerobic – Exercise carried out at moderate intensity that can be undertaken for extended period of time e.g. jogging. It burns oxygen as part of chemical reaction to produce energy.
Anaerobic – Exercise carried out at high intensity that can only be maintained for short time periods e.g. weight lifting. Energy is produced without oxygen using only chemicals stored in the body.
Training for Each Component of Fitness
The next part of this guide will be broken down into sections dedicated to each type of fitness. There won’t be a lot of info on the component itself – that info is contained in this guide if you would like to read up – it will concentrate more on the training for it.
All of the exercises we will go over will not require any specific boxing equipment. Anything we cover will most likely be available in the local gym or can even be purchased and kept at home with limited storage space.
Remember what we are aiming for here is a base level of fitness that will enable you the hit the ground running when you first begin specific boxing training.
Traditionally strength training has involved training with weights. A boxer needs to be careful when weight training as the aim is not necessarily to increase muscle mass. Too much muscle mass adds weight. Increases in weight mean moving up weight divisions without the reach or power required to compete.
Therefore, boxing training needs to differ from disciplines such as weight lifting or body building. More focus is put on functional training and strength endurance. Strength drills that require a full range of motion and engage several body parts can aid in remaining flexible at the same time as getter stronger.
The really key thing for a boxer training for strength is being able to use that strength to generate power. So explosive strength is important.
A common mistake beginners make is believing that the power generated in a punch comes from the arms and shoulders. The vast majority of punch power comes from the lower body and core, creating momentum through the correct chain of movement. Functional strength training needs to recognise this and focus on these areas accordingly. Our guide to kettlebell training for combat sports talks about this in more detail.
As mentioned earlier a lot of the power generated in a punch originates in the legs.
As we are looking to gain strength in the legs, carrying out squats and barbell dead-lifts are ideal. If you are unsure of the technique to carry these out, take a look at the following links:
A number of studies have shown that the best way to increase muscle strength without increasing mass (and therefore gaining weight) is by carrying out high loads with low reps. Lifting 80% of your max in reps of 3-4 with long rest periods in between (3-5 mins) is perfect.
Remember safety is important and if you are unsure on how to do these exercises, ask a fitness professional at your local gym to show you.
Building strength in your core is also important. Rotation through the core is another part of the mechanical chain that generates punch power. A strong core will help you hold your hands up as you start to tire. Allowing you to defend and throw punches as you become fatigued.
The good news is that the compound lifts used in leg training also activate and strengthen core muscles. However, these only take the body through a straight plane of movement. Therefore, there is further rotational work that can be added to your core exercises to complete the training.
The side plank is a great exercise for focusing on the oblique muscles (side of your torso).
This is a great article describing good technique:
Another rotational core muscle exercise is the rotational medicine ball throw. This replicates the torso extension of throwing a punch and adds weight to it to further engage the muscles.
The following link has a description of how to carry out this exercise:
The final piece of the jigsaw is Plyometric training, which is using an array of jumping exercises with your body weight acting as the resistance. This type of exercise builds explosive strength, exactly the kind you need to throw a punch. It also has benefits to speed and endurance which we will cover later.
To begin with concentrate on the front box jump. A simple exercise where you stand in front of a sturdy box and leap on top of it using only a standing jump. The height and repetitions can be increased gradually to create progression.
Here is a good article explaining technique in full:
It is also key to focus on strength endurance, we will cover that in the endurance section below.
The first thing most people think of in relation to boxing is hand speed. But other forms of speed are also important. Leg speed helps generate the power in a punch, and to move around the ring to evade an opponent.
Speed is also important in evading punches up close, when there is no time to move away from the opponent. For instance, moving the upper body quickly from side to side or up and down to dodge a punch.
Let’s start off with training for hand speed. It’s explosive speed we are looking to build here, so we want to use exercises that focus on this element.
Push ups are great because they can be done anywhere. Normally a push up is carried out with a steady motion up and down. In this instance however we are looking to make the push up an explosive exercise.
Everyone one is built differently so the full range of motion is different for each person. Some may almost touch the floor with their nose, while others only go 2/3’s of the way down. For now, concentrate on the motion that you are comfortable with.
When you push make the motion an explosive one. Really fire the muscle quickly and pause at the top of the motion rather than the bottom. Do reps of 10-15 for as many sets as you can manage comfortably.
Add variation with clapping push ups, you do not have to come a long way up off of the ground, it’s more important to make them explosive. Again, spend as little time as possible at the lower and of the movement. Aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps.
Medicine ball push ups are a further variation that have the benefit of changing the motion from straight forward-backwards to incorporate a sideways movement.
Start with a medicine ball under one arm, explode in a sideways movement so you come down with the other arm on the ball. 3 sets of 10-15 reps should do the trick nicely.
The following article covers explosive push up techniques in more detail:
Now let’s talk about foot speed. The good news is that the box jumps we mentioned above are one way to train foot speed. It did say the fitness components were inter-linked at the start of this guide!
Something to bear in mind is that unlike in sprinting where you simply move forwards, in boxing your feet need to move in all directions, forwards, backwards and side to side. Therefore, it’s good to train with this in mind.
Ladder drills are great for this, most gyms and fitness centres will have a ladder, if not they can be picked up relatively cheaply. The ladder is placed on the ground and you run through them, placing your feet inside each box as you go. The key is to move your feet as quickly as you can, the small strides are ideal to replicate movements in a boxing ring.
For ladder training variations take a look at the following guide:
Boxing requires high levels of each type of endurance, cardiovascular endurance, strength endurance and speed endurance. If you can keep going for longer than your opponent, maintaining strength and speed, that gives you a terrific advantage.
Cardiovascular endurance, includes the bodies efficiency in taking in oxygen and absorbing it into the energy systems, and can be increased with training. Traditionally you used to see boxers pounding the streets running for miles to get fit. This can still play a part but it’s not the only way.
The intensity of a boxing match means that the body switches to using an anaerobic energy supply as it cannot operate on oxygen alone. Training anaerobically will get you ready for when you start boxing training. A great way to does this is with interval training.
Now comes the good news… The exercises that we have mentioned above and will mention as we go through the rest of the article can be used as part of an interval training routine. When you plan your training session just aim to carry out these exercises leaving just 10-30 seconds recovery time between them. This creates the necessary intensity to make it interval training!
The link below is a great article on interval training benefits:
To start off with flexibility may not seem like an obvious trait that a boxer may need. But what is flexibility? It’s the ability to move full a full range of motion efficiently. Being flexible is the opposite of being stiff. Put like that, it’s easier to see why flexibility is important.
Having a full range of motion will allow you to generate greater power in a punch, move around the ring more freely and duck, bob, and weave better to avoid punches.
As the power of a punch is generated by the whole of the body, increasing flexibility across the whole body is key. The best time to train for flexibility is after a workout when your muscles are warm. Static stretches are ideal for this purpose but should only be carried out on warm muscles.
6 great stretches for the end of your training session are outlined in this article.
For the purposes of this article, body composition the distribution of muscle and fat around the body.
Boxing training requires lean muscle. As we said earlier you don’t want to be burdened with great muscle mass, it will slow you down, reduce flexibility and drain your endurance. Carrying out the exercises in the other parts of this guide will help generate the lean muscle we are looking for.
Although you occasionally see a professional heavyweight boxer carrying excess fat that is the only weight division. And that is because there is no upper limit. While you can carry out the exercises in this guide with excess body fat, you will perform better without it. If you are thinking of boxing training to help you lose fat, then great, because the exercises included in here will help. As will eating the correct diet, check out our guide for more details on that.
Excess weight should not be a barrier to boxing training, but you should not compete at a weight level that is distorted by less than optimal body composition.
This is the holy grail of boxing, everyone wants to be able to throw that knock out punch!
The good news is that power is a product of strength and speed. Therefore, the work that you will be doing on these two elements will immediately improve your ability to generate power.
However, these exercises focus on either upper, core or lower body individually. The power generated from a punch comes from a sequence of movement that activates all of these parts of the body.
Therefore, carrying out exercise that also activates all of them in sequence is good practice before learning the specific technique of a punch. This is where kettlebell training comes in.
The major benefit of kettlebells is that they allow for ballistic movements, the specific type and speed of muscular contractions used in boxing. Focus should be placed on exercises that require hip extension as this is what generates a lot of the power in a punch.
A further benefit of kettlebells is that they can be used in a staggered stance similar to a boxing stance. The grip also strengthens the wrists and forearms. A knockout combination!
The number one kettlebell exercise for boxing training is the swing, which transfers energy from the legs and hips into the arms, the article below is a great intro:
Another fantastic exercise is the clean squat and press, check it out here:
This is the ability to be able to quickly change the direction and/or position of the body. Key for evading an opponent and moving into position to land a punch of your own.
The footspeed and box jumping exercises we have already covered will help develop agility. To further build agility, specific drills such as cone drills are a great addition.
Cone drills involve short shuttle runs which include quick changes in direction and getting low to touch the floor and accelerate away. This means the body moves through several ranges of motion, forwards, backwards, side to side and up and down.
The video below demonstrates some great basic cone drills:
Being able to maintain equilibrium when stationary or moving, basically not falling over! The key is being in control of your centre of gravity.
Having good balance allows you to initiate a punch from a stable position and deflect an opponent’s punch without being knocked down.
Some of the exercises we have already covered improve your balance, it’s that inter-linking again. Agility and balance are closely connected so the cone drills will work on balance, as will the box jumps.
To keep things simple, you can develop balance further with exercise that we have mentioned earlier but use one of two variations. Either carry them out on one leg or on a wobble board (also known as BOSU board).
Exercises that are suitable for this progression include:
- Kettlebell exercises
There are 5 great example exercises to improve balance in this article:
Coordination is being able to execute a sequence of exercises smoothly and efficiently. Other training develops coordination, especially repetition of movements which create muscle memory, greatly improving coordination.
Boxing requires great hand to eye coordination, both to land a punch, but also to block or evade one.
A great simple and effective way to train and improve hand eye coordination is throwing and catching a ball against a wall from a close distance. This will also work on your reaction time, which we come to next.
The video and article on this link are definitely worth a look:
In a nutshell, the time between a stimulus and a muscular response to it. Most commonly in boxing, reaction time is described as “reflexes”, how quickly a boxer sees an opponents’ punch and moves to avoid it.
The quicker you can react to a punch the more chance you have to evade it. Reaction time also governs how quickly you can detect an opening to land a decisive blow and execute it. Hopefully quicker than the opponent recognises it and tries to block or move out of range.
An element of reaction time is natural ability, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t work on it and make improvements.
The drill we highlighted for coordination will develop your reflexes. Another great way to work on them is with a reaction ball. This is a small ball with six uneven sides that will bounce in an unpredictable direction do to its non-uniform shape.
Three great basic reaction time drills are:
- Drop and catch – drop the ball on the floor from waist height and catch it on the first bounce.
- Ball toss – toss the ball into the air (2-3 metres) and try and catch it after the bounce.
- Wall toss – stand 3-4 metres from a wall, toss the ball against the wall and catch after it rebounds and bounces on the ground.
These drills are included in the video on this link:
While you’re on YouTube check out this amazing demonstration of reflexes and hand eye coordination!
But wait, we haven’t mentioned the master piece of equipment for boxing training and fitness…
The skipping rope
There is not a much more iconic image than boxers training with a skipping rope.
So why is skipping so popular with boxers?
It’s because it benefits so many elements important to boxers:
- Stamina and endurance
- Breathing training
- Perfecting rhythm and rhythmic movement
- Leg power
A piece of equipment that can do all this and yet can be found in any school playground and costs under £10. Amazing!
Check out tis guide to get you started
Wrapping it all up
Glad you made it this far, there’s a lot to take in!
The aim of this article was to demonstrate some non boxing specific exercises that will get you in shape before you start boxing specific training. It can be intimidating to enter a boxing club, especially if you are worried you are not fit enough to carry out training. Spending time increasing your fitness with the exercises mentioned here will bring your levels of fitness up so when you enter the boxing gym you just need to think about boxing techniques. Not worrying if you are going to struggle with the physical demands.
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