“Lifting weights makes you slow” is a statement often heard throughout my 10 years + working in professional boxing. Alongside “lifting weights makes you bulky”, it was a statement I come across pretty much every single week. In the early stages of my career working with fighters, my knowledge was actually pretty limited. I thought that these statements must be true, as some of the people I had heard these statements come from were people of authority within the boxing community. Yet in the back of my mind, I always wondered why world class athletes (particularly Olympic athletes) such as Sir Chris Hoy had clearly used some form of weight training as their muscles were huge, and they certainly weren’t slow.
As my experience grew, and my knowledge progressed, it became apparent that the thought process that “lifting weight makes you slow and bulky” is pretty out of date.
Science has proven that weight training does not make you slower, it actually makes you faster…!
However, there is a fundamental problem.
Whilst it’s a good thing that the world of Boxing (ok maybe UK Boxing) has finally realised the benefits that weight training, or Strength & Conditioning (S & C) training can bring to the table. The critical flaw is this:-
S & C will only make you faster when it is performed correctly.
Even worse than that, when your choice of exercises and training programme are incorrect, S & C may in fact make you slower…!
And that’s a pretty big problem.
Although more and more fighters are now open minded and are participating in S & C style training, sadly many are simply doing it wrong. Even basics such as the timing of an exercise in the training program is crucial (32), otherwise the exercise could be completely pointless.
The main reason for a fighter performing S & C work, whilst potentially increasing their strength in ‘the clinch’, is to be able to increase their ability to punch (and kick), or ‘strike’ with more power. A boxer is more often aiming to win by means of a knockout, and as many fighters will confirm, just because an opponent is heavier, doesn’t always mean they will punch (or kick) harder (23). Striking impact is shown to increase if a fighter has developed their muscle strength and power (3, 26, 27), as well as increased strike cumulative force (strikes performed x impact per individual strike) has also been shown to improve with strength and power development, thus increasing the chances of victory (26).
What this all means, and for the purpose of these blog posts, is that in order for athletic performance progress to be made a boxer must have a proven, structured plan in place that provides the foundations of the S & C training camp, and considers the fundamental basics of:
• Absolute strength
• Speed strength
• Strength speed
• Strength endurance
I’m really not sure where training techniques such as split routine, shoulder shrugs, lat raises or other bodybuilding techniques fit into a boxers training regime, and don’t get me started on battleropes (they don’t do anything for your strength or power!!).
Lastly, and before we go any further let me be absolutely clear:-
Strength & Conditioning participation even done extremely well, will not solely win you a fight. However poor strength and conditioning will almost certainly contribute to you losing, as fatigue is shown to reduce a boxers ability to utilise their combat skills. Utilising the skills and techniques of boxing should always be a fighters primary aim (29).
The Scientific Evidence Of Boxing
Research into the physiological requirements of professional Boxing is available (10) and has perhaps predictably shown that fatigue can reduce punching capabilities (29). Research states that Boxing is a short duration, high activity intermittent sport (20) and the physiological requirements are estimated to be 70-80% anaerobic and 20-30% aerobic in nature (10), which is why a large portion of a boxers training should always be boxing skill and fitness based. The remaining 20 – 30% requires athletic development.
Boxing is similar to other sports that have similar athletic performance characteristics and utilise a ‘striking’ or throwing movement (17) and research clearly shows that a resistance training program will increase upper and lower body muscular strength and power (21) in these sports. The ability to develop characteristics such as isometric strength (35) is also shown to develop increased lower limb power, which can present higher maximal power in the upper limbs (11) therefore assisting in increased punching force, and higher chances of victory in a bout (3).
This ability to generate increased force has been shown to positively influence the results of elite level combat bouts, as winners were shown to produce up to 30% more power which may affect the ability to perform a more superior punch (or kick) (28). Therefore:-
It is crucial that when participating in strength & conditioning training, whilst a boxer must get stronger, it is crucial that the emphasis of the training is based on the force – velocity curve.
Studies Of Punch Power
A number of attempts have been made to study the kinetics and kinematics of the striking techniques, in particular the punch which is the universal technique amongst almost all combat sports.
Punches are short in duration, and dynamic in action and are required to produce high levels of power (3). The limited literature available, has shown links between punch torque generation and power , and isometric strength (3, 18), as well as links with increased isometric strength and successful boxing performance (12). Testing isometric grip strength of elite boxers (12) showed positive correlation between hand grip strength and positive performance, however this study was shown to have some limitations (12) with more recent research suggesting perhaps more suited methods of testing such as the Isometric Mid-Thigh Pull (IMTP), as showing high levels of validity and reliability, as well as increased transfer to athletic performance (6, 7, 34).
Various testing mechanisms (22) have been utilised to assess boxing punch force production. The use of a punching ‘pendulum’ (1), a boxing punch simulator (18), and an accelerometer mounted onto a punch bag (30) have all been used to assess the power of the punch, with all showing some success and some limitations in validity and reliability. The use of a wall mounted Kistler force plate acting as a target is another test that has been suggested and has shown strong reliability with a coefficient of variation of 1.8 – 3.6 (22). However, the practical application of this test raised questions of the reliability and transfer to real life boxing scenarios, as some boxers reported fear of striking the plate at full force (30), the static positioning of the target compared to the multi dimensions in a boxing match (18), as well as the experience of the subjects participating and standardisation of punching technique (12, 31).
Attempts to observe differences based on punch volume and selection have provided mixed explanations (24, 31) with researchers unable to agree on one particular punch that generated the most power. Some recommendations on the characteristics of punch power generation have been offered (1, 27, 37), however based on a low number of subjects (n=7), as well as study limitations similar to previously mentioned regarding participant experience and standardisation of technique, it is advised that these findings be treated with caution (22).
What does appear to be agreed upon amongst the research available is that whilst the upper body contributes to some force output, the majority of punch force is generated in the lower limbs (8, 29, 35). It has also been suggested with some data provided that professional or higher skilled boxers will utilise the legs to generate power more so than their amateur or lower skilled counterparts (8, 36).
To my knowledge at the time of writing this blog, there has only been one contrasting study with amateur boxers (24), and more recently a study with professional boxers (29), suggesting punch force is correlated to hand velocity rather than lower limb and upper limb force production. However subjects in this study were generalised across body mass categories, gender, ethnicity, and performance standards, all of which offer possible limitations to the findings.
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