Scientifically proven strength and power testing
The sport of boxing has athletic characteristics that are similar to other combat sports such as karate and wrestling (12, 30), as well as a wide range of other athletic and sporting activities, which all require and utilise the triple extension movement pattern (12, 30, 34).
As suggested in the literature, lower limb force (power) generation is linked to isometric strength, and this can be assessed by use of the Isometric Mid-Thigh Pull (IMTP) (8). This data has been shown to be highly reliable (8) as the IMTP movement is modelled on the ‘second pull’ phase of the clean where the largest force generation is created (10, 14). If this test is used more frequently with boxers, the data collected could then be used to provide normative comparisons of peak force generation between boxers and other professional athletes. However it is worth noting during these data comparisons, some athletes from other sports backgrounds are well rehearsed and familiar with the ‘mid-thigh’ position, and in my opinion this may not be the case for professional boxers.
Some data does exist for a boxer using the IMTP and showed decreasing strength scores throughout the monitoring period (16), which as mentioned may be due to lack of previous experience. However a key limitation I have noted in this study, is no mention of a change in the boxers body mass, which is common place in the training camp of both an amateur and professional boxer, which could affect the data collected.
Jump height has also been shown to have a high correlation with power output and is a worthwhile test for inclusion in the training protocol of a combat athlete (2, 20). Some jump data is present in the literature observing similar combat sports to boxing (29, 37), however participant numbers were below previously recommended figures (21). Data is available in Rugby (26) which has shown high reliability and large subject numbers across the various weight differences within the squad, which could prove useful for normative comparison to boxers across varying weights classes. Finally, unlike the Squat Jump (SJ) , the Countermovement Jump (CMJ) has been shown to utilise the Stretch Shortening Cycle (SSC) (26), which has proven transferable properties to athletic performance. In my opinion it is worthwhile to test both types of jump, as any noticeable similarities or differences between SJ and CMJ could suggest whether a professional boxer is utilising the stretch shortening cycle or not, which is crucial in the programme design of that individual.
As a means of upper body testing, the Plyometric Push Up (PPU) can be included despite mixed reviews, with some studies showing high reliability compared to moderate reliability in others (17). It has been suggested (17) and I fully agree after using this test myself with numerous athletes across a variety of sports, that intraclass correlation coefficients may be improved (and therefore improved data reliability) in the PPU with strict standardisation of the testing technique, which is often lacking.
So how do we improve the power of a fighter?
Stronger boxers have been shown to have the ability to produce punches of greater quality (3) with increased isometric strength in particular, being linked to increased performance in professional and amateur boxing (3) as well as a number of other sports (35).
The use of exercises such as squats, deadlifts and bench press, as well as exercises that develop the glute musculature all play their role in the training camp of a boxer. They improve the robustness of your body and assist in the prevention of injury, as well as provide a foundation for increased athletic performance. The same can be said of multi-planar exercises that are designed to mirror the movement of a punch, and therefore create increased power during that specific movement. They work to a point, and therefore play their part. But neither will increase punch power, unless the correct exercises are used and implemented in the correct program design.
It has been shown that elite level boxers predominately generate force from the lower limbs (36). Therefore the key to the power development of a professional boxer is the development of their force-velocity profile, and utilisation of the Stretch Shortening Cycle, which has been shown during a punching action (9, 36). This has also been shown to high effect in a variety of other combat sports (9, 15). With that in mind, it is crucial that the athletic development programme of a boxer includes force velocity training, and utilisation of the SSC. If this does not occur, then a boxers ability to produce power is reduced (32).
Exercises such as the Olympic lifts, which are shown to develop the triple extension movement pattern (5, 10, 34), provide a superior training stimulus compared to other forms of training (32, 33), and utilise the SSC. The ‘2nd pull’ phase (10, 34) of the movement in particular, will create the largest increases in force production, and have the highest positive transfer into professional boxers (33) and the athletic movements required to generate power (30). However based on my applied experience, a possible limitation of these recommendations is the lack of experience of advanced lifting techniques that many professional boxers currently have. Add this to their biomechanical limitations (many struggle with a basic overhead squat due to severe kyphosis) and this could influence the outcome of the results, if these lifts were added into a professional boxers training regime.
A potential option to the traditional lifts has been shown in more recent studies using weightlifting pulling derivatives that exclude the catch, as these lifts may produce a similar or greater load absorption stimulus due to the 2nd pull phase, compared with weightlifting derivatives that include the catch phase movement (4). This would provide the solution to effective power training to boxers (and other fighters or athletes) with either low experience, or mechanical restrictions of the lifts.
The use of plyometric based exercises that utilise lighter loads, are ballistic in their nature and adopt the triple extension movements (9) are often seen in combat sports as solely a conditioning tool (9). Yet these movements are also shown to have high levels of mechanical transfer to combat sports (36) as they utilise the SSC and increase force production (5, 6), as exercises such as the jump shrug (figure 1) are situated at the high velocity end of the force–velocity curve and therefore generate high levels of power. What is crucial in plyometric training is the pattern of hip, knee, and ankle triple extension, a movement that is shown to occur during athletic performance activities and sports where skills such as vertical jumping, sprinting, and change of direction is required tasks (33). Without this movement, as previously discussed, other than a moderately transferable form of conditioning the exercise is pointless to a boxers power training and development.
Done correctly, resistance training will not make you slow, and will in fact make you faster as long as it is performed correctly. Science has proven that you cannot increase power, and therefore speed without the body experiencing some form of external load placed upon it.
Therefore as a fighter, if you are being told that weight training will make you slow you are being given out of date advice that is not only wrong, but is also reducing your athletic development. You must however make sure you are working with a coach who is prescribing the correct program design.
Exercises such as the mid-thigh pull may lean towards the development of strength within the force velocity curve, whereas body weight type exercises such as plyometrics may lean further towards the velocity end of the curve. Ultimately both will train the force velocity profile of your body and utilise the stretch shortening cycle, which have been shown to assist and increase power output.
Perhaps most importantly, a fighter must make sure that what they are being taught is correct. Many boxers will often have poor flexibility and mobility and must work at this additionally to their power training through participation in specific mobility exercises and activities such as yoga.
You will not make a boxer punch harder by only making them stronger.
It’s not that simple.
I don’t care who says that you can, it will not happen.
Isolation based exercises or “body part” exercises have very little use in helping a boxer (or combat athlete, or any athlete who plays sport) increase their power output. Whilst they may have some placebo effect, in making you “think” you are punching harder (this does actually help a little as it increases self-confidence), there is little evidence of their assistance in the development of athletic performance. As a strength and conditioning coach, you must remember that your role often involves the non-glamorous stuff!!
The work you do with a boxer or any fighter is one piece of the overall jigsaw, and is to assist what the fighter is doing in the boxing gym with their technical coach perfecting technique, sparring, doing pads and bag work. These are the real reasons (alongside great timing and footwork) for a fighter winning by K.O.
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