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Strength training is one of the most neglected exercise methods in boxing (second only to flexibility). This is more so the case in the amateurs. I’ve boxed at countless amateur clubs over the years and not once did the coaches integrate strength exercises into the workouts. It was always skipping, shadowboxing, pad and bag work and more bag work.
This seems to make sense considering that boxers need to know how to throw punches, not lift weights. But, as scores of studies have shown, strength training is highly beneficial for all sports practitioners. For boxers specifically, as we’ll see, building strength can increase the force of your strikes as well as improve performance generally.
Beyond boxing, strength training delivers a barrage of other benefits. We’ll consider these in more detail below, but just a quick taste. Building muscular strength can reduce injury risk in addition to promoting body composition – that is, the ratio between fat-free and fat mass.
Boxing strength training overview
Before we get stuck into boxing strength training, it might be worth orientating yourself with the layout of this article. Some of the content below may not be of interest to you.
For example, if you are looking for ideas concerning different strength training exercises to use in your workouts, the section on the benefits of building strength will be of little use to you.
The same can be said of those who want to get stuck straight into a boxing strength training workout. You can use the quick finder to access the area of interest.
Benefits of strength training
As we’ve briefly seen, building strength is beneficial for a multitude of reasons. Regular resistance training not only builds strong muscles but also strengthens connective tissues – tendons and ligaments (The Complete Guide to Strength Training). This has been shown to improve physical robustness while also reducing injury risk. And remember, the fewer days we spend rehabilitating an injury, the more time we can dedicate to our training.
One of the primary reasons to engage in resistance training is to increase muscle mass and maximal strength. A chief benefit of this outcome is enhanced sports performance. When we’ve got more strength at our disposal, we can deliver more force.
In a training context, this enables you to maximise each workout. In a sporting context, increased strength would enable, for example, rugby players to put in harder tackles and boxers to throw harder punches.
This line of reasoning is consistent with research findings from strength and conditioning professionals that indicate that if an ‘athlete’s strength at slow movement velocity increases, then power and athletic performance also improve,’ (NSCA’s Guide To Program Design).
Benefits of strength
Increased muscle mass and strength
Stronger tendons and ligaments
Increased metabolic rate
Reduced body fat by increasing metabolic activity
Reduced blood pressure
Reduced blood cholesterol and blood fats
Improved psychological wellbeing
Strength training vs. boxing training
Strength training is comparatively pedestrian to your typical high-octane boxing workout. Club boxing consists of multiple fitness components and training methods. After the obligatory skipping and shadowboxing warm-up, you’re into a solid hour of boxing drills, sparring, and bag and pad work. Depending on whether your boxing coach watched Rocky 2 the night before, you might be subjected to a gruelling fitness conditioning circuit. For 90 minutes you barely have time to think. Of course, most boxing sessions are based on the train hard fight easy mantra.
Let’s contrast this with a strength workout. Building strength requires a different approach. Because strength workouts involve heavy loads and complex multi-joint movements, the output is dramatically reduced. Slowing the session down enables the lifter to focus on their form. Technique is of the utmost importance when going heavy.
Another reason that the volume of a strength workout is comparatively low is that muscles require more recovery time between intense lifts. Near maximal loads rapidly deplete muscle of energy stores. That explains why your shoulders are fatigued after a few sets of heavy barbell presses but are barely warmed up after six rounds on the bag.
Protracted rest periods provide muscles with time to recover. This is important for two reasons. First, lifting heavy with fatigued muscles increases injury risk as it becomes harder to maintain safe form. Second, tired muscles don’t perform as well as they do when rested.
The principles of strength training have been summed up in the list below.
Strength training principles
The following list of strength training principles is based on the recommendation outlined in the NSCA’s Guide To Program Design. According to the NSCA, the most effective method to increase strength is to:
Remain within recognised strength repetition continuum – 1 to 6 sets of 3 to 10 reps.
Novice to intermediate lifters should aim to train with loads of between 67% to 85% of their one-repetition max (1RM).
Advanced practitioners should ‘alternate [the above] range with training loads of 80% to 100% of 1RM.’
Rest for one to three minutes after each set. During the rest, you don’t have to stand around twiddling your thumbs or updating your social media status. As discussed in The Strength Training Bible, while resting you can practice ‘movement quality’ tasks, such as drilling particularly challenging techniques. (Or, of course, you could always do a bit of low-intensity shadowboxing.)
Alternative opposing muscle group exercises – push (anterior) followed by pull (posterior): 3 sets of 8 reps bent rows paired with 3 sets of 8 reps bench press.
Why boxers should build strength
Building muscular strength is beneficial to boxers for two distinct reasons. First, a strong boxer makes for a more formidable opponent. This was seen in a recent contest between the reigning undefeated heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and former cage fighter Francis Ngannou.
Though billed as an exhibition bout, you would still expect Fury to dominate the fight. After all, not only is he one of the best British heavyweights of all time, but he possesses vastly more boxing experience than his opponent.
Yet, despite this seemingly insurmountable disadvantage, the incredible physical strength of Francis Ngannou made the fight tough for Fury. In the third round, Fury suffered a knockdown and it looked as though fans were in for an upset. But it was his extensive experience and ring craftsmanship that enabled him to weather the storm.
The second reason that boxers should develop strength is because it improves their durability. Staying with the example above, Francis Ngannou was caught with many crushing power punches from Fury. Punches that would have troubled other fighters. But Ngannou barely blinked as he brazenly walked through Fury’s best shots.
Again, Ngannou’s physical strength enabled him to put in an incredible performance against one of the best heavyweights of his generation.
Best boxing strength exercises
Now that we’ve covered the benefits of building strength including how it relates to promoting boxing performance, we’re going to turn our attention to a range of the best exercises.
The list is comprised of a mixture of exercises that 1) develop whole-body strength and 2) develop sports-specific strength. This is important because the strength gains accrued translate directly to the sporting discipline. In addition, they also provide additional opportunities to practice relevant movements and drills.
Take the single-arm standing barbell press as a prime example. The action of pushing (literally punching) the bar out builds strength in the same group of muscles used when punching. Furthermore, while performing this exercise, you can adopt a boxing stance and, if you don’t mind looking a little strange in the gym, you can hold your other hand up in the guard position.
In short, sports-specific exercises provide you with opportunities to sharpen your skill set.
Boxing strength exercises
Single arm standing barbell pushout
Sumo deadlift (add a high pull)
Sumo squat (add a high pull)
Barbell military press
Boxing strength training
The above list of exercises can provide you with plenty of ideas for developing a strength training routine. Applying the strength training principles outlined above, you will be able to create hundreds of different workouts.
To give you a flavour of how you can structure the exercises into a boxing strength training workout, below I have created a session plan for you to try. You could use the plan as it is, or you can amend it to suit your training preferences.
The workout has been crafted to build strength in all the major muscle groups. In addition to this outcome, the exercises selected also promote power and fitness conditioning.
For example, power cleans and sumo squats can forge physical functionality – that is the ability to apply force through a series of complex movements. Barbell bench presses and bent rows build brute upper-body pushing and pulling power.
Farmer's walk often features in world strongman events. Hence the reason that it is a staple of the strength athlete’s training diet. And finally, single-arm kettlebell presses promote both strength and power in the primary punching muscles.
Never be without a workout!
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