Updated: Aug 12
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The importance of cardio fitness in boxing has not gone unnoticed. A boxer can possess a power-packed punch and lightning-fast reflexes, but if they neglect their cardio training those other attributes won’t count for much. Ever tied throwing a meaningful punch combination when you’re out of gas? It’s nigh on impossible.
And there’s nothing worse than trying to fight on empty. When your heart and lungs are burning and your legs feel like lead, it’s as though you’re fighting battles on two fronts: one against your opponent and the other against your own body.
But with this cardio boxing workout, you will be able to develop near-limitless aerobic fitness. And, in the thick of a fight, you know you’ll have the cardio conditioning to go the distance.
Never neglect cardio boxing workouts
To get in the best possible shape for a fight all serious boxers train cardio. Even though few fighters enjoy aerobic workouts, they still commit at least five to seven sessions a week to some form of cardio exercise.
Muhammad Ali would run in the wee hours of the morning. He'd force himself out of bed before 4 am, pull on his running gear, and hit the road. Yet even Ali said that ‘I hated every minute of training.' But he also told himself “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”’
Many other boxing legends also adopted this approach. The reason? True champions always put time aside for cardio because they know that, when skillets are equal, superior fitness can decide the outcome of a fight.
Cardio fitness can win fights
Here are a couple of examples of when boxers beat their opponent with superior fitness. And in most examples, the beaten opponent was stronger, physically more powerful, and boasted a bigger punch.
Joe Calzaghe vs. Jeff Lacy – Lacy was odds on favourite to win the fight. He was touted as the middleweight division's answer to Mike Tyson; that is, short, stocky, aggressive, and dangerously powerful. Yet, though Lacy landed some hard blows, he was no match for Calzaghe's superior boxing skills and relentless work rate.
Roy Jones Jr vs. John Ruiz – Jones started his career as a light middleweight. After winning titles in four separate divisions, he made the move to fight heavyweight champion John Ruiz. Some pundits believed that this was one weight division too far for Jones and that Ruiz would be far too powerful. However, over 12 rounds, Jones clinched a points victory by out-boxing and out-working his bigger stronger opponent.
Related: When you're done here, try this Boxing Conditioning Workout
Why do this cardio boxing workout
This cardio boxing workout can help you improve your aerobic conditioning. As we’ve seen, high levels of cardio fitness can be the difference between winning and losing. But how?
A well-trained boxer is able to sustain a higher work rate throughout a contest. As outlined above, the potency of this tactic was demonstrated to devastating effect during the fight between Joe Calzaghe fought Jeff Lacy.
Over 12 action-packed rounds, Calzaghe threw a shoulder-melting 947 punches to Lacy’s 444. Calzaghe’s inexhaustible work rate quickly wore down the hard-hitting American.
While I’m not claiming that this cardio boxing workout will make you as fit (or as talented) as Joe Calzaghe, it can certainly help you improve your aerobic fitness.
This cardio boxing workout burns fat
A perennial problem of the pugilist is making weight. Most boxers typically fight two or three weights under what they walk around at. The legendary light-welterweight champion, Ricky Hatton, was notorious for this.
Hatton wasn’t famous only for his ruthless body shots and relentless output. He was also known for bloating up between bouts. (He even made a joke out of it by wearing a fat suit on his ring walk.)
For example, when he fought the legendary Mexican boxer, Marco Antonio Barrera, before he started training Hatton weighed over 15st 4lbs. To make the light-middleweight 11st cut off, Hatton had to lose over four stone of fat (that's nearly a third of his body weight!).
However, the Hitman always managed to make weight. How did he do it? Apparently, his go-to strategies included a healthy diet, torturous boxing training, and double doses of cardio.
Other benefits of cardio
Beyond boxing, cardio is beneficial for our health. In fact, there are so many healthy benefits that we wrote an entire article on them (The Awesome Health Benefits of Cardio).
But instead of boring you with a detailed discussion of those benefits (because you’re probably itching to get on with the workout – if you haven’t already done so), I’ve listed them below.
So, according to many reputable health organisations (the NHS and WHO) and professional practitioners (Kenneth Cooper, Dr Dean Ornish, and Dr Michael Gregor), if you regularly participate in cardio exercise, here are just some of the health and fitness benefits you stand to gain:
Decreases risk of a broad range of diseases (obesity, CHD, and some cancers)
Improved cardio-respiratory function
Reduction of total body fat
Increased effectiveness of the immune system
Lowers blood pressure
Improves insulin resistance
Strengthens bones and connective tissues
Related: Discover 10 Benefits of Boxing training
How to do this cardio boxing workout
You have two session plans to choose from. Of course, to diversify your training and stimulate a wider range of muscle groups and fitness components, you can interchange the plans each time your train cardio.
Before starting the workout (whichever one you choose), complete the warm-up first. Warming up is a vital part of the training process as it improves your physical performance while also reducing injury risk.
To provide you with opportunities to improve your boxing skills, the warm-up consists of shadowboxing and skipping.
Related: Best Boxing Skipping Rope
Instead of following the conventional cardio training method (30 mins of straight sweating), I’ve applied a boxing theme. Thus, the cardio bouts are organised into rounds of three minutes.
But you don’t get a minute on your stool between rounds. For the minute interval, you have the option of shadowboxing or performing bodyweight exercises.
Cardio workout key points
Before starting the cardio boxing workout, warm-up well first. Remember, warming up for 5 to 10 minutes will prepare your body for the demands of training.
Select the level most suited to your current fitness ability.
Using the plan provided, work through the number of cardio bouts listed under your training level. (Beginner: 8 x 3-minute rounds; Intermediate: 10 x 3-minute rounds; Advanced: 12 x 3-minute rounds.)
No rest breaks have been scheduled for this workout and after each cardio round, you will either shadowbox or perform bodyweight exercises for one minute.
However, if you feel you need to rest between rounds, you should do so.
Related: Learn How to Shadowbox like a pro
Boxing warm up
1 min mobility exercises (joint rotations/flexions) → 1 min shadowboxing → 2 min skipping → 1 min shadowboxing → 2 min skipping → 1 min shadowboxing → 2 min skipping → 1 min shadowboxing → Start the workout!
Cardio boxing workout hints and tips
One attribute of this cardio boxing workout that hasn’t yet been mentioned is that it can be completed almost anywhere. Across the two training plans the only item of equipment required is a skipping rope. That said, with these workouts you can keep on top of your cardio at home, in the office, or on your holidays.
Related: What are the best Boxing Training Gloves?
Both workouts lend themselves to group training. So why not recruit a squad of boxers and work on your cardio together? Exercising in the company of committed fitness enthusiasts can boost motivation while also fostering friendly competition.
Related: Essential Boxing Gear that every fighter should have
To improve the mechanics of the boxing cardio workout, use a training timer. And don’t think that you have to splash the cash on a fancy gym timer. I use a boxing interval app. As well as costing nothing to download, it is both versatile and easy to use. I can program any round and rest length while also setting inner periodic reminders – which is handy for intensity variations (and also popping in a few HIIT Intervals).
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About Adam Priest –
A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn or email@example.com.