Boxers Did it First

Although the sport of boxing hasn’t changed all that much since its inception, many of the tried and true principles and approaches to training are still the best thing going in terms of getting in shape.  Boxing fitness gyms are still widely popular because few athletic endeavors are as demanding and challenging as a traditional boxing workout.  It’s also interesting when you look at traditional boxing exercises to realize how many are still in use, in their original form, today.  What most people don’t realize is many of the new fitness trends, that have only recently gained widespread popularity, have been a part of a boxer’s workout for centuries.  Whether it’s for boxing or just getting in superb shape, these exercise tools and philosophies worked then and they still work now.

Shadowboxing.  Recent research has led many fitness experts to encourage athletes to avoid pre-workout stretching and replace it with sports-specific warm-ups. Pre-workout stretching has actually been shown to reduce muscle strength and actually can make athletes more injury prone by placing undue stress on cold muscles, joints and ligaments.  Researchers are now encouraging competitors to first engage in light, sport-specific movements that replicate the actual activity they wile b engaging in.  Boxers have shadowboxed since the inception of the sport.  Loosening up their muscles before engaging in combat made sense then and, centuries later, it still does.  Use shadowboxing to check your form, get your mind in the game and prepare your muscles for what they have to do.  Stretch afterwards to cool down, add flexibility and relieve soreness, but always start with the sport-specific movement that shadowboxing provides.

Skipping Rope.  When most adults dismissed jumping rope as child’s play, boxers embraced the cardiovascular benefits and convenience of making it a part of their routine.  Jumping rope is widely considered a plyometric activity so vary the intensity and quantity of it as you perform each round.  Skip fast; slow down, alternate feet and your rhythm.  Make it extra challenging for around or two with cross-overs, double jumps, speed revolutions and then just have some fun with it for the next round.   The more variety of speed, movement and jumping styles you can incorporate the more benefit you will get out of it. Running in place, jumping backwards, single leg jumps and jumping jack style skips are all good moves to add variety.  It’s easy to find footage of Sugar Ray (Robinson or Leonard) putting on a virtuoso display of speed and dexterity on the jump rope.  Their coordination and foot speed on the rope is a show in and of itself, a skill they had obviously spent a great deal of time practicing and perfecting.  It’s hard to watch them and not be inspired by the athleticism and concentration involved.  What they were able to do with a jump rope can be applied to any sport and provides insights into the level of conditioning every fighter should be aspiring to reach.  Jumping rope like the fighters of yesterday is as progressive as you can get.  It adds leg strength, enhances your ability to move at angles and change direction quickly.  It will help strengthen your ankles to generate speed and power and closely replicates the type of movement you use in the ring.

Training Hours.  Timing is everything.  Boxing has traditionally been an after-school program out of convenience as much as anything.  However, it has been determined over the past few years that timing fits perfectly with the human performance studies. Scientists from Australia and New Zealand have found that variations in body temperature were directly related to performance. Body temperature varies throughout the day, but is at its highest point in the afternoon. Tailor your peak workout/performance time to correspond to your body’s natural chemistry to ensure that you’re making the most of your time in the gym.

The Medicine Ball.  The medicine ball has gained enormous popularity in recent years and is now a part of nearly every cross-fit, boot camp, muscle-confusion training routine in the industry, but boxers were using medicine balls long before it was considered Fitness Hip.  The medicine ball is actually one of the oldest tools used for improving physical fitness. They have been in use for hundreds of centuries. In fact, one of the first places they were seen by the general public was in the 1930s when president Herbert Hoover and his staff were seen on the white house lawn, playing a game called Hoover Ball.  The game looked similar to volleyball except that a heavy medicine ball was thrown back and forth over the net.  Jump forward to the mid-sixties when Sonny Liston was seen absorbing full on impact from medicine ball by his trainer, pounding his midsection and the medicine ball found its permanent home in the sport of boxing.  Nearly every recognizable fighter throughout the past century has had a medicine ball thrown at their midsection, tossed it back and forth to a partner, jumped with it, ran with it, punched at it or incorporated the medicine ball into their routine in one fashion or another.  It has become as synonymous with boxing training as the heavy bag and is about as beneficial, when used correctly.  The medicine ball enhances total body power.  It demands use of all of the muscles together to generate maximum force. Research from the journal, Evolution and Human Behavior shows that throwing things helps develop the frontal lobe of the brain, which is in charge of attention and concentration.  Add that benefit to the extra weight of a medicine ball and you’re developing brain and brawn together.  Perfect synchronization of mind and body is the ideal state for fighter to reach.

It’s easy sometimes to take your eye off the ball and get wrapped-up in the next big thing, a fancy new gadget or latest fad.  Trends come and go, but when something works it will stand the test of time.  These boxing principles have done just that and, if you’re not already using them as a foundation to your workouts, you might be overlooking the obvious.  They say that good fashion never goes out of style, but neither do good principles of exercise.  When it comes to knowing how to get fighting fit, boxing was first.

Doug Ward is the President and Trainer for the Underground Boxing Company.