Training

Lessons for and from the Gym

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I know that part of it is just my skewed perspective, but most of what I experience in life, I either draw a parallel to what happens in boxing or to my own time in the gym. So, it occurred to me today, mid-way through my work-out that even though I know that changing up your routine is crucial to continued growth and improvement, that unless you’re making conscious choices, in some form or fashion you’re probably gravitating back towards the exercises and movements that are most familiar to you. You inevitably fall back into “known territory.” The neuro-pathways in the human brain are so engrained that, unless you make a thoughtful, concerted effort to “change it up”, you or I will naturally revert back to what is comfortable, even if it’s not best for us.

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This isn’t necessarily a new revelation for me. It’s absolutely a fact I’ve known, talked about and experienced before, but for some odd reason it took on more clarity today. If that’s the case with something so intentional and measured, like a training session, then how often am I doing that in everyday life? How about you? How often DO us all do that in our own lives…make unconscious choices on auto-pilot…ones that are not in our best interest! In spite of knowing better, that our well-being and growth is dependent on breaking out of life’s routine, we still tend to go back to what is most familiar, comfortable or “easiest.”

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Be sure that when you walk in the gym, you are not phoning it in just because it feels like it should be working. Continually ask yourself while you’re in that moment, “Is this all I’ve got? Is this the best approach? If I try this in a different order will I get better results?” Growth comes from change, big and small, so don’t be afraid to question everything. It might mean more work or require more thought, but if the hours you spend in the gym are the same no matter what, why not get the most out of them. You can spend three minutes BS-ing on the bag and getting little benefit, or you can invest the same three minutes, focusing, applying full effort, using your brain and getting better. Both three minutes have 180 seconds in them, but when it’s over you’ve either spent them unwisely or invested them in self-improvement.

This also goes beyond the gym because I’m not just talking about “going one more round” or “banging out one more rep.” I’m talking about doing things differently for better results, just by making conscious choices. Without clear ideas and the willingness to THINK our way through life, just like I was not-thinking my way through my own workout, we’re likely to get sub-standard results, even though we’ve put in the same amount of time and effort, just less intentional thought.

You don’t have to live to go to the gym or go to the gym to live, but there are some amazing life lessons to be learned there.

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LESSON: Live life intentionally. Even if it requires more thought, effort and desire, your results will pay bigger dividends. There is a time to just float down the river, letting the waves and current move you along while you relax.  BUT if you want to ARRIVE, then pick up the paddle and steer your boat to exactly where you want to go.

Advice from a Coaching Legend

Blog-main-071414If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you may have noticed that I have, up to this point, never written or spoken in first person. The reason is that I didn’t want this blog to be all about me, but instead be very technique and teaching focused. In my opinion there are variety of principles and ideas about boxing fundamentals that are pretty black-and-white so I didn’t want to let an editorial approach get in the way or cloud the message. Having said that, it’s time for a departure. I’m coming out of my shell and, from time to time, I am going to start sharing more insights about my own personal experiences, learnings and perspectives on the sport.

So, the first place I’m going to start is with something I learned from legendary trainer, Eddie Futch. Mr. Futch worked with fighters Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Riddick Bowe, Michael Spinks, Alexis Arguello, Marlon Starling; just to name a few. I had the privilege of meeting him at a boxing event shortly before he passed away. In the brief moment we talked I asked him one broad-sweeping question that he had a quick, specific and decisive answer for. I asked him, “What’s the best advice you can give for coaching fighters?” He said, without hesitation (although I’m paraphrasing here) it is having non-negotiable, clear and unwavering expectations in your gym. He said that the most important thing is laying it on the line with your fighters and spelling out exactly what you want from them and then not deviating from it or compromising. Clearly identify how you want them to perform in the gym, what you expect from them in the ring and how you expect them to behave. Don’t allow your gym to become a rec center where fighters come and go as they please and do whatever they want. Give them an exact routine and insist that they follow it to the tee.

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For today’s coach that may mean not allowing loud music during training or not letting your boxers wear their baggy drawers to hang down to their knees. It may simply mean being respectful, not being late and not using foul language. It might mean not making excuses and just putting in the work…no matter what. It’s your gym, so your rules can and will be tailored to how you want your fighters to act. Keep in mind though, that they are also a reflection of you and are they representing what you and your club is all about?

It’s also important to understand that this advice or perspective doesn’t just apply to the coach. It’s also about being a fighter.   Looking in the mirror, you have to ask yourself if you have clear expectations of what YOU are doing in the gym. Are you reliable? Are you hard working? Do you have a sincere, clear focus on what you want and why you are there? Having the answers, especially when you’re dealing with internal emotions and your character, isn’t the coaches job. As a fighter, a boxing-fitness enthusiast or a legitimate, career-driven athlete, you should be performing at a greater level than even your coach has set for you. That’s when you will be taken seriously by your peers and by the professionals around you.

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Whatever your Laws of the Gym are, it means sticking with them and standing by them, in every case and for every fighter. By Mr. Futch’s estimation that was and is the most crucial component in establishing respect and laying the foundation of a successful athlete. Without clear ground rules; technique, tenacity and skill have no real direction.

Yeah, it sounds a little bit like common sense, but are you, me or we really spelling it out to the fighters? If not then maybe begin by creating clear expectations for yourself.  Something tells me that the fighters are sure to follow.

Making Progress towards Making Weight

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Weight-loss or cutting weight has long been a part of boxing. It is oftentimes the topic of conversation among fighters, trainers and coaches and plays an integral part of most fighter’s general health and diet plan. Whether it’s a challenge in the weeks leading up to the bout or right before a fighter gets on the scales, it plays a definitive role in every boxers pre-fight preparation. Some fighters result to drastic measures in order to make way, while others take a more sensible approach to diet. Regardless, there are good ways to make weight and unhealthy ways. A few of the more healthy ways are:

Jumping rope. Studies have shown that skipping rope for five rounds (three minutes each) can burn up to as much as 20,000 calories and also helps suppress your appetite. The unusual demands and intensity that skipping rope requires also increases your metabolism so that your body keeps burning calories after you’ve stopped. So, as you’re strengthening your legs, improving your foot speed and movement, you’re basically losing weight and increasing your ability to keep it off.

Avoid energy drinks. Nearly all energy drinks are full of unnecessary chemicals, sugars and substitute sweeteners. Go natural. If you want flavor and the most benefits, coconut water is a fantastic alternative. It is low in calories, all natural and replenishes the electrolytes in your system that were lost through sweating. If you get the right brand and acquire a taste for it, you’ll quickly find that it can be more satisfying than your common energy drink, because you’re giving your system what it needs and your mind and body both know that.

Get more sleep. One of the best ways to achieve this is to turn off electronics and all artificial light at least two hours before going to bed. These artificial lights throw off your natural body clock, by making it think it is still daytime and disrupts your ability to go to sleep.Sleeping in a room that is also not completely dark, upsets your normal sleep patterns and makes your metabolism less efficient. Shut down and shut off so your body can work while you’re sleeping.

Do some light, intermittent fasting followed immediately by a rigorous workout. Try to avoid eating after 6:00 the night before, then don’t eat until you get your first workout in the following day. Preferably, that would be around noon or 1:00. When you first wake up your body has been depleted overnight of carbohydrates so you have nothing to draw from for energy. That means when you kick it into high gear with a short fast, followed by an intense workout, your body taps into your fat stores. Done periodically, this can knock out a few of those hard-to-lose LB’s.

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Mix up your routine. Your body, your muscles and your mind adapt to repetitiveness. When you do the same workout over and over, and over, your body adapts and stops being challenged. As a result, it doesn’t burn fat as effectively and fails to produce the same high level fitness results. Changing-up your routine could be as simple as the length of minutes per round you go, what time of day you work out, what your workout consists of in terms of bag work, versus mitt work, versus cardio…or it could be a complete diversion from your typical boxing routine. Anything that shocks your physical body and cardiovascular system could help jump-start your metabolism and burn additional calories/fat stores.

The options you have for cutting weight and becoming a more efficient fat-burning machine are virtually endless. The few examples above are approaches that are proven to be highly effective. In some cases they may require more effort than just putting on a sauna suit, but they will also produce more long-lasting, beneficial results. Results that payoff in the ring, not just on the scales.

Boxing Conditioning = Control

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Although once you get in the ring, you often come face-to-face with a variety of things you didn’t expect, the one thing you can absolutely control in boxing happens before you ever climb through the ropes.

You determine how well-conditioned you are and that happens in the gym, in your preparation. It’s where you put in the work that yields results come fight time OR exposes you as an underprepared athlete. Skill, talent and adaptability will take you far, but conditioning is part of a strong athletic foundation that those traits depend on.

At your best, when you are in shape, you can press the action and will be able to handle whatever you’re faced with. At your worst, poor conditioning limits your ability to do what needs to be done. Either way, it all starts and is crafted in the gym and it’s the one thing in boxing that you have 100% control over…that is, if you choose to. So…if you can have total control over this one aspect of your training, why in the world wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you go that extra round or take one last lap around the track? It could mean having to dig a little deeper in your day-to-day training, but will keep you from coming up short once you hear the phrase “Touch ‘em up.” This might sound like the typical gym mantra of “Push yourself”, but it’s much more intentional than that. This is about setting a goal before you walk in the gym with no plan other than reaching or exceeding it.

Don’t just go in the gym to do what you did yesterday or a little bit more. Plan your attack and then breakthrough what challenges you the most. Don’t make these goals and plans unattainable, but DO make them hard. Do what scares you just a little bit.   The biggest successes in the ring happen when you are faced with either breaking-through or breaking-down.

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When the going gets tough and you start to doubt yourself, don’t stop to do a gut check. Act on instinct. Don’t allow yourself time to think and second-guess yourself, just power through it. Shut out any other thought than to just keep going. Simply don’t negotiate with yourself.

If your mind wanders anywhere, make it go to the future. Control your thoughts. Don’t focus on your current pain or fatigue. Instead, think about WHY you’re there, WHY you’re training so hard. It’s to win. At the end of your workout and, more importantly, after the fight, you will live with the thrill of victory or the regret of giving-in one minute too soon.

These simple three techniques will help you master the one aspect of the sport that is totally up to you and that’s being the most well-conditioned, fully-prepared athlete you can be.

Plus, there’s another benefit of being strong and in shape. Being at your best doesn’t only show in your performance, in your appearance, but it also shows up in your eyes. When you’ve done your homework in the gym, your opponent will be able to tell it. You will exude maximum confidence. When they look at your physique and into your eyes, they will see supreme confidence. There will be no shred of doubt or insecurity and that will win you a round before the first bell even sounds.

Your talent, your technique and your plan of attack, all go out the window when you get tired. So be the master of your fate. Take control of your conditioning take the fight into your own hands.

Positioning Yourself to Punch

Blog-main-52614Although being tough in boxing is an important trait, it is only one aspect that is necessary to succeed in the squared circle. No matter what exercise you are doing in the gym, positioning plays a crucial role. That means not only your position in the ring, in relation to your opponent, but also during training.   In order to be effective from different heights and angles, you have to train with variety.

Aside from the muscles you use most, there are supporting muscles that surround and help strengthen the ones you place the most demands on. To train in a more well-rounded fashion, you need to occasionally change up your body position to strengthen these stabilizers, the muscles around the ones that you rely on most to do the heavy lifting.

One way of strengthening these surrounding muscles can be done on a heavy bag.  Of course it’s always important to punch straight and get there faster than your opponent, but when working out, especially on the bag, you can mix that up and get some muscular gains from it. To begin with, try your first round from a crouched position, even more than you would usually bend down. Fight the entire round from that position. Not only will it strengthen the muscles in your hips and thighs, it will also strengthen your back, your triceps and the back of your shoulder muscles because you’ll be punching from an angle you don’t typically fight from. By constantly having to punch upward you’re adding extra strength to lower muscles that surround your shoulders and those in your upper back.

Next round, take just the opposite approach. Stand taller than you normally would and punch down on the bag. This will also work the muscles in your shoulders in a different way. It will focus more on the upper part of your shoulder, your chest muscles and it will allow you to get full rotation on every punch.  Again, this places an emphasis on the muscles surrounding the (front) anterior deltoid muscle, which is the central shoulder muscle you use most. After the first grueling round for your legs, standing more upright takes your legs out of the equation for this round. This forces you to “arm punch” more and work a little harder to get your punches off and landed squarely. Of course, arm punching is not something you want to get in the habit of doing or to use on a regular basis, but for muscle-strengthening, and in this situation, it helps. Both from a lower and higher position, punching from various heights strengthens your back, your legs, your shoulders, your neck muscles and places different demands on your core.

The variety will also make you more adaptable. As a fighter, you never know when you will be forced out of position or out of your comfort zone. Although you may be used to and feel most comfortable fighting from one position, such as a crouched, bobbing-and-weaving style of fighting, you are limiting your ability to land the most powerful and effective blows when you consistently fight from one angle. Training for what you might experience in a fight is the only way to be prepared.

Periodically adding these variations to your routine may help you feel a little more familiar, in terms of how you use your muscles. Plus if you ever find yourself facing a much taller or shorter opponent, this type of exercise will have helped strengthen the muscles you will calling on to land effective blows.

Practice does make perfect and positioning should play a part in your preparation. And that’s way too many Ps in one sentence, but it makes the point.