One of the biggest compliments a boxer can be paid is when someone says that he “has heart.” Inside the boxing ring, that means you can take a punch, you show an undeniable will to win, you relentlessly fight to the finish or are just plain unstoppable. As much as any fighter would take pride by having his name associated with that particular phrase, “he’s got heart”, how many actually work on it? Wait…what…you can work on it? Yep. If you think that having “heart “is something you’re either born with or not, then think again.
For starters, consider this…your heart is a muscle.
Over the course of your lifetime, your heart will perform more physical work than any muscle in your entire body. It is estimated that the human heart puts out anywhere from 1 to 5 watts of power every minute. This is a lot less than the maximum power output of the quadriceps. Your quads can produce over 100 watts, but that’s only for a few minutes. By comparison, your heart works continuously, throughout your entire lifetime, with no rest. It’s even working when you’re sleeping and while your other muscles are recuperating. So, its consistent output of just one watt, continuously for your whole life, means it produces somewhere in the neighborhood of two and a half gigajoules of power. The bottom line is…that means that your heart is THE most powerful and responsive muscle in your body.
For comparison, the human muscle grows when it is first torn down. It re-builds and repairs itself bigger and stronger to protect the fibers from further damage. A muscle that is repeatedly broken down, like that of a bodybuilder, grows and becomes bigger or more powerful. It adapts to the intense demands and physical exertion that is being placed on it. This also applies to boxing and the rigorous training that any athlete undergoes in the gym. That’s not to imply that you want to really break your heart down, but you do want to test it a little.
Now that we’ve established that the heart is a muscle and muscles can be forced to adapt and grow, what does that mean in terms of having “heart” in the ring? Well, although some may say that the term “heart” is really an expression and has no real correlation to the actual structure and function of the human heart as a muscle – that may not be entirely true. If you believe that having heart isn’t really about physicality, but is more about mental determination, you might want to be open to the idea that it could be a little of both?
It’s safe to say that mental toughness is developed primarily through pushing the limits of endurance and finding that breaking point where growth can then happen. This can come from running farther, training faster, lifting more weight or fighting on and testing your will to win. When you’re building a muscle, it’s the same process.
As it relates to building heart, it may come down to the simple task of going that one extra round or taking a couple more punches than you would normally feel comfortable taking (not on purpose of course). If you’re a coach or trainer, that test may be letting your fighter spar with someone slightly better or more skilled to make him flex his heart muscle, find out what the level of his internal resolve is. That doesn’t mean that you let him get beat down, but just make him question his ability to fight on a little. This will force him to become stronger in his convictions (if improving is really his ultimate goal).
Gaining more heart isn’t achieved through belittling a fighter, bombarding him with negative criticism or crushing his spirit by constantly overmatching him. But, if performed successfully, the process of gaining more heart will push him to the edge of vulnerability and allow him to fight his way back to the “safe ground”. It is accomplished by working him to the point where he believes he can’t throw one more punch, take one more step or go one more round and then encouraging him to do it anyway. Through his new found success, he will gain confidence and will increase his determination to ask for more each time he laces on the gloves.
Boxing asks of anyone, from the beginner to the world champion, “Have you got what it takes? Do you want it bad enough?” For the athlete who answers “yes”, there are all kinds of opportunities for growth. He will become bigger, stronger and be able to endure more. That’s the kind of character that makes world champions in the ring and successful human beings out of it. All they have to do is put their minds to it, put their hearts into it and then make things happen.
And that’s the power of boxing.