Even though some of the old-school ideals about boxers lifting weights have dissipated, there are still many modern day fighters and coaches who hold onto the belief that lifting weights slows a fighter down. They believe that the extra size, bulk or muscle mass that can come for routinely lifting weights is unnecessary for boxing and that there are no real benefits in the type of power and strength you get from pumping iron. The fact is, they’re right, in some cases, but it its totally dependent on how you lift weights not whether you do it or not. When performed correctly, lifting weights doesn’t add unwanted bulk, muscle mass or size, but can actually increase punching power, speed and explosiveness.
First off, let’s clarify or dispel two myths. To begin with, lifting weights doesn’t have to be in the form of iron weights, dumbbells or barbells. Lifting weights can also be utilizing your own body weight or supplementing a body weight exercise with additional resistance. This resistance can come in the form of a bungee cord/exercise band, additional iron plates (placed on your back while performing push-ups, as one example), heavy chains and even battling ropes. Lifting weights is anything that forces you, as an athlete, to move a designated load at a specific speed and intensity for a specified number of repetitions.
The second myth is that weight lifting for fighters is okay if it is done with low weights at high repetitions. The fact is, if you want to enhance your boxing workout, you need to focus on moving larger volumes of weight in the range of four-six repetitions. The endurance portion of muscle growth, those that involve Type 1, slow twitch muscle fibers, are already taken care of by all of the rounds you do on the mitts, on the heavybag, double end bag and through your typical workout. Type 1 muscles consist of slow twitch fibers. These red fibers have a high number of capillaries and carry a good supply of blood. That makes them ideal for high endurance activities. They are called slow twitch fibers because they are slow to react, but will continue to supply your body with the energy it needs for hours. So, in order to maximize efficiencies in the weight room, gain strength, athletic power and explosiveness, a boxers weight training should revolve around a program that encourages repetitions done in the range of four – six times, at maximum intensity. Using lighter weights and knocking-out endless reps does little to add strength or power to your punch.
In order to take advantage of an actual weight-lifting routine that will improve your boxing performance, it should focus on Type 2 muscle fibers; these are your fast – twitch muscles. These white fibers have a lower blood supply and are key contributors to athletic power. These muscle fibers fire rapidly and produce a maximum amount of force for short, explosive periods of activity. These are the muscles that improve punching power, speed and the velocity of a punch. If you want to epitomize the old adage that speed=power, then this is where your focus should be when it comes to lifting weights.
There are a virtually endless variety of exercises you can pick from to create a good weight-based workout. The main thing in any of them is to adhere to strict form at all times, focus on the area you are trying to impact and lift with intensity. It’s not about speed, but you shouldn’t meander through the routine either. Move quickly from one exercise to the next and be explosive.
One good exercise that has some real applications to boxing is the Pull Over/Bench Press. This is especially beneficial because it is a multi-joint movement that doesn’t single out one muscle group, but incorporates several at once. This maximizes your time in the gym and is geared more towards movement, less about trying to get one muscle group to grow (developing useful power as opposed to bodybuilding). Upper body strength is important in boxing, especially when you’re working on the inside where physicality plays a role. This exercise develops that by focusing on both, your chest (pushing muscles) and your back (pulling muscles). To perform the movement, lie flat, face up on a bench. Grip a pair of dumbbells or a barbell about shoulder width apart, with your elbows bent. Allow the bar to drop down behind your head, pull it back up to your chest and then press the weight above you. Bring the weight(s) back to your chest and continue to movement for 4-6 times. An important note: when doing any kind of bench press (or even a basic push-up for that matter), keep your elbows tucked in at your sides. Do not let your elbows flare out like you see many people do when they are performing the bench press. This is bad on your shoulders and puts too much stress and strain the shoulder joint. It takes the emphasis off the chest muscles and is harmful to the shoulder joint, making it counterproductive in every way.
The tricep muscle (back of the upper arm) is highly useful in boxing. It is what extends your arm and helps put some snap on your punch. A basic tricep extension exercise is what some people call “skull crushers”. Lie face-up on a bench or on the floor with a pair of dumbbells or a barbell. Bring the dumbbells into your forehead and extend them out above your head, at a 45 degree angle from there. Extend them all the way out and get a full range of motion before bringing them back in to your forehead. Keep the movement going through 4-6 repetitions, without stopping in the up or down position.
Shoulder injuries are fairly common among boxers for reasons ranging from over-use, to improper form when punching, to just plain abuse. To develop the muscles in the shoulder more fully and strengthen the joint, the Open Shoulder Fly is a particularly good movement. Holding a pair of dumbbells by your sides, raise them up to shoulder height (don’t raise them above shoulder level). As you’re doing it, turn your palms so that they are facing outward at the top of the movement. Reverse the movement as you bring the weights down and repeat. This is one area where you should depart from the 4-6 repetitions rule. Lighter weight could and should be used when developing/strengthening the shoulders. Repetitions in the 8-10 range are better suited with shoulder exercises.
These are just three sample exercises that can be done to improve your boxing power. There are countless books on weight-lifting and videos on technique. You can even engage the services of a reputable personal trainer to help you tailor a strength-building program that will work for you. The most important thing to remember though is that the more sport-specific you can make the exercises, the better.
The key is to incorporate weight lifting into your boxing routine, but do it in a way that doesn’t encourage massive muscle growth. Remember, the term bodybuilding is not to be confused with the phrase weight lifting or strength training. They are not synonymous with each other. The intent and desired results are entirely different. The goal of weight-lifting isn’t to look like Arnold Schwarzeneggeror to have biceps that bust through the sleeves of your boxing robe; it is to gain usable strength and purposeful power.
Oftentimes being an intelligent fighter can win-out over being a powerful fighter. Part of that is not only being a smarter fighter in the ring, but also being one in the gym. How you approach your training, what principles you adhere to and philosophies you live by make the difference in your preparation. Outdated ideas about weight lifting and strength training could keep you from gaining the edge you need and progressing as a fighter. In order to become the fighter you know you can, it might require you to leave parts of the old one behind…the part that doesn’t think that the future of boxing includes lifting weights.