So 2015 is over, and a new year is upon us.
So much has happened – good, bad, and everything in between.
For myself, it was a positive year. I achieved certain goals of mine, but fell up short on others. One of the goals I did achieve was to fight in and win my first boxing match!
While I’ve helped boxers prepare for fights before, I never had to prepare for one myself. During the training, I learned a lot about the required physical preparation.
This post will go over the training side of things (the nutrition and mental aspect of training will have to be for another day, this post is long as hell already).
The first thing most people think of when it comes to boxing training is Sly Stallone in Rocky. Punching raw meat, training in the snow, drinking raw eggs, all that jazz. (I’ve done one of them =/).
While there’s definitely wisdom in the old school way, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways.
So while I did draw on the traditional boxing conditioning staples, I always try to incorporate more modern methods into my training too. I referred heavily to ‘Ultimate MMA Conditioning’, a book by the excellent strength and conditioning coach, Joel Jamieson. His methods force us to re-think the traditional ideas, and they’re all backed by science. (I highly recommend grabbing a copy of his book).
The most important thing about training, whether it’s for a fight or not, is having a plan and sticking to it. So once the fight date was confirmed I planned a 10 week schedule. I knew what I was going to be training at what stage of camp. I decided on a strict routine of 6 days on, 1 day off (my rest and cheat day being Sunday).
Initially, I was training twice per day. However this soon caught up with me and by week six I was absolutely destroyed.
I knew then that I needed to reduce the volume of work and focus more on quality and rest. Though you can get away with training twice a day for a little while, eventually it will catch up with you.
(Note: About 6 weeks into training I had to rearrange the fight date to a week earlier. This gave me 9 weeks instead of 10, but didn’t really affect my plan much.)
In terms of weight, I started off at about 71.5 – 72 kg and easily got down down to 68 kg within a month or so. At 68 kg I felt my most mobile and speedy.
I didn’t do anything crazy apart from clean up my diet a little, drink more water, and do some form of physical activity every day (usually shadowboxing).
Small changes in your daily activity add up to huge changes in your physique over weeks and months.
Weeks 9 – 1
Now, given that I was preparing for a boxing match, the one thing that was constant throughout the training was… drumroll… boxing. To improve at your sport you must regularly practice that sport.
Every day I did at least one session of shadowboxing.
In addition to this I went to the boxing gym twice a week where I got in quality sparring and an intense boxing session (bags, shadow, bodyweight exercises, and padwork).
In the first 6 or so weeks of training I sparred mainly 1 minute rounds, some rounds being ‘jabs only’ and more technical in nature. As we edged closer to the fight, the sparring got more intense and we started working in 2 minute rounds (the time of a round in a competitive match).
Weeks 9 – 5
Aerobic conditioning + Strength training
The aerobic energy system is the one that allows us to maintain longer duration sporting efforts (such as running a long distance race). In recent years, many people (including myself) shitted on aerobic training, labelling it as useless and only for marathon runners.
While it is true that most ‘regular’ people do way too much slow, long distance cardio, it’s value should not be overlooked. A well developed aerobic system is extremely important – it’s the foundation upon which all other types of cardiovascular fitness must be built (for most sports anyway).
In boxing, aerobic conditioning gives you the ‘legs’ to last 3 rounds (or 12 in the pro game).
One of the images forever associated with boxing is that of the lonely fighter in a hoodie running the streets at 5 am, aka ‘roadwork’. There’s something romantic about doing roadwork that people are drawn to.
While roadwork has an important role in developing aerobic conditioning, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Joel Jamieson proposes that similar results can be achieved by doing ‘aerobic circuits’ instead of roadwork (without the joint impact and repetitive nature of running the streets).
These aerobic circuits should last between 30-90 minutes. You do 10-15 minutes of a specific exercise before moving on to the next one. They key to these sessions is staying within a heart rate range of 120-150 bpm, which you can measure with a heart rate monitor (I used the Polar Heart Rate Monitor).
If you work outside these ranges, you are working different energy systems (or not hard enough to stimulate any changes at all).
A sample aerobic circuit could consist of any of the following exercises:
- Bodyweight exercises
- Shadow boxing
- Light bag work
- Med ball drills
- Versa climber
I did these aerobic sessions about twice per week for the first 4 weeks.
In the first four weeks I also carried on lifting weights ( boxing coaches will either tell you not to do weights, or do them completely wrong).
The weight training was of very low volume. I didn’t want to compromise my recovery in any way so I did one session per week cut consisting of one push, one pull, and one lower body exercise. At the end I’d do some traps and neck training (super important for anyone involved in combat sports).
5 weeks out, I dropped the lifting. Maximal strength lasts about a month, so I knew I’d maintain most of it come fight time. All I did was a tiny amount of upper back, posterior chain, and neck work until fight night.
Weeks 7 – 4
Aerobic training helps to prepare the body for the rigours of harder training, so after a couple of weeks I introduced sprints into my program.
Sprinting develops (and relies upon) the anaerobic system (meaning ‘without oxygen’). The anaerobic system is heavily utilised during power events, such as a 40m sprint.
In a boxing context, aerobic fitness gives you the ‘stamina’, while anaerobic power enables you to hurt your opponent with fast combinations and powerful punches.
I made sure to include sprints twice per week, either at the track or on the treadmill. After just a couple of weeks I noticed a huge increase in my conditioning (but don’t make the same mistake I did by sprinting in the morning and sparring in the evening.. I got busted up!).
By the last week of sprint training (4 weeks out), I was doing 12 sprints of about 30 seconds on an incline, full speed. I would rest very briefly and go again.
Weeks 4 – 1
Around 4 weeks out, I used boxing as the exclusive method of conditioning.
No more strength training, sprinting, jogging, or anything else. Now that I had a very good base of general conditioning, I channeled it into the boxing training.
The whole point of conditioning is to allow you to express your skill, not to get better at conditioning drills.
The intensity of the training began to increase and I did alot of ‘lactic drills’. Anybody who’s done boxing classes before knows exactly what these are. Think ‘punch out’ drills, where you have to push through the pain as the acid burns inside your shoulders.
Weeks 2 – 1
All the training from here on kicks up to highest level possible (so does the pain). All the padwork, bag work, and sparring is performed as if it were a real fight.
Training volume should not be over done in this time, and towards the end of the week the sessions should get shorter in duration, focusing on quality over quantity.
By now you should feel pretty much ready to fight. I felt extremely sharp, fast, and powerful during this period, more so than at any other time during the process.
I had one final padwork session and spar on the Monday before the fight (which was on Saturday).
The rest of the week I shadowboxed at a low/moderate intensity for about 20 minutes each day. This is the time to back off. The training has been done now. It’s all about rest and relaxation. (You should still have 1 or 2 moderate intensity sessions, to ensure you don’t start losing fitness).
I got a massage, looked after my nutrition and slept, alot. The waiting was the most painful part. i just wanted to fight. All you can do from here on is strategise and visualise.
On fight night I felt amazing. My condition was exactly what I needed it to be.
(In the third round however, I got caught off-guard with a few big shots and the psychological pressure got to me, temporarily gassing me out.
I managed to regain my wind and finished the job though).
Physical condition is EVERYTHING in a sport such as boxing. If you haven’t prepared properly, you will get found out.
Remember the saying by legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi:
Fatigue makes cowards of us all
He was absolutely right.