Not strength. Not speed. But a combination of the two – POWER!
Power is the most important physical characteristic in boxing. Power is defined as the ability to apply maximal force at speed, exactly what is needed to injure the opponent. In recent years there has been a better understanding of strength & conditioning in boxing, however many boxing coaches still lack the knowledge on how to best develop their boxers physically for the sport. In a lot of boxing gyms the physical preparation still consists of circuit training, whereby the boxers work non-stop for 2 minutes plus. Whilst, to develop anaerobic and muscular endurance that reflects the length of a boxing bout, completing circuits or tempo runs on similar time will be effective, but it is definitely not the most proficient way to develop explosive power.
In order to develop power we must have a good understanding of bioenergetics and the humans energy systems. Physical acts of power require use of the ATP/PC energy system, which is the body’s immediate source of energy for short intense bursts of exercise. We are thinking: 50m sprints, explosive punches, high jumps, hammer-throws etc. – anything that is asking the body to recruit every single fast twitch muscle fiber it has to produce the most force, at speed possible. Punching in boxing is an act of power, we have seen very fast boxers with excellent speed, but who lack the strength behind their punches to knock the opponent out. We have also seen at the other end of the spectrum, boxers who have excellent strength, but lack the speed to connect with their opponent before they move. The best boxers are the ones who have the speed to connect with their opponent but also strength behind the punch that causes a real damage to their opponent – we are thinking about fighters like Mike Tyson, Gennady Golovkin and Thomas Hearns.
“To be explosive, we must training explosively” – As simple as that! It is important that we have a good underlying level of foundational strength and movement skills so that our body is in balance and we are able to control our limbs effectively at a slow controlled speed before we move on to trying to work explosively. Strength is always at the bottom of our pyramid, followed by power and then our power endurance at the top – our ability to repeatedly reproduce power over time. If we haven’t developed our first two layers of the pyramid we have no right trying to complete power endurance circuits – it simply wont be effective. However, I am basing this article on the idea that you already have a good level of strength and motor control skills and want to expand your toolbox in methodologies of developing power. Before we look at different pieces of equipment and exercises in the gym that will be most effective for developing power, we should understand the principles behind it.
As explained, the ATP/PC system is what is used for very short high intensity bursts of exercise lasting maximally up to 15 seconds. The benefit of our ATP/PC system is that it is able to provide us with energy almost instantaneously, however the energy system requires a time of about 2-3minutes or more to replenish, depending on the individual. Therefore, if we want to improve our maximal power then doing a circuit of exercises where we are working for 30 seconds and resting for 30seconds between each exercise isn’t going to be effective for two reasons:
If we are working for 30 seconds it is unlikely we are still working for maximal power and in fact our power output will most likely have dropped, even as an elite athlete
30 seconds will not be anywhere near adequate recovery if we want to allow our phosphocreatine stores to replenish.
So when we are working to develop explosive power we should be thinking more about work:rest ratios of 1:10 or 1:15, whereby our 10-15 seconds of maximal work is accompanied with 2-3minutes of rest before performing our next round of work. Thus, if our session focus is to develop explosive power we need to factor in the rest time and understand how this will impact the rest of our session e.g. we cant simply leave 5-10 minutes at the beginning or end of our boxing training to try and put in a couple of exercises back to back and think it will be effective. Instead we must allocate a good amount of time (ideally after technique work but before any sort of bag-work/conditioning work, or ideally in a separate session altogether) to focus on our explosive movements and give time to recovery.
It is important that if we are training for power we try to find an optimal load for the exercise used. For example, we don’t want to use loads above 75% if we are aiming for a powerful movement because with that amount of external resistance it is unlikely we will be able to move very fast. Yet, we don’t want to go completely unloaded, as this will have no external resistance. We want to find the perfect medium whereby there is an external resistance to overcome, but it isn’t so significant our speed of movement is drastically reduced. But what are the best exercises to help us develop explosive power?
“Explosive power can either be worked globally with general movement patterns, or we can be more sport specific to the patterns required in boxing/combat sports”. An example of generic whole body power training, which could be applied across to any sport might be using barbell jumps with 30-50% of our 1RM for between 3-5 repetitions. An exercise like this with the load chosen would be a good way for any athlete to develop explosive lower body power – and let’s be honest there aren’t many sports that don’t require lower body power.
But if we wanted to try and be more specific to boxing we might analyse some of the movement patterns that are used and aim to develop power in these by replicating them but with a small external resistance. Some examples might included performing punches but with a resistance band around the arms or connected to a Keiser functional trainer – whereby we can replicate the same movement we would in competition, but we can control the amount of external resistance. There are numerous different pieces of equipment that we can use to develop explosive power specific to boxing, but I am going to go into a little bit more detail on four pieces of gym kit:
Landmine & Barbell
Keiser Functional Trainer
In my opinion all of these pieces of equipment are extremely effective at developing power and allowing us to move in similar movement patterns that replicate the sport. I have decided to also use different equipment along the expense scale, not all gyms will have a Keiser functional trainer, but every athlete should have money to buy resistance bands. I have decided to make this article in to a 3 part series with video tutorials, so in the second part I will go in to a little detail on resistance bands and medicine balls and a few exercises that you can use to develop your punching power! References:
American College of Sports Medicine
Boyd Epley, author, The Path to Athletic Power—The Model Conditioning Program for Championship Performance
McMaster, DT, Cronin, J, and McGuigan, MR. Quantification of rubber and chain-based resistance modes. J Strength Cond Res 24(8): 2056–2064, 2010 [PubMed]
Turner, A. (2009). Training For Power : Principles And Practice. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235336704_Training_For_Power_Principles_And_Practice