Boxing is a tough sport, but when you are used to watching the pros go at it on tv and you have never sparred or fought in the ring, you can sometimes be deceived into thinking its not so bad and that’s because the pros can make it look easy.
A common question I hear is how would a bodybuilder fare in a boxing ring, let’s just say it is sparring or anyone who predominantly lifts weights and looks ‘fit’. Bodybuilders and certain weight trainers look healthy, they are lean and carry a lot of muscle and can even intimidate you just through the way they look or carry themselves – or they might just have imaginary lat syndrome. The size of some of these people may also lead them to believe they carry knock out power(I am sure some do)despite never having set foot in a boxing gym before, or if they have, they have done very little outside of punching the bag and have continued to do so on every bag they have ever seen inside a weight training gym.
These people look in great shape, often they look better than the boxer does so it gives the impression they are in good enough shape to fight but is there a difference between the two? Can you train with weights, do some cardio, have a low body fat percentage and be ready to step into the ring and perform in a fight? The answer is a resounding no and I have had first hand experience of this. The picture for this article is me, the pic on the top right is when I was bodybuilding and the bottom right pic which was taken just two months later is when my workouts were more focused on boxing. One is more gym fit, the other is more fighting fit.
Going into a fight with a calf injury meant I did no running, my cardio work consisted of some sparring and that’s about it really. My weight training routine though was quite consistent and I was in good ‘shape’ to the untrained eye or if you just saw me in the gym or outside wearing a t-shirt you would say this guy looks good and he looks healthy. But come fight night it was a whole different story….within 60 seconds I was already tired.
You can be healthy and look in good shape but that doesn’t mean you are anywhere close to being in the condition required for fighting. Fighting is a high intensity high impact sport and if you haven’t been training in this way, then no amount of weight training is going to have you ready for a combat sport. Infact you could also be an avid long distance runner, and whereas this would give you a head start in fight training – most notably it would allow you to recover in between rounds it would not prepare you for the bouts of high intensity within the round or for the mental energy burnt having to defend against attacks or the anticipation of the fight. Weight training is much the same, training with weights, no matter how muscular or lean you are or how great you look does not equal to being able to perform at a high level in the ring, not sustain it anyway, you might do well for 15-20 seconds and then very quickly you would have expended all of your energy and turned yourself into a sitting duck.
In the same way a fighter can rarely go into a gym and expect to beat a bodybuilder at their game by lifting more weight than them, a bodybuilder or weight trainer will rarely step into the ring and trouble a fighter. The reason many people fall for this fallacy is two fold. Firstly it’s because anyone can throw a punch, so people think well if he is big, looks mean then he must be able to fight and hit hard right…..? Wrong, because without the training you will not punch like a boxer who will throw punch after punch with maximum speed, power and correct technique multiple times in the same time a weight trainer can throw one punch(if you are a bodybuilder carrying a sizeable amount of muscle then chances are you won’t be throwing punches very quickly) and secondly, for the reasons we have already stated, people think if you look healthy and look in good shape then you must have the cardio to handle a fight. That’s wrong again because fighters train for rounds, for low and high intensity, both aerobically and anaerobically whereas a bodybuilders main goal is hypertrophy which certainly will not occur if you are trying to lift weights for 3 minutes at a time, if you are a weight trainer or power lifter then your goal is strength, again this cannot be done for 3 or 5 minute(if you happen to train MMA) rounds, strength is low reps and maximum force. Training for Boxing for example is more speed strength, more sprinting and jump squats than bicep curls and bench press. You are moving a ‘heavy-ish’ weight as fast as you can although it also has many other aspects to its training regime such as agile strength, endurance strength and relative strength. Whereas Max strength – As the name implies, it is the most you can lift. One rep max and power lifting falls in here. Bodybuilders on the other hand train for hypertrophy – generally considered to be between 6-12 reps. The aim here is time under tension without getting into the endurance rep range. Both training methods for weight trainers do not aim to train the body’s ATP system or lactic acid system.
The ATP system lasts on average 30 seconds but can be increased to slightly longer durations of 45-60 seconds through training. It provides explosive power. The ATP system generally restore usually between 30-60 seconds. The more efficiently your body uses oxygen the better your rate of recovery.
The Lactic Acid System – lactate threshold is when your body is starved of oxygen causing lactate acid to build up in your muscles and prevents it from contracting to its full capacity. Sparring is a good method of lactate threshold training and is anaerobic in nature. We often hear of Boxers preparing for fights by increasing the round time and decreasing the rest time between rounds, this is an example of lactate threshold training which helps prepare you for your fight.
So whereas a bodybuilder or weight trainer may train the cardio system, they are not conditioning themselves for a fight situation by neglecting to properly train the ATP and Lactic Acid systems, this is the main difference between the training of a fighter and a bodybuilder which is why a bodybuilder will be left severely wanting inside the ring or cage.
Boxing Coach Strength and Conditioning Coach Boxing Writer for the Ringside Report Boxing Author of: (Available for download on Amazon) The Boxing Cheat Sheet - Your Ultimate Guide to Ring Survival Strength and Conditioning for Boxing - Work out Hits to get you Fighting Fit! Forgotten Legends of the Ring - Ten Past Masters of the Squared Circle