The Importance of Roadwork
Roadwork – when fighters refer to ‘doing their roadwork’ they mean running or jogging. Roadwork is as old as Boxing itself, from the black and white film of the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson running in his boots to the late great Muhammad Ali, even the Rocky movies made roadwork famous when Stallone ran by the art museum in the mornings, roadwork is an essential part of a fighters armory, in fact it is arguably the most important aspect. It was another all time great Boxer, Sugar Ray Leonard who said ‘Your legs will either get you into trouble, or get you out of trouble’ and nothing could be closer to the truth.
There have been those who have said you don’t have to do long runs, they are a thing of the past, people didn’t know any better in years gone by and its just become traditional for a Boxer to do long runs, today’s science has proven that because Boxing is an anaerobic sport, sprints or sprint intervals would be of far better benefit to a fighter so the long runs should be consigned to the scrap heap or at least lessened, but can you go into a fight having trained sprint intervals alone?
The answer is obvious, you need a combination of running routines, the long runs are essential, they provide the aerobic base and increase endurance as well as strengthening your legs. A crucial aspect many might overlook is that these long runs also help your recovery, you have one minute to recover between rounds, by going for long runs you are not only increasing your aerobic capacity, you are reducing the amount of time it takes for you to recover. Someone who is unfit might run for 30 minutes but it will take them a lot longer to recover from their run than someone who is fit and when you have 60 seconds to go again for the next round of the fight, this is extremely important. Sprint intervals are obviously great too, in a fight there are periods in which you move around the ring, not throwing many punches, then there are bursts of activity where lots of punches are thrown, sprint intervals are a good way to replicate this. I would advise sprint intervals to replicate your rounds, I do this by sprinting the width of a football pitch and then jogging back, sprint again then jog continuously for 3 minutes, rest 1 minute and repeat, if you are a white collar or amateur boxer who participates in 3 round fights then 3-6 rounds of this should be sufficient, on top of your longer runs during the week. Amateur bouts may only be 3 rounds but they are very intense and fast paced, you can’t really pace yourself in a 3 round fight as you’ll end up losing so make sure your training mixes the long runs with high intensity running such as the sprint intervals so you are ready for your bout.
Roadwork is also not just about running forward, as mentioned above, try to replicate the movements in a Boxing ring, this means moving backwards, so running backwards and running side to side. Running backwards and side to side will work your legs differently and give you an edge in the ring, this requires more effort from the hip flexors and inner thigh muscles than just your ordinary forward motion run will, and will condition you to move faster and be more efficient at lateral movement which in turn will help you punch on the move and punch using angles. Running up hills or on an incline on the treadmill is also another way to add to your roadwork. Don’t forget, when you enter the Boxing ring for a fight, you may be fighting in a ring which is smaller than one you are accustomed to because the guys putting on the show want you to fight, they don’t want you to have lots of space in the ring, they want to put a show on for the crowd, be prepared for constant action.
Don’t learn the hard way by going into a fight without putting in the roadwork and ending up gassed in the ring, the ring is a very lonely place to be when you are gassed and have to continue to fight for another 3 rounds against someone trying to knock your head off. I was getting ready for a fight and ended up pulling my calf muscle, after re-injuring it in sparring I decided I wouldn’t risk re-injury again so stopped running and relied on sparring, bag work and pad work. When the time for the fight came, I had not run for 2 months, to make matters even more difficult, my opponent was an ex-army heavyweight so yes he was very fit and did put in the roadwork, he was 6’5 and 20lbs heavier than me(I’m 5’10 and came in at cruiserweight around 13st 5). So did sparring, weight training,bag and pad work condition me for a 3 round fight? Not even close! I was shattered by the end of the 1st round and managed to last the 3 rounds but my lungs were screaming the whole fight! Before it felt like my lungs had grown a pair of scissors and were trying to cut themselves out of my chest, my legs very quickly turned to lead and refused to listen to whatever I was telling them to do?! I came out to the song Iron Man by Black Sabbath, well my legs felt like they were made of iron because they just stopped moving and felt very heavy. This was because nervous energy took over leading to adrenaline and that very quickly depletes all of your energy so you’re in a bad place if that happens. Had I put in the hard yards my legs would have carried me through the fight, and if you’re fighting someone much taller as I was, being fit and having good footwork becomes even more important and I don’t ever want to experience being gassed in the ring again so I make sure I am running regularly, both long runs and sprint intervals. Pain is a great teacher, as is experience.
Another aspect you need to take in to account is nervous energy which I touched upon above, when you are fighting in front of a few hundred people(you may be fighting in front of thousands) and when you’re sitting around in the venue for a few hours counting down the minutes to your fight, this expends a massive amount of nervous energy, if your fitness is at 100% then nervous energy may account for up to 75% so never just train for a 3 round fight if you are amateur, train as if you were taking part in a 10 or 12 round fight because the nervous energy will sap a lot out of you so get those miles on the road into you. You can minimize this by making sure you have done everything possible outside of the ring to prepare you for your fight, if you know you’ve been putting the miles in on the roadwork, you’ll be much more confident in yourself and reduce the amount of nervous energy expended on fight night.
Fighting is the hardest sport in the world, whether that’s Boxing, Muay Thai or MMA, without Roadwork you are severely limiting yourself and your potential, if you are going to fight why not see how good you can be? And the only way to see is to ensure you are as fit as possible so you can fight the way you want to fight, throw the combinations you want to throw. Sure there are always exceptions, Julio Cesar Chavez and James Toney are just two who reportedly relied more on sparring than running to get into shape, but these are the exceptions and not the norm, 99% of us mere mortals will need to focus on increasing our aerobic capacity with long endurance based runs.
Carl Froch got it right when he said ‘I hate running, but when you get to this level, if you aren’t prepared to become a semi-professional runner, you might as well quit. Running is your bread and butter: the core fitness from which everything else is built. When I train, I probably run five times a week, and this is anything from 80-metre sprints to full-on 10ks. I can now do six miles in less than 40 minutes, which is an extremely fast time for someone carrying so much muscle. Young boxers might find it a massive kick in the balls when they realize what’s required to become champion, but it all pays off in the ring.’
As the old adage goes ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ many a talented fighter has been beaten because they did not work as hard as they should have and lost to someone who wasn’t as good as them but their opponent worked hard and outworked them in the ring to win the fight. So make sure your legs don’t get you into trouble and get them working for you on the roadwork and remember when talent meets hard work, it becomes unstoppable.
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