When training for a fight, a boxer needs time to for optimal preparation of their skills, sharpness and fitness to perform on fight night.
It is often debated and questioned how long a training camp should be. A lot prefer shorter camps to avoid stagnation or overtraining, whereas others will feel more confident following a longer training camp.
This article will look at how the length of a training camp can affect the training types and loading strategies used.
In this article…..
We will be sharing the different considerations we make when implementing periodised training programmes
We share the reasons why we would prefer 10-12 week training camps to help loading strategies
The importance of allowing the required training phase length to optimise the adaptations gained from different training types
We discuss tactics for shorter training camps we have used at Boxing Science
The Importance of Preparation
Preparation is so important in sport, but no more so than it is in Boxing. Boxing has one of the largest training-to-competition ratios in comparison to other sports, as athletes train for 6-12 weeks for a maximum of 36 minutes of competition…..
… it’s probably for this reason why ‘The Greatest’ came out with this famous quote.
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights”Muhammad Ali
This article was first written in June 2015, following the ‘fight of the century’ between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. We discussed the optimal training camp length as Manny Pacquiao stated that he doesn’t train for boxing between fights, then his training camp was just 8 weeks prior to facing Floyd Mayweather.
It was an under-par performance from ‘PacMan’ and he also suffered a shoulder injury. This is probably due to the increased intensity to make up for the short camp length. We can’t say that for certain…. But it won’t have helped reduce the likelihood of these outcomes happening.
Sometimes short camps cannot be avoided…
We realise that not every boxer has the luxury of a 10-12 week camp, especially for amateur boxers or professional prospects that are working their way through the ranks.
We have worked on short training camps before in the past and used various training strategies to optimise adaptations in a short time frame. Some of these we will share later in the article.
However, our main advice would be for boxers to stay in training camp whilst waiting for a fight date confirmation. This will mean there will be more chance for physiological adaptations to be optimised, reduce the likelihood of injury, and improve the weight-making process.
Before we head into our analysis of training load strategies of different training camps, we will outline the different considerations we have to make when programming.
We aim to avoid spikes in training load. The research suggests that > 20% increases in training load can increase the likelihood of overreaching, fatigue, illness and injury.
The level of fight the athlete is training for and their weight-making strategies. The last few weeks of sparring and dieting become more intense for athletes making the championship weight for 10-12 round fights. This means that peaks in S&C training loads should be strategically planned to not clash with these intense training periods.
The most dangerous point of camp for illness and injury is within the first few weeks, this is due to a higher potential for spikes in training load. We need to have various strategies to help an athlete ‘break in’ to training camp and steadily build training load.
Aim for 2-3 peaks in training loads to allow different training types to be overloaded during separate training blocks to optimise physiological adaptations.
Each training type selected should be given enough training sessions/weeks in order to overload and stimulate the desired physiological adaptation. The time for adaptation differs between training types.
If the above are put in place, this allows the athlete to implement tapering strategies to achieve peak performance come fight night.
Keep weekly training load increases under 20% to decrease injury and illness likelihood.
8 weeks vs 10-12 weeks – Loading Strategies
The graphic below demonstrates periodisation training loading strategies typically used during 8, 10 and 12-week training camps.
The bars on the graph represents training load, we use this to quantify how much volume and intensity boxers are exposed to during strength, conditioning and boxing training.
During a training camp, we need to steadily build up the load, achieve 2-3 peaks in training load, and allow for a 2-3 week de-load period (of S&C) so boxing training is not effected as much closer to the fight.
In the 8-week training camp, we can still achieve two peaks in training load, however the second peak is achieved later in the camp and probably too close to the fight. This is where sparring loads are increased and weight-making becomes more intense, therefore increased loads in S&C should be avoided to reduce fatigue and chance of illness or injury.
As you can see in the graphic above, using this method during a 10-week block allows the boxer to safely increase training volume and peak in training load twice per camp. Also, there is room for two ‘de-load’/recovery weeks to reduce likelihood of overtraining, injury and illness, with the final week being a taper for the fight.
This structure over 10 weeks helps athletes to accumulate higher training loads without causing too much fatigue. This should allow boxers to be exposed to a higher training stimulus and greater fitness gains.
The final training peak is one week further out from the fight, therefore reducing S&C training volume during increased boxing training loads and rounds of sparring.
Furthermore, the longer camp allows for an ‘introductory’ week to strategically build up training load to ‘break into camp’. This can help avoid spikes in training load that are often associated to illness and injuries.
The first week often include modified strength exercises that are challenging under less weight load and alternative conditioning methods to build up training load steadily.
We discuss programming in more depth in a video workshop, accessible via the Boxing Science online membership. Click here to learn more.
The 12-week camp is quite similar in it’s approach to the first stages with a gradual build-up of training load and having the last high-training load week over 3 weeks away from fight night.
The only advantage is that we can squeeze in a third peak in training load. However, we steer away from our preferred 3:1 loading strategies as we need to make sure that third peak doesn’t conflict with the important sparring in the latter stages of camp. Therefore, an undulated approach is administered of three heavy / medium-heavy weeks in sequential to each other. This keeps training load high to avoid spikes in training load. The athlete must have a good training history and take precautionary nutritional and recovery strategies to under-go this intense training period.
8 weeks vs 10-12 weeks – Training Types
The length of the training camp can affect what training types are selected, how many different types are selected and the effectiveness of each training block.
A training type cannot develop physiological adaptations in 1-2 sessions, they require progressive overload. This is why we spend so much time planning and programming in preparation for fights, and why we pride ourselves on our systematic and detailed approach to training.
Here are the optimal sessions / weeks spent on a variety of strength and conditioning adaptations.
Length of training block for adaptation – Strength
- Maximal strength – 4-8 weeks
- Strength-Speed – 3-5 weeks
- Speed-Strength – 3-5 weeks
Length of training block for adaption – Conditioning
- Max Effort Sprints – 9 sessions (3-4 weeks)
- Central Adaptations – 24 sessions (6-8 weeks)
- Muscle Buffering – 12 sessions (4 weeks)
This means that either only one can be training type can be optimised, or multiple training types used, whereas a longer camp will allow for multiple training types to be used for required time to optimise physiological adaptations.
Tactics for Shorter Training Camps
As strength and conditioning coaches and sport science practitioners, we have very little control over when an athlete next performs… especially in a sport as unpredictable as boxing.
So, what about if you did have only have 6-8 weeks to get an athlete in shape? These situations do occur from time to time, and it’s good to have programming strategies ready to put in place. Here are some ideas;
Before you choose the targeted conditioning method, we need to consider what type of athlete are we working with (strong or endurance based), and how much weight they need to lose. Picking max-sprints may take too much out of the endurance based athlete with very little return, and max sprints will not expend the energy needed to create the desired calorie deficit to lose body mass.
Strong & Fast Athletes Close to their Weight – Max Sprints / Buffering
In the previous section we highlighted that max effort sprints and muscle buffering running protocols do not require as many sessions to optimise an adaptation.
Our strategy would be to do 2-3 weeks of max sprints, then use longer Muscle Buffering sessions to target some central adaptations for 2-3 weeks (2 mins on 3 mins off) before transitioning to our high speed variation (12s on 48s off) that can nicely fit with our taper.
This is what we used in our training camp for Kell Brook vs Gennady Golovkin where we only had 8 weeks to help the ‘special one’ to take on the biggest challenge of his career. Find out more about this in our webinar, included in our membership.
Endurance Athletes Needing To Lose Weight – Hybrid Sessions
Targeting central adaptations may not be the most optimal strategy due to the amount of sessions it takes for adaptation. However, hybrid conditioning methods can target a mixture of adaptations, and central adaptations can be heightened through increased running speed and intensity.
In the previous section, we highlighted that max strength adaptations may take longer than …. Especially with athletes with a good strength training history. They could train for 4-6 weeks to only add on 5-10kg on their deadlift / squat 1RM.
However, we have seen 10-20% improvements in strength, speed and explosiveness during alternative strength training methods….
Complex / Contrast Training
Complex / Contrast sets consist of a heavy lift followed by an explosive movement that mimics the mechanics of the heavy lift.
This is based on a phenomenon called post activation potentiation (PAP) – which can enhance the RFD during explosive exercises following a heavy resistance exercises.
Here are some examples;
COMPLEX – Heavy Strength Exercise – Rest – Speed Exercise
Back Squat @ 90% 1RM x 3 Reps, Rest 3-4 Mins, CMJ x 3-5 Reps
CONTRAST – Multiple Sets of Strength Exercise – Rest – Multiple Sets of Speed Exercise
Back Squat @ 90% 1RM – 3 Reps x 3 sets, Rest 3-4 Mins, CMJ x 3-5 Reps x 3 sets
Working with a number of loads allows you to target a variety of parts of the F-V curve in one session. This comes pretty useful when you don’t have as much time with a boxer, as you can target multiple areas at once.
Strength-Speed – Velocity Based Training
Velocity Based Training (VBT) is when you record the speed of your lifts to monitor performance and structure programs. This is often used in strength and conditioning is a beneficial training tool for improving strength and speed,
There are many reasons why strength-speed and VBT can be useful in achieving quick adaptations, the main one being is that every training session is optimized as feedback on lifting speed can increase the effort of the athlete. Moreover, when an athlete achieves higher speeds the weight can be increased, making the programme adjustable and progressive overload to be achieved.
Furthermore, the lower-weight load will cause less muscular and neural strain, this will reduce the likelihood of fatigue and delayed onset muscle soreness. This means that strength and speed adaptations can be targeted without affecting boxing and conditioning sessions.
Another benefit is that the lower weight-load will not cause a spike in training load, therefore restrict the desired intensity and volume for adaptation. So you can start targeting adaptations from week 1! Whereas max-strength will need 2-3 weeks to gradually build the load to achieve progressive overload.
In a recent training camp for Kyle Yousaf, we opted to steer away from max strength training and solely focus on strength training between 30-80% 1RM. Using Trap Bar Deadlifts and Trap Bar Jumps, we achieved some massive improvements in strength, speed and explosiveness, while preserving maximum strength qualities.
Improvements in speed and explosiveness between 30 and 80% 1RM.
When we look to optimise different adaptations during training camp, we need to have separate training phases to focus on specific physiological adaptations.
There are many different adaptations we want to develop in a training camp, and we don’t want to neglect any as we head into important fights.
There is a way where we can maintain different areas whilst developing others – often used when wanting to work on ‘weaknesses’ and maintain ‘strengths’. This programming tool is called ‘Conjugated Vertical Integration’, by Charlie Francis.
The UFC Performance Institute use this method with their MMA athletes. This was explained during a presentation by Dr Duncan French, and this is also available in our membership.
Boxing Science would promote the benefits of 10-12 week training camps in comparison to 6-8 weeks of training.
This is due to increased training loads, more loading and de-load/recovery weeks can lead to greater fitness gains.
Although we prefer 10-12 week training camps, we still structure 8 week training camps as they can still promote fitness gains.
When fight dates are close together, sometimes boxers can not dictate how long their training camp lasts. Our general advice would be for boxers to stay in relatively good shape between fights and to ask a professional to help them to structure their training.