From research and experience at Boxing Science, we know that being able to produce more force is related to a harder punch. Strength training is the optimal way to develop force production. At Boxing Science, we split strength training into six key pillars.
In this article, you will learn:
- What the six pillars of strength training are
- The initial exercises and coaching cues for each pillar
- Considerations when using these exercises
Strength Training for Boxing
A forceful punch requires kinetic chain sequencing to transfer force effectively from foot through to the fist.
There are exercises that can help promote this, however the ability to create overload for adaptation can be limited. Therefore, we focus on developing our upper- and lower-body strength over 6 different exercise types.
- Push (Horizontal and Vertical)
- Pull (Horizontal and Vertical)
- Uni-Lateral – Lower-Body .
Lower-Body Strength Training
Research indicates a punch starts from force development in the lower body.
The lower-body needs to be strong to transfer this energy to the hips, through the core and to the fist to deliver forceful punches. This is what we call the kinetic chain. In our data analysis, we discovered strong relationships between jump height and medicine ball throw distance.
This suggests the higher you can jump, the harder you can punch. The ability to jump is reliant on the amount of impulse produced from the lower body.
This means that lower body strength training can have a huge impact on punch force.
Additionally, the ability to produce force in the lower-body is important to run at high speeds during your conditioning. The faster you can run, the more strain you can put your muscular and cardiovascular system to improve fitness.
The squat is an exercise used in many sports and fitness programs because it has multiple benefits. It improves strength and speed of the lower body, whilst promoting core stability.
The squat, if performed and loaded correctly can improve lower body impulsiveness, hip extension forces and eccentric utilisation of the quads, hamstrings and glutes.
These functions play a huge role in punching and striking force. The squat is also versatile. It can be loaded, light, medium, heavy or fix the bar to train isometric activity of the core which can improve ‘effective mass’ and increasing the snap in your punch
The Goblet Squat is a great way to develop the correct squatting technique without excessively loading the spine.
The end goal would be the Back Squat as this is requires the most RFD, recruits high-threshold motor units and challenges core strength. Front squats could be an option, however many boxers struggle with wrist and shoulder mobility, which is needed for this movement.
The squat is eccentrically demanding, which can make an athlete sore, especially when in a calorie deficit. Also, the back squat technique might be difficult to master due to core weakness, tight hips and imbalances between leg strength.
The deadlift will develop your posterior chain. This is important to improve the function of your glutes and hamstrings, as well as strengthening your lower back and core. This is important for boxers as the posterior chain isn’t strengthened through traditional boxing training methods.
Although the deadlift has many benefits, you should be cautious when performing deadlifts as technique can be affected due to limited coaching, understanding or mobility.
Follow our guide, as well as mastering the foundational movements to make sure you get the most out of your deadlifts.
Romanian Deadlift is a great exercise to develop hip-hinge movement pattern and developing the posterior chain. This is important to develop before moving on to the full deadlift movement.
Our main deadlift exercise we use at Boxing Science is the Trap Bar Deadlift. We prefer this exercise over the straight bar deadlift as the neutral grip is more shoulder friendly and more elevated from the floor to help reduce forces through the spine. This allows for better technique which can increase load, improve strength and reduce the likelihood of injury.
We still coach the conventional deadlift as it is still a desirable movement to master, but when an athlete is ready to increase maximal strength they should opt for Trap Bar Deadlift.
Similar to the points raised regarding the straight bar deadlift, the exercise can be quite hard to master due to lack of postural stability, core strength, tight hamstrings and shoulders.
This limits the amount of intensity and volume that we can put our athletes under. Therefore, we will always programme heavy deadlift exercises for 3-5 reps x 3-5 sets between 60-92% 1RM.
The 1RM Percentages we work between for heavy deadlifts.
Successful boxers have strong legs and great balance. However, boxers spend so much time in a split stance that they can have imbalances between leg size and strength, resulting in movement and mobility issues. Uni-lateral (one-sided) exercises are important for developing both legs in isolation.
Goblet Split Squat is a great exercise to control the single leg squatting movement.
We have various key exercises we would use depending on the current training goals. This could be a Goblet Reverse Lunge, DB Step Up or DB Walking Lunge.
These exercises will be quite difficult to do perform low rep ranges to target strength gains due to stability issues and muscular imbalances.
With this in mind, we use higher volumes of 8-10 repetitions. However, this can end up with an athlete feeling sore the next day so we need to carefully select the exercise and loading. For example, a DB walking lunge is very eccentrically demanding. This could affect our performance if we did these during high-sparring phases.
Upper-Body Strength Training
Your upper body needs to be strong to transfer force through the fist and deal with high impact forces. Despite its importance, you should take care when training your upper body for two reasons.
1. Poor shoulder mobility can alter technique, causing different activation patterns we don’t particularly want e.g. increased activation of the lower back and anterior deltoids (front of shoulders), which are high risk injury areas.
2. Unwanted muscle size of the arms and chest could slow down punches due to an increased mass and relatively poor function.
Press-ups have been performed by many generations of boxers. Pressing exercises can develop the pectorals, deltoids and triceps which are important for producing hand speed and ‘stiffening’ upon impact.
Straight punching requires a horizontal extension of the arms, so the horizontal press seems to have an obvious transfer. However, boxers should take care with technique and progressing these exercises due to shoulder mobility issues.
Strict Press Ups would be the first exercise we would opt for due to its role of engaging the core and proper scapula retraction. This also requires more action from the triceps, which can be under developed in boxers and combat athletes.
The main exercise we would find the most strength benefits would be a DB Chest Press.
Formerly we prioritised the Bench Press, however, we found that it was too strenuous for the wrists, elbows and shoulders.
Despite it being less strenuous than using a barbell, the DB chest press can still carry the same risks for wrist, elbow and shoulder pain. Furthermore, many athletes struggle to ‘drive’ through the sticking point when performing heavier loads due to underdeveloped tricep strength.
We often use single arm, offset and banded variations.
Boxers have strong shoulders to deliver thudding shots, however this often results in over-developed anterior deltoids and pectorals. This can cause shoulder tightness and weaknesses in the posterior shoulder.
Sometimes overhead pressing is difficult for boxers. They often compensate by using the lower back or by engaging already dominant anterior shoulder muscles.
The first exercise we would use is a landmine shoulder press, as this can recruit the same muscle groups without going overhead. This is an easy exercise to perform and can be loaded quickly, therefore getting a quick win in strength development.
The ideal exercise to develop vertical pressing would be a DB Push Press. This exercise requires an initial lower-body push to create a transfer of force from lower to upper body, so can be transferable to boxing performance.
Overhead pressing can become problematic for boxers due to tight shoulders, underactive posterior shoulder muscles and core strength. This can cause super-compensatory patterns such as arching and backward lean, which will increase forces through the lower back.
This can reduce activation of the shoulder muscles, limit the load lifted and increase the likelihood of injury.
Pull ups are a common exercise used when training boxers, but why are these important?
Vertical pulls are an effective way to develop the lats and muscles in the upper back that support the shoulder.
This can help support the shoulder when delivering fast punches. The lats are also important during combination punching to pull back the arm quickly before delivering another punch.
If an athlete is struggling to perform the required repetitions on pull ups, we would use a band to assist the remaining reps or the complete set.
The main pulling exercise we use at Boxing Science is a ‘Neutral Grip Pull Ups’. This exercise can reduce the internal rotation of the humeral head at the top of the movement, therefore creating a more effective scapula retraction, that will increase activation of the lats and posterior shoulder muscles.
Shoulder mobility and postural stability can create problems when performing pull up. In particular, this could cause internal rotation of the humeral head. This increases tension on the shoulder tendons and reduces the activation of the target muscle groups.
The reason we use horizontal pulls to develop the back is to develop the different actions of the lats and upper back muscles.
We mentioned earlier that boxers struggle with overhead exercises, meaning activation of the back muscles may be inhibited during vertical pulling exercises.
Horizontal pulling exercises are a useful and effective way to overload the back muscles.
The first exercise we would use is the TRX Row (Suspension Trainer). This is an easy-to-do exercise that can improve strength on the posterior muscles of the upper-body.
A great exercise to load the lats and posterior shoulder muscles would be a ‘Single Arm Bent Over Row’ – often abbrieviated as SABOR.
The horizontal pull have similar limitations to the vertical pull. Athletes should be carefully coached to avoid internal rotation of the humeral head whilst performing horizontal pulling exercises.
In this article, we explored the six pillars of strength training. Within a boxers programme, each of these should be covered 1-2 times per week.
We explored the key starting exercises and coaching cues for each exercise, which can create good strength foundations to build upon for the future.
Finally, we learned the common issues and considerations around performing these movements in a boxing training programme, and potential solutions to optimise training.
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