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Whether you’ve watched a fight or a Rocky film, it’s well known in the sporting world that it requires skill, courage and a whole load of fitness to be a boxer. A common perception of boxing training is that you need to use specific boxing drills and clock up the miles on long, early-morning runs, however, we know that reaching optimal physical performance is much more complicated than that.

This Boxing Science article will provide information of how applied physiological science can be used to optimise performance.

In this article, you’ll learn about

-The physiological demands of boxing

-The peripheral – central continuum

-The typical lactate profile of boxers, and why they typically look like endurance athletes.

Recap of the physiological demands of Boxing

Boxing isn’t an endurance sport! It’s a sport of repeated high-intensities. 

Studies suggest that boxing is predominantly an aerobic sport (75 – 80%), therefore increasing an athletes aerobic capacity is a priority. 

The majority of time during sparring and competitive bouts is spent above 90% maximum heart rate, often referred to as ‘The Red Zone’. 

An athletes capability to perform repeated high-intensity activities is often a determining factor of performance. 

With these important facts in place – we need to define our conditioning strategy.

Our Conditioning Goal: Improve the ability to produce, repeat and endure high-intensity activities. 

We develop this by cycling through a range of conditioning methods targeting different physiological adaptations. 

After 1000’s of sessions, we have over 100 different conditioning sessions in our locker that sit across our conditioning continuum.

It would take a full book to explain every single run, maybe one day we’ll have the luxury of producing one, but for now, to keep it short and sweet, we’ll introduce our THREE main conditioning sessions. 

4 minutes on : 2 minutes off – HIGH INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING

Aerobic capacity sets the upper limit of boxing performance. The more oxygen you can deliver to your muscles to fuel energy production the better you’ll be able to perform repeated high-intensity actions. 

The amount of oxygen you can deliver to your muscles is limited by your heart. If you can improve the amount of blood that is pumped out of your heart and the network of arteries and veins you’ll be able to fuel high-intensity performance. 

So the target in our 4 min interval sessions is to spend an optimal amount of time in the red zone, close to maximum pumping capacity of the heart and oxidative capacity of the muscles. By carefully implementing this training strategy over a training camp you’ll be creating a bigger engine to power your performance and recover between rounds. 

2 minutes on : 3 minutes off – MUSCLE BUFFER TRAINING

When you perform high-intensity actions you also create an acidic cellular environment that you might know as the burn. This increase in acidity makes it hard to generate high forces because our neuromuscular system doesn’t work as well under these conditions. 

Our body has a defence against this and they’re called muscle buffers. Their job is to ‘mop’ up the cellular by-products of high-intensity performance and help maintain the pH of the muscle cell. 

Our 2 min interval training sessions place the muscle under high-moderate acidosis which stimulates the production of muscle buffers and improves the ability to produce high-forces for longer without completely gassing out because of fatigue. 


Delivering more oxygen to the muscle to help improve performance using 4 min intervals is effective but it takes weeks because of the physiological structures that need to adapt. But sometimes we need a rapid change in fitness to kick-start our training and this what 30 s max effort sprints give us. 

When oxygen is extracted from the blood to the muscle cell it needs to be utilised by oxidative enzymes. The more oxidative enzymes we have and the better they function provides us with a better chance to produce energy for high-intensity performance. 

30 s max effort sprints provide a strong signal for rapid changes in oxidative enzyme capacity and function as well as having beneficial effects on neuromuscular force generation, coordination at high speed and mental toughness. If you need a serious kick at the start of camp these sessions provide you with a kick like no other. 



This simple test provides us with a lot of useful information. The test consists of 3 min running with a 1 min rest period. In that rest, we take a small fingertip blood sample and analyse it for lactate. Lactate is closely related to the level of acidosis and fatigue so that when lactate in the blood rises we can be confident the athlete is working harder to maintain speed. We increase the speed after each 3-minute stage until the athlete is working very hard. 

On the figure, you’ll notice speed on the horizontal axis and blood lactate on the left and heart rate on the right vertical axes. The blue dots represent a blood lactate value taken after 3 min at each speed, the red dots are heart rate taken at the end of each 3 min stage. The most distinctive feature of the figure is the curve of the blue line after 15 kph. It rises very quickly because lactate has started to appear in greater concentrations within the athlete’s blood, telling us that the intensity of exercise is getting more difficult for our athlete. 


A typical boxer has a blood lactate profile that looks very similar to an endurance athlete. Both are very good at running and controlling the intensity early on in the test. But, as we crank up the speed boxers, like endurance athletes find it increasingly difficult to deal with the accompanying cellular acidosis. 

This is bad news for an athlete who needs to repeatedly produce high force and control acidosis. The first problem is that the absolute intensity or force probably won’t be as great as it could be, the 2nd problem is that even if they did go deep into the red zone they’d find it very hard to recover quickly enough from it, and thirdly without the capability to produce high-force and recover from it, there’s not potential to able to repeat high-force actions which is a crucial aspect of combat sports performance. 

We train our athletes to make sure they don’t look like endurance athletes so that they can produce, recover and repeat high-intensity actions without losing control. 

One of the most effective ways to kickstart your ability to produce and repeat high force actions, and rapidly improve several of the key mechanisms that limit aerobic capacity is by using 30 s max effort sprints. 

Want to learn more about developing fitness for Boxing performance?

Three brand new video workshops discussing our conditioning methods are now available, online, to Boxing Science members.

Click here to learn more about becoming a Boxing Science member.