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When moving up a weight class, boxers will inevitably put on some muscle mass. This can often come at the expense of speed, if the process is not performed or managed correctly.

In this article we will learn –

If adding muscle will slow a boxer down when moving up a weight class

The common mistakes to avoid when aiming to improve muscle mass and speed

Three key training methods which can be used to increase muscle mass and speed for boxing.

Does adding muscle slows you down?

In traditional boxing training philosophies, adding muscle mass to a boxer will slow them down – in which strength and conditioning coaches have argued against during it’s rise in popularity.

Depending on the training method selected, both boxing coaches and S&C coaches are correct.

Boxers are at risk of slowing down if they move up weight categories by putting muscle bulk on like a bodybuilder. However, gains in muscle and speed can go hand in hand if an effective strength and conditioning program is put in place.

How not to do it

If you are an athlete in any sport, your training has to have positive transfers to competition.

This means that a boxer cannot train like a bodybuilder to put on muscle. They still require a functional approach to improve movement, speed and co-ordination.

Traditional methods to increase muscle hypertrophy often consist of high rep ranges and training large volumes. This type of training is likely to stimulate slow twitch muscle fibres and activate motor units at lower thresholds.

This could negatively affect the speed of muscle contractions, and when you couple that with an increase in body mass, resulting in a much slower athlete.

Keep speed in the programme

It’s important to ensure boxers keep some sort of strength-speed / speed exercises in their program to maintain/increase speed. This might slow down hypertrophy, making gains in mass slower, but speed will be improved, making this a good trade off.

Ballistic exercises (loaded jumps, kettlebell swing) and plyometric exercises are great to include in the programme. If an athlete is competent in them, Olympic lifting variations are a fantastic option in this scenario. Including ballistic punch specific exercises, such as the landmine punch throw, will maintain speed and co-ordination during a punching action.

Work at slightly higher volumes on these exercises, for example 5 reps x 4-6 sets.

Cluster Training

Cluster training is where a set is broken up into multiple blocks, allowing the athlete to have recovery periods in between reps. 

Example: 4 reps, rest 20 seconds, 4 reps = 1 set

This allows an athlete to lift higher weight loads for more repetitions; this can give you great improvements in size and strength. Furthermore, high-threshold motor units and fast twitch fibres will be activated more than when traditional hypertrophy training due to higher forces exerted (increased weight).

Overall, an athlete will be able to lift more weight, for more repetitions, at faster speeds with a cluster-set format.

Occlusion training 

Cal Occlusion Training

Occlusion Training is where you wrap around a device to apply pressure towards the proximal (top) of a muscle in order to restrict blood flow to the muscles. The picture above shows how Callum Beardow wrapped therabands around the top of the thigh whilst performing a single leg leg press.

Various studies have found that the restriction of blood flow reduces the amount of oxygen delivered to the working muscle, this fatigues the slow-twitch muscle fibres, therefore, more fast-twitch fibers are activated despite a low external weight load.

Impact: The fast twitch muscle fibres are activated to increase functional mass favourable for fast contractions – needed for explosive actions such as a punch.

Where have we used this before?

In 2015, we used Occlusion training to help amateur boxer Callum Beardow gain 2 kg of muscle mass during rehabilitation training following shoulder surgery. 

Callum Beardow Progress

Due to time spent off training due to recovery from the surgery, Callum had seen a rapid decrease in muscle mass. Standing at a modest 5”10, Callum’s muscular build was vital for him competing at 81 kg. Therefore, our main objective was for him to regain this skeletal muscle mass as quickly as possible.

Considering the amount of soreness and strain on tendons that may occur from weight training, Callum was restricted in how much external load in the initial stages of rehab. 

Therefore, we opted to prescribe Occlusion Training as this is a great way to increase functional mass without exposing an athlete to heavy weight training.

This resulted in The biggest improvement was 8% increase in arm muscle mass, this was important to protect his shoulders when returning to training.


When a boxer is aiming to increase both muscle mass and speed, this can be a delicate process which needs to be managed to ensure a boxer doesn’t sacrifice speed at the expense of bulk. Three common methods to use are 

  • Keeping speed in the programme with ballistic movements performed at light loads
  • Cluster sets, to maintain speed, and increase the load lifted at higher volumes
  • Occlusion training to recruit high threshold motor units at low external loads.

Want to learn more about optimising strength training for boxing? 

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