Explosiveness is often a desirable physical quality for many fighters to possess and with good reason.
Faster punches, more dynamic movement in and out of the pocket and lower time to execute an action in response to an opponents trigger can all significantly enhance a boxer’s performance in the ring and increase his/her chances of winning a bout.
Many athletes come to us expressing their desires to improve their explosiveness and often want immediate results.
Whilst gains in this physical quality can be achieved at a fast rate, especially with a novice trainee, they are never obtained instantaneously and require strategic planning of an athletes strength training alongside their conditioning and technical training demands.
Generally, the boxers we work with will undergo three key steps to maximise their explosiveness in preparation for their fights.
In this article we will outline our three key steps to improving explosiveness for boxing and we will also discuss:
The definition of the term ‘explosiveness’.
The science behind the punch.
How improving ‘explosiveness’, contributes to a faster, more impactful punch.
The term explosiveness is commonly used to describe a rapid or instantaneous contraction of a group of muscles or an individual muscle.
Within the scientific literature, a synonym for explosiveness and perhaps a more accurate use of the word is ‘explosive muscle strength’ (1).
Explosive muscle strength is then considered to be synonymous with the term rate of force development (RFD) which is officially defined as the change in force divided by the change in time (2).
Thus, when when an athlete wishes to improve his/her explosiveness they essentially mean improving the ability to generate high forces in a short space of time.
TRANSFER TO THE PUNCH
To understand the importance of high rates of force development to the punching action, a brief overview of the science behind the punch may be helpful.
Firstly, lets look at some time-motion analysis of our very own Jordan Gill delivering a back hand to an opponent:
As we can see the time to deliver a punishing back hand is less than 0.200 milliseconds.
In this timeframe, it is almost impossible to produce maximal levels of force due to the inverse relationship between the force a muscle/group of muscles can produce and the velocity at which these muscles are shortening/contracting (3).
In this video as the speed of Jordans arm towards the intended target increases the ability to produce high levels of force throughout the kinetic chain diminishes.
This highlights the need to maximise force production within a short time frame i.e rate of force development to optimise punch impact.
SCIENCE BEHIND THE PUNCH
From a biomechanical perspective the punch appears to be dictated by two main relationships or models.
These include the impulse-momentum relationship and the concept of effective mass.
The impulse-momentum relationship is the single component relevant to the punch that can be significantly altered with exposure to structured strength training and therefore will be discussed further below. For more on how to develop effective mass, follow the link to this article: https://boxingscience.co.uk/improve-punching-power/
Evidently, there are two sides to this theory; impulse & momentum.
Impulse is defined as Force x Time and may be considered an outcome of an individuals rate of force development capacity.
In other words, the more force that can be produced in a given time the greater the impulse and the resulting acceleration.
Momentum, on the other hand, is defined as MASS x VELOCITY.
Increasing momentum of the punching arm will contribute to larger impact forces when the strike reaches its intended target.
From the equation presented above, we can assume that the simplest way to increase momentum is to increase mass.
However, this poses an obvious dilemma for boxers who are weight restricted and are therefore discouraged from gaining mass as they please.
Thus, from a strength training perspective employing methods that prioritise maximising the impulse, acceleration and velocity of the punching arm is imperative to maximise punch impact and supplement technical training in the boxing gym.
Improving rate of force development/explosive muscle strength of the upper and lower body is a key aim of our programming to enable our athletes to generate greater impulse when delivering their punches.
The remainder of this article will discuss the steps we progress our athletes through to increase their explosiveness in the ring.
INCREASING EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH: A PROCESS
The phrase ‘there are no shortcuts’ is popular among successful boxers who have committed their lives to the sport.
Whilst strength training pales in comparison to the hardship or complexity of boxing, looking for shortcuts, displaying randomness in your approach and substituting graft for gimmicks will compromise the outcome of an individual’s strength training endeavours.
If the aim is to improve explosive muscle strength then adhering to a plan is essential.
The framework we communicate to our athletes incoporates three key steps:
- Get Stronger
- Move Faster
- Foot To Fist
1. GET STRONGER
As strength and conditioning practitioners, we could be considered predictable in our encouragement for boxer’s to gain strength.
However, there is sound reasoning and scientific evidence behind our thoughts on the benefits of maximal strength development for boxers.
Firstly, there is substantial research that suggests stronger athletes can produce force at a faster rate than their weaker counterparts (4,5,6).
Additionally, weaker athletes who have not previously been exposed to a sufficient strength training stimulus on a consistent basis are likely to experience gains in explosive strength from increases in strength or overall force production (7,8).
This may be attributed to enhanced neural drive achieved through progressively overloading the neuromuscular system and increasing the force demands the body is exposed to through weight training.
Increased neural drive may be a product of a number of adaptations that contribute to increases in strength following a period of strength training.
Increased motor unit recruitment,
reduced neuromuscular inhibition,
increased motor unit synchronisation and
increased firing frequency or rate coding.
For more on these adaptations to strength training read our article on ‘The Road to Max Strength’: https://boxingscience.co.uk/sc-for-boxing-road-to-max-strength/
Lastly, stronger athletes tend to be more responsive to traditional explosive strength training methods such as the use of complexes, ballistic exercises, plyometrics and weightlifting exercises due to their ability to produce greater magnitudes of force (9).
Therefore, it would be prudent to periodise a training plan so that explosive strength training blocks are preceded by maximal strength training periods in order to obtain a phase potentiation effect where each training phase is enhanced by the previous one (10).
The process of gaining strength is often made out to be more complex than it truly is.
In fact, training programs to increase maximal strength may be the simplest form of programming for an S&C professional.
That said overall complexity will depend, largely, on the type of athlete in question and the sport they compete in and it is important to not mistake simple for ‘easy’
In the case of boxing, these athletes tend to have limited strength training experience and considerable movement deficiencies around the shoulders, hips and lower back.
Examples of these movement issues include a lack of rotation through the thoracic spine and weak posterior shoulders, anterior dominance of the lower body contributing to underdeveloped glutes and tight adductors asx a consequence of the boxing stance.
As such, time needs to be invested into learning technique and improving their movement and coordination before striving to unlock their maximal strength potential.
Our article on the Road To Max Strength (read here: https://boxingscience.co.uk/sc-for-boxing-road-to-max-strength/) outlines an inexperienced athlete’s journey to lifting near maximal loads on the Boxing Science program.
Once an athlete has displayed proficient technique through the requisite progressions and has achieved a base level of strength, exposure to higher loads and more complex lifts can begin.
On the Boxing Science program, maximal strength training typically incorporates intensities of 85-95% 1RM for 3-5 Reps and 3-5 sets across two strength sessions per week.
This is consistent with recommendations outlined by Rhea and colleagues (11) which suggested that competitive athletes required a mean training intensity of at least 85% 1RM across 2 days per week and a mean training volume of 8 sets per muscle group.
The standard lifts we program and track consistently during these phases are the Trap bar deadlift, Dumbbell chest press or floor press and the barbell back squat.
In many instances and despite elaborate coaching, athletes will still struggle with some of these lifts and alterations need to be made.
An example would be to change the conventional back squat to a box squat or landmine squat (using our viking attachment) if a boxer is struggling with depth or, due to reduced shoulder range, experiences pain with the bar positioned on the upper traps.
Partial range lifts are also an effective strength training method that we use to unlock an athlete’s maximal strength.
This is because the reduced range of motion enables athletes to lift higher loads, safely whilst minimising soreness.
Partial range lifts are particularly applicable in cases where gaining strength rapidly is necessary, for example, during short training camps.
However, they can also be beneficial as preparation for maximal strength phases with full range of motion lifts or as a means to add further overload following a standard maximal strength phase depending on the needs of the athlete.
If a boxer is particularly struggling at higher weight loads, a period of 2-3 weeks of supra-maximal strength training through partial range lifts can help optimise a subsequent maximal strength phase and set a solid foundation for faster, more dynamic training as competition nears.
2. MOVE FASTER
The second step on the journey to becoming a more explosive athlete emphasises transitioning strength gains to faster movements that promote maximal rates of force development and acceleration.
Traditionally, olympic lifts are viewed as the gold standard for developing explosive-strength characteristics.
This perception is supported by solid evidence with olympic lifting variations promoting high values for RFD, velocity and peak power (12, 13).
Though we do acknowledge the value in olympic lifting variations for athletes who are technically proficient, for boxers the risk outweighs the reward.
A lack of eccentric control, shoulder and wrist mobility means boxers will struggle to achieve the technique needed to gain the greatest benefit from these lifts.
In the absence of a long camp this can be problematic as time spent training the desired physical adaptation is replaced by hours of coaching the technical aspects of the lifts.
Though we have used and continue to use olympic lifting variations in our programs (when appropriate), the inclusion of loaded jumps is far more prominent in recent times.
This is because our own research revealed that a loaded trap bar jump from the floor exhibited higher peak force, rate of force development and velocity.
Additionally, loaded jumps have been shown to elicit comparable peak force and peak rate of force development to olympic lifting variations (14).
Though similar in terms of output, the main advantage of loaded jumps over weightlifting movements is the significantly lower technical demand.
This means less time coaching and more time for boxers to exert maximal effort during each repetition and actually training to develop explosive strength.
Common loaded jump variations we use with our boxers include the trap bar jump, loaded jump squat and trap bar countermovement jump.
To maximise intent, velocity and rate of force development volume remains low.
3-5 Reps x 3-5 Sets at 30-50% 1RM is the general prescription when performing these loaded jump variations.
Plyometrics is a commonly used term to describe exercises that exploit the stretch-shortening cycle.
The stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) is a naturally occurring muscular function that couples rapid eccentric (lengthening of the muscle) and concentric (shortening of the muscle) contractions.
The combination of eccentric and concentric contractions has been shown to elicit more force during concentric contractions at any given velocity (15).
An obvious example is attempting to jump, maximally, from a stationary, standing position compared to squatting down beforehand and driving upwards.
This essentially means that optimising the SSC can help athletes produce higher forces in shorter periods of time.
At Boxing Science we incorporate both fast and slow SSC tasks.
Fast SSC exercises typically display ground contacts of less than 250ms and significantly less degrees of ankle, knee and hip flexion compared to slow SSC tasks (16).
These types of plyometrics are potentially more specific to boxing given the quick, rapid and continuous contacts on the floor when moving in and out of range, when counterpunching and when putting combinations together.
That said, we also use slow SSC tasks such as countermovement and squat jumps and loaded variations of these to enhance lower body rate of force development, particularly in the earlier stages of the athletes strength training journey.
For more on our approach to plyometric training read the following article: https://boxingscience.co.uk/plyometrics-for-boxing-2/
Using a mixed approach i.e the integration of both fast and slow SSC tasks to plyometric training is considered to be optimal for developing lower body rate of force development and, subsequently, impulse (17).
Slow SSC exercises such as vertical and horizontal jumps are performed for 3-5 reps x 3-5 sets.
Similarly intensive fast SSC movements such as drop jumps or repeated hurdle jumps are programmed using volumes of 3-5 reps x 3-5 sets.
In contrast, extensive short SSC, for example pogos and slaloms, activities are performed for 10-12 reps x 3-4 sets.
3. FOOT TO FIST
With the first two steps in place we need to make sure that these gains in force production are transferrable to the punching action.
To do this, exercise selection needs to shift away from general to specific.
Specific in terms of boxing relates to the punching action and how muscles and joints are coordinated to deliver an impactful punch.
From investigations into the biomechanics of the punching action we know that the force generated during a punch is initiated from the ground up and is transferred, via the kinetic chain, to the fist (19, 20).
Therefore, exercises that encourage an athlete to transfer weight from the lower to the upper body in a dynamic manner will be key in this stage of the process to becoming a more explosive athlete in the ring.
As well as the transfer of force, joint action is another element worth considering.
In relation to the punch, specifically the back hand, triple extension of the ankle, knee and hip is evident.
Therefore, overloading this movement pattern, will enhance the transfer of training adaptations.
Examples of exercises we use to add specificity to the program whilst maintaining a considerable level of loading include:
Barbell Split Jerk
Clean Pull From Blocks
Landmine Split Jerk
As can be seen across our socials we also program punch specific actions which involve overloading the punching action itself.
Examples of these exercises can be seen below:
For specific exercises the same intent and quality is required as in the Move Faster phase.
Therefore, 3-5 Reps in total (or each side if uni-lateral) x 3-4 Sets is the typical volume prescription for these movements.
From a load perspective 30-40% 1RM for press and split jerk variations and light medicine balls, ranging from 3-7kg for punch specific exercises is standard.
The temptation can often be to make these punch specific exercises there centre of your programming as it is easy to perceive these having the greatest benefit.
In reality, punch specific exercises are icing on the cake and its important to not become too specific too early as this will put a low ceiling on the athlete’s physical potential.
To recap this article has outlined the process behind developing explosiveness to enhance a boxer’s performance.
Some key points to take away from this article include:
When the term explosiveness is used, it usually refers to an individuals rate of force development or RFD.
RFD is important to the punch as it ultimately determines the impulse and subsequent momentum that an athlete can generate when punching.
When aiming to improve explosiveness for boxing there are there important steps to adhere to: Get stronger, Move faster and generate force from Foot to Fist
To optimise strength development higher loads ≥ 85% 1RM are needed, using a combination of full range and partial range lifts.
Moving faster involves the integration of loaded jump and plyometric variations to promote high rates of development, velocity and stretch shortening cycle development.
Lastly, joint specific and punch specific exercises are beneficial when striving to transfer strength and speed gains to the punching action.
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