We are commonly asked questions around how to plan the training week for boxing.
“How many strength and/or conditioning sessions should I perform in a training week?” And “When should I perform conditioning if my sparring loads are high?” are the type of questions we are frequently asked.
Whilst we tend to reply with our general recommendations of two strength sessions and 2-3 high intensity interval sessions per week, this answer is vague at best.
The truth is multiple components will determine how many strength/conditioning sessions a boxer can commit to in a week.
Sparring volume, work/study commitments, previous strength training experience and proximity to competition are all factors that must be considered when organising your strength and conditioning sessions.
Perhaps more important than the number of strength/conditioning sessions a boxer performs each week, is how these sessions are integrated with technical training and sparring.
Considerable thought must be given to the weekly training schedule that will optimise benefits that can be derived from strength and conditioning whilst avoiding decrements in technical training quality/sparring performance.
In this way, we are aiming to comprehensively prime the athlete from a physical, technical and tactical perspective.
With these intentions in mind the following article will discuss:
The role of concurrent training in boxing
Minimising the interference effect from concurrent training.
The key steps to take when organising your training week.
Training recommendations for fight week.
Concurrent training is defined as the combination of strength and aerobic endurance training within the same program (1).
Training to develop strength and endurance capabilities in the same training period is prominent across many sporting domains.
Team sport athletes such as rugby and soccer players are required to cover large running distances at both high and low intensities whilst maintaining the ability to perform explosive actions such as accelerating and jumping for the duration of the game.
Additionally, the substantial body of evidence that has emerged in the last two decades regarding the benefits of strength training for endurance performance has prompted implementation of concurrent training among endurance athletes also (2, 3).
The careful integration of concurrent training should, therefore, be an important consideration for combat sport athletes, given the unique combination of physical qualities associated with these sports.
Indeed, amateur and professional boxers must possess a large aerobic tank to last the duration of the fight and maintain their critical intensity whilst intermittently recruiting anaerobic energy pathways to perform repeated combinations and deliver punishing blows to the opponent.
Evidently these varying and often opposing demands mean that a boxer’s training week is likely to consist of technical practice/sparring, strength training and conditioning.
Though we are proponents of strength and conditioning, we are not oblivious to the fact that boxing training is ultimately the highest priority, and rightly so.
This then begs the question, “how do we optimise the programming of physical preparation sessions for boxing, without interfering with specific technical training?”
Negligent programming may compromise boxing training quality due to soreness from inappropriate strength training loads or tired legs from excessive conditioning volume and/or intensity.
Poor performance on the pads, bags or in sparring will cause the athlete to become frustrated in the program and, more worryingly, reduce the effectiveness of technical training practices.
Should we abandon strength training then…?
Boxers have performed conditioning outside of the ring for years, however, it is only recently that strength training has emerged as a constant within the fighters’ training program, particularly those at the elite level.
To this end, strength training and boxing still polarises opinions largely due to perceptions that persistent weight training will lead to losses in speed and mobility.
Whilst these perceptions hold some merit if discussing traditional bodybuilding methods, the inclusion of structured strength training will only serve to enhance speed, power and movement efficiency through improvements in force generating capacity and stretch-shortening cycle function (3,4).
Specifically, we know that punch performance is highly dependent on lower body rate of force development from our own in house research, where we observed strong correlations between countermovement jump height and medicine ball throw distance.
In other words, those that jump higher tend to punch HARDER
Research has shown that rate of force development is highly dependent on an individual’s maximal strength or maximal force characteristics (5).
This is highly relevant for boxers, as many of these athletes have not been previously exposed to maximal strength training, meaning the potential for significant gains in explosive qualities is HUGE!
Aside from force and velocity characteristics strength training has been shown to produce improvements in movement economy in endurance runners through enhanced musculotendinous stiffness and reactive strength.
If we consider the biomechanical foundation of movement in endurance events, there is some similarities to boxing, particularly endurance running.
Middle and long distance runners are required to repeatedly absorb and produce force through the muscles and tendons of the lower body.
This subtle, yet continuous use of the stretch-shortening cycle is also evident in boxing when we consider the bounce or rhythm boxers utilise to judge range, getting in and out of the pocket to land punishing strikes whilst avoiding their opponents counters.
Lastly, strength training is considered a cornerstone of injury prevention programs in many sports and should be used for similar reasons among boxers.
In understanding the potential benefits of strength training to boxing performance we can begin to accept its inclusion in a boxers training program and focus our attention towards the optimal integration of the key training components i.e., boxing, strength training and conditioning.
THE INTERFERENCE EFFECT
The interference effect refers to decrements in strength and hypertrophy following a concurrent training program compared to an exclusive strength training program (1).
The two main reasons/theories that may explain such decrements in training adaptations as a result of simultaneous endurance and strength training are: The chronic interference hypothesis (7) and the molecular pathway signalling interference hypothesis (7,8).
The chronic interference hypothesis states that regular, high intensity endurance stimulates symptoms of overtraining and overreaching.
This is said to have a detrimental impact on many factors related to strength training, most prominently strength training quality and volume.
Reduced load and lifting speed will ultimately limit the adaptations obtained from strength training (13).
The molecular signalling interference hypothesis refers to the competing adaptations that strength and endurance training induce.
Firstly, endurance training increases muscle protein synthesis within the mitochondrial subfraction.
This serves to increase mitochondrial density (i.e., number of mitochondria per cross sectional unit) within a muscle cell and improves the cell’s oxidative capacity.
High intensity resistance training, in contrast, stimulates increased protein synthesis within the myofibrillar component of the cell.
This can contribute to increased muscle size and therefore impair mitochondrial density adaptations that may be derived from endurance training.
Secondly, there is evidence to suggest that endurance training decreases or subdues signalling pathways that are important for hypertrophy for extended periods of time after the endurance training bout (8, 9).
Despite these concerns of interference, a comprehensive analysis of the concurrent training literature to date, revealed that measures of strength and hypertrophy were not adversely effected during concurrent training compared to strength training alone (1).
However, the development of power was deemed to be negatively affected as a result of concurrent training.
This is suspected to be a result of overreaching or fatigue effects from endurance training having a detrimental impact on forces produced at high velocities (1, 10).
The mode of endurance training employed is likely to have an impact on the degree to which an intrerference effect presents.
Long duration, low to moderate intensity running is said to have the most deleterious effect on strength training adaptations.
This is largely due to increased muscle damage from running-based endurance training compared to cycling as well as the predominant recruitment of slow twitch muscle fibers during moderate intensity endurance training versus higher intensity modes.
Heightened levels of muscle damage associated with running may be attributed to the prominent eccentric phase of the running stride compared to the primarily concentric muscle contractions displayed when cycling (1).
Increased muscle damage, protein breakdown and preferential recruitment of type 1 muscle fibers does not lend itself to high intensity strength training and will significantly impair the magnitude of force produced and most notably, the rate at which this force is developed.
On the flip side, evidence is in agreement that concurrent strength and endurance training does not have a negative impact on endurance or aerobic capacity (1).
In fact, strength training has been deemed to improve movement or running economy in endurance-based athletes, contributing to enhanced performance in these events (2,3).
Implications For Boxers
Whats does all of this interference talk mean for boxers then?
We have previously mentioned the importance of power and rate of force development to the punching action.
As such, the goal of strength training for boxers should be to maximise these qualities.
Taking the existing evidence into account it seems that inclusion of long road runs in a concurrent training program should be carefully considered for boxers.
Instead of these long duration, moderate intensity runs high intensity interval training is said to be a much more compatible training strategy for the development of aerobic capacity and is just as effective, if not more effective at improving endurance capacity (1, 11).
We frequently use high intensity interval sessions to enable our athletes to become accustomed to intensities above 90% of their maximal heart rate which boxers spend a substantial amount of time in during sparring and competition.
For more on our conditioning methods read: https://boxingscience.co.uk/conditioning-for-boxing-the-boxing-science-method/
We also tend to avoid prescribing long distance distance road runs for the athletes we work with as they are likely compounding existing movement issues.
Short strides, a lack of posterior chain engagement and large amounts of knee and hip flexion all further contribute to the anterior dominance that many boxers display.
This can increase the chances of developing chronic lower back pain, stress fractures and hamstring tightness which will have a negative impact on movement and readiness to train throughout the training week.
Other than mode, recommendations by Laursen and Bucheit, (12), provide a framework to help minimise interference of conditioning with strength training during the weekly schedule.
The main recommendations include:
At least six hours recovery between strength and conditioning sessions performed on the same day.
Minimise the prescription of all out conditioning protocols i.e., repeated sprinting and sprint interval training.
When prioritising strength training performing cycling based HIIT is recommended (this also a worthwhile consideration for boxers coming back to training following a long lay-off as it will reduce the occurrence of large spikes in musculoskeletal loading).
Prescribe longer HIIT intervals that involve fewer changes of direction and lower running speeds, thus minimising the degree of neuromuscular strain.
Softer running surfaces (i.e., grass) are preferable to the road when training concurrently during a training week. We use a curved treadmill at Boxing Science which dampens the eccentric or landing forces of each stride due to the presence of a slight incline. Hill intervals will provide a similar effect if the flat grass surface is still intolerable.
Lastly, two HIIT sessions per week is deemed a sufficient dose of conditioning to maximise training adaptations whilst minimising decrements in performance during other aspects of training.
So far we are aware that there is a potential interference effect on strength training adaptations when training concurrently, however we can minimise this through appropriate organisation and prescription of our conditioning sessions.
With that said, the top priority is ultimately becoming a better boxer. To do this, boxing training quality and intensity needs to be optimised.
Whilst there are no specific recommendations from the concurrent training literature regarding the organisation of a boxer’s training week, we follow a three step framework to appropriately plan the various aspects of our athletes’ preparation.
STEPS TO ORGANISING YOUR TRAINING WEEK
As eluded to previously, this framework is based around optimising your boxing training whilst still obtaining the most benefit from strength and conditioning sessions.
Step One: Start With A Blank Canvas
This is a basic first step, however is no less important.
Simply, write out all of the days in the week.
Split each each day into AM and PM and work from there.
Often people will try to plan one day at a time when organising their training week, however this causes them to lose sight of the bigger picture and tends to result in too many consecutive heavy days.
Step Two: Scheduling Your Boxing Sessions
As boxing training is the highest priority it is important to have a clear picture of where these sessions are situated as well as the frequency of these sessions in the training week.
From here we can plan around these sessions in an optimal manner.
Whether boxing training occurs in the morning or evening will depend on competitive level and the boxing club training schedule.
Considering this, we will be providing examples of weekly training for both morning and evening boxing sessions.
However, it is important to keep the general guidelines in mind to be able to adjust these plans to your own unique schedule.
Step Three: Plan Your Loading Strategy.
This step will tend to vary depending on personal preferences.
Some athletes or boxing coaches may prefer heavy days or heavy loading at specific times of the week as it fits their traditional training routine.
As S&C coaches it is important to plan around this and accommodate the athlete’s preferences, however, for the purpose of this article we will be providing examples based on our own thoughts of how to structure a training week.
Despite inter-individual preference we generally recommend the use of heavy, medium-heavy and light loaded days across the week.
This classification allows us to approximate the level of stress placed on the athlete for a given day and adjust the loading appropriately for subsequent days to make sure the athlete is prepared for each session within the training week.
Furthermore, establishing a loading strategy means we are less likely to expose the athlete to consecutive heavy days which would have a negative impact on training quality, recovery, mobility and immune function for the rest of the week.
MONITORING TRAINING LOAD
This heavy, medium-heavy and light classification is based on the concept of managing training monotony which is a reflection of the day to day training variability throughout a training week (14).
When planning your training week, it is important to minimise training monotony to avoid accumulating repetitive weeks of high training strain.
Training monotony for a training week is calculated by dividing the average training load for that week by the standard deviation.
To determine the training load of an individual session and, thereafter, the average training load for a training week, we use the session RPE method as described by Comyns & Flanagan (15).
With this method the athlete is asked to give a value, out of 10, based on the difficulty of the session.
This value is then multiplied by the session duration (mins) to obtain an arbitrary training load unit (AU)
Example: a boxing session lasts 90 minutes and the boxer rates the session a 6 out of difficulty or intensity.
90 x 6 = 540 AU
These scores should be taken 30 minutes after each session completed during a training week. If more than one session is performed on a given day then the training loads for each session should be added to give a value for daily training load.
Daily training loads for each day of the week are then used to determine the average or mean training load for that week.
Having calculated the standard deviation we can then obtain a value for training monotony.
Both training monotony and average training load are multiplied to determine training strain which is then considered a quantification of the total stress imposed on an athlete.
As we can see, minimising training monotony is important to manage training strain in the presence of high training loads.
Previous publications have suggested that the scheduling of high and low days is an effective way of providing sufficient training load whilst minimising training strain (14).
This is because low days are given a low training load score and will serve to create greater training variation (deviation from the mean) and, consequently, lower training monotony.
Lower training monotony inherently reduces training strain and therefore minimises the chances of incurring overtraining symptoms.
Evidently, the importance determining your training load strategy should not be overlooked when planning your training week.
Adding to this, some practical recommendations include:
Avoiding consecutive heavy days (an example of a heavy day for a boxer would be sparring and conditioning on the same day).
Following heavy days it is best to program a light or active recovery day to allow for restoration.
Rather than complete rest, performing active recovery methods such as a swim, simulated altitude training session or mobilisation techniques can reduce muscle soreness and stiffness, maintaining readiness for upcoming sessions.
If possible try not to schedule a really heavy day on a Monday following a weekend of rest. More than likely, the athlete will not respond well to this sudden increase in physical demand. Push the heavy day back towards Tuesday following a ‘break-in’ session on Monday.
Alternatively, use a low demand Sunday session to gradually build the athlete into the training week if a heavy day on Monday is preferable.
Step Four: Strategically Add Conditioning
High intensity conditioning sessions can be severe on both the musculoskeletal and cardio respiratory systems and therefore due consideration should be taken when integrating these sessions into your training week.
The main recommendation to consider is to allow sufficient time (i.e 6-8 hours) between conditioning and boxing sessions if performed on the same day.
Additionally, the athlete should be made aware of the appropriate rehydration and refuelling strategies following a high intensity interval training session.
For more on refuelling and general effective nutrition strategies check out some of our informative articles in the ‘Sport Nutrition’ section of our website: https://boxingscience.co.uk/category/sport-nutrition/
Boxers and their coaches should also try to keep conditioning and sparring as far apart as possible.
This is because running based conditioning will place a substantial demand on the lower body and will have a detrimental effect on movement in the ring, compromising sparring performance.
In the above example you can see that conditioning sessions are performed on the morning of the day before a sparring session to allow for maximum recovery time.
Another point to note from this illustration is the separation of conditioning sessions by at least a day to avoid accumulating excessive amounts of fatigue.
The arrangement of conditioning sessions may vary from the above example if boxing is performed in the morning.
In these cases, conditionings performed on the same day as sparring.
This is an effective arrangement as performing conditioning sessions in the evening means that the sparring session earlier in the day is not adversely effected.
Also, doubling up on these two training strategies in the one day creates a single heavy day which the boxer can then optimally recover from during subsequent light and moderate days.
Sparring and conditioning on separate days in cases where boxing is performed in the morning may be sub-optimal from both a sparring performance and recovery perspective.
This because boxers would be forced to recovery from a highly demanding sparring sessions on one day and, instead of being afforded the best opportunity to recover, the athlete would be exposed to a highly taxing conditioning session the next day, interfering with the recovery process.
Therefore, despite seeming drastic doubling up on highly taxing training sessions in the one day may be beneficial in the long-term.
Step Five: Integrating Strength Training & Active Recovery
The last step of planning your training week involves filling in strength and active recovery sessions.
If boxing is performed in the evening then strength sessions will tend to coincide with sparring days, i.e., strength in the morning and sparring in the evening.
To minimise interference here apply the 6-8 hour recovery principle between sessions.
Also, consider the type of strength training you’re performing.
Ideally, avoid the high repetition muscle endurance work as this will only lead to soreness and stiffness developing in the allotted recovery period.
Instead, focus on high intensity, quality sets of plyometric and maximal strength training.
Keep the volume relatively low (around 2-3 sets) and speed of movement or movement intent high.
Manipulating common maximal strength lifts (back squat, deadlift and bench press) so that the range of motion and therefore muscle damage is reduced is also an option for these strength sessions on the morning of sparring.
Anderson squats, rack pulls and floor presses are great alternatives that will allow you to keep the intensity high whilst reducing muscular strain.
In fact, there is an argument to be made for this type of strength training to augment same day performance of technical and conditioning sessions (16,17).
As mentioned previously, active recovery days are a useful strategy to include in the middle of a tough training week.
Placing these sessions in the middle of the training week enables the athlete to better tolerate heavy loading towards the back end of the week and also contributes to reduced training monotony.
In this example Sunday is the designated rest day. This will change if morning boxing sessions are the norm.
In this instance, Saturday becomes the rest day with Sunday consisting of a conditioning session to avoid staleness creeping in ahead of Monday’s session.
So, there you have it a systematic method for planning your training week as a boxer.
Again, it is vital to consider the recommendations and guidelines provided in order to adjust these templates to your own training schedule.
If you want to learn more about planning and programming for boxing, be sure to check out our Boxing Science Online Membership where we have an in depth workshop on planning training weeks and training camps.
See our membership options here: https://boxingscience.co.uk/online-membership/.
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