Since the foundation of Boxing Science we have strived to communicate the benefits of strength and conditioning practices for youth athletes.
The prevalence of youth academies in sports such as rugby and soccer is well-documented, yet currently, nothing of the sort exists for upcoming young boxers.
We firmly believe that information and education around the benefits of sport science and S&C support will have a significant impact on the culture and perceptions of these professions in boxing, facilitating the implementation of more robust training methods for the vast majority of fighters.
This article will discuss:
The benefits of strength and conditioning for youth boxers.
The importance of an effective warm-up.
Practical means of training for strength, speed, power and conditioning with these young athletes.
WHY SHOULD YOUTH BOXERS ENGAGE IN S&C?
There are a host of benefits associated with frequent expose to strength training for youth boxers including:
Physical qualities such as muscular strength, speed and explosiveness can be significantly developed during early adolescence and younger years. This is largely because of nervous system pliability that is associated with these ages, making physiological adaptations achievable with a minimalistic approach in terms of stimuli and complexity.
Many young kids participate in a multitude of sports during their formative years and rightly so. Engaging in many sports, however, can expose the body to large physical demands which may be compounded during growth spurts and may predispose these young athletes to injury. Frequent strength training serves as a means of combatting this and improves athlete robustness, allowing them to experience continual progression, physically and technically, in their respective sports.
Ingraining positive training habits has been a focal point of every training program that we have implemented with the youths at Sheffield ABC. This primarily entails educating the athletes about the importance of a warm-up, mobility routines and nutrition, from both a performance and longevity standpoint.
Overall, the goal of early application of S&C is to instill solid training practices that will enable these young athletes to fulfil their athletic potential.
OUR YOUTH TRAINING PHILOSOPHY
Simplicity, time-efficiency and enjoyment are all at the centre of our youth training philosophy.
As coach’s and sport science practitioners we also place particular focus on the following points:
We have found that providing these young athletes with information around their training and giving the reasons behind why were instructing them to do a particular movement, leads to them adopting a sense of ownership and taking responsibility for their own training.
This significantly improves adherence and satisfaction with training and exercise overall!
DEVELOP GOOD TRAINING AND LIFESTYLE HABITS
This ties in with points mentioned previously and can range from a variety of topics related to strength, conditioning and athletic development.
Simple concepts like warming up, hydration, training with intensity and purpose and nutritional habits around training and competition can have a profound impact on the athlete’s overall progression, especially at a young age.
FOCUSING ON MOVEMENTS, NOT MUSCLES
Rarely in boxing, or any other sport, do muscles move individually. Instead, athletic movements require the smooth integration of a number of muscles, tendons and joints, often at high velocities.
Therefore, mastering basic movements and allowing muscles and their surrounding structures to move through their full range of motion can improve overall athletic capacity and build an athletic base, on which strength and power can be developed.
It’s also important to expose the youth athlete to a variety of movements and allow him/her to find their own movement solutions to novel stimuli.
AGE AND TRAINING GOALS
With training youth athletes, it’s vital to have a clear understanding of the stages of athletic development and the main goals associated with each stage. Often as coaches, we can get carried away with winning at all costs which can ultimately be detrimental to the development of the athlete and may lead to pre-mature burnout and volitional withdrawal from the sport.
According to the Long Term Athletic Development Model (LTAD) these are the key stages of athletic development associated with the various age categories:
8-13yrs – LEARNING TO TRAIN
Here, the focus is on athletes buying into the training process, beginning to understand the basics of training and becoming familiar with an overall session/training structure. The over-arching emphasis at this stage is enjoyment whilst learning skills that are specific to the sport along with athletic abilities such as agility, balance and co-oridination.
13-17yrs – TRAINING TO COMPETE
At this stage, it is expected that the athlete begins to implement some of the skills gained during training in competition. These include technical skills and physical abilities. Whilst winning is hoped for at this stage, it should not be the sole emphasis. Instead, a distinct focus should be on specific learning through frequent competition and as much exposure to different types of opponents as possible.
Training strategies during this period may become more individual to further develop strengths and weaknesses and thus give the athlete a greater chance of competing successfully.
17+ – TRAINING TO WIN
This stage of athletic development is characterised by performance optimisation. Every aspect of training, including nutrition, psychological preparation, recovery, peaking and tapering are geared towards winning.
Ideally, from a technical and tactical standpoint the athletes should be highly proficient with a high level of automaticity.
From a physical perspective, the basics of strength and power training should be relatively established with these qualities evidently contributing to the athletes sporting performance.
Whilst the emphasis on winning is unquestionable during this stage, it is still important to maintain an “always learning” mentality in order to maximise potential for continual growth and improvement.
The last, but certainly not the least, component of our youth training philosophy is enjoyment.
This is something that can often be lost, especially amidst the science of training.
Youth athletes who fail to enjoy their training/competition are infinitely more likely to drop out of sport and, potentially, physical activity compared to those that do.
The finger is often too easily directed at the disruptive or lazy kid, however, it’s important for coach’s to acknowledge the importance of enjoyment as part of a wider picture of athletic development.
WARM-UP AND MOVEMENT TRAINING.
We prioritise warm-ups at Boxing Science with our youth athletes as it ingrains positive training habits that will enable these young individuals to develop robustness and get the most out of their sessions.
Throughout the scientific literature, the benefits of an effective warm-up are highlighted and include but are not limited to:
Decreased muscle stiffness.
Increased core temperature.
Increased contractile force of the muscle.
Improved joint range of motion.
Reduced likelihood of injury.
Improved blood flow to working muscles.
It’s important to maximise warm-up time and sufficiently prepare youth athletes for the session ahead.
At Boxing Science, we ensure to include basic mobility movements that target common movement limitations associated with boxing and also modern-day living.
Primarily, our warm-ups target:
With our youth athletes we will also incorporate landing mechanics, plyometrics and agility based work to develop fundamental movement skills (agility, balance and co-ordination)
Speed and agility can be developed further with advanced jumping and medicine ball exercises, however, it is imperative to initially develop solid landing, jumping, and rebounding mechanics before adding load or complexity.
Warm-ups of this nature should be performed prior to both boxing and strength sessions to allow these athletes to get the most out of each session.
As referred to previously, establishing basic levels of strength from a young age can have a hugely positive impact on boxing performance.
We know through research that the punching action requires the production of high levels of force in a short period of time. This is commonly known as hand-speed, however, is referred to as rate of force development (RFD) among sport scientists and strength and conditioning coaches.
The easiest and most efficient way to improve RFD, especially for young/novice athletes, is to improve strength or the ability to produce maximal force.
DEVELOPING STRENGTH FOR YOUTH ATHLETES
We firmly believe in mastering the technical elements of basic movement patterns to develop strength with our youth athletes.
To do this we begin with bodyweight and light loaded implements such as light dumbbells, bands, medicine balls and kettlebells.
The primary movements we believe are important for general athletic development, include:
This includes single leg exercises which are quadriceps and glute dominant exercises, for example split squats and Cossack squats.
These exercises combine the use of both legs simultaneously, again within a quadriceps and glute dominant movement, typically the most common exercise is a squat.
Any upper body exercise where the arm extends away from the body would be categorized as this and can be broken down into two directional patterns, horizontal (e.g. press ups) and vertical (e.g. shoulder press).
Similar to upper body pushing, this comprises vertical (e.g. pull ups) and horizontal (e.g. suspension rows) exercises, here the arms flex and pull towards the body.
The program should focus on developing stability across the four key movements of the spine, flexion, extension, rotation and lateral-flexion. Developing good core stability will enhance movement skills; transfer of force and reduce the likelihood of injury.
Evidence-based recommendations for sets and reps suggest that 2-3 Sets of 8-15 repetitions are sufficient for refining technique and improving strength. As the athlete progresses small increments in load can be added, the nature of the movement may be altered to add complexity or rep-ranges can be adjusted to increase difficulty.
For core training it is important to begin with stability. This may include static holds, where the emphasis is on resisting force in a given direction. Stability can also incorporate resisting forces through movement. Optimal sets and reps for core training are 2-3 sets of 20-30 sec holds for isometric exercises or 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for dynamic core movements.
In terms of session format, circuits are probably your best option, especially when dealing with large groups. Try and alternate between upper and lower body movements within the circuit in order to minimise fatigue. Allow sufficient rest between rounds to maintain technique and rep quality throughout (1-2 mins).
SPEED & POWER DEVELOPMENT
In combination with the basic strength movements outlined above, the ability to land, jump, catch, throw, sprint and brace should also be considered fundamental movement skills for youth athletes.
Mastering these abilities at a young age is a great way to teach the youthful and pliable nervous system how to move explosively and with intent. Additionally, with most of these exercises being ballistic in nature there is significant potential to develop fast-twitch muscle fibres which are responsible for explosive and rapid displays of force i.e the punching action.
Firstly, it is paramount develop landing mechanics and the ability to absorb force as this creates a solid base for force production in the future. The video below is taking from our Ultimate Conditioning for Combat Sports workshop: Plyometrics For Boxing and is a great demonstration of how to begin teaching correct landing and jumping mechanics.
Short sprints, jumps and light medicine ball throws are fantastic ways to develop speed and power for youth boxers. Begin with basic bodyweight variations before adding load to these movements and ensure athletes are maintaining technique and intent throughout.
Lower rep ranges are usually recommended for power training to maximise intent and quality during the set which is essential for developing the desired neuromuscular adaptations.
2-3 sets by 3-5 repetitions is often deemed appropriate to develop speed and power.
Landing, jump, sprint and throw variations can be performed as part of a circuit following the main warm-up and before the main session. Pick three or four explosive movements to focus on for each circuit and ensure adequate rest is provided between each round (1-2 mins).
Despite what many think, boxing is not your typical endurance sport.
We are informed the current body of evidence relating to the physical demands of boxing that a significant portion of boxing competition is performed in the Red Zone which is describes an intensity >90% of maximal heart-rate.
At this high intensity legs feel heavy due to lactate accumulation, concentration and focus are diminished and punches are often less forceful.
Considering this, steady-state long road runs should be avoided as much as possible for conditioning, especially with youth athletes who may struggle with the impact forces of high running volumes.
It is important to expose youth athletes to higher intensities in a careful and calculated manner to avoid disrupting their skeletal development.
A significant amount of conditioning for a youth athlete can be derived specific boxing training, especially sparring, general activity/play and participation in multiple sports.
We can maximise the conditioning stimulus during boxing sessions through manipulation of work:rest ratios.
Including shorter work intervals during classic three minute rounds facilitates higher force outputs and higher intensities in a boxing specific manner.
This will enable the youth athlete to become accustomed to performing the skills of boxing under high levels of fatigue. Additionally, it will also help with power endurance characteristics and the ability to repeat high force actions following brief rest periods.
Alternative ways to effectively develop conditioning for boxing during boxing sessions can be found on our Boxing Science Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOkISdoa50NuCsMYwy4uW9g
Exposure to strength and conditioning methods from an early age is extremely beneficial for long-term athletic development and injury prevention.
The three stages of the Long Term Athletic Development model (LTAD) include:
8-13 yrs – Learning to Train.
13-17 yrs – Training to Compete.
17+ yrs – Training to Win.
The warm-up is an extremely important component of any training program and should not be overlooked, especially when training youth populations.
Strength, Speed and Power are developed through a combination of training strategies. The common priorities for each are to begin with basic variations, master technique and gradually increase difficulty via small increments in load and/or volume.
For more information regarding our youth athlete training methods see our Train Like A Champion: Youth Athlete Edition, which provides you with a detailed program that incorporates each of the methods outline above: https://boxingscience.co.uk/product/youth-strength-and-conditioning-program-for-boxing/