The continual development of our conditioning strategies has seen a shift towards more sprint based conditioning for our fighters due to the potent adaptations we can obtain from these sessions in a short space of time and how these adaptations can compliment subsequent training phases.
As such, emphasising the development of sprint technique has become an even more pivotal component of our conditioning strategy to maximise safety and performance when required to hit maximal speeds.
This has led to our boxers performing technical sprint drilling prior to the majority of their conditioning sessions.
Though on the surface allocating time towards the betterment of sprint technique with boxers seems unnecessary, when taking a perspective of maximising adaptations derived from the upcoming session, improving sprint technique seems logical.
In this article we will:
Discuss the science behind sprint based conditioning for boxing.
Outline the key technical components of both acceleration and max velocity running.
Provide example drills, alongside coaching cues, that you can incorporate with your athletes.
SPRINT BASED CONDITIONING FOR BOXING
Our sprint interval protocols, which we have discussed in depth across our social media platforms, are often the most gruelling sessions the boxers on our program have ever encountered.
Despite being low in volume, the intensity that we demand from the athletes that train with us is what causes severe discomfort but also promotes profound adaptations from a conditioning perspective.
Indeed, one of our most common sessions only features 2 minutes of actual running, comprised of four 30 second sprints with 3 minutes of rest between each sprint.
SPRINT INTERVAL TRAINING (SIT)
This type of conditioning is known as Sprint Interval Training and is designed to rapidly deplete energy sources available to the muscle cell in order to stimulate a range of intracellular responses that improve a muscles ability to utilise oxygen.
Improving the muscles ability to extract oxygen from the capillary network and utilise this oxygen for energy production represents one strategy of enhancing aerobic capacity, as per the VO2 max equation.
This is often a route less travelled by boxers who mainly opt for long distance, steady paced running as their primary means of conditioning.
Therefore, sprint interval training can be a powerful and potent tool for inducing significant improvements in aerobic capacity in a short period of time.
The importance of developing a large aerobic engine for boxers has been previously highlighted throughout the scientific literature (1, 2, 3).
Athletes who have substantial aerobic capacities are able to set a higher pace in the ring without accumulating excessive fatigue and are also able to recover quicker between fast bursts as well as between rounds compared to less aerobically capable athletes (1).
Existing research on the effectiveness of sprint interval training has found that max effort sprints of 30 second duration improve skeletal muscle oxidative capacity, contributing to improved maximal oxygen uptake and endurance performance (1).
Similarly, Macpherson et al. (2), demonstrated that SIT was just as effective as conventional endurance training in improving 2k time trial performance. The authors suggested that this improvement was mainly due to peripheral adaptations, within the muscle cell, rather than central adaptations associated with the cardiovascular system due to a lack of improvement in cardiac output among the SIT group.
Among olympic combat sport athletes, SIT was one of the high intensity conditioning formats proven to be effective in promoting significant improvements in maximal aerobic capacity, following an extensive review of conditioning strategies in combat sports (3).
Along with enhancing measures of aerobic performance, all-out High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) formats such as SIT are likely to benefit boxers from an aerobic perspective also given the high blood lactate concentrations these conditioning methods produce.
Whilst quantifying the extent to which anaerobic energy sources contribute to the physiological demands experienced by boxers, high blood lactate concentrations (14-15 mol/l) following 4 x 2 minute competition have been previously reported (3).
Athletes who are not exposed or accustomed to this level of acidosis often set a relatively slow pace in order to stay clear of such an acidic environment.
Long distance runners are an obvious example where their race pace will often depend on the speed they can maintain without exceeding a lactate concentration of 4 mmol/l in order to delay fatigue and perform for the given race duration.
Boxers, in contrast must be able to withstand high levels of acidosis as there will be times in a bout where they are required to perform repeated bursts of high intensity activity (aggressive defensive manoeuvres, consecutive combination punching) due to sustained pressure by their opponent or in instances where their opponent is hurt and a stoppage is possible.
In such instances, an ill prepared athlete will likely succumb to the negative consequences of high blood lactate concentrations such as reduced muscle contractile force/velocity, discomfort and impaired concentration or will not possess the capacity to push the pace and force a stoppage.
Despite being short in duration our sprint interval sessions frequently elicit blood lactate concentrations exceeding 19 mmol/l.
This means we are forcing our athletes to tolerate high levels of acidosis and perform at an intensity much greater than that of a bout, meaning they train HARD and FIGHT EASY.
This is only the case, however, if the athletes possess the physical, psychological and technical capacities to exert maximal effort and reach high sprinting speeds, hence the importance of developing sprinting technique.
Along with the ability to tolerate high lactates, boxers must also possess sufficient lactate buffering capabilities at sub maximal intensities.
This brings us on to another of our sprint-based conditioning protocols, known as muscle buffering.
MUSCLE BUFFERING – 12 ON : 48 OFF
Muscle buffering conditioning may be simply defined as performing intensities that elicit blood lactate concentrations of between 10 and 12 mmol/l (7).
Practically, the classic muscle buffering session that we implement, typically consists of 2 minute work bouts at an intensity that elicit blood lactate concentrations of 8-12 mmol/l, interspersed with 2-3 mins of recovery and repeated 6-12 times.
We have used and continual to use this session, progressing from 6 to 8 repetitions in our conditioning programs, usually around 4-6 weeks out from competition.
As competition nears, this format will transition to a more intense and high speed variation of this session where 12 second bouts are performed for a total of 15-20 repetitions with 48 seconds of recovery provided between each 12 second effort.
This type of session is similar to typical high volume speed endurance or tempo protocols commonly reported throughout the literature.
During these sessions, boxers are challenged to perform repeated high intensity or sprint efforts whilst controlling the level of lactate accumulated.
Becoming more efficient in these type of sessions i.e producing less lactate for the same high intensity, enables our boxers to perform and recover from consecutive, explosive combinations without experiencing excessive fatigue in the ring.
A significant part of being economical during these sessions, along with possessing the force capabilities, is displaying technical proficiency when running.
Therefore, reinforcing sprinting technique in warm ups is important to maximise performance in these sessions along with helping to prevent injuries when reaching high running speeds.
Recent research, providing recommendations for the implementation of conditioning among combat sport athletes suggests performing muscle buffering three times per week for a total of 8 weeks to achieve the desired adaptations (7).
SPRINT TRAINING FOR BOXING: MAX VELOCITY & ACCELERATION
Sprint training is frequently separated into acceleration and max velocity training given these represent distinct phases of most sprinting events.
Additionally, the sprints we perform as part of our conditioning sessions require a combination of strong starts and maintaining as close to peak speed as possible in order to obtain the most from these types of sessions.
This is especially true for our sprint interval training sessions where the ability to rapidly deplete the muscle’s energy reserve is dictated by the degree to which the athlete attacks each rep and accelerate to the highest speed possible, as quickly as possible.
Typically, acceleration is considered the time or distance an athlete needs to achieve top speed.
For track and field sprinters, this can often take up to 60m as they tend to accelerate to a higher speed compared to other athletes.
Among team sport athletes, top speed is generally achieved in the first 20m of a sprint and this could potentially be less for boxers due to their lack of exposure to sprinting and, therefore, lower maximal speeds.
It is important to note that technical elements associated with acceleration are markedly different to that of max velocity.
Acceleration is characterised by forward lean in the intended direction, forceful drive back and down into the ground, horizontal shin angle and piston action of the lower limbs, with ankle crossing below the knee of the opposite leg to maximise acceleration efficiency.
Ground contact times are longer and stride length is shorter as the aim is to generate as much horizontal force as possible, driving back and down into the ground in order to propel the center of mass forwards.
Additionally, arm drive is exaggerated shoulder and elbow flexion to the front and shoulder/elbow extension to the rear in order to induce a stretch reflex of the pec.
In contrast to acceleration, maximal speed sprinting requires a more upright position with shorter ground contacts and greater stride length in order to maintain as much speed as possible.
The action of the lower body is also considerably different to the acceleration phase, where there is a cyclical action as the heel is pulled closer to the glutes.
This tends to place greater demand on the hamstrings especially as the foot regains contact with the ground following the flight phase.
Rather then exaggerated hip flexion and extension as in acceleration, maintaining max velocity requires large amounts of limb stiffness and minimal, yet forceful flexion and extension of the ankle, knee and hip during ground contact i.e maximum stiffness and minimal deformation of the limb
Arm motion is also less exaggerated in order to maintain forward alignment of the trunk along with appropriate coordination of the upper and lower limbs.
OPTIMISING SPRINT TRAINING FOR BOXERS
Evidently there are many components of sprinting technique that, as a coach or athlete, you could potentially aim to improve.
It is important, however, to focus on the most relevant aspects of both acceleration and max velocity sprinting in order to avoid spending too much time on teaching a skill that is ultimately not a key movement in the athlete’s sport or confusing the athlete with loads of information.
Therefore, from an acceleration perspective the main things to help an athlete understand are:
The importance of adopting a forward lean and not becoming too upright too early.
Piston action of the lower body, avoiding a looping action of the heel in the initial steps out of the start position.
Contrastingly, when teaching max velocity sprinting mechanics it is important to incorporate drills that promote:
Ball of foot contact underneath the hips.
Rapid and efficient heel recovery.
Maintenance of an upright trunk with minimal swaying.
Teaching correct acceleration mechanics can be started, simply, with allowing the athlete to be comfortable in a forward lean position.
Typical drills that can reinforce this posture include:
Though at Boxing Science we seldom use Hill starts due to not having access to a hill/slope in close proximity to our facility, these are a powerful and simple tool to really harness correct acceleration positions as the slope will force the athlete to maintain a forward lean position for an extended period of time compared to accelerating on a flat surface.
The fundamental drills we use to teach acceleration are wall drills.
These are really effective at promoting a forward lean posture, emphasising rapid switching of the limbs with a low heel recovery, introducing the athlete to the concept of driving back and down into the ground and also serve to provide a safe single leg plyometric stimulus, which can help improve reactive strength and footwork.
Most importantly, wall drills afford the athlete an opportunity to refine and understand acceleration technique in a more controlled manner than actual sprinting.
Check out the video below for example wall drills we use with our athletes at Boxing Science.
If knee drives are too complex for your athlete, a simple regression is to perform knee drive holds against the wall, with the athlete pushing as forcefully into the wall as possible whilst maintaining the correct posture.
Typically, these holds are performed for 5 seconds at a time and repeated 3-5 times on each leg.
Other acceleration drills we incorporate in warm ups prior to our conditioning sessions include resisted marches, which may serve as a progression from wall drills.
Rather than doing normal/upright marches, the band will allow an athlete to lean forward whilst moving forward and striking forcefully down and back into the ground.
This ultimately provides the athlete with more information about the necessary positions for efficient acceleration.
Along with these basic drills we also incorporate short sprints from various starts or using resistance.
One of the main start variations we use is the falling start which, again, ingrains the concept of adopting a forward lean and positive shin angle when driving out from the start position.
Having mastered wall drive and march variations, it is hoped that the athlete will transfer principles learned in these drills to the starts.
Resisted starts are also a very useful progression that will extend the time in which athletes adopt a forward lean whilst also promoting the idea of driving back and down into the ground.
As a coach or training partner it is important to be aware of an appropriate level of resistance when performing band resisted sprints.
There is great debate throughout the scientific literature regarding the optimal load to use when performing resisted sprinting and how to prescribe that load, i.e should it be based on the level of speed decrement or a percentage of body mass.
Previously, researchers have suggested that the level of resistance should not cause excessive disruptions to the athlete’s technique and should be less than 15% of body mass (11).
Similar support for the use of relatively light resistances can be taken from the work of Cissik (9), who suggests that resistances causing greater than 10% decrements in speed are excessive and may lead to maladaptation in sprinting technique.
Recent research, however, has discovered that heavier resistances may have a role in improving acceleration, especially among those that have not been exposed to repetitive drilling of acceleration techniques, and is potentially a more efficient means of improving acceleration for these athletes (10, 11).
This is based on the fact that to elicit optimal levels of horizontal power, which is the key metric influencing acceleration ability, loads between 78% and 112% of body mass are required, based on data from individual load-velocity profiles using resisted sprinting (10, 11).
Indeed, training at and around the optimal horizontal power load has recently proven effective in improving short sprint performance among soccer players without impairing sprinting technique (12).
Ultimately, the level of resistance applied will depend on the training goal and how much of a priority improving acceleration actually is for that athlete.
At Boxing Science, the concept of finding each of our athlete’s optimal power load through resisted sprint profiling would be time consuming and not that beneficial in terms having a direct impact on their sporting performance.
The main reason we use resisted sprints is to reinforce efficient technique which our athletes can transfer to their sprint based conditioning, enabling them to become faster and fitter as a result of the stimulus provided by the session itself.
After all, the main method of increasing speed, is to sprint fast and sprint well!
MAX VELOCITY DRILLS
Coaching max velocity sprinting technique can often be complex as the inherent higher running speeds create even more of a gap between slow natured drilling and actual performance of the skill itself.
Again, it is important to prioritise the components of max velocity that will have the biggest impact.
Typically, we focus on drills that promote stiffness through the lower body, rhythm and firm ball of foot ground contact.
The main drills we use are:
B Leg Swings
Broomstick Knee Drives
As a foundational exercise, B-Leg swing variations are an easy way to allow the athlete to understand quick heel recovery having made contact with the ground.
This is an important part of maximal velocity sprinting as excessive looping action of the heel will contribute to hamstring strains and failure to achieve true maximal speeds when running on the curve, especially.
We also use ankling as a warm up tool for the calfs as well as ingraining the concept of actively bringing the foot back down to the ground.
Previously, ankling has previously been highlighted as a key learning tool for max velocity running as well as specific development of the calf complex (9).
Also, to help max velocity we need to train stiffness of the lower limb during ball of foot contact with the floor.
Common and perhaps more advanced exercises to improve the lower limbs ability to resist deformation include drop jumps, pogos and tuck jumps (13).
Skips for height and distance as well as bound variations are also useful exercises to use in these warm ups and should be included with more advanced athletes to promote continual progression of their running technique.
Finally, maintaining a stable, upright trunk is important whilst the lower body performs explosive flexion/extension patterns is imperative to effective high speed running.
Using a simple tool as a broomstick across the athlete’s back can be a fantastic external cue to minimise trunk rotation whilst running at high speeds.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Now that you’re aware of the various running drills that you can incorporate into your boxer’s warm ups, its important to know how to put all these movements together and in a manner that is suitable for the level of your athletes.
Therefore, we have attached some example warm ups that you can implement straight away before your conditioning sessions.
As shown above there is beginner, intermediate and advanced variations of this warm up, so you can tailor them to the level of your athletes.
We would advise performing some general movement beforehand to mobilise and activate the key muscle groups involved in these drills but also in running conditioning sessions.
For more information around these types of drills you can take a look at the YouTube video below or you can sign up to our Boxing Science Membership which gives you access to over 50 workshops, including an extended workshop on Sprint Training For Workshop where you will learn more about how to coach and implement the drills mentioned above: https://boxingscience.co.uk/online-membership/
In this article we have discussed the following regarding sprint training for boxing:
The importance of developing sprinting technique is based on getting the most of our sprint based conditioning methods, which have been proven to be efficient and effective conditioning methods for improving aerobic and muscle buffering capacity.
The differences between acceleration and max velocity.
How to optimise training for acceleration and max velocity among boxers.
Drills to target the respective nuances of accelerations and max velocity.
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