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Strength and conditioning is becoming more and more popular within the boxing community.

In this article, S&C Coach Danny Wilson selects his Top 5 strength and conditioning exercises for Boxing and Combat Sports.

  • Five exercises that feature in most S&C programmes for professional athletes at Boxing Science
  • Learn the scientific benefits and application of each exercise
  • Video demonstrations and explanations of each exercise.

Boxing tradition states that adding muscle mass to a boxer will slow them down. Whilst contemporary S&C coaches argue against the latter.

Depending on the training method, however, both are correct.

A forceful punch is dependent on momentum. This is related to how quickly we can move mass towards the target (glove to head).

So the best way to punch harder is to get bigger, stronger and move faster. That’s why heavyweights with fast hands hit so hard. They generate a lot of force and momentum.

However, boxers are limited to increasing mass because they have to make weight. Therefore, developing momentum without adding excessive muscle mass becomes a priority.

This means that a boxer needs to focus on training to develop a neuromuscular system with the capability to generate force rapidly through the kinetic chain. To achieve this, we use a range of exercises of multi-joint exercises for the core, upper- and lower-body with different volumes and intensities to work across the force-velocity curve.

Our exercise library consists of over 60 different movements that work towards the goal of a harder punch. We  fit into an athletes programme depending on their individual needs.

No time for 60 different exercises… do you have time for our Top 5?

In this article, S&C Coach Danny Wilson selects his Top 5 strength and conditioning exercises for Boxing and Combat Sports.

The lower-body needs to be strong to transfer this energy to the hips, through the core and to the fist to deliver forceful punches. This is what we call the kinetic chain. In our data analysis, we discovered strong relationships between jump height and medicine ball throw distance.

This suggests the higher you can jump, the harder you can punch. The ability to jump is reliant on the amount of impulse produced from the lower body.

This means that lower body strength training can have a huge impact on punch force.

Additionally, the ability to produce force in the lower-body is important to run at high speeds during your conditioning. The faster you can run, the more strain you can put your muscular and cardiovascular system to improve fitness.

The main lower body lift we use is the Trap Bar Deadlift, as the technique can be learnt quickly – allowing athletes to load it up and see some quick strength gains.  

Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift

Starting from a static start means that it requires large amount of concentric force to perform heavy and fast lifting action. This is really beneficial for increasing rate of force development of the lower body.

The volume and intensity of Trap Bar Deadlifts can be easily adapted for different physiological adaptations. This means that this exercise can be trained consistently over the training camp, allowing more time for greater physiological adaptations for strength, speed and explosiveness.

Develops the posterior chain, this is important to improve function of glutes and hamstrings, as well as strengthening the lower back and core. This is important for athletes as the posterior chain is not strengthened through traditional boxing methods, therefore the Trap Bar Deadlift can also reduce the likelihood of injury.

Movement assessments show that boxers are quad-dominant athletes and find it difficult to hinge at the hips, this means that the glutes can become underactive. The Trap-Bar deadlift is a great tool to learn the hip-hinge pattern.

Due to tight shoulders and hips, many combat athletes find the Conventional Deadlift difficult to perform. This can affect technique, especially rounding of the back! This can increase the risk of injury, and limit the amount of load lifted. At Boxing Science, we prefer the Trap Bar Deadlift. The handles on the Trap Bar (Hex Bar) are in a neutral position and higher than the straight bar. This allows for a better and easier scapula retraction, as well as making it easier to achieve a stronger hip position.

These modifications help improve the lifting technique, reducing loading through the spine and allowing higher weight loads to be lifted. This can lead to increased gains in strength, speed and explosiveness whilst reducing the risk for injury. 

Promotes a forceful hip extension and requires good core strength. These are important for transferring force generated from floor to the hips and core through to the fist.

Develops core strength, this is important for rotational velocity and effective mass.

A large eccentric component to the lift will strengthen hamstrings and glutes, this develops an effective stretch shortening cycle whilst reducing the likelihood of injury.

WHEN TO USE THEM …… Strength, Max Strength and Strength-Speed Training Phases – alter the % 1RM, reps and sets.

These are the ‘gold’ standard for developing explosive strength, as it teaches “explosive” movements, activating several muscles & joints in the process. This has a large transfer to any sport that involves running, jumping, throwing or striking movements.

It also promotes rapid kinetic chain sequencing, which again is important for any sport. For example, a punch in boxing whereby force is generated from the lower body and hips, through the core then into the upper body.

We use variations of Olympic lifting appropriate to the athlete’s needs and lifting competency. Although it’s seen as the preferred method in developing strength-speed, it’s sometimes not necessary as it requires good technique.

BENEFITS OF THE CLEAN PULL

Developing Olympic lifting technique often takes time and good mobility, which are often limitations to how much we progress boxers on these lifts.

Teaches you to perform “explosive” movements, activating several muscles & joints in the process. This has a large transfer to any sport that involves running, jumping, throwing or striking movements.

Rapid kinetic chain sequencing, which is important for any sport e.g. Punch in boxing: Force from the generated from floor to the hips, through the core then into the upper body for a knockout punch.

Promotes effective mass as muscles activate during hip extension, relax during flight of the bar before contracting again during the catch.

Develops the ability to absorb force.

Activates and develops function of type II muscle fibers, these are needed to produce force quickly.

Regression and development exercises improve posture, mobility and reduce risk of injury.

WHEN TO USE THEM –….. Strength-Speed and Speed-Strength Training Phases – alter the % 1RM, reps and sets.

Good technique and effective lifting takes time, so don’t just pick up a bar and start cleaning.

Olympic lifting consists of a range of complex exercises so don’t just pick up a bar and start doing cleans after reading this article.

You need to develop movement patterns and foundational strength before attempting these exercises. Even then, we’d advise you seek coaching from an accredited strength and conditioning coach (UKSCA) to make sure you’re performing exercises correctly and safely.

Your upper body needs to be strong to transfer force through the fist and deal with high impact forces. Despite its importance, you should take care when training your upper body for two reasons.

  1. Poor shoulder mobility can alter technique, causing different activation patterns we don’t particularly want e.g. increased activation of the lower back and anterior deltoids (front of shoulders), which are high risk injury areas.
  2. Unwanted muscle size of the arms and chest could slow down punches due to an increased mass and relatively poor function.

Pressing exercises can develop the pectorals, deltoids and triceps which are important for producing hand speed and ‘stiffening’ upon impact. Hence why press-ups have been performed by many generations of boxers.

Straight punching requires a horizontal extension of the arms, so the horizontal press seems to have an obvious transfer. However, boxers should take care with technique and progressing these exercises due to shoulder mobility issues.

We use many different variations to avoid excessive loading through the shoulder joint and to reduce muscular imbalances. However, our gold standard pressing exercise for improving upper body strength is the Dumbbell Chest Press.

Benefits of the DB Chest Press

Develops upper body strength, particularly the chest, triceps and shoulders.

Neutral grip during DB Chest Press makes this exercise more shoulder friendly. This is useful as poor shoulder mobility is common in boxing.

Utilises the core and posterior muscles to create a foundation to press from

Partial range also increases the demand on the tricep muscles to assist in full extension of the arm. This can increase our strength at the end range of punches, as well as reducing likelihood of elbow and shoulder injuries.

Easy to set up and the technique is quickly learnt, also highest weight loads can be achieved on this exercises. This makes the DB Chest Press a big ‘Bang for Your Buck’ exercise as athletes can achieve progress in a short amount of time.

WHEN TO USE THEM ….. Strength, Max Strength and Strength-Speed Training Phases

Whether it is sit ups or leg raises, you’ve seen core training in most boxing sessions.

But why do we do it?

Our testing results suggest the stronger your core, the harder your punch! Core strength is important to a forceful punch because it links the lower and upper body in the Kinetic chain.

The Kinetic Chain is a term used to describe how force is transferred through different parts of the body to produce movement. In punching, force is transferred from the lower-body through to the first.

The core muscles are a vital link between lower- and upper-body, and help transfer force during punching actions. The amount of speed and force that can be transferred relies on the stretch-shortening cycle of the core muscles – this is how quickly and effectively muscles can absorb and re-produce force.

This is the most important attribute and role that the core muscles play during punching…. In particular combination punching.

Think about the action of the core during a back hand, lead hook combination…. The trunk and upper body has to decelerate from the back hand, then rapidly re-produce force into the lead hook.

This is why explosive core training is so important, and is included in our Top 5 strength and conditioning exercises.

NOTE: In our programmes, we ensure that core stability is well trained before moving on to more explosive exercises – check out our article on Core Training here…. 

Benefits of the Explosive Core Training

Training the core’s ability to absorb and re-produce force – this will improve the stretch-shortening cycle of the core.

This can play a huge role in the punching action, mainly hooks and combination punching.

The stretch-shortening cycle is also important to reduce the likelihood of injury, as the core will become more stable under high speed and high force actions – protecting the lower-back from over-load / overuse injuries.

Ideal for speed training and tapering phases to get fired up for fight night.

WHEN TO USE THEM ….. Strength-speed, Speed and Tapering Phases

Squats, deadlifts and core training helps you develop rate of force development, these will have huge benefits to punch force.

However, a boxer must also learn how to transfer and express this newly developed force in punch specific actions.

Punch specific exercises are ideal to help transfer your new strength and speed levels to improved punch force.

BENEFITS OF THE LANDMINE PUNCH

Trains the ability to transfer force through the kinetic chain during a punching action.

Encourage optimal hip extension and core rotation during a punching action.

Can over-emphasize the role of the key muscle groups during a punch by doing a pre-activation exercise. For example, a lower body speed exercise or a core rotation exercise can help increase the role of the lower body / core during a punch specific exercise.

Utilises the stretch-shortening cycle of the core during a punching action, an important physical contributor for combination punching.

Ideal for speed training and tapering phases to get fired up for fight night.

WHEN TO USE THEM …. Strength-speed, Speed and Tapering Phases

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