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In this article, we will share Terri Harper’s Strength and Conditioning methods that helped her become a Two-Weight world champion.

The former Super-Featherweight world champion recently moved up weight, and was seeking world title opportunities at Lightweight.

In the summer of 2022, Terri was presented a unique opportunity stepping up 3 weight divisions to challenge for the WBA + IBO Super-Welterweight titles.

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On Saturday 24th September, Terri put on an impressive performance to win on an unanimous points decision. Terri displayed with a superior jab, footwork and speed to comfortably win on a wide points decision.

To move up 3-4 weight divisions and win with such ease was an amazing achievement, as moving up weight division can cause some difficult scenarios…

  • How to put on muscle mass for boxing?
  • What methods to use to gain strength at higher weight class?
  • How to improve fitness at increased weight?
  • How to maintain speed whilst increasing weight?

These were discussed as a team at the start of camp to help structure a detailed program adapted to the unique challenge of stepping up three weight divisions.

Terri Harper’s strength and conditioning was extremely challenging and gruelling, she applied 100% effort and reaped the rewards.

In this article, we will review Terri’s strength and conditioning methods that helped her become two-weight world champion.

💪 Maximal Strength
💥 Hand Speed Development
🥵 Max Effort Sprints
🔥 Power / Speed Endurance Circuits

THE EVOLUTION OF THE BELTER

Terri started working with Boxing Science in September 2020 following her draw with Natasha Jonas. She was a fast responder, with big gains in strength, speed and high-intensity fitness ahead of her impressive Round 9 TKO win against Kathirina Thanderz.

Terri successfully defended her WBC and IBO Super-Featherweight world titles and ready to unify the division. However, Terri broke her left hand during the fight. This consequently required two surgeries which kept her out of the ring for 12 months. The year out made it more difficult for Terri to make the 9st 4lbs weight limit.

After suffering defeat to Alycia Baumgardner in November 2021, it was clear to the team that Terri needed to move up weight divisions. She returned to the ring in March 2022 5 pounds heavier, healthier and stronger.

The Step Up

When moving up one weight division, there isn’t that much to change in terms of preparation as the % of body mass change is not significant enough to alter strength and conditioning methods. If anything, the performance during camp will be much better due to less extreme weight descent and increased energy availability.

However, it is important to have a specific strength and conditioning strategy when jumping multiple weight divisions. This is to cope with various physical demands of performing at increased body mass.

Boxers often struggle to perform at high-intensities, cope with strength of naturally bigger opponents or transfer their speed to the higher weight-divisions.

Now we will review the methods used to help Terri successfully win her fight and become two-weight world champion.

DEVELOPING HAND SPEED 

We knew that Hand speed would be one of Terri’s main attributes over opponents at heavier weights. Often fighters moving up put on upper body mass that can affect transfer of hand speed to the higher weight division. 

To combat this, we restricted maximal strength work for the upper body to avoid gaining upper-body mass and focussed on strength-speed exercises such as Bench Press Throws, Banded Speed Bench Press and Landmine Split Jerks. 

On Punch Specific exercises we focussed on Terri’s ability to fully rotate through her punches. Three key exercises were Landmine Punch with Pre-Rotation, ISO Hold to MB Throw and MB Punch Throw followed by a Lead Hook. 

Pulling Speed Exercises

Terri’s upper body pulling work was focused on both the speed of the concentric and eccentric contractions.

The aim of this was to improve the rate of which her agonist muscles (namely biceps, rhomboids and lats) could both contract, but also relax during the eccentric phase. Terri had to complete reps with moderate loads – with time taken to complete 8-15 reps recorded for every set. Quicker time to completion indicated faster concentric, eccentric and relaxation rates.

A greater rate of relaxation during shoulder and elbow extension can allow for optimised hand speed. By reducing the inhibition created from the antagonist muscles (biceps, lats and rhomboids) during these movements.

Effectively this creates an adaptation which “tells” the elbow and shoulder joints that it is “safe” to extend at higher velocities. This increases the potential for faster and higher levels of force production during punching.

MAXIMAL STRENGTH / STRENGTH-ENDURANCE

With Terri increasing her mass, we needed to increase maximal strength to help improve her ‘pound for pound’ strength. Terri was already capable of hitting 130 kg on Trap Bar Deadlifts, we needed to find alternative ways to increase max strength.

We started with Cluster Sets on Trap Bar Deadlift from Blocks / Anderson Squats. This was performed for 3 sets of 3 reps @ 100% 1RM. This accumulated in 18-27 reps @ 1RM which challenged Power-Endurance, whilst also exposing Terri to high weight loads repeatedly. 

This transitioned to Banded TBD and Banded Box Squats to develop acceleration, before maxing out on TBD from blocks / Box Squats for 3 reps x 3-4 sets. This resulted in Terri performing a very impressive 120 kg Box Squat for 3 reps.

By being at a heavier weight for longer and being on higher calories, we were able to maintain our maximal strength training later on in the training camp.

In traditional camps where boxers are making weight weight, maximal strength training often finishes 4-6 weeks away from the fight in order to focus on strength-speed / speed-strength adaptations. Loads / intensity sessions are also adapted to the boxers reduced body mass and energy availability.

We took advantage of Terri being fuelled in the latter stages of camp, and she was still lifting 90-100% 1RM through partial range lifts one week out from the fight.

REACTIVE STRENGTH + EXPLOSIVENESS

In previous fights, Terri has displayed fantastic footwork far superior to her opponents. This was identified as a key attribute over opponents at a heavier weight, as well as a key tactic to avoid fighting up-close and in clinches against a naturally bigger opponent.

Footwork is a very tactical and technical aspect of performance that is developed and well-drilled in the boxing gym. However, reactive strength of the foot and ankle complex is an important contributor to attacking and defensive movements of the feet during Boxing.

Reactive strength is hard to maintain when increasing weight, hence why boxers often look slow and sluggish when stepping up weight divisions.

Reactive Strength Index (RSI) is calculated by dividing flight time by contact time during 10/5 pogo hop test. Essentially we’re aiming for our athletes to jump higher with reduced contact time to improve RSI.

To improve flight time, we worked on strength of the calf complex with Isometric Calf Raise variations (3-5 sec holds x 3-5 reps). We used this as a potentiation tool with Pogos to increase force production and flight time.

We then progressed complexes of Band Assisted Pogos and footwork drills that targeted short ground contact times. Footwork drills included Ali Shuffles on the agility ladder, bench slaloms and cariocas.

We also used sprinting drills as a tool to increase reactive strength as it exposes athletes to high forces and low contact times.

Increasing momentum

From our Boxing Science research, we know that the higher an athlete can jump, the harder they can punch. This has made lower-body speed and explosiveness a key area for our athletes to improve on, targeted through maximal strength training, strength-speed exercises and plyometrics.

It would be more difficult to maintain jump height when increasing body mass. In particular dealing with increased eccentric demands during the downward phase.

Therefore, we overloaded the eccentric phase during jumping action with different versions of Accentuated jumps.

Accentuated Jumps are a great tool to help increase the effectiveness of the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). This leads to increased strength, speed and explosiveness of the lower body.

Accentuated jumps is when the resistance on the eccentric phase of the jump is increased. This targets improvements in eccentric utilisation during a jump.

This can be achieved by dropping from an increased height (depth jumps), with resistance bands or dumbbells.

We used momentum during jump assessments as the metric to compare Terri’s ability to produce lower-body explosiveness. This was calculated as mass x take-off velocity.

There is research that suggests that momentum explains 90% of punch force (Nakano et al. 2014). This makes momentum a key metric to monitor when working with boxers across different weight categories.

Speed and Power-Endurance

Terri was performing 24 pounds heavier than her normal bodyweight, which meant that increased demand of her muscles during boxing could result in high accumulations of ‘Lactic Acid’.

We had to make the sessions GRUELLING in order to deal with the increased demands, so she had the capabilities to work at high-intensities over 10 rounds at her new weight division. Here is what we targeted. 

INCREASE PEAK POWER / SPEED

Increasing peak intensity on the Air Bike and Curve is essentially increasing Terri’s upper limit of performance. This is increasing ‘The Size Of The Tank’ which means that high-intensity efforts during Boxing will become more sub-maximal.

Furthermore, this will improve her performance on the 30 second maximal sprint sessions which will increase the stress at the muscle, which will in turn promote heightened physical adaptations.

We used maximal sprints, sprint mechanics and cluster conditioning sets to unlock Terri’s peak intensity on the Curve treadmill and the Air Bike. 

Maximal Sprints for Peripheral Adaptations

When increasing body mass, it is important for athletes to improve the muscles ability to extract and utilise oxygen from the blood.

If this is not achieved, this can increase muscular acidosis during high-intensity actions. This can limit an athletes upper-limit to high-intensity performance whilst also contributing to fatigue.

This made our infamous 30 seconds max effort sprints an essential training method to target peripheral adaptations.

Muscle Buffering Adaptations

The major challenge for heavyweight boxers is in dealing with the acidosis that accompanies their high-force punches. We can train boxers to buffer acidosis by training at high speed/power and moderate to high magnitudes of acidosis. This training technique, known as muscle buffer training, is very effective at enabling boxers to compete at high intensities, even under significant acidosis. Those who buffer the best beat the rest.

Speed-Endurance / Power-Endurance Circuits

Despite favouring running and air bike for most of our conditioning protocols, we also love putting our athletes through conditioning circuits at Boxing Science.

Circuit training has been a metaphorical stalwart of boxing tradition, helping champions in shape for the past century.

Circuits are a way of combining a range of exercises to target predominantly aerobic fitness. Some of these are gruelling and feel like they will get you fit, but often performed for too long or with poor exercise selection that affects the ability to target adaptations that underpin high-intensity performance.

At Boxing Science, we structure our circuits to target either central (red-zone) or muscle buffering adaptations. Circuits are a great tool to challenge speed, power and concentration under fatigue, whilst also challenging upper- and lower-body endurance.

Circuits are also used to create training variation and to challenge conditioning without running. This was important as we wanted to increase the conditioning intensity, however was mindful of Terri’s running loads and intensity at an increased weight load could lead to fatigue and potential injury risk.

The circuits were designed for muscle buffering adaptations that we normally target in our 12s on : 48s off protocol on the curve. We used 15 seconds on : 45 seconds off as our protocol, aiming for a total workout time between 15-16 minutes.

This was divided into two phases, speed and power-endurance. This challenged Terri’s ability to repeatedly perform high-intensities and high-force actions under fatigue.

We started with power-endurance, which included speed-strength exercises such as speed banded bench press, medicine ball slams and banded kettlebell swing (video below).

With three weeks to go, we transitioned to speed-endurance that utilised faster and lighter exercises including ladder drills, banded plyo press ups and sprinting on the spot.

Gaining the Mass

Terri fighting at 154 pounds presented a unique opportunity of a fighter that didn’t have to “make weight”, as her natural weight is between 150-154 pounds.

However, we still needed to tweak a few areas of her nutrition to ensure she could perform at this weight without fatiguing.

We know that weight is likely to increase relative V02  max decreases and blood lactate rises meaning that the body finds it harder to reach and maintain work at those high intensities.

Phase 1 – Fuel

For the majority of the camp we wanted to ensure that Terri was fuelled for the harder and longer volume training sessions from 9-3 weeks out. This gave us a 6-week period to increase energy and macronutrient intake to help fuel and recover from training sessions.

To put this into perspective, Terri was on almost double the amount of calories (2800 kcals per day) compared to when she had to make 130 lbs.

We increased carbohydrate intake towards 4-5g/kg and protein up to 2.5g/kg per training day. This allowed her to build some muscle but also ensure that she was properly fuelled for her sparring and high intensity conditioning sessions.

Moreover, this was allowing Terri to run and spar at a higher weight that she was used to.

We wanted to avoid Terri from sparring at a lighter body mass by decreasing energy intake during key sessions.

The reason is so that when she fought, and we increased carbohydrate intake she would feel heavy legged despite having adequate amounts of energy.

To help towards reducing fatigue and improving recovery and effective mass we supplemented daily with creatine monohydrate, beta alanine, and omega 3 from nutrition x. This helped Terri to work at higher intensities where needed as well as aid recovery.

Phase 2 – The Taper

We had to adapt nutrition needed to change due to the lower volume of training during the taper phase. We reduced the carbohydrate and energy intake as this could have resulted in Terri gaining mass. Something we wanted to avoid later in camp as this would likely to negatively affect her performance,

We decreased food volume and fibre intake on fight week. This is similar to a traditional fight week where an athlete needs to lose body mass. This wasn’t as extreme, as the aim was for Terri to not gain weight during a lower-activity week.

In the final 24 hours, we did not carbohydrate load as much as previous fights. The reason why is that Terri did not have to refuel as much. After a weigh in for example usually, we would aim towards 10g/kg of carbohydrates, for this fight Terri consumed just 6.5g/kg.

The reason being was that we did not need to deplete energy stores to make weight. But also, Terri was fighting later at night than she was sparring at. If we increased carbohydrate intake dramatically, she would have entered the ring heavier than she sparred at.

These nutritional strategies was to help fuel Terri, but not carrying unnecessary body mass. This ensured Terri felt light, fast and fluid in the ring, whilst being fuelled for the distance.

Summary

The blueprint was set for Terri, but it took her commitment and determination to make the plan work.

Terri gave 100% into every session, and reaped the rewards on fight night.

A team effort to help Terri make the jump to 154, but it was down to the Belter to make it happen on the night.

We continue to support Terri and can’t wait to see what’s next in chapter 154!