The warm up is an integral part of any training session across many sporting disciplines.
From coach to coach and club to club there is likely to be differences in how warm ups are performed in terms of intensity, duration and overall structure.
This is particularly true in boxing clubs where, often, the traditional warm up of the club or the warm up the coach himself performed as a boxer predominates.
Though there is not necessarily a wrong way to warm up, current evidence does hint towards an optimal warm up strategy.
In boxing where the margins between winning and losing at the highest level are so small, the appropriate implementation of optimal training strategies is important and this begins with the warm up.
With this said, the following article will discuss:
The science behind the warm up and the physiological mechanisms that underpin the use of a warm up.
Recommendations for an optimal warm-up.
How we apply scientific warm up recommendations to our own sessions.
Adjustments to the warm up based on the nature of the subsequent session i.e a Boxing, Conditioning or Strength session.
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SCIENCE BEHIND WARMING UP
The benefits of a warm up are many (some of which we will discuss below), but ultimately we are looking to achieve immediate gains in performance whilst preparing the athlete for high intensity activity and therefore decreasing the likelihood of injury.
Two methods of warming up have been outlined in the scientific evidence to date these include:
Passive, which is the use of external heating methods such as garments, heat massage and hot baths to elevate muscle and core temperature.
Active, this is the more common warm up method and involves the use of various forms of exercises to raise core temperature.
Whilst an active warm up is the most common type of warm up strategy across all sporting codes, the use of passive warm up techniques is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in professional environments, as a means of maintaining elevated core temperature between the end of the warm up and the beginning of the event (1).
An active warm up strategy is the type we use most often at Boxing Science due to its practicality and effectiveness in preparing the muscles and tendons for bouts of high intensity activity.
Therefore, the remainder of this article will refer to active warm up strategy techniques.
For more information on passive warm up methods, the reader is directed towards publications by Bishop (2 & 3).
BENEFITS OF A WARM UP – PERFORMANCE
The main performance benefits derived from an effective warm up are centred around a gradual increase in core muscle and body temperature which contributes to a range of internal physiological responses that prepare the boxer for the subsequent activity.
These responses include:
Increased rate of muscle glycogen depletion and therefore improved short duration, high intensity performance and improved rate of force development (4, 5, 6).
Improved muscle fiber performance specific to the speed at which the warm up task is performed. This means that type II fibre function may be increased following high intensity/high speed activity, whereas the opposite is true for type I muscle fibres (1, 6).
Heightened neuromuscular power which can lead to short term improvements in activities relying on the generation high levels of peak power in the shortest timeframe such as jumping, sprinting and punching (7, 8).
Whilst elevations in muscle and body temperature are considered the main mechanisms that underpin performance improvements following a warm up, added benefits that are not directly associate with these mechanisms but can have a potent impact on subsequent boxing activities include:
Improved oxygen uptake kinetics: This is significant for boxing considering the substantial influence aerobic metabolism has on performance in the ring, especially over a 12 round fight.
A quicker rise in oxygen uptake at the onset of exercise is deemed beneficial for sustained high intensity activity due to spared muscle glycogen (1), improved exercise tolerance (9, 10) and higher mean power output (11).
Combined with the appropriate conditioning strategies throughout training camp, this increase in oxygen uptake will enable the boxer to sustain higher intensities and work rates for longer parts of the fight whilst avoiding the build up of excessive lactic acid.
This will ultimately delay the point at which debilitating fatigue sets in.
Post Activation Potentiation (PAP): Warm up strategies have been shown to elicit a PAP response, contributing to improved performance of subsequent speed and power tasks.
PAP is a neuromuscular phenomenon that essentially leads to heightened neural activation and, resultingly, short term improvements in both the magnitude of force produced and the rate at which this force is produced.
PAP protocols usually involve the completion of a high force activity prior to performing a maximal attempt of a low force, high velocity activity.
A common example is performing heavy back squats (90-100% 1RM), resting a certain length of time (3-8 mins) and then performing maximal vertical jump trials.
We can also look to obtain similar heightened neural activation from bodyweight plyometric exercises such as drop jumps and pogo jumps which are more practical for most warm up scenarios compared to the use of heavy back squats.
Achieving a PAP response has been shown to improve performance in short duration, max effort activities such as sprinting (12, 13) and jumping (14, 15).
Considering the importance of rate of force development to the punching action, the practical application of PAP strategies should be considered for boxers.
Injury Prevention: Whilst preventing injury may not necessarily represent a direct performance benefit, maintaining availability to train and compete is important for long term progression as an athlete.
An effective warm up is said to reduce the chances of injury primarily through decreasing muscle stiffness and therefore increasing the range of motion available to the working muscle (16).
This increased range of motion will enable the muscle to adapt around and tolerate unexpected or sudden movements, reducing the chances of musculoskeletal damage.
Due to the chaotic nature of most boxing bouts especially when engaging in a toe to toe exchange, being able to deal with unexpected forces is important to remain injury free.
GUIDELINES FOR AN EFFECTIVE WARM UP STRATEGY
Evidently, there are many benefits of a structured warm up for boxers given the need to possess high levels of speed, power and strength along with the endurance capabilities to maintain explosive characteristics throughout the duration of a bout, often under fatiguing conditions.
That said, a balance must be achieved between priming an athlete for performance and exposing the athlete to excess stress or fatigue when implementing a warm up strategy.
Additionally, too much caution or too low of an intensity in the warm up will leave the athlete stale and ‘under stimulated’ and potentially increasing the risk of a slow start to a fight.
As coaches, we must also consider the length of the time period between the end of the warm up and the start of the bout.
In professional settings this may be upwards of 10 minutes given the ring walk, waiting for the opponent if the athlete is first in, national anthems for world title bouts and the time taken to announce each of the two fighters.
Contrastingly, amateur fighters may only need to wait a maximum of five minutes between the end of their warm up and the first bell.
The following recommendations, outlined in 2015 based on a review of the existing evidence, should be taken into consideration when aiming to maximise short term performance benefits from a warm up (1):
The initial aerobic portion should be kept below 15 minutes
The warmup should consist of 1-5 activation and potentiation techniques such as mobility drills, max effort jumps or high intensity plyometrics and short, explosive sprints.
Finally, an effective warm up should include short bouts of high intensity sport specific actions.
Based on these recommendations and similar warm up criteria provided in the past a protocol known as the RAMP (17) protocol emerged to offer coaches a practical framework within which their warm ups could be structured.
THE RAMP WARM UP
RAMP stands for raise, activation, mobilisation and potentiation.
This warmup structure was introduced to maximise performance in the short term but also to ensure continual athletic progression in the long term through careful selection of activities that compliment overall training objectives.
Raise: This section of the warm up serves the important purpose of increasing core body temperature.
Typically, raise activities revolve around the development of locomotor and skill development, in a manner that raises elevates internal physiological responses.
Examples that can be incorporated into boxing include skipping with various intensities, shadow boxing with a focus on specific combinations and mobility flow combinations.
Activate and mobilise: This segment of the warm up is enhanced by an effective raise portion.
Here the aim is to progressively move muscles and joints through increasing ranges of motion whilst maintaining increases in core body temperature from the first phase.
Increasing ranges of motion is the short term goal of this warm up segment, however, it also facilitates further learning of basic movement patterns in the long term.
The activate and mobilise phase requires dynamic rather than static movements to gradually increase the range of motion available to working muscles and joints, promote continual development of movement and reduce the potential negative effects of static stretching on performance (17).
This phase is particularly important for boxers as it allows for a consistent timeframe to address movement limitations frequently accumulated as a result of large punching volumes and prolonged periods of time in the boxing stance.
The fundamental movement patterns as outlined by Jeffreys (17), include squat, lunge, stepping or single leg stance, brace and reach.
Variations of these movement patterns to progressively challenge the athlete whilst serving a short term objective of reducing joint stiffness and improving joint range of motion.
Potentiate: As mentioned previously the warm up can be used to acutely increase neural activity and therefore force production capabilities.
As coaches it is also important to view this period of the warm up as a component of long term athletic development.
This is because we can implement small doses of speed, power and agility training in this phase of the RAMP system facilitating development of these qualities over time.
The potentiate phase should be viewed as a gradual increase in intensity culminating in max efforts of explosive activities or sport specific actions.
Examples of exercises that can be used in this phase for boxers before they begin their pad combinations include vertical and horizontal jumps, banded shadow boxing and punch iso holds.
Performing these movements will maximise punch snap and force when executing short, sharp combinations on the pads before entering the ring.
APPLYING EVIDENCE TO PRACTICE
Though understanding the mechanisms and appropriate structure of the warm up is imperative, it is also necessary to apply these principles in a meaningful manner with athletes.
Our warm up strategy revolves around our mobility or movement training that targets the main areas of restriction among boxers.
We use these drills to consistently target rotational, shoulder and hip mobility as well as glute strength.
Slight adjustments to this may be made based on the athlete’s perceived soreness in a given area.
Our potentiation phase of the warm up usually consists of long and short stretch shortening cycle plyometric activities.
A vertical or countermovement jump is an example of a long stretch shortening cycle exercise whereas pogo jumps are an example of a short stretch shortening cycle activity.
For more on the stretch shortening cycle and plyometrics read our article here.
Adjustments may also be made as a result of the content of the proceeding session.
In other words there may be slight changes in the activities performed during the warm up if a conditioning session is on the cards compared to a strength session.
Boxing session warm ups will also be tailored in order to adequately prepare the athlete for the demands of high punching volumes and large amounts of time spent on the toes, maintaining the boxer’s bounce.
Considering this, the remainder of this article will outline changes made to our standard warm up ahead of conditioning, boxing and strength sessions.
As with any session we will being with our fundamental movement drills prior to conditioning sessions.
The main adjustment that is made to conditioning warm ups is the incorporation of high intensity short ground contact plyometrics and running mechanics.
These plyometric drills help to prepare the athletes tendons and muscles for high intensity conditioning sessions that involve high running speeds.
The inclusion of running mechanics provides some running specific mobility and are also a great way of ingraining optimal running posture to ensure the athlete is able to run as efficiently as possible, decreasing injury risk.
Finally, having been coached through plyometrics and running mechanics, the athlete will then perform a couple of sub-maximal sprints or stride-outs.
This will offer a running specific potentiation effect and is particularly important prior to running at speeds in excess of 20 kph.
A complete conditioning warm up might look like:
Boxing Science standard mobility warm up
Plyometric series (3 Sets): Pogo Jumps (10 Reps), Ice-Skaters (8 Reps each leg), Drop Jumps (5 Reps).
Running Mechanics (As shown in video above: 10m on each exercise x 3 Sets)
Single-leg high knees
Single-leg heel flicks
Stride Outs – 70-80m in 10 seconds if outdoors or 10 second accelerations on the treadmill/curve x 5.
The main considerations around warming up in a boxing gym environment is fitting the RAMP warm up into the often traditional warm ups in boxing clubs.
Fortunately, many clubs will begin with an appropriate raise component such as skipping or a series of jogging, shuffling or light drilling.
This phase is often proceeded by static stretching or some gyms may move straight to highly intense shadow boxing depending on how busy the club is on a given night.
If your club prefers static stretching we would recommend arriving to your session early and performing the mobilisation drills previously outlined in the video above.
Though this isn’t ideal, it will still allow you to achieve short term gains in range of motion within the key joints that are involved in boxing.
We also tend to add extra posterior shoulder work to the standard Boxing Science warm up ahead of boxing or skill sessions.
This will help prepare the shoulder joint for the demands of large punching volumes and over time, can address the issues associated with the rounded posture commonly observed among boxers.
Along with posterior shoulder activation, it is also important to consider direct core activation.
Boxers will often recruit their lower back through extension when transmitting force from foot to fist during a punch.
This is largely due to an underdeveloped posterior chain which are the primary hip extensors.
Hyper activity of the lower back is compounded under fatiguing conditions and therefore incorporating direct core activation into the warm up is important to protect the lumbar spine throughout the session.
A practical means of integrating effective core training into the warm up is basic isometric holds.
Potentiation prior to a boxing session in a gym setting may be difficult as many coaches will not be aware of how to implement plyometrics correctly.
Additionally, plyometrics may not be practical in a busy club.
However, we can make up for this by using the banded shadow box.
Attaching a mini band just above your knees when shadow boxing is a fantastic way to fire up the lower body and reinforce effective punch technique.
This will ultimately allow you to punch harder and faster on the pads, bag or when sparring and is also a great tool to use prior to competition.
Prior to our strength sessions at Boxing Science we will not tend to deviate too much from the standard warm up.
The mobility drills and plyometrics outlined above are prominent in the warm ups we use to prepare our athletes for the proceeding strength session.
Upper and lower body plyometrics are arranged in a circuit as part of an extended warm up and are performed after the mobility drills.
We call these power circuits and use them as a means of firing up the nervous system before performing sets of the key lift. For more on how to structure these power circuits read our article here.
Depending on the content of the main session, additional activation drills may be included.
An example is the use of posterior shoulder activation exercises prior to heavy trap bar deadlifts.
This helps ensure that the boxer can maintain solid posture under heavy loads which can often be an issue for boxers as a result of posterior shoulder weakness and anterior dominance.
Examples of exercises we may include are band pull aparts, lateral plank walks and plank clockface.
A Sample Warm-up prior to heavy trap bar deadlifts may consist of:
Boxing Science Mobility Drills
Power/Mobility Circuit (3 Sets)
MB Chest Slams – 5 Reps
Dumbbell Countermovement Jump – 5 Reps
Pogos – 10-12 Reps
Lateral Plank Walks – 3-5 Steps each side
Similarly, prior to heavy squats we will often incorporate supplementary core work to maximise the tension the athlete can generate throughout the trunk when exposed to heavy loads.
High levels of core activation are required when squatting heavy loads to maintain technique throughout and to create sufficient intra-abdominal pressure to protect the lumbar spine.
Warm ups are an important component of any training session and should be structured with as much consideration and precision as the main session.
The benefits of the warm up largely stem from increased core and muscle temperature, however, appropriate intensification during the warm up can contribute to increased oxygen uptake kinetics and heightened neural activity.
The RAMP structure is an effective framework to integrate all necessary aspects of the warm up whilst accounting for short and long term improvements in performance/athletic development.
Our warm ups at Boxing Science revolve around the same mobility drills which target the main areas of restriction in most boxers. Additional exercises or movements are often implemented based on the type of session to be performed, accounting for the different demands of conditioning, boxing or strength sessions.
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