Heavyweight boxing is often described as a completely different sport, with legendary heavyweights such as Wladimir Klitschko, Mike Tyson and George Foreman boasting knockout percentages of over 80%. With heavyweights being such a different breed…. how should the big guys train
In this article, we will explore
Why taller, bigger athletes may have some limitations in the weight room
How to optimise sessions and work around these limitations
Considerations for conditioning of heavyweight boxers
The average height of the current world top 10 heavyweights (July 2019) is a massive 6 ft 4 inches (194.4 cm)! This makes strength training with a heavyweight athlete a challenging task, with long limbs creating mobility limitations towards squatting and deadlift patterns.
Average Height of a Heavyweight Boxer (July 2019)
Due to early development and maturation, tall athletes are commonly introduced to
Being tall can generally lead to an athlete jumping higher and sprinting faster than their average counterparts. This is often due to the athlete’s tendon lengths making them more forceful and reactive.
By performing these activities repeatedly, their joints become stiff and robust due to the amount of force they must reduce through each movement. This can be great on the field, but very detrimental to your performance in the weight room.
Flexibility and mobility issues
Stiff joints will negatively affect flexibility and mobility, leaving an athlete more prone to injury. The inability to overload the body in the weight room can limit strength and muscular development.
Taller athletes often have longer limbs, especially around the thigh. A longer thigh bone can create mobility issues of the hip and relative hamstring length. This can cause issues with core stability and glute function… which are important in deliverin
Strength Training strategies
A taller athlete needs to focus on hip and ankle mobility to reduce tightness, aches and the likelihood of injury. However, there are some training methods that need to be considered, so that physical performance can still be developed.
Generally, a heavyweight boxer’s strength to bodyweight ratio will not be as high as a boxer at a lighter weight. A larger athlete will experience higher compressive and reactive forces whilst training or competing at their sport.
With this in mind, it is fundamental that the taller athlete can handle their own bodyweight. Bodyweight exercises can challenge the athlete’s co-ordination, mobility, balance and stability.
Some key bodyweight exercises for heavyweights to master include:
Single Leg Box Squats
MASTER THE SQUAT
Squat depth is affected due to the hip mobility and core stability issues previously discussed.
Furthermore, overactive hip flexors and hamstrings can fatigue the core stabilisers due to an excessive forward lean, increasing the chances of lower back pain and injury. The taller lifter can experience and average of 25% more hip extension forces from parallel squats than shorter athletes, making this movement more demanding.
However, the squat pattern is still important to develop. With taller athletes, we introduce a Goblet Squat to help achieve the pattern. The addition of a weight at the front of the body allows the athlete to counterbalance and achieve a deep squat.
When the athlete can perform a great goblet squat, we’ll look to progress them on to Box Squats, or Anderson squats from pins. A full depth back squat may not be the best option for a heavyweight athlete who needs to get strong and fast, but we have some effective alternatives..
MASTER THE DEADLIFT
A hip-dominant deadlift pattern is an effective way to get an athlete strong and fast through the lower body. However, a straight bar deadlift may limit a taller athlete the same way a squat would, with an overhanging torso effecting lower back stress.
The trap-bar deadlift could be beneficial to taller athletes as it will lead to less compression on the lower back muscles for athletes that have mobility issues.
The trap-bar has raised handles and a neutral grip, which allows the athlete to get into a more mechanically effective positionat the beginning of the lift. A higher hip position is encouraged during this movement, allowing the taller athlete to retract their shoulder blades effectively. We’ll sometimes reduce the range of motion further by putting the trap bar on 1-2 lifting blocks, allowing the athlete to lift higher loads and achieve better positions.
So far, we’ve discussed the key limitations and strategies surrounding strength and movement training for heavyweights. However, we also need to consider how we get our heavyweights fit enough to be able to repeat and endure high intensity efforts over up to 12 rounds.
A larger athlete will experience higher compressive and reactive forces through their limbs whilst training or competing at their sport, due to their increased body mass. High intensity running will create a lot of shear impact force through the muscles, ligaments, bones and tendons of the lower limbs, and high volume running will increase the duration of time that an athlete experiences these impact forces over. This can increase the risk of injuries related to this such as stress fractures.
When a boxer or combat athlete is already experiencing a lot of impact forces in their boxing training already, through movement, footwork, and punching, off-feet conditioningmay be a better option.
Rowing or swimming may be suitable alternatives to high intensity running, however they have some technical demand, with technique often being the limiting factor towards achieving high intensities. We therefore opt for WattBike conditioning sessions, as this allows an athlete to reach high intensities with limited technical demand, providing a great stimulus for development of aerobic fitness.
On the WattBike, we’ll perform sprint and high intensity interval training to improve the heavyweight’s fitness, reducing the chances of excessive impact forces that may occur during running sessions. For variation and to avoid training monotony, we’ll also use circuit training sessions to develop a heavyweight boxer’s fitness.
Heavyweights and tall athletes present some common movement challenges which are important to consider around strength training
Reducing the range of motion, using exercises such as the Trap Bar Deadlift, can be an effective method for developing a tall athlete’s strength
We mainly opt for off-feet conditioning protocols when working with heavyweight boxers, to avoid exposure to excessive impact forces, which can increase likelihood of injury.