Canelo Training: Science Behind Strength & Conditioning

November 25, 2021

With Canelo being regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the current era, it’s no wonder boxers around the world want to know what Canelo does for training. I mean if Canelo is doing it, you should too, right?

One thing you must be aware of is that many of the world’s best athletes are world-class at their sport not because of what they do, but despite what they do. I’ve worked with some so I can speak from experience.

But take the examples of Usain Bolt going on a chicken nugget spree before winning gold at the Olympics. Or Diego Maradona’s infamous drug benders before dribbling circles around the opposition.

However, that doesn’t mean we discount all of Canelo’s training. There are always things we can pick up, learn, and apply to our own training. So, I’m going to take the limited information we have of Canelo’s training from YouTube, explain the reasons why Canelo might be using each particular routine or exercise, and offer how you can make it work for you.

Bear in mind that I don’t have Canelo’s full training program or any information about him so this is purely speculative.

Canelo Training Circuit

This was one of Canelo’s training circuits as part of his strength and conditioning preparation for the Caleb Plant fight. Here is how it was done:

  1. Battle Rope Power Slams x 10
  2. Wall Balls x 10
  3. Landmine Punches x 10
  4. Elevated Cross Body Climbers x 30sec
  5. Trap Bar Farmers Walk x 20m
  6. Plank x 30sec
  7. Jump Rope x 1 min
  8. Repeat

At face value, this is a full-body circuit designed to provide a general conditioning stimulus. This is a very low to moderate intensity circuit that wouldn’t drive much of an aerobic or anaerobic adaptation within highly trained boxers like Canelo.

Substituting some movements would make a very good pre-training robustness circuit before boxing training. For example, removing battle ropes and wall balls with exercises focused on shoulder integrity would be more beneficial. In this case, you’d only do 1-2 rounds instead of the many Canelo does here.

Without knowing the rest of Canelo’s boxing training and strength and conditioning routine, creating a boxing circuit that doesn’t sit in the middle ground of intensity and targeting either low or high intensities may be more beneficial for eliciting conditioning adaptations.

How To Make Canelo’s Training Circuit Work For You

As mentioned, Canelo is considered one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers. It doesn’t matter what strength and conditioning he does, his boxing skills and IQ are levels above other boxers. This means you can’t blindly copy what he is doing and expect to get to his level.

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If you are setting up a boxing circuit for your low-intensity aerobic conditioning, here are some guidelines to how to make it much more effective for yourself:

  • Make the majority of the circuit shadowboxing or other boxing-specific exercises (bag work, footwork, etc). Because you are not a highly skilled professional boxer (or maybe you are, if so, the rules may be slightly different), more time practicing the skill of boxing is going to improve your game quickly.
  • Use extensive medicine ball throws to break the monotony and add some load to various movements.
  • Use low-intensity plyometrics like jumping rope for overall lower body robustness and health. Here’s an example:

Aerobic Conditioning Circuit For Boxing

  1. Shadowboxing x 10 min
  2. Medicine Ball Circuit x 5 min
  3. Bag Work x 10 min
  4. Jump Rope x 5 min
  5. Shadowboxing x 10 min

Keep your heart rate between 130-150 BPM and keep an easy, continuous pace.

Canelo’s Neck Training

I have a soft spot for athletes that train their necks. It is so often neglected but so important for reducing the risk of neck injuries and potentially concussions. In fact, research has shown that every 1-pound increase in neck strength reduces your risk of concussion by 5% [1].

Further, just twice weekly neck training sessions of 15 minutes can reduce peak acceleration of the head [2]More importantly, the ability to develop peak force quickly is a key factor for reducing concussion [3].

The lateral neck flexion and neck harness are two staples that I prescribe within my programs here on Sweet Science of Fighting.

But you’re not limited to dynamic neck training and you are severely underdeveloping your neck strength if you are only using these. Heavily resisted isometric neck exercises should be staples in your neck routine.

They can be done before boxing as a warm-up, and the end of boxing training as extra strength work, or as part of your strength training program. They can be done as maximal isometrics, sub-maximal holds, and even in all 360° when using a device like the Iron Neck.

The neck bridges you see Canelo doing in this video I’m not a huge fan of and I’m unsure if he is still doing these. For wrestlers, I understand the need to strengthen these positions under controlled conditions as you may need to bridge on your head to avoid being pinned.

But for boxers, your neck needs to be able to resist impact forces from punches and quickly reduce the deceleration of the head. These can be achieved through safer exercises like isometric neck exercises.

Canelo’s Explosive Punching Power Training

This was a circuit Canelo used in the lead-up to the Caleb Plant fight and is labeled as a circuit that prioritizes explosive power movements. Here is what Canelo did:

  1. Band Resisted Step-Ups x 1 minute
  2. Single-Leg Bench Step Over x 30 sec per leg
  3. Band Resisted High Knees x 2 gym lengths
  4. Band Resisted Sprint x 2 gym lengths
  5. Elevated Cross Body Climber x 30 sec
  6. Elevated Spiderman Climbers x 30 sec
  7. Cable Resisted Crunch x 12 reps
  8. Cable Resisted Hollow Body x 12 reps
  9. Cable Resisted V-Up x 12 reps
  10. Rotational Punch Press 2 x 6-8 reps

As Canelo’s strength and conditioning coach states, “In boxing, it’s so important legs. Because the power comes from the legs.” He is 100% correct. The most experienced boxers display the greatest contributions from the legs when punching compared to sub-elite boxers [4].

Boxers who are labeled “knock-out artists” also display greater contribution from the legs compared to those who are labeled “players” or “speedsters.” Safe to say, the legs should be a priority when it comes to boxing and punching harder.

We can see Canelo doesn’t shy away from heavy squats and this kind of circuit training is primarily used closer to a fight as to not tax him for his boxing training.

Interestingly, his strength and conditioning coach states on multiple occasions some exercises are used to burn fat. It seems Canelo’s explosive power circuit is filled with competing exercise modalities.

To maximize explosive power development, maximum speeds and intent with complete rest are needed. That means if you are using exercises to increase the heart rate and expend more energy, you are likely taking away from your ability to exert maximum force and speed with exercises like the banded sprint.

If you want to get the benefits of speed and power development with a properly designed program specifically for boxers, then take a look at Strength Train Like A Professional Boxer.

Canelo’s Plyometric Workout

This video shows Canelo going through what I would label a ‘footwork’ workout (not that there is such a thing unless it’s technical) with a sprinkle of lower body power. It goes like this:

  1. Ladder drills with low-intensity low hurdle hops
  2. Bosu ball steps
  3. Lightly loaded box jumps

Ladders are probably the most overused pieces of equipment with the least benefit to ANY sport including boxing. It can make an okay general warm-up but there are better options. And no, it will not give you “fast feet” or agility.

The low-intensity hurdle hops are great. Low-intensity plyometric exercises are highly important for boxers that need to bounce around the ring. Jumping rope is one way to perform low-intensity plyometrics. But other exercises like these low hurdle hops and multi-directional hops can also be used to develop more robust ankles, knees, and hips.

The reason for performing low-intensity plyometrics is to prepare the body for higher intensity jumps and plyometrics. Think about not sprinting for 6 months and then hitting the field and performing a 100 m sprint. It’s probably not going to end well. The same thing goes with maximal plyometrics.

Bosu balls have no place in athletic training unless it’s potentially for rehab purposes so you can skip that exercise. Finally, box jumps are great. Do you need to hold 1 kg dumbbells in your hands when jumping like Canelo? No.

Does it add anything more to the exercise? No. But box jumps are a great addition to your strength and power routine to develop lower body power that can translate to punching power.

Summary

We only have snapshots of Canelo’s training so we can’t draw conclusions from the clips we have. But based on the information we have, many of the routines presented and exercises used likely aren’t going to help you optimize physical development for boxing.

References

1. Collins, C. L., Fletcher, E. N., Fields, S. K., Kluchurosky, L., Rohrkemper, M. K., Comstock, R. D., & Cantu, R. C. (2014). Neck strength: a protective factor reducing risk for concussion in high school sports. The journal of primary prevention35(5), 309-319.

2. Müller, C., & Zentgraf, K. (2020). Neck and Trunk Strength Training to Mitigate Head Acceleration in Youth Soccer Players. Journal of strength and conditioning research.

3. Gilchrist, I., Storr, M., Chapman, E., & Pelland, L. (2015). Neck Muscle Strength Training in the Risk Management of Concussion in Contact Sports: Critical Appraisal of Application to Practice. J Athl Enhancement 4: 2. of, 19, 2.

4. Filimonov VI, K.K., Husyanov ZM, & Nazarov SS., Means of increasing strength of the punch. NSCA Journal, 1985. 7: p. 65-66.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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