Boxing and lifting weights could almost be considered an oxymoron in the past. However, as strength and conditioning has permeated its way through many sports, boxing has also realized the potential benefits from a well-designed weight lifting program.
Boxers do lift weights but not like a traditional bodybuilder or strength sports athlete. Boxers will lift with the intent of improving punching ability and power output while building robustness to injury.
So why is it that lifting weights gets such a bad rap in boxing circles and what makes effective weight training for boxing?
Is It Bad For Boxers To Lift Weights?
Certain styles of weight training can be bad for boxers. Whereas strength training programs specifically designed for boxing like Strength Train Like A Professional Boxer are highly beneficial for boxers.
Lifting weights for boxing should generally be lower in volume, but higher in intensity coming from load or speed. Exercises such as jump squats, medicine ball throws, and neck training are staples in a boxers training program.
Weight training becomes bad for boxers when they are bodybuilding or Powerlifting focused. Bodybuilding routines are target purely hypertrophy which relies on volume for muscle growth. This volume of work will leave a boxer highly fatigued for boxing training.
Further, bodybuilding style training preferentially builds Type I muscle fibers known as slow-twitch muscle fibers. This type of training blasts and bombs one or two muscle groups each session leaving you more prone to injury and reducing your boxing ability at training.
Powerlifting style training, while getting you strong, doesn’t provide the high-speed component of training. Maximal strength training targets the opposite adaptations to high-speed training so ignoring this component can be detrimental to boxing performance.
Should Boxers Lift Weights?
Boxers should absolutely lift weights. As boxers have come to realize the benefits of lifting weights, the culture of lifting weights and boxing has slowly shifted towards acceptance. Especially with the majority of high-level professional boxers and Olympic amateur boxers reaping the benefits of a well-rounded strength program.
Having stronger legs and being able to exert greater rotational forces is what transfers to punching power.
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Do Lifting Weights Make You Slower For Boxing?
A properly designed strength training program will not make you slower for boxing. The problem comes when boxers take on traditional bodybuilding routines or generic high rep training without targeting maximal speed and power.
Exercises that are performed at high velocities or are ballistic such as jumps and throws allow the greatest speed and power outputs that don’t just stop a boxer from becoming slower, but will make them even faster in the ring.
Generic strength training may make a boxer slower as it stimulates adaptations for the muscle to be activated throughout a full range of movement.
For example, as you get stronger in the bench press, you improve the muscle activation of the prime moving muscles. These being the chest, shoulders, and triceps. You also increase the ability to co-contract the muscles around the joint which further protects the joint from injury when lifting heavy.
An example of this would be both the biceps and triceps contracting to protect the elbow joint. Unfortunately, these are unfavorable adaptations when it comes to punching speed. To be fast, muscles must not contract together around the joint. Rather, there should be an interaction between activation and relaxation.
The fastest sprinters in the world are known to be able to relax their muscles during sprinting faster than sub-elite sprinters. The same concept applies to punching. Muscle activation and stiffness should be greatest at impact to impart the greatest momentum to the target.
To develop these qualities best, a lot of time perfecting the punch is needed. But supplementing by lifting weights fast through jumps, throws, and other ballistic actions can enhance this further.
How Often Should Boxers Lift Weights?
Depending on your individual schedule, boxers should lift weights 1-3 times a week. If you are further away from competition, you can lift 3 times a week if strength, speed, and power are your weaknesses.
Twice a week is generally the sweet spot and will provide you enough stimulus to make gains while limiting the fatigue you carry over to boxing training.
Do Heavyweight Boxers Lift Weights?
Heavyweight boxers do lift weights. It may seem counterintuitive since they are already big athletes. However, being big and heavy doesn’t mean a heavyweight has strength, speed, and power attributes similar or greater than their opponents.
Further, lifting weights helps to build robustness to injury. When performed correctly, a heavyweight boxer won’t put on any additional body weight. But rather, increase their strength and power through enhanced neural pathways versus extra muscle mass.
How Do Boxers Build Muscle Without Lifting Weights?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a boxer holding a lot of muscle mass that doesn’t lift weights. If they don’t lift weights at all, they likely perform high volumes of calisthenics which is typical of many boxers.
However, calisthenics will only get you so far. They lack the ability to load heavy leaving you training mainly strength endurance and limiting maximal strength and speed development.