Do Boxers Lift Weights & Should They?

October 13, 2021

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?

Is It Bad For Boxers To Lift Weights

Certain styles of weight training can be bad for boxers. Whereas weight 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?

Does lifting weights make you slower for boxing

A properly designed weight 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 weight 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.

I would advise no more than three times a week of strength training for boxing. If you are far away from a fight, three times is more than enough and when planned well (see below), will not add much in the way of fatigue.

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 bodyweight. 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.

Strength Training For Boxing

Strength training for boxing is about delivering a faster, more powerful punch. Training the legs to be strong and powerful and the sequencing to transfer the force from the legs through to the hands are the most important aspects of boxing strength training.

These are the attributes we must focus on when designing a strength training program for boxing. Additionally, it's important to understand the common injuries associated with the sport so we can address those areas in training.

Boxing Injury Profile

A study in 2014 in the Orthopedics & Biomechanics journal followed 44 competitive boxers for a whole year [1]. 121 boxing matches were fought between them throughout the 12 month period.

Of the 192 injuries reported, 67 occurred during a fight and 125 during training. Boxers who had more than 3 fights a year were substantially more likely to sustain an injury compared to those with less than 3 fights a year.

45% of injuries were to the head which consisted mostly of cuts and nosebleeds. 24% occurred in the arms/hands mostly consisting of wrist contusions.

14% of injuries were rib bruises and low back pain. While lower body injuries made up 15% of injuries with thigh or calf muscle tears.

In a later review journal in 2015, they reported similar findings in the region of injury [2]. A review article summarizes all of the research covering the topic and pools all of the data together. They split the data up into professional and amateur boxers.

Professionals sustained the majority of their injuries to the head (74-96%) with a small minority to the arms/hands (0-22%), and virtually none to the trunk (2-5%) or legs (0-2%).

Amateurs on the other hand still had the majority of their injuries to the head (9-75%), but had far greater injuries to the arms/hands (14-55%), the legs (4-24%), and the trunk (0-16%).

In this review, concussions were the greatest injury to the head while hand injuries comprised of >75% of upper extremity injuries.

While many of these injuries aren’t directly preventable by strength exercise, extra conditioning for the wrist can be done in order to condition and thicken the wrist to take more impact.

Boxing Strength Profile

Being strong for boxing is about being able to deliver the fastest, most powerful punch possible. To sum up the current research, strength training for boxing performance should cover these aspects:

  • Harder punchers have greater contributions from the legs and trunk. Focus on lower body strength and power and trunk rotation.
  • rain the sequencing so effective transmission of force can be transferred from the legs through to the hands by using medicine ball throws and overhead Weightlifting derivatives.
  • Use the bench press as a main upper body exercise as the bench press is highly related to punching speed.
  • Develop both maximal and high-velocity strength in order to optimize boxing performance.

The importance of lower body power cannot be understated. National team boxers were put through a series of jumps and a match [3]. Turns out, vertical jump height was highly correlated with the total number of punches thrown to the body and effectiveness of punches to the head.

Further, how quickly these boxers could produce force during the squat jump (vertical jump with a pause before jumping) correlated with rear hand punch performance and effectiveness of head punches. The height of this jump also correlated with activity rate meaning those that could jump higher were more active during a fight.

Elite amateur boxers show similar traits where the squat jump and vertical jump performance explained 78% of punching impact force [4]Meaning those who can jump higher, punch harder. We also can't forget the upper body. Power generated in the bench press and bench throw show very strong correlations with punching power.

Using this framework provides a guideline for putting together an effective strength training program specifically for a boxer.

3 Day A Week Strength Training Program For Boxing

I’m going to present a 4-week program I wrote for an International boxer who was preparing for the European Championships. There are a couple of small modifications based on the injury research presented in this article.

The goal was to develop power and speed (as all boxers and boxing coaches want). This was not the 4 weeks before the competition.

This athlete performed resistance training three times a week so I worked with that as to not change their routine.

Their usual strength training program was performing a few random exercises with no real structure. So I wanted to start at a low enough level with some exercises to give room for improvement later on while still providing an intense stimulus as he leads into the European Championships.

Week 1

Day 1

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Open Book

3 x 10

Cell

A2) Waiter Walk

3 x 1 length

Cell

A3) Band Pull Apart

3 x 12

Cell

B1) Pallof Press

3 x 10/side

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Med Ball Explosive Punch

3 x 4

3 kg

D1) Med Ball Scoop Toss

3 x 4

5 kg

E1) Squat Jump

3 x 3

30% 1RM Back Squat

E2) Band Assisted Jump

3 x 5

Cell

F1) Wrist Roller

3 x 1-2

Cell

Day 2

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Med Ball Walking Rotation

3 x 10

Cell

A2) Med Ball Overhead Lean

3 x 10

Cell

B1) Box Jump

3 x 4

Cell

B2) Thoracic Ext Foam Roller

3 x 10

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Power Jerk

3 x 3

40% 1RM

C2) Pullup (Pause top & bottom)

3 x 5-6

Cell

D1) Bench Press Cluster

3 x 2+2+2 (30 sec rest)

75% 1RM

E1) Seated Med Ball Explosive Chest Pass

3 x 10

Cell

E2) Seated Explosive Med Ball Rotation Throw

3 x 10

Cell

Day 3

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

3 x 8/side

Cell

A2) Band Face Pull

3 x 10

Cell

A3) 3 Point Lunge

3 x 2 circles

Cell

B1) Walking Med Ball Rotation

3 x 10

Cell

B2) Walking Med Overhead Lean

3 x 10

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Explosive Landmine Rotation

4 x 5/side

Cell

C2) Half Kneeling Band Row

3 x 6/side

Cell

D1) Back Squat Cluster

3 x 2+2+2 (30 sec rest)

75% 1RM

E1) Isometric Back Extension

3 x 20sec

Cell

E2) Hammer Pronation/Supination

3 x 5/each

Cell

Week 2

Day 1

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Open Book

3 x 10

Cell

A2) Waiter Walk

3 x 1 length

Cell

A3) Band Pull Apart

3 x 12

Cell

B1) Pallof Press

3 x 10/side

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Med Ball Explosive Punch

3 x 4

3 kg

D1) Med Ball Scoop Toss

3 x 4

5 kg

E1) Squat Jump

3 x 3

35% 1RM Back Squat

E2) Band Assisted Jump

3 x 5

Cell

F1) Wrist Roller

3 x 1-2

Cell

Day 2

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Med Ball Walking Rotation

3 x 10

Cell

A2) Med Ball Overhead Lean

3 x 10

Cell

B1) Box Jump

3 x 4

Cell

B2) Thoracic Ext Foam Roller

3 x 10

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Power Jerk

3 x 3

45% 1RM

C2) Pullup (Pause top & bottom)

3 x 5-6

Cell

D1) Bench Press Cluster

3 x 2+2+2 (30 sec rest)

80% 1RM

E1) Seated Med Ball Explosive Chest Pass

3 x 10

Cell

E2) Seated Explosive Med Ball Rotation Throw

3 x 10

Cell

Day 3

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

3 x 8/side

Cell

A2) Band Face Pull

3 x 10

Cell

A3) 3 Point Lunge

3 x 2 circles

Cell

B1) Walking Med Ball Rotation

3 x 10

Cell

B2) Walking Med Overhead Lean

3 x 10

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Explosive Landmine Rotation

4 x 5/side

Cell

C2) Half Kneeling Band Row

3 x 6/side

Cell

D1) Back Squat Cluster

3 x 2+2+2 (30 sec rest)

80% 1RM

E1) Isometric Back Extension

3 x 20sec

Cell

E2) Hammer Pronation/Supination

3 x 5/each

Cell

Week 3

Day 1

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Open Book

3 x 10

Cell

A2) Waiter Walk

3 x 1 length

Cell

A3) Band Pull Apart

3 x 12

Cell

B1) Pallof Press

3 x 10/side

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Med Ball Explosive Punch

3 x 3

3 kg

D1) Med Ball Scoop Toss

3 x 3

5 kg

E1) Squat Jump

3 x 3

40% 1RM Back Squat

E2) Band Assisted Jump

3 x 5

Cell

F1) Wrist Roller

3 x 1-2

Cell

Day 2

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Med Ball Walking Rotation

3 x 10

Cell

A2) Med Ball Overhead Lean

3 x 10

Cell

B1) Box Jump

3 x 4

Cell

B2) Thoracic Ext Foam Roller

3 x 10

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Power Jerk

3 x 3

50% 1RM

C2) Pullup (Pause top & bottom)

3 x 5-6

Cell

D1) Bench Press Cluster

3 x 2+2+2 (30 sec rest)

83% 1RM

E1) Seated Med Ball Explosive Chest Pass

3 x 10

Cell

E2) Seated Explosive Med Ball Rotation Throw

3 x 10

Cell

Day 3

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

3 x 8/side

Cell

A2) Band Face Pull

3 x 10

Cell

A3) 3 Point Lunge

3 x 2 circles

Cell

B1) Walking Med Ball Rotation

3 x 10

Cell

B2) Walking Med Overhead Lean

3 x 10

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Explosive Landmine Rotation

4 x 5/side

Cell

C2) Half Kneeling Band Row

3 x 6/side

Cell

D1) Back Squat Cluster

3 x 2+2+2 (30 sec rest)

83% 1RM

E1) Isometric Back Extension

3 x 20sec

Cell

E2) Hammer Pronation/Supination

3 x 5/each

Cell

Week 4

Day 1

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Open Book

3 x 10

Cell

A2) Waiter Walk

3 x 1 length

Cell

A3) Band Pull Apart

3 x 12

Cell

B1) Pallof Press

3 x 10/side

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Med Ball Explosive Punch

3 x 2

3 kg

D1) Med Ball Scoop Toss

3 x 2

5 kg

E1) Squat Jump

3 x 2

30% 1RM Back Squat

E2) Band Assisted Jump

3 x 5

Cell

F1) Wrist Roller

3 x 1-2

Cell

Day 2

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Med Ball Walking Rotation

3 x 10

Cell

A2) Med Ball Overhead Lean

3 x 10

Cell

B1) Box Jump

3 x 4

Cell

B2) Thoracic Ext Foam Roller

3 x 10

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Power Jerk

3 x 3

40% 1RM

C2) Pullup (Pause top & bottom)

3 x 5-6

Cell

D1) Bench Press Cluster

3 x 1+1+1 (30 sec rest)

80% 1RM

E1) Seated Med Ball Explosive Chest Pass

3 x 10

Cell

E2) Seated Explosive Med Ball Rotation Throw

3 x 10

Cell

Day 3

Exercise

Set/Rep

Load

Warm-Up

Cell
Cell

A1) Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

3 x 8/side

Cell

A2) Band Face Pull

3 x 10

Cell

A3) 3 Point Lunge

3 x 2 circles

Cell

B1) Walking Med Ball Rotation

3 x 10

Cell

B2) Walking Med Overhead Lean

3 x 10

Cell

Main Work

Cell
Cell

C1) Explosive Landmine Rotation

4 x 5/side

Cell

C2) Half Kneeling Band Row

3 x 6/side

Cell

D1) Back Squat Cluster

3 x 1+1+1 (30 sec rest)

80% 1RM

E1) Isometric Back Extension

3 x 20sec

Cell

E2) Hammer Pronation/Supination

3 x 5/each

Cell

Strength Train Like A Professional Boxer

Strength Train Like A Professional Boxer is a 12-week program designed to rid your pillow fists and turn them into bricks!

Strength Training For Boxing
Strength Training For Boxing

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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