HIIT For Boxing (Interval Workouts)

February 6, 2022

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is all the rage. Who cares about going for hour-long runs when you can blast yourself with hard intervals for 10-20 minutes?

HIIT for boxing involves short and long intervals of specific and non-specific exercise modalities to enhance boxing conditioning and performance.

But is HIIT the best way to condition for boxing? How can you organize your boxing HIIT to get the most out of it?

What Is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) involves repeated short or long bouts of moderate to high-intensity exercise interspersed with recovery periods [1][2]. Short HIIT intervals are defined as <45 seconds, and long intervals are defined as 2+ minutes [3]. These are not maximal intensity.

Maximal intensity intervals are defined as <10 seconds for short and 20-30 seconds for long. You can perform HIIT with a myriad of exercise modalities. They can be done using specific means such as pad or bag work and shadowboxing.

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Or they can be performed using non-specific means like running, cycling, or rowing. Which methods you choose depends on your current boxing load and the phase of training you’re in. A general preparation phase may include more non-specific modalities. In contrast, specific modalities are chosen when getting closer to a fight.

HIIT For Boxing

Is HIIT Good For Boxing

With so many HIIT options for boxing, I’ll break them down and show you where they fit within a boxing conditioning regime.

Long Intervals

During general preparation outside of fight camp, long HIIT intervals will prioritize targeting aerobic adaptations. Specifically, increasing stroke volume which is how much blood can be pumped from the heart to the working muscles.

While cardiac output (e.g., roadwork) is one way of doing this, long HIIT intervals are another method to increase the size of the heart’s left ventricle as time at VO2max is an essential factor. A large heart chamber equals more blood being pooled between each heartbeat.

These intervals should be greater than 60 seconds of work with a 1-3:1 work to rest ratio. Generally, this will be 1-3 minutes of passive recovery. Intensity for HIIT is typically derived from the velocity at VO2max. However, since we are combat athletes, there is no practical way to measure this during training.

So, we must go by heart rate. 80-95% of HR max is recommended. Still, heart rate can go as low as 70% when focusing on cardiac output while reducing fatigue [4].

While not entirely accurate, using the formula 220 – your age is a practical way to estimate your maximum heart rate. Otherwise, after an extended warm-up, you can perform a 5–6-minute maximal running test, giving you another indication of maximum heart rate.

As for the length of the intervals, they can be boxing specific (2-3 minutes) or longer (up to approximately 8 minutes). However, if going longer than approximately 4 minutes, non-specific modalities are a better choice due to reducing technique quality. Here are some examples:

  • 12 x 2 min w/ 45 sec rest @70-85% HR max
  • 10 x 3 min w/ 1 min rest @80-90% HR max
  • 5 x 5 min w/ 2 min rest @70-80% HR max
  • 4 x 8 min w/ 2 min rest @80-90% HR max

While maximizing the time at VO2max to increase stroke volume, long HIIT intervals also have moderate contributions from the anaerobic lactic energy system. For targeting purely aerobic adaptations, then you’d opt for steady-state cardio.

Short Intervals

You can manipulate short HIIT intervals to target aerobic or anaerobic adaptations. As mentioned, long intervals can also increase blood lactate to the point the anaerobic energy system needs to contribute more energy.

This is not a bad thing. But suppose your goal is to reduce the involvement from the lactic energy system. In that case, very short intervals don’t allow enough time for lactate to build up. However, this doesn’t mean fatigue is automatically diminished.

Because short intervals are higher intensity, fatigue is still prevalent after this type of training.

That doesn’t mean all short intervals have this characteristic. For example, intervals of 30 seconds or more will increase the energy contribution from anaerobic sources. Here are some short interval examples:

  • 2 x (8 x 15/30 sec) w/ 2-3 min active rest between series @85-100% HR max (near maximal effort)
  • 3 x (3 x 30 sec/120 sec) w/ 3min rest between series @100% HR max (maximal effort).
  • 2 x (6 x 15/15 sec) w/ 2-3 min rest between series @85-100% HR max (near maximal effort)

Is HIIT Good For Boxing?

Why Do Boxers Use Interval Training

HIIT is great for an intermittent sport like boxing. You can easily manipulate them to target different physiological adaptations based on the intensity and duration of the work and rest intervals. Further, they are easily done using boxing-specific modalities.

For example, shadowboxing, pad work, bag work, and situational sparring drills such as having offensive pressure in the corner are boxing specific.

This is important as adaptations occur in the muscles and regime they are being worked, which is why hours on the bike won’t transfer well to the ring.

Why Do Boxers Use Interval Training?

Boxers will use interval training to enhance aerobic and anaerobic adaptations to transfer to betting boxing conditioning. You can use interval training specific to boxing. For example, performing 2–3-minute rounds at varying intensities. Or it can be performed in a general manner for longer intervals.

A Problem With HIIT For Boxing

While a HIIT approach can be an excellent conditioning modality for boxing, there is one inherent problem to be aware of. That is the payoff between fitness and fatigue. There’s a reason I preach and prescribe low-intensity cardiac output (steady-state cardio) as it carries over virtually no fatigue to the following days of training.

HIIT sits in the middle ground of intensity. It is not intense enough to maximize high outputs and increase the anaerobic speed reserve, but too intense where it can cause lingering fatigue.

If you don’t have sound recovery strategies in place, work a stressful job, or are a beginner to physical conditioning, then the fatigue can build quickly.

The popularity of HIIT came about due to highly trained endurance athletes not responding to increasing sub-maximal training volume but to HIIT [5]. However, there are a couple of caveats to this statement:

  1. Training interventions cited lasted six days to 6 weeks [6].
  2. Six weeks of running training significantly increased VO2max and running performance [7].
  3. If an individual VO2max is below 60 ml.kg.min, low-intensity cardio is the simplest way to improve aerobic conditioning [5].

This is why my Underground Boxing Conditioning System has different conditioning workouts based on your fitness level. Regardless, intervals play a significant role as training progresses towards a fight.

Summary

HIIT for boxing should focus on aerobic adaptations when out of fight camp and progress to shorter, more intense intervals when in fight camp. Be aware that HIIT can be very taxing on the body, so you must balance it efficiently with boxing training.

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References

1. Buchheit, M., & Laursen, P. B. (2013). High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle. Sports medicine43(5), 313-338.

2. Billat, L. V. (2001). Interval training for performance: a scientific and empirical practice. Sports medicine31(1), 13-31.

3. Buchheit, M., & Laursen, P. B. (2013). High-intensity interval training, solutions to the programming puzzle. Part 2. Sports medicine43(10), 927-954.

4. Laursen, P., & Buchheit, M. (2019). Science and application of high-intensity interval training. Human Kinetics.

5. Laursen, P. B., & Jenkins, D. G. (2002). The scientific basis for high-intensity interval training. Sports medicine32(1), 53-73.

6. Costill, D. L., Flynn, M. G., Kirwan, J. P., Houmard, J. A., Mitchell, J. B., Thomas, R., & Park, S. H. (1988). Effects of repeated days of intensified training on muscle glycogen and swimming performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc20(3), 249-254.

7. Lake, M. J., & Cavanagh, P. R. (1996). Six weeks of training does not change running mechanics or improve running economy. Medicine and science in sports and exercise28(7), 860-869.

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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