There is a perception that boxers need to lift weights to build muscle and be strong enough to compete. However, this is not the case. Lifting weights can be detrimental to a boxer's performance. Here are a few reasons why boxers should avoid lifting weights.
Boxers put their hands in rice to toughen them and develop strength in the muscles and tendons of the hands, wrist, and forearms. Boxing is demanding on the hands. Taking good care of them and preparing them properly for combat can differentiate between losing or getting these hands raised in victory.
Before the fight, cutmen will usually put petroleum jelly on the most likely areas of impact, especially the fighter's face, making the skin more elastic and slippery, and hence less likely to tear.
The primary purpose of hand wraps is to protect a fighter's most important weapon—their hands! Your hands are made up of many fragile joints and delicate bones that could easily break from the impact of repeated punches.
Boxers make noise when they punch to help them exhale air from their lungs forcefully. This exhalation is noisier than normal exhalations because the boxer's tongue restricts regular airflow out of the mouth. The noise amplifies as it passes through the teeth and out of the mouth guard.
There is a rule that states that Boxers must be clean-shaved before any medical examinations are carried out on any bout in the Amateurs. It's a clear rule that states that beards and moustaches are not allowed. If a boxer violates this rule, then they can't enter the tournament.
Is It Bad For Boxers To Lift Weights?
Certain styles of weight training can be bad for boxers. But, at the same time, 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 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 we muscle fibres are known as slow-twitch muscle fibres. 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.
While getting you strong, powerlifting style training 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 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 most high-level professional boxers and Olympic amateur boxers reaping the benefits of a well-rounded strength program.
Having stronger legs and exerting greater rotational forces is what transfers to punching power.
Do 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 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 are the chest, shoulders, and triceps. You also increase the ability to co-contract the muscles around the joint, further protecting the joint from injury when heavy lifting.
An example of this would be the biceps and triceps contracting to protect the elbow joint. Unfortunately, these are unfavourable 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 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?
Boxers should lift weights 1-3 times a week, depending on your schedule. If you are further away from competition, you can lift three times a week if strength, speed, and power are your weaknesses.
Twice a week is generally the sweet spot and will give 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 to or greater than their opponents.
Further, lifting weights helps to build robustness to injury. For example, 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 callisthenics which is typical of many boxers.
However, callisthenics will only get you so far. They cannot 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. Therefore, training the legs to be strong and the sequencing to transfer the force from the legs through to the hands are the most important aspects of boxing strength training.
We must focus on these attributes 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. One hundred twenty-one boxing matches were fought between them throughout the 12 months.
Of the 192 injuries reported, 67 occurred during a fight and 125 during training. Boxers who had more than three fights a year were substantially more likely to sustain an injury than those with less than three fights a year.
45% of injuries were to the head, mostly of cuts and nosebleeds. In addition, 24% occurred in the arms/hands, mostly wrist contusions.
14% of injuries were rib bruises and low back pain. At the same time, 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. A review article summarizes all of the research covering the topic and pools all 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>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 to condition and thicken the wrist to make more impact.
Boxing Strength Profile
Being strong for boxing is about being able to deliver the fastest, most powerful punch possible. Therefore, 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 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 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. Turns out, vertical jump height was highly correlated with the total number of punches thrown to the body and the 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. 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 shows strong correlations with punching power.
Using this framework provides a guideline for an effective strength training program specifically for a boxer.
Why Lifting Weights Won’t Increase Punching Power
Punching Is A Snapping Motion, Not A Pushing Motion
Lifting weights is a PUSHING MOTION.
You exert as much force as possible, as consistently as possible, to lift the heaviest weight you can. During a pushing motion, the object is moved by you first establishing contact and exerting force over a relatively extended period.
The natural progression of lifting weights is to lift heavier. First, of course, everyone tries to lift fast, but once they can lift something, the next step is to lift HEAVIER. Speed is not the focus; strength is. Unfortunately, many beginner fighters falsely believe punching to be the same pushing motion. These beginners think the goal of punching is to push their fists with as much force as possible to penetrate their opponent as hard as possible.
Examples of sports with PUSHING motions (all of these also have snapping motions):
Punching Is A Snapping Motion.
A snapping motion is to exert as much force as possible in the least amount of time. For example, with a snapping motion, you accelerate your hand towards the object and then use the IMPACT of that acceleration to exert force.
Suppose you want to punch fast. The goal would be to explore your opponent with the fastest punch possible and make contact with your opponent in the shortest amount of time. A punch is not a push; it’s a quick explosion, an accelerated force that reaches maximum power upon contact. When lifting weights, you can take a few seconds to exert your strength. When punching an opponent, you don’t have this luxury of time–he has to feel your power right when you touch him. Your fist must SNAP upon impact and return quickly so you can throw other punches or go back on defence. The speed requirement of punching increases the explosive damage your opponent feels. Lifting weights has far less emphasis on speed, which costs you EXPLOSIVE power.
Examples Of Sports With Snapping Motions:
- baseball (hitting, not throwing)
Pushing Vs Snapping
The main difference between a pushing and snapping motion is the amount of contact time made and the consistency of energy committed. Compare the bodies of these different types of athletes. If weightlifting improved snapping movements, wouldn’t professional volleyball players be lifting weights so they could spike the ball harder? If weightlifters had punching advantages, they would all be strong punchers, right?
Pushing allows you to move heavier objects because you have more time to apply force. Snapping allows you to apply more explosive force (damage) because you have the freedom to accelerate. You could say that pushing is like throwing a baseball, whereas snapping is like spiking a volleyball. Both are powerful movements, but punching is more like snapping than pushing.
Powerful Punches Require Relaxation, Not Strong Muscles
Many fighters don’t know how to punch…
When you don’t know how to punch, all your punches become pushes. All you can do is use your strength and power without the proper technique. This is why lifting weights helped me punch harder as a beginner. But the difference was only marginal; we were maybe 20% more powerful at best. Learning proper techniques maybe triple my power.
So How Do You Punch?
We won’t go into specifics right now, but here are some simple concepts:
- Punching power (damage caused) = acceleration (hand speed) x force (muscle strength & bodyweight)
- You punch harder by using committing more speed and more force.
How Do You Increase Power Without Using More Energy?
Now here’s the trick to punching RIDICULOUSLY HARD. There are two ways to accelerate more force into your opponent. One common way is to spend more energy. It’s logical, it works, but is it effective? NOPE! Using more energy increases your punching power, but it doesn’t increase the explosion effect. It feels like a harder push, and it doesn’t give your punches that *BANG!* effect.
The OTHER way (the only way) to generate explosive force is to DECREASE the “weight” so that your punch travels faster. Then you add the weight at the very end of the punch when it lands-this makes your punches faster and use less energy! So what is “the weight”, and how do you decrease it? The weight, in this case, is the TENSION in your body! The tenser and the heavier your body is, the heavier your punching weight becomes. You decrease this weight by RELAXING YOUR BODY as you punch, allowing your punching weight to accelerate freely towards your opponent. Finally, your foot finishes the pivot right before your punch lands, your hip rotates, and the shoulders turn over to form the punch. In this final moment, you need only a short compact contraction to SNAP your entire body (like a rubberband) into one unified explosive punch. The better you are at relaxing your body, the more powerful you will be!
Relax To Aid The Snap
Relax the body by letting go of your muscles. This relaxing motion, this “release” of your body, allows your punch to accelerate faster, creating a far more devastating explosion when you finally add weight. If you think about it: the punching motion is relaxing your fist as much as possible towards your opponent, leaving only the final moment of impact for your muscle contraction. Learn how to exert force through relaxation, and you will have mastered 99% of your punching technique.
Of course, relaxing your body doesn’t mean letting your body flop all over the place. Instead, use proper punching form to relax your body INTO the motion of the punch. Then contract all your muscles simultaneously at the very end to finally add weight to the punch. Mastering this split-second timing of punching with your entire body all at once makes the punch incredibly powerful. (Increasing your muscle power is useless if you can’t get your body to hit all at once.)
An Explosive Punch Is 99.99% Snap And 0.01% Push.
Lifting weights will not train you to relax and only makes your body slow during the contraction phase of the punch. If you’re so used to exerting force over several seconds, how will you be able to exert maximum force in only a split second? The simple answer is that you can’t (or you won’t be as good at it).
Proper punching requires snapping movement (exerting maximum force in the shortest time possible). Unfortunately, most fighters are only taught the proper punching form, which is easy to teach because you can see it. On the other hand, the technique has to be felt and has to be taught. It’s a special skill requiring a combination of timing and visualization. Now you understand why an old skilful boxer can still punch harder than a young athletic kid. It’s because he’s mastered the timing of relaxing his body and then contracting his muscles at the right moment to deliver the explosive power.
Lifting Weights Can Decrease Your Muscle Relaxation Capacity
This is where the old school arguments against weights come in. I’m sure you’ve heard them all before.
- makes you slow
- makes you stiff
- makes you tire out faster
Is it true? Well, let’s think about the extremes. Suppose we were to compare two guys– one being a weightlifter and the other being a dancer. How might their bodies look differently? How might their bodies move differently? Which body do you think would better mimic the movements of a boxer?
In my case, the old school arguments were true. Powerlifting limited my speed and endurance while making me “stiff”. We didn’t feel disadvantaged against other beginners but experienced fighters; they were all MUCH faster and punched harder with more endurance. They didn’t use any weights and begged me to do the same.
Suppose you don’t care about being slower or having less endurance. You should still consider the chances that lifting weights might HAMPER your relaxation capacity and thus your power punching ability. Even a slight decrease in speed can distinguish between a landed punch and a missed punch. Being more powerful isn’t worth it if you can’t sustain that power for three rounds.
Weightlifting Can Develop Your Explosive Power
This is perhaps the main reason boxers lift weights in the first place: It promotes explosive strength. As you probably know already, throwing a decent punch requires the whole body to move in a coordinated fashion, starting from the leg movement, moving up to the core, and finishing with the arms delivery. The result is a short punch that will make heavy bags scream and opponents grunt. In addition, many boxers strive to make their punches as powerful as possible, and weightlifting is something that can help you with that.
The exercises that will help you improve your explosiveness are compound lifts. We are talking about bending-over rows, snatches, pull-ups, etc.....… Also, you must add some abs and oblique work to your weightlifting routine. It’s one of the best ways to make your punches more snappy. We just think about it: most of the power is generated by your core, which includes the abs, obliques, and a few other minor muscles near your trunk, so strengthening those muscles will make a dramatic difference in how hard you hit.
However, as we said above, it’s important to make sure you focus on building strength rather than muscle. Ideally, you will want to work out in the low rep range. That is, under 6-8 reps per set. This rep range has been shown to promote strength gains without adding as much bulk as training in more moderate rep ranges.
Weightlifting Could Make You Bulkier And Slower
Just as lifting weights can make you a more explosive athlete and your punches more snappy, it can also make you slower and stiffer. Many times, we have seen these huge muscled up guys that will do a number on the heavy bag, but they can’t touch anybody decent in a sparring session because they are so damn bulky and slow. Big muscles mean a lot of weight to carry around, making it harder to throw a technically sound punch.
Plus, many boxers feel like their muscles get tired much more quickly when you lift weights, myself included. We used to blast my shoulders with a bunch of exercises without knowing that less is more when it comes to boxing. We thought that heavy weight training would improve the snap of my jab, and it did actually, but after a few rounds of bag work, they felt really heavy and spent, just like we had never boxed before. My biceps also tend to feel very tight if we overwork them at the gym, and my body tends to feel stiffer after training generally.
So again, as we said above, if you are an aspiring boxer and like doing bodybuilding style routines in the weight room, you need to replace that with a more functional routine that will target strength gains rather than muscle. This means avoiding 8-12 rep ranges, focusing on explosive contraction, and avoiding spending too much time in the weight room. Generally, focus on heavy compound exercises that target more than one muscle group.
Great Way To Make Abs More Conditioned To Withstand Punches
This is another very overlooked pro of weightlifting: it’s going to promote a stronger, more resistant core that will improve your punching power and a great way to improve the resistance of the area so that body punches have less of an effect on you. We think that the most important kind of weight lifting you should be doing is weighted ab exercises because of this.
Every boxer and boxing fan is aware that sometimes the waist of the average boxer is a little bit blockier and bulkier than that of the athletes of other disciplines. This is because boxing is an activity that demands a lot of core activation when punching and ducking. Ab exercises like sit-ups and crunches are also super common to improve the conditioning of this body part.
As you would assume, the result is a stronger, bulkier core, but what most people overlook is that it will also seriously improve your ability to take a punch down there. We hate getting hit by body shots because they disrupt my rhythm, plus they tend to tire me. Because of this, we focus on a lot of core exercises to improve the ability of my body to withstand punches. We usually do the usual sit-ups and crunches, but we also like to take those exercises further and combine them with weights to make my core as rock-solid as possible.
Training the core with heavy weights is done by many pro boxers, and we recommend that you do so too. Aside from the classic medicine ball exercises, you should also start doing exercises like ab pulldowns, cable woodchoppers, and weighted oblique twists with a weighted ball, making sure you focus on form and use heavier weights than usual. The result is a stronger core with an improved ability to take a punch.
Increased Risk Of Overtraining And Injury
When done right, proper weightlifting can certainly be a positive addition to a boxer’s regime. Still, one of the biggest cons we must talk about is that weightlifting can increase the risk of overtraining in a boxer, and even worse, it could even contribute to or cause a serious injury.
This is often seen in boxers who start weight lifting too hard too soon. In addition, lifting weights is very stressful for the body, especially if the trainee doesn’t have much experience with that kind of exercise. In short, weightlifting can help you become a better boxer, but you must be careful with how hard you go when first starting, especially if you are already immersed in an intense boxing routine.
Overtraining refers to exceeding the body’s capacity to recover from intense training. In other words, it refers to over pushing your body beyond its capacity, and it’s something boxers need to be cautious of. This is because boxing is very taxing on your body, so if this is your case and you are busting your butt every time you get into the gym, it might be wise to avoid weightlifting too hard.
Ideally, you should start weightlifting no more than two times a week. After that, your body itself will be the best guide to infer whether you should increase the frequency of the weight lifting or not. If you feel like you can keep up with a more intense weight regime, then go ahead and lift weights more often, but if you feel like you are overtaxing your body, then it might be wise to hold back a little bit.
Also, when weight lifting (especially lifting with improper form), there’s always the chance that you could injure a major body part or joint. This is very common in overconfident lifters who think they can increase weight without having the form down. I’m all about heavy, strength-focused weight training, but it’s also a double-edged sword because of this.
If you aren’t very experienced with weight lifting, it’s always a good idea to go with a buddy so that you can get assistance or, if possible, talk with one of the trainers in the gym. But, again, listen to your body. If you feel like you can’t do a lift without breaking proper form for more than a few reps, it might be wise to try lowering the exercise's weight.
So, if you are a boxer, it is best to avoid lifting weights. You don’t want to develop your explosive power or make your abs more conditioned to withstand punches. Instead, focus on practising your boxing skills and improving your endurance. If you are looking for a way to improve your punching power without lifting weights, try using a medicine ball. Medicine balls can help you increase the speed and power of your punches. Thanks for reading!