My Boxing Training (Not Yours)

With a chicken sausage half-eaten on a plate and another sizzling in the pan, at nine o'clock last night I said to my husband, from the kitchen, "My opponent's probably doing sit-ups right now, and here I am on my third course."

Two weeks from today I just might compete in boxing for the first time, at the fabled Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, New York. And even if I don't, there's a guaranteed three straight days of boxing training ahead of me that demands some preparation.

Having recently, and tentatively, emerged from a cocoon of injuries into recovery, my initial plan had been simply this: Don't get hurt. You bought a plane ticket, you paid for the clinic, now just lay low. Wear sensible shoes from now to La Guardia.

But of course that won't do. Inactivity itself leads to muscle stiffness, and of course I couldn't risk losing any ground in my fitness level. Plan 2, then, involved attempting what I felt could accomplish each day, all the while making sure all bases were covered over the course of the week.

This worked, but only because I've become very intuitive in my training over the past several months. If I had plans to bike today but my hamstrings are too tight, I change the plan to include stretching and light leg work. Reasonable sounding as this is, in the past I would have forged ahead and then found myself surprised when injured and out for a few days.

Sometimes you have to push through, but most days it's wise to respond to the body's signals. As Gray Cook says in his excellent Athletic Body In Balance,

[The body] is one big sensory organism that makes fine adjustments as it receives information. When the body does not function optimally, when muscles are tight or weak, or when joints are stiff or unstable, this information gets distorted so that automatic reactions are distorted. This can hurt performance, increase fatigue, and expose the body to unnecessary stress.

To supplement my intuitive workouts, then, I've identified areas of weakness or instability I plan to address before the trip. Did you note the name of the post? I hesitate to recommend this for everyone, as the plan is geared solely to my body, and yet surely there is some value in these exercises for all boxers or those in combat sports to consider (along with the usual disclaimer that I'm not responsible for you hurting yourself).

Along with basic full-body strength/core training, and of course actual boxing, I'm hitting the areas listed below. Here's a sampling of exercises for each.


Next to my desk here is a green tub from Target filled with about 30 pounds of raw rice, not including the handful spilled on the floor beside. With it I build my forearm and grip strength. For boxing? Yes. My two tennis elbows (and the excellent Dr. Ross) taught me that I need to train all of my arm muscles to activate when lifting a jug of milk, or doing a pull-up, or tightening my fist at the moment of a punch's impact. When I don't, the strain of the job travels elsewhere and causes injury.

The constant pivoting required in boxing asks that your ankles be mobile, and that your feet be strong--able, in a sense, to "grip" the floor and ground you against imbalance.

A few ways I work on this:

rotations. Plant your toes on the ground, heel up; rotate in a circle one way, then the other. (See Z-health for additional excellent mobility exercises.)
lying wall squats. Lie on the floor near a wall, with your bum to the wall, and your feet on it, knees bent as in a squat position. Go deep into a position where you're deeper than you could if standing (for me, the butt is away from the wall a bit). Don't stress the ankles, but feel them working. It's a great way to "isolate" the ankles without your body weight bearing down as would happen in the standing version.
one-leg balance. Yep, that's it; simple and effective. Barefoot. Move your arms if it's too easy. Can you hold for 2 minutes? Try one-leg step-ups, too, with or without dumbbells.
heel walk, toe walk. Walk around the room on your toes. Now on your heels. Fun, huh?
heel drop. Stand on the last step of a staircase, hold on, and drop your heels down in a controlled fashion.
pencil pick-up. Pick up a pen with your toes. I'm only to a highlighter--are your feet stronger than mine? Yeah? You think so, do you?

It's tough enough to punch and be punched, but adding to boxing's challenges is the simple feat of holding up your arms for two or three minutes. Endurance must be built. Light weights do the job; I especially like following this guy here. You can also shadowbox with weights, but be sure not to go heavy; two or three pound dumbbells get heavy very quickly.

Where your shoulders need endurance, your cardiovascular system needs anaerobic training. Boxers are known for their roadwork, which certainly helps keep the system effective. But the sport is more like sprinting than doing miles, in the end; over the course of two or three minutes, the athlete must perform small bursts of activity at a heart rate that could not be sustained for the entire round. Flurry, flurry, catch your breath. Flurry, flurry. The heart and lungs must be trained thusly, and there are all manner of scientific breakdowns out there pinpointing the different systems involved (here's a great one). For me, it suffices to work in intervals.

Choose a cardio activity, such as running, biking, or rowing. Find a sprint length you can sustain while going all out (but below your max heart rate), probably 15-30 seconds. Warm up; perform a sprint; and recover for double the length of the sprint. Repeat 4 times. This trains you at to work at the anaerobic level, and also to recover from it.

Complicating this theory is chicken sausage. But I have no further advice there.


  1. AWESOME. I loved the title here, too. Because everyone has their own path to chart in boxing (or any sport). I am so glad that you're going to the clinic and that you have your own agenda for what you're going to get out of it. I also really appreciated these video workout links. I'm starting to really get into interval training and I always need new ideas for sets. Great, great post.

    Oh, and I ate a small dish of cake mix last night. Like the powder, right out of the box. It was awesome. :) Sometimes you just hafta do that crazy shit. (Hope you enjoyed the chicken sausage.)

  2. I developed nasty tennis elbow while week 5 of the 100 pushups plan ( I was feeling all kinds of awesome and then I was crippled and couldn't lift much at all for a couple weeks. I need to check out that rice exercise.

  3. DD: Tennis elbow is typically a matter of tightness in the forearm, and not necessarily strength; however, after I got things loosened up there, it followed that I keep the muscles engaged by strengthening them. Now I'm all Popeye and stuff!

    I don't know about the cake mix, Lisa. But I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.

  4. all this info is well outside my experience, but i still enjoyed reading about it. good luck on your trip to NYC!


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