boxing, Coaching, olympic weightlifting

How to combine weightlifting with boxing

Weightlifting for Boxing

In recent months I’ve been focusing a lot more on combat sports (boxing and jiu jitsu) and less on weightlifting. Whilst I want to be as strong as possible, I want to be able to utilise functional strength.

I want to be confident in the gym and in the ring and combining the two is a new challenge for me. In the last few months, I’ve learned a few things about how best to combine weightlifting with boxing and other combat sports.

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First of all, it isn’t easy. Both are incredibly taxing on your CNS and body in very different ways. Weightlifting breaks down your muscles through shear weight and accumulated volume over your periodised program.

Boxing training on the other hand is a both technically and physically more demanding, seriously depleting your glycogen stores.

Weightlifting vs Combat Sports

The rest periods associated with weight training don’t apply to boxing. The 3 second Clean and Jerk or 5×5 Squat session is nowhere near as physically or mentally taxing as bag work, sparring or boxing circuit training, so it requires a different mindset. In terms of recovery, proper nutrition and sleep are obviously essential for both, but there are subtle differences to be aware of.

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The muscular breakdown in weight training requires sufficient protein (1.2 – 1.8g / kg of body weight) to help the muscles knit together and to improve the body’s ability to come back in day after day, minimising fatigue.

Carbohydrates and fat are essentials, but can be played around with to suit an individuals lifestyle. Once you have been lifting for long enough, you’ll know how much to eat to maintain your body weight and perform optimally.

Boxing however is a totally different stress on the body and nutrient timing is, in my opinion, even more important.

These glycogen sapping workouts mean you need to replenish with fast-acting, high carbohydrate sources; energy drinks being an obvious option. You’ll notice in bouts the fighter is only allowed to have water between rounds.

When your body’s glycogen and electrolyte levels are so diminished, water actually worsens your osmotic balance and is thought to play a role in serious brain injuries, so there’s a real bone of contention in the sports science around not allowing electrolyte-fuelled drinks in the corner.

This condition is called water intoxication (or hyponatremia) and as athletes sweat heavily and lose electrolytes they become dehydrated. Drinking too much water without the accompanying electrolytes can cause this to occur.

This electrolyte imbalance and tissue swelling can cause an irregular heartbeat and allows fluid to enter the lungs. This additional swelling puts pressure on the brain and nerves – this swelling can cause seizures, coma and ultimately death.

But you won’t be affected by this, I just find it fascinating.

So combining the two is challenging, as boxing demands intense stamina, whereas weightlifting needs consistency, the ability to manage heavy weights and proper periodisation.

If you are to take Newtonian physics into account – ‘Every action must have an equal and opposite reaction’ – then increasing mass may seem like an obvious was to increase punch power, as the increased mass should in theory increase momentum of the punching arm.

However, the most important thing is to improve the rate of force development rather than muscular gains. This means that compound movements and Olympic lifts are useful for the development of your extensors and glutes, but are more of a secondary concern.

This study highlights the likelihood that pelvic and trunk speed & stability contribute to increased hand speed during a punch. The primary concern is improving the rate of force development, which is better trained with:

  • Single leg strength
  • Plyometrics
  • Box Jumps
  • Kettlebell movements

How many times a week should a boxer lift weights?

If you’re boxing three times a week I don’t think you will have the capacity or powers of recovery to train more than three times a week. I’d be tempted to say twice is enough.

It depends on what you take more seriously. Are you more keenly impacted by your strength and appearance, or would you prefer to be a better boxer?

If you want to focus more on boxing, then weightlifting twice a week is ample. If you’d like to be bigger and stronger, then you’ll need to prioritise that.

Example weightlifting for boxing training week

Monday

– Weight Training –

– Boxing –

Tuesday

– Cycling –

– Boxing –

Wednesday

– Weight Training –

– Muay Thai

Thursday

– Day Off –

Friday

– Circuits –

Saturday

– Boxing –

Sunday

– Day off –

When I incorporate weightlifting into my weeks, the focus tends to be on:

  • Cleans
  • Jerks
  • Kettlebell snatches
  • Kettlebell clean and jerks
  • RDLs
  • Squats
  • Pull-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Single-leg plyometric exercises (pistol squats, plyometric bounds etc)
  • Single-arm shoulder press
  • Side-side rotational pivot

Does building muscle increase Punching Power?

No. Whilst increasing your overall muscle mass may allow for heavier hands when punching, if you can’t throw a punch with the same speed because there’s more weight to move, you’re hindering your rate of force development.

So if you’re weight training specifically to improve punch power, higher repetition compound or isolation lifts likely aren’t going to have a positive effect.

So does Weightlifting increase punch power?

It can do, but not very effectively. There’s nothing more effective than improving your timing and speed. But weightlifting does have its benefits and if you’re looking to punch harder I would focus on:

  1. Single leg strength: the majority of your power comes from rotational force. And that starts with singular leg strength. Train explosively with single leg plyometric work like bounds or single leg box jumps.
  2. Speed: the faster you can move, the better chance you have of punching harder. Kettlebell snatches and cleans are a particularly effective way at improving your footwork and rate of force production.
  3. Upper body rotational force: Utilise paused, weighted pull-ups to improve your upper back strength and power from a dead stop, as this can translate to rotational force improvement when initiating a punch.

So what weight training should boxers do?

Primarily the repetitions should low a you’re not trying to gain muscle. You’re trying to stimulate myofibrillated hypertrophy as opposed to sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. The more mass you carry, the harder each three minute round will be.

Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy stimulates muscle growth through heavier weights and lower rep ranges- essentially it’s building power production as opposed to the more bodybuilding-centric sarcoplasmic variety.

You don’t want muscle for the sake of muscle, you need every ounce of it to be valuable. Strong hips, single leg power and whole body rotation are really vital (and transferable) for combat sports.

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Whilst leg power is a core component of punch power, it’s not the be all and end all (sic. Deontay Wilder). Having a strong core, lower back and rotational force are equally important.

Whilst increasing your squat and deadlift may seem like a sound solution to punching harder, you’re really not training the muscles in an optimal or particularly transferable way.

For example, single leg strength is more important than overall leg strength. Whilst squats are a fantastic base, working on explosive box jumps, single leg plyometric work and kettlebell snatches will improve efficiency and power production when punching more than a squat can ever do.

This isn’t to say don’t squat, but it is important not to base your sessions around it. I suggest:

  • Front Squat: 3 x 3
  • Kettlebell Snatch: 5 x 3 (on each arm)
  • Medicine Ball Throws: 4 sets (on each arm)
  • Box Jumps: 5 x 3
  • Single Leg Plyometric Bounds: 4 sets to failure
  • Heavy Bag work: 15 seconds on | 10 off | 3 minute rounds

For overall athletes the front Squat is held in higher regard than the back squat as it primarily trains your quads and upper back.

However back squats are an excellent way to train your hips, glutes and lower back, so this of course is athlete dependent. You could equally switch kettlebell snatches for swings, slightly increasing the number of reps in doing so.

If I was training an individual who knew nothing about Olympic Weightlifting, I wouldn’t teach them the lifts. Although the caregiver is relevant, it takes too long to learn them at a level whereby the athlete can accommodate reasonable weight.

If you or your athlete can already do them, then I would utilise hang cleans and jerks primarily as they are the simplest, least taxing and have the greatest carryover.

Can I build muscle while boxing?

You can, but it shouldn’t be where your focus lies. If every ounce must provide value, then having big biceps or pectorals is ultimately a waste of energy as they don’t have any impact on punching power.

Obviously if you’re just doing it recreationally, then you can still train as a bodybuilder or powerlifter would to some extent. But just be aware every reaction has an equal counterpart and bigger arms will likely hinder your performance.

So is weightlifting good for Boxing?

Weightlifting for boxing can be beneficial, but it needs to be included sensibly so as to not overwork the athlete and cause their performance to drop in their preferred arena.

Weightlifting should complement boxing training and cause the athlete to punch harder, transfer force more efficiently and improve their hip, glute and leg strength. But it must be complemented with trunk stability, rotation and effective single leg strength.

You also must factor in the time it takes for an athlete to learn the lift or fatigue them. Squats can be included as a base to improve strength, but you must factor in how these stressors impact performance.

But if you’re trying to teach an athlete a complex lift like the barbell snatch, you’d be better off with them just working the bag and utilising explosive plyometrics.

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