I just returned from an intense roadwork session. I could not think of a better time to write about the importance of a proper running program. I had my first fight in the amateurs almost fifteen years ago. I did not have the slightest clue about how to train or condition myself for the fight. I did not understand the value of a proper roadwork program. Interval training was an unknown concept at that time. Fortunately, many advancements have been made regarding roadwork for boxers. As a coach, I can now apply these principles to the athletes I train to foster greater improvements in overall conditioning.
Before discussing the specifics, let's first clarify one important point. The best way to prepare for this sport is to step inside the ring and box. No matter what you do for conditioning, if you fail to spar, you will never be in shape to fight. I do not know what causes this phenomenon, but I can attest to its truth.
Running and bag work will not prepare your body for the rigors associated with a grueling fight. What a running program will do however, is enhance your ability to sustain more intense sparring sessions. If you take a boxer who goes to the gym every day but never runs, and match him against an evenly skilled fighter who performs his roadwork religiously, I'm willing to bet that at least 9 out of 10 times, the winner will be the boxer who has been running.
What Is Roadwork?
At this point, you may be wondering what I mean by roadwork. I grew up in this sport with the understanding that roadwork meant waking up early in the morning and jogging 3 or 4 miles. While this routine surely beats hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock, it is not the most effective use of your valuable training time.
Boxing is largely a fast paced, anaerobic event. You win fights by throwing punches. Punches are thrown at top speed. The term anaerobic means to conduct an activity without oxygen. Anaerobic exercise, like boxing, stresses muscles at a high intensity for short bursts. Essentially, this equates to the fast combinations that a fighter throws inside the ring. The aerobic portion of the match takes place when you circle the ring, perhaps catching a quick breath in between punches. Aerobic exercise is defined as lower intensity activities performed for longer periods.
Considering the anaerobic nature of boxing, why limit your roadwork to aerobic jogging? It simply does not make sense. You should find time for more intense forms of conditioning. Interval training is one ideal solution.
A common phrase in today's athletic community is sport-specific training. Well guess what, boxers can make their running program more sport-specific (anaerobic) by training around the work-to-rest ratios of an actual bout. This style of running is often referred to as interval training. Essentially, it consists of running hard for the duration of a round, for example 2 or 3 minutes, depending whether you are amateur or pro. Your rest period will consist of approximately the same rest period you have between rounds. If you are fighting 4 rounds, a good program will consist of 5 intervals. Pros training for longer bouts will increase the number of intervals. It is a good idea however to keep the maximum number of intervals somewhere around 8 to 10 to avoid overtraining.
This program should only be performed 2 or 3 times per week. On non-interval days, you can return to the traditional form of roadwork, such as a 2 to 4 mile run. The longer runs are still important, as they enable your body to endure the harder interval work. These sessions will also be run at a brisk pace. When you train, you must train hard, or do not train at all. Most boxers should be able to maintain a 6 or 7-minute per mile pace, depending on the distance of the run. I like to see all fighters run 2-miles in 12 minutes or less. This is a good measure of fitness.
I recommend running intervals on non-sparring days. There is nothing worse than sparring with no legs to support you. Interval training is intense. Your body will need time to recover between interval sessions. Do not overlook the importance of rest and recovery. I have been the guinea pig who has worked through intense interval sessions before heading to the gym to spar. Trust me, it is not fun entering the ring without your legs!
After a few weeks of interval training, you will notice a tremendous improvement in