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Fitness Boxing
The Ideal Cross-Training Alternative

By Mike Bresnahan - Published in 2003



Success in any fitness program is an elusive moving target. There are many exercise devotees out there who continuously take aim. However, few consistently achieve a solid hit, when it comes to their fitness goals. Success demands focus, balance, consistency and discipline. It also requires the ability and dedication to continuously overcome obstacles.

Endurance athletes such as runners, cyclists, kayakers and others engaged in outdoor exercise regimens recognize winter as one of these obstacles. Icy roads, snow covered trails, freezing temperatures and reduced hours of sunshine all make regular outdoor workouts dicey.

However, for many of these athletes, tapering off simply is not in their creed. They have worked too hard to watch their fitness levels slip away. They need an alternative that is both time efficient and effective in improving their fitness levels. It must also be challenging, motivating, provide variety and be convenient. In other words, it must meet the following criteria:

  • Intensity - It must challenge both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

  • Strength gain - It must improve overall body strength.

  • Injury free - It must provide intensity without battering muscles and joints.

  • Calorie burn - It must help burn off any extra fat to help increase/maintain leanness.

  • Variety - It must be challenging and non-boring.

  • Mental toughness - It must help the athlete or fitness devotee learn to cope with difficult challenges in their primary activity. (1)

Fitness Boxing is a whole body workout that meets the above criteria and more.

It takes the best aspects of workouts used by some of the world’s most finely conditioned athletes, boxers. It combines them into a fitness program that is safe for the mainstream exercise devotee. In other words, with Fitness Boxing, you train like a boxer in everything but full contact sparring. (That aspect of boxing is left to professional boxing coaches in the relative safety of a standard boxing ring.)

Fitness Boxing is definitely challenging. It works most of the human body’s physiological systems. The musculoskeletal system becomes stronger through specialized resistance exercises and boxing specific equipment drills. The cardiorespiratory and vascular systems become more efficient through workouts that are more than 60% anaerobic. The central nervous system is trained to respond faster and more efficiently to punching combination drills. (2)

Intensity is the trademark of a Fitness Boxing workout. As indicated above, it is more than 60% anaerobic. Many of the drills are made up of two or three minute rounds, with one minute recovery periods. You push through your current lactate threshold and improve it during the round, or anaerobic interval, by working at 85-90% of your maximum heart rate. (3) During the one minute rest period, you learn to more efficiently recover your oxygen debt while simultaneously stretching and reviewing proper technique.

Strength gain is a natural byproduct of the Fitness Boxing workout. Boxers work with weights, specialized boxing equipment and plyometric devices in a manner that maximizes calorie burn to increase lean muscle mass. The Fitness Boxing workout focuses on improving speed, strength, explosiveness and lactate threshold management while simultaneously keeping body fat at minimal levels. (4)

Remaining injury free while improving total body fitness is one of the major benefits of a Fitness Boxing program. As a cross training alternative, it provides a break in routine and adds variety to your overall training program. It distributes the load of training across various body parts. (5) For endurance athletes who do a lot of running, this means a break from pounding your knee and ankle joints, while still getting an intense training session.

Mental toughness comes from learning to cope with the demands of a challenging workout. The more you work through a series of rounds that push you into your anaerobic zone, the better you will deal with intense endurance training or other demanding exercise routines.

So, Fitness Boxing offers all these great cross training benefits. What does a typical workout look like?

Most formal classes at boxing gyms or health clubs are 60 minutes in length. A typical session is broken down into several carefully designed components to ensure a total body workout.

  • Warm-up - A complete head to toe warm-up. Its purpose is to safely prepare your muscles and tendons for the rest of the session. Approximately 5 to 10 minutes.

  • Conditioning - This is typically a transition from the warm-up into some boxing specific strength and conditioning exercises. These are resistance exercises that emphasize muscular strength and endurance, speed, tone and anaerobic conditioning. Typically without weights. Approximately 10 minutes.

  • Technique - One to two new techniques are introduced in each session. The objective is to build from the basics, such as fundamental punches, to more complex combinations and defensive maneuvers. Approximately 5 minutes.

  • Hitting Drills - These are the heart of the workout. Timed rounds are employed in a circuit training format that works everything from focus mitts to target shields to heavy bags and more. This is highly anaerobic, involving two or three minute rounds (work intervals) interspersed with one minute active recovery periods. After a series of these rounds, you will be refreshingly exhausted, de-stressed and invigorated. Approximately 35 minutes.

  • Cool Down - This gets your heart rate down while you stretch out and improve your flexibility. It can also serve as a Q&A and planning session with your instructor. Approximately 5 minutes.

In addition to formal classes, complementary strength, plyometric and medicine ball training are commonly utilized to improve overall conditioning as part of a Fitness Boxing program. Strength training employs resistance exercises involving weights that improve overall strength with a particular focus on speed strength, or the ability to activate fast-twitch muscle fibers for explosive punching power. Plyometric and medicine ball training consist of a series of exercises designed to enhance starting speed, acceleration and power. (6)

Ok, it sounds like a great cross training alternative. How do I get started?

If you want a great Fitness Boxing workout, but have no desire to become a competitive boxer, you might want to stay clear of the more hardcore boxing clubs. If this is the case, check out a local health club or look for an upscale boxing gym that caters more to the workout than to the competition. Many h