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Endurance Conditioning For Boxing

By Grant Kerr - Published in 2003



Boxing is a sport of intermittent nature, characterized by short duration, high intensity bursts of activity. It requires significant anaerobic fitness, and operates within a well-developed aerobic system. Boxing is estimated to be 70-80% anaerobic and 20-30% aerobic.

Boxing's work/rest ratio is approximately 3:1. The nature of boxing requires athletes to sustain power at a high percentage of V02 max (often above lactate threshold, producing high levels of blood lactate leading to premature fatigue). The primary aims of conditioning for boxing are to delay the onset of fatigue by increasing tolerance to lactic acid build-up, to increase stores of phospho-creatine to produce ATP, to delay the pre-mature use of the lactic acid system, to improve efficiency of oxygen use, and to improve recovery between intense bursts of activity.

A Brief Look at Energy Systems


ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the source of energy for all muscle contractions. When ATP is broken down into ADP (adenosine diphosphate), energy is released. Maintaining the availability of ATP is the limiting performance factor, as ATP is not stored in large amounts. Exercise and sport are fueled by three different energy systems that produce ATP; the aerobic system, the lactic acid system (anaerobic glycolysis) and the ATP-PC system. The aerobic pathway is a long-term energy system, while the two anaerobic pathways (lactic acid and ATP-PC) are short term. These 3 pathways however do not act independent of each other, as all activities lie on a spectrum with no distinct boundaries.

Aerobic System


Aerobic glycolysis occurs when oxygen is readily available to break down pyruvate into ATP. This is a complex process with three primary stages.

  1. Glycolysis (lipolysis), the breakdown of glucose (or fat) takes place over 9 steps
  2. The Krebs Cycle
  3. The Electron Transfer Chain

The aim of aerobic training is to improve the working capacity of the heart and its ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles. There are 2 main ways to train this system:

  1. Long duration interval running
  2. Long distance (low intensity) steady state running

Brooks and Fahey (1985) found continuous training as the optimal way to improve oxygen delivery, while interval training increases oxygen utilization and lactate threshold. With interval training, there is the ability to perform large amounts of high intensity work in shorter time. This type of training can also be manipulated to alter which metabolic pathway is emphasized, longer intervals involve more aerobic pathways, shorter intervals involve more anaerobic pathways.

With long distance training the aim is to run longer than the event lasts in an attempt to overload the system.

General methods of developing aerobic endurance:

  1. Steady-state continuous runs: 5-10km (about 70-80% V02 max)
  2. Long duration interval training: 4-6 sets of 2-5 minute intervals (work/rest ratio of 1:1 or 1:2)
  3. Short duration interval training: 10 sets of 400m (work/rest ratio of 1:1 or 1:2)
  4. Shorter duration interval training: 20 sets of 200m (work/rest ratio of 1:1 or 1:2)

At high levels of activity, the aerobic system cannot supply enough oxygen to fuel the exercise, forcing the athlete to work in oxygen debt. When activity is performed without the use of oxygen, it is fueled by the anaerobic pathways.

Lactic Acid System


This is defined as "the incomplete breakdown of glycogen in the absence of oxygen" (Astrand and Rodahl 1986). This occurs during periods of activity lasting approximately 90 seconds, but ranges from 15 secs to 2 minutes. This pathway begins the same as the aerobic pathway, except the breakdown of glucose into pyruvic acid occurs in the absence of oxygen, and is converted to lactic acid.

Lactate is produced and transforms to lactic acid from pyruvate. This dissociates into lactate and hydrogen ions, causing an increase in muscle acidity leading to muscular fatigue. The removal of this lactic acid is slow and requires nearly "15-20 minutes to remove half of the concentration formed" (NCCP 1990).

ATP-PC System


This system uses creatine phosphate to generate intense bursts of activity, lasting 10-15 seconds in duration. This system has the ability to completely replenish stores after depletion (within a period of 2-3 minutes rest). A drop in ATP promotes a reaction between phospho-creatine molecules and ADP, resulting in the immediate production of ATP without the use of oxygen or production of lactic acid. During recovery when sufficient amounts of ATP can be produced aerobically, excess ATP is converted back to phospho-creatine.

The aim of this type of training is to develop the athlete’s tolerance to muscular fatigue (due to increases in metabolic buffers and larger stores of phospho-creatine). Training the lactic acid system involves a special form of interval training that maximally stresses the metabolic pathway at intensities of 85-100% V02 max. It is performed with intervals of 15-40 seconds as well as intervals of 40-90 seconds. Recovery periods are long, as the lactic acid formed leads to fatigue. This training is physically hard and can drastically reduce glycogen stores (Powers and Howley 2000).

  1. 5-8 sets of 300m (work/rest ratio of 1:10)
  2. 10-15 sets of 150m (work/rest ratio of 1:10)
  3. 6-8 sets of 45 -120 second intervals.

To improve the ATP-PC system, you must train with high intensity short-term efforts at 100+% V02 max. Intense intervals often range from 5 -10 seconds. Reps and sets depend on the athlete’s fitness. Lactic acid production is minimal which allows for brief recovery periods.

  1. 3 sets of 10x30m sprints (work/rest ratio of 1:4, plus 5 minutes recovery per set)
  2. 15 sets of 60m sprints (work/rest ratio of 1:4)
  3. 20 sets of 20m sprints (work/rest ratio of 1:4)

Specific Conditioning


A boxing training program should place great emphasis on the anaerobic pathways. The most specific way to condition for boxing (as mentioned by Ross Enamait) is a form of interval running that mimics the work/rest ratios involved, intervals matching the duration of a round (2 or 3 minutes), with a 1 minute rest period. Intervals of this nature train the anaerobic lactic acid system, while also providing aerobic benefits.

Another effective way to train the lactic acid system for boxing is to perform situational exercises, lasting 30-60 seconds for 6-8 sets, while sparring. For example one athlete could constantly attack for 60 seconds while the other defends, or alternatively, if training alone you could throw continuous combinations against a bag.

By training the lactic acid system, the athlete delays the onset of fatigue by increasing tolerance to lactic acid build-up.

While the lactic acid system is most important to boxing, training the ATP-PC system also has benefits, such as increasing the body’s stores of phospho-creatine and delaying the pre-mature use of the lactic acid system. Training this system requires shorter interval periods. To increase the specificity to boxing, you could again use situational drills. A sample routine could consist of 10-15 sets lasting 6-10 seconds.

Although the emphasis of training should be on developing the anaerobic energy systems, it is important recognize the importance of steady state running, and longer interval training. The aim of endurance training is to improve the efficiency of oxygen use and aid the recovery between intense bursts of anaerobic activity. The main application for boxing is to permit greater recovery from anaerobic work (via lactate metabolism and removal of waste products), which is crucial between rounds.

As stated earlier, Brooks and Fahey (1985) found continuous training as the optimal way to improve oxygen delivery while interval training increases oxygen utilization and lactate threshold. Additional benefits of aerobic training include:

  1. Sustained activities lasting over 2 minutes have a higher aerobic content. Although primarily anaerobic, a 3-minute round still requires contribution from the aerobic system.
  2. Activities lie on a spectrum with no distinct boundaries. Even in short term activities, of 20 seconds or less, there is a contribution from the aerobic system.
  3. Fat can only be utilized by the use of oxygen, so when making weight, aerobic training is an important tool.
  4. A sound aerobic base is essential to develop a anaerobic fitness.
  5. An aerobic fitness base aids recovery between intense bursts of activity.
  6. Aerobic training leads to improvements in lactate threshold (point at which lactate production exceeds lactate removal - Astrand and Rodahl 1986).

In addition to general endurance training, sport specific aerobic training could involve performing longer rounds (5-6 minutes) at reduced intensities using the rest period of 1:2. Considering the importance of all 3 pathways to boxing, how do you train them all?

Despite the crossover between aerobic and anaerobic training, it is recommended that full anaerobic training does not take place along with full aerobic training, one or the other must be prioritised.

A s stated in Ross Enamait's article on periodization, "A proper strength-training program for boxing involves much more than simply walking into the gym and grabbing a pair of dumbbells. Boxing is a complex sport. To be successful, your training must be equally complex...How do we maximize each component of strength? The answer lies in a cycled training approach, also known as periodization"

The same can also be said for endurance training, it is more complex than just going out and running until you are tired. Much like strength training, the endurance training can also be cycled.

A periodized endurance program can be split into 3 phases, Preparation, Pre-Competition, and Competition. During the preparation period the goal is to develop your aerobic base by performing general non-specific aerobic training at lower intensities, by the use of steady state running and long intervals. In addition to endurance training, training the aerobic system for boxing specificity should be conducted.

During the pre-competition phase, the goal is to begin building anaerobic endurance (developing the lactic acid system), by the use of lactic acid training and boxing specific interval running. During the competition phase, the anaerobic training should shift to emphasize the ATP-PC system while continuing with boxing specific intervals.

The time frames for each period are determined by fight schedules and the fitness levels of each athlete. For example, considering that the primary energy system for boxing is the lactic acid system, it would make little sense to devote most of your attention towards training the ATP-PC system. Also, if you have a fighter who is already aerobically fit, there is no need to spend excess time training their aerobic base before proceeding to anaerobic training.

The general time frames for each cycle are:

  • Preparation period could last 6-8 weeks
  • Pre-competition period lasting 8-12 weeks
  • Competition period lasting 2-4 weeks

When developing a conditioning program it is important to remember that the same training techniques do not work the same on each athlete. The program should be individually tailored to your needs. It is also important that athletes develop a sound aerobic