A Twist To Complex Training

By Ross Enamait - Published in 2005

Many of boxing’s training philosophies have originated out of tradition, rather than science. Trainers often refuse to change, continuing to teach archaic techniques. Unfortunately, the failure to accept change is just one of the problems. Many boxing trainers are unable to implement new techniques due to insufficient funding.

Boxing is a sport that thrives in the ghetto. Many gyms are located in city community centers that lack funding for expensive training devices. These gyms cannot afford Olympic barbell sets or other proprietary tools. Trainers are forced to work around their economic situation. Many continue to promote outdated techniques, while others implement unconventional (inexpensive) training solutions.

Consider the use of bodyweight calisthenics. I grew up boxing at a city community center. Our equipment was limited to a ring and several punching bags. There were no elaborate machines or weight sets. We succeeded with little or no equipment. Bodyweight exercise was convenient and effective.

The use of calisthenics continues today in boxing gyms across the country. Boxers are able to improve strength and endurance through bodyweight movements. Common exercises include pushups, pull-ups, burpees, sprint drills, rope skipping, and more.

Many strength and conditioning “gurus” will argue that bodyweight exercise is ineffective. Unfortunately, they are left speechless when asked to explain how so many of today’s world champions have thrived with nothing more than bodyweight exercise. Please note that I am not against the use of weight training, I am simply illustrating a point.

Professional boxing is unlike any other sport. How many other “professional” athletes work full-time jobs to support their passion? Have you ever seen an NFL player work a full day of physical labor before heading to a 2-hour practice? Although oblivious to many boxing fans, most professional fighters do not earn enough money to make a living. Consider the professional who trains 6-weeks for a $5000 payday. After training expenses and manager/trainer fees, the fighter is left with little.

The economics of boxing is partially responsible for the sport’s inability to keep pace with the mainstream sports of today. Fortunately, there are many ways to improve strength, power, speed, and endurance without elaborate training equipment.

Survival of the fittest requires that one adapt to their surroundings. If your training facility lacks equipment, you must improvise and adjust. This article will examine one low-tech solution to complex training. First, let’s review the concept of complex training. Complex training involves the integration of resistance exercise followed by an explosive movement. Two common examples of complex circuits include:

  • Weighted Squats followed by non-weighted squat jumps
  • Bench Press followed by medicine ball chest pass

The resistance work activates the nervous system (ex. barbell squats), followed by an explosive movement (squat jumps) to target the fast twitch muscle fibers. The goal of complex training is the improvement of explosive strength and speed-strength.

Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, renowned Russian scientist, defines speed-strength as the “ability to quickly execute an unloaded movement or a movement against a relatively small external resistance. Speed-strength is assessed by the speed of movement.” (1)

An old saying in boxing is that speed kills. Anyone who has stepped inside the ring can attest to these words.

Unfortunately, many trainers fail to recognize the difference between maximal strength and speed-strength. The recent trend in combat athletics is a relentless quest for maximal strength. Coaches overemphasize the need for maximal strength when the real need is speed-strength and rate of force development. Sport biomechanist Vladimir Zatsiorsky notes that “the ability to produce maximal force and the ability to achieve great velocity in the same motion are different motor abilities.” (2)

A boxer who throws a straight right hand does not have time for significant force production. Rate of force development (RFD) is much more important. As stated by Zatsiorsky, “If the time available for force development is short, RFD is more important than maximal strength.” (2) Verkhoshansky also noted that excessive maximum strength training can impair speed-strength. (1)

Fortunately, we can use low-tech complex training drills to enhance speed and explosive abilities. The equipment requirements are minimal.

Isometric Punch Followed By Med Ball Punch

These drills will use isometrics to form the resistance portion of the complex training equation. We will train each limb independently (ex. right side, then left side). The integration of an isometric hold followed by a dynamic movement is known as the static-dynamic method of developing muscular strength. The athlete begins with a brief isometric hold, followed by a dynamic movement, explosive in nature. This style of training has been proven to be more effective at producing speed-strength than dynamic exercise alone. (1)

The boxer will begin by holding an isometric punch. A right hand boxer will assume his conventional boxing stance. He will apply pressure with the right hand against an immobile structure such as a wall. You can wear a training glove to protect the hand, or place a small pillow against the wall. Two positions will be held, the beginning of the punch motion (Figure 1) and the mid-range portion of the punch (Figure 2). Maintain each position for 3-5 seconds with approximately 80% of maximum effort.

It is important to limit the time of the isometric hold to approximately 5 seconds or less. Extended isometric holds have been shown to “decrease coordination and speed of movement and worsen elasticity of the muscles.” (1) These potential drawbacks can be avoided by limiting the length of the contraction.

Figure 1

Figure 2

After completing the isometric holds, you will continue with a simulated medicine ball punch (additional options are shown within the video below). I recommend using a light medicine ball for this portion of the drill. The emphasis must be speed. In the video clip demonstration below, I am using a 5-pound ball. The medicine ball must be small enough to fit in one hand. The goal of this movement is to mimic the exact motion of punching. If the ball is too large, this will not be possible. More is not better when training speed-strength.