Running for miles at a steady pace to ‘get your legs’, is one of the dumbest old school methods for conditioning fighters and crazily some fighters are still doing it, particularly boxers. Those very same fighters are told not to lift weights, as this will make them slow and bulky. So they end up coming to the ring conditioned more like a long distance runner, highly conditioned for endurance, but sorely lacking strength, power and even maximal speed. Why would any coach want to send their fighter to the ring lacking these essential attributes? The mind boggles.
How do I know this? I’ve experienced it first hand from 8 years boxing in the amateur ranks, having coaches make me run for miles and miles and constantly on my back about my desire to lift weights to gain strength. To me being stronger than my opponents was an obvious advantage, to my coaches weight training was some kind of terrible curse for a fighter.
To understand the type of conditioning a fighter needs we need to break down the demands of a typical fight. If we use boxers as an example we have amateur boxers and professional boxers, an amateur bout will typically be 3 or 4 rounds of 2 minutes with 1 minute rest intervals between rounds, a professional fight ranges between 6 and 12 rounds, depending on the level of the fight, and has rounds of 3 minutes duration with 1 minute rest intervals. The most immediate thing that jumps off the page, is that boxing is done in intervals. If we break it down even further, a fighter will typically be constantly on the move, but due to economy of movement and a high level of skill, this movement will be of a low intensity, they will then have sporadic bursts of high intensity action as they get in range and fire off a burst of punches. The better condition a fighter is in, the more frequent these bursts will be, along with the ability to put more power shots in the combinations whilst maintaining a high level of speed. Obviously individual style plays a huge role, but the better a fighters condition, the higher the work rate will be.
So when we break down an actual round, we see the interval pattern emerge even greater, albeit in an unregulated fashion. So it’s safe to say that the physical demands of a boxing match are very similar to very high intensity interval training. So those daily 5 mile (and that’s the distance I did as an amateur) runs are virtually useless. You wouldn’t condition a 100m sprinter with 1500m runs, which is akin to a boxer doing those long runs.
Here’s the sciency bit: When a boxer is engaged in throwing punches or quickly slipping and rolling (avoiding punches), he/she is engaged in an anaerobic level of physical activity, anaerobic simply means without oxygen, they are working at such a high level, the body can’t effectively burn oxygen fast enough for fuel, so glucose is used as the body switches from the low level aerobic energy system to the glycolytic (short term, high level activity) and the ATP-CP (very short term, maximal level activity), high level anaerobic energy systems. Now the big problem with the long runs is they do not develop the capacity to work in the glycolytic and ATP-CP energy systems, in fact with high volumes of aerobic work, the ATP-CP capacity actually decreases, resulting in loss of speed and power!
Will a fighter gas out if they only train in the glycolytic and ATP-CP energy systems, the answer is a resounding no! the good news is working hard on improving capacity in these energy systems will actually drag endurance up with them, this happens due to a raising of the anaerobic threshold, basically the fitter you become anaerobically, the harder you can work before the switch to the anaerobic pathways, so when a fighter is cruising between bursts of high intensity activity they are able to do so more efficiently. Also the more emphasis on anaerobic conditioning, the faster a fighter is able to recover from the bursts of throwing fast powerful combinations.
So what does this mean for conditioning fighters; it means the long slow road work needs to be replaced with high intensity interval training to develop glycolytic capacity and maximal sprints, maximum effort strength and dynamic effort power training to develop the ATP-CP pathways. Some steady state type cardio can still be included, but it isn’t the main emphasis, it is used as active recovery between the more intense conditioning sessions. Changing training emphasis like this will build stronger, faster, more explosive fighters who still have the conditioning to go the distance, but as a more complete and dangerous fighter.
There’s an old saying in boxing, ‘train hard, fight easy’, while not far off the mark a better saying would be ‘train hard, train smart, fight easy’.