Men's Health

How to Train Like a Boxer

Man flexes his huge biceps

Man flexes his huge biceps  ((c) 2008 Jim Jurica)

There’s no denying that boxers have incredible physiques, and while you may never want to step into the ring and slug it out, you might want to get in shape just like a boxer.

Boxers and their trainers know there’s little benefit to having enormous muscles. Instead, an effective boxer will have excellent core muscles, be toned from head to toe and have stellar cardio. Boxers at all levels have to be supremely dedicated to rigorous training both in the gym and outside it; just doing a portion of a boxer workout will do wonders for any average guy looking to shed a few pounds or tone up. If you need proof of what the training can do for non-fighters, take a look at how Will Smith, James Franco and Matthew McConaughey turned out.

This boxer workout can be done at a gym, a boxing club if you’re more ambitious or even at home. Try it three times a week and you’ll see results before long.

Here’s how to train like a boxer:

The warm-up
In any workout, it’s important to get the muscles stretched and warmed up before doing anything too strenuous. To begin your boxing warm-up, take a few minutes to get your blood flowing (jogging in place, jumping jacks) before you stretch your entire body, especially the calves, arms and back.

Then, it’s time to get your heart rate up, and there’s no better way than through skipping -- a traditional part of the boxer workout. If skipping isn’t something you’ve done since grade school, you might be a little rusty. Simple jumping jacks are a good alternative until you’re comfortable with the rope, but it’s best to just dive right in. Many beginners make the mistake of jumping too high and tiring themselves out. Lift your feet no more than an inch off the ground, and get comfortable with the rope by going slowly at first. Eventually, you’ll be able to increase your speed, then alternate feet. Soon, you’ll feel comfortable doing crosses, leg raises and double jumps, and maybe even trying to skip backward.
The skipping part of your warm-up should last at least 10 minutes.

Keep your heart rate up
A common phrase in boxing, and indeed in any fight sport, is: “One more round.” The men are separated from the boys in the final round, because they’ve put themselves in the best position to win through great conditioning. By the late rounds of a fight, victory is achieved more through one’s conditioning than by fight skills alone. To that end, your boxer workout should now be governed by threes and ones: three minutes on, one minute off. This structure simulates a typical boxing round, while giving you short breaks when they’re needed.


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To keep your heart rate up, move into some circuit training that will strengthen your various muscle groups. With three minutes on the timer, mix in some push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks, doing 30 seconds of each, repeated.
Once you’ve done a simple round or two, you can add more challenging elements to your workout, like burpees, which will build the core muscles and make you more explosive. To begin, lower into a squat with your hands in front of you. Then, place your hand on the floor and kick your feet back so that you’re in the push-up position. Quickly kick back into the squat position and jump as high as you can from the squat. The key is to get full extension, but also do this exercise as quickly as you can.

Throw some punches
If you go to a gym where you have some space -- or perhaps you’re following this workout at home -- simple shadowboxing will have your arms, chest and back burning before long. We can’t teach you how to box in a few short paragraphs, but try different punches in different combinations to really work on your upper body. Throw jabs with your off-hand, and work through hooks, uppercuts and straight punches. Keep your feet moving; you should feel a burn in your calves before long.

If you have gloves, hand wraps and a heavy bag at home, here’s an exercise that will build muscle and shed calories (again, work for three minutes at a time, and you can break that three minutes into six 30-second intervals). For your first 30 seconds, throw assorted punches at the bag. Then, throw straight punches as quickly as you can, not worrying about power. For the final 30 seconds, throw power shots as hard as you’re able, then repeat all three. For a change, you can substitute in any other activity for 30 seconds (try push-ups, jumping jacks or whatever you feel you need).

Cut to the core
Boxers build their core muscles to protect against punishing body shots; you can build yours to look and feel better. These exercises can be done at your gym, or at home if you have a medicine ball. It’s important to use a medicine ball that’s not too heavy, but at the same time pushes your body to its limits. An 8-pound ball is suitable for those weighing under 160 pounds and a 12-pound ball is good if you‘re heavier.

Sit on the ground with your legs straight in front of you, and hold the ball on the ground beside one hip. Now, keeping your legs as straight as possible, lift your feet off the ground a couple of inches. Hold your legs up and move the ball across your body, touching it to the ground next to each hip. Do this exercise in intervals of 50, making sure not to let your heels touch the ground.

Next, move to a wall, and with your knees bent at 90 degrees, “sit” with your back against the wall (you’re not actually sitting on anything). You’ll feel a burn in your abdominals right away, but you can augment the workout by holding the medicine ball straight out in front of you. Remembering to move slowly, you can lift the ball above your head, and then return it back in front of you. If this exercise is too tough, try a lighter ball.

If you have a workout partner, there are plenty of core drills with the ball you can do together.

Cool down
Just as you should never go from a sprint to a dead stop, it’s not a good idea to end your boxer workout abruptly. Once you’ve had enough -- or worked for the desired length of time -- skip for another 5 to 10 minutes, then finish with a full set of stretching. This entire workout is one that is easily done in 45 minutes, though you can add weight work to extend it.