August 9, 2016

Question:  I am a beginning amateur boxer interested in increasing my endurance.  My boxing coach suggests that I run 3 miles, 5-6 days per week  I have been following these recommendations, but my boxing endurance isn’t improving.  Do I need to run longer distances?

Investigation:  There are two general types of endurance training: aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen).  Training that enhances the athlete’s ability to perform low intensity,  long- term movement is referred to as aerobic while training that improves high intensity short-term energy production is called anaerobic.  In relation to conditioning, it’s important to understand which system is the primary contributor to a specific sport or event.

There are two anaerobic energy systems—the adenosine triphosphate, creatine phosphate (ATP/CP) pathway and the glycolytic pathway.  After 3–4 seconds, ATP stores are depleted. After ATP levels are depleted, CP comes into play.  After about ten seconds of maximal effort, ATP and CP become depleted and the glycolytic pathway becomes the primary contributor to muscular energetics. The glycolytic pathway involves the breakdown of glycogen to produce ATP. Pyruvate is the end product of glycolysis, which is converted to lactic acid when insufficient levels of oxygen are present. The force production in this pathway is less than the force production in the ATP/PC pathway due to the slower rate of energy transfer.

There is one aerobic system, the oxidative pathway. Most of your daily activities are fueled by the aerobic system. The oxidative system is the slowest and isn’t suitable for high intensity, explosive activities. The oxidative system does not produce byproducts such as lactic acid. Therefore, it can produce energy indefinitely. Activities of light intensity lasting over two minutes become increasingly aerobic in nature. When sufficient amounts of oxygen are present, pyruvate is not converted to lactic acid but shipped to the mitochondria where it enters the Krebs cycle and formulates ATP.  Activities that are moderate to high in intensity and last 2-3 minutes are primarily fueled by the anaerobic system.  Activities of light intensity lasting over three minutes become increasingly aerobic in nature. Understanding the importance of energy systems can help optimize your training regimen.

Better strategy:  The number of rounds and the duration of each round, in amateur boxing, depends on the division. The number of rounds range from 3-4, and the minutes per round range from 1-3 minutes. Boxing is dependent primarily on the anaerobic energy system (glycolytic pathway).  No need to spend a lot of time running long distances at a slow pace.  Another thing to consider is that at any specific time during training there may be a combination of aerobic and anaerobic mechanisms working to produce movement.  To design an effective endurance program it is important to understand which energy systems are primarily used to carry out specific tasks.  In addition, it is important to understand energy system use often changes during the training session.

When training to maximize boxing endurance focus on improving lactate threshold, aerobic / anaerobic interval training and learning to relax while boxing.  Training to improve lactate threshold involves training with high intensity levels..  The body becomes conditioned to function while experiencing high levels of lactate.  Learning to relax is an important; too much excitation leads to inefficient movement and excessive energy output.  No matter how good your condition, if you can’t learn to relax you will get fatigued much faster than you should.  I have seen many boxers who are in great condition fatigue really fast in their matches.

Lactate Threshold / Anaerobic Threshold Training

Punch out drills

Punch a heavy bag non-stop for 1-1.5 minutes.  Throw straight punches with no pause between punches.  Perform 3-5 rounds, rest 30-45 seconds between rounds.

Aerobic / Anaerobic Interval Training

Movement performed: running or rowing

Movement performed at a moderate pace for 90 seconds followed by 15 seconds of max effort movement.  Perform 7-10 cycles.

Sparring in front of crowds and sparring at various gyms are good strategies you can use in an effort to learn how to relax.  Performing in front of large crowds often lead to anxiety.  The more often you perform in front of crowds the better.  Anxiety reduction is a key element that is often overlooked in the preparation of athletes.  No matter how good you perform in the gym it will not help your boxing career if you can’t perform well in competition.

Targeted Endurance

A large percentage of sports is primarily anaerobic in nature, yet, many coaches advise their athletes to perform extensive aerobic training.   It is important to have a general understanding of the bio-energetic systems the body utilizes to perform specific tasks.  *So called- sports specific movements or training (targeted performance) address these tasks. Below I have listed some basic terms often mentioned when discussing endurance training.

Aerobic Endurance: The capacity of the muscles to perform with oxygen being the primary source of fuel utilized.

Anaerobic Endurance: The capacity of the muscles to perform without sufficient oxygen.

VO2 Max: Maximum oxygen uptake.

Anaerobic Threshold: Exercise beyond this level induces strong acidosis (high levels of acidosis cause various disturbances in the muscle cell). The lactate concentration at this level is about 4 millimoles per liter in most athletes.

At any time there is a combination of aerobic and anaerobic mechanisms working to produce movement.  To reiterate, when designing an effective endurance program it is important to understand which energetic pathway is primarily utilized in carrying out specific tasks. In general, activities that are intense and short in duration (up to 2.5–3 minutes) are primarily anaerobic. As the activity goes beyond this point it becomes more aerobic in nature. Keep in mind that the primary pathway can change often during an event. The anaerobic system is sometimes called upon for explosive bouts of energy. As an example, two guys have been in the guard position for 5 minutes. Suddenly the guy on the bottom explosively sweeps the man on top, mounts him and begins delivering forceful blows.

A properly structured endurance program requires more than just a bunch of reps and high level fatigue.  These misguided attempts often lead to less the optimal training outcomes.

*So-called sports specific programs are ubiquitous.  Often, these programs consist of nothing more than free weight strength training movements and weight loaded movements that mimic sport movements.  There is much, much more needed regarding a sports specific program.  Generally, I like to use the term targeted training, rather than sports specific training. A sports specific movement is a movement that is used in the targeted sport.

The basis of a targeted training plan is determined by the athletes objectives.  “The objectives consist of three main components: the designated increase in sport results, the appropriate alterations in technical-tactical, psychological and competition preparedness, and the necessary displacement in the sportsman’s special-physical-preparedness” (Verkhoshansky, 1985, p. 125).