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Are boxers supposed to lift weights?

Boxing is a sport that requires tremendous strength, speed, agility, and endurance. As such, boxers must participate in extensive training to build these attributes. One question that often comes up is whether boxers should incorporate weight lifting into their training routines or stick to bodyweight exercises, cardio, and boxing-specific drills. There are arguments on both sides of this issue, and most trainers and fighters seem to take a balanced approach. Let’s take a deeper look at the potential benefits and drawbacks of boxers lifting weights.

Potential Benefits of Boxers Lifting Weights

Here are some of the main benefits that can come from a boxer adding weight training to their program:

Building Strength and Power

Obviously, extra strength and power can be highly advantageous in the ring. Stronger muscles allow a boxer to hit harder and minimize the impact of an opponent’s punches. Weight lifting, especially heavy compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and bench press, stimulates muscle growth and progressive overload. Over time, this can lead to considerable increases in muscular strength and power output.

Increasing Speed and Explosiveness

In addition to adding brute strength, weight lifting can boost a boxer’s speed and explosiveness. Olympic lifts such as cleans and snatches require generating a lot of force in a split second. This mimics the explosive punching and movement needed in boxing. Weight training and power exercises enhance rate of force development and fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment.

Improving Endurance and Work Capacity

A properly designed weight routine will tax both the muscular and cardiovascular systems. Moving heavy loads for multiple sets and reps takes energy and improves local muscle endurance. Over time, the heart and lungs must work harder to supply oxygen and fuel to working muscles. This leads to greater stamina and being able to work harder for longer durations.

Enhancing Power Transfer and Coordination

Weight lifting improves intramuscular and intermuscular coordination. As the nervous system adapts to handle heavier loads, it becomes more efficient at recruiting the proper muscles and getting them to fire in sync. This leads to better transfer of strength gains to boxing movements and technique. Weighted exercises can also help groove proper punching mechanics.

Preventing Injuries

Weight training strengthens connective tissues like ligaments and tendons. It also helps develop joint stability and balance muscular development around a joint. This can help decrease a boxer’s risk of overuse and impact injuries. Weight lifting provides variation that reduces the repetitive stress of boxing training.

Optimizing Hormones

The heavy loads and muscle damage inflicted by weight lifting sessions spur increases in anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. The muscle protein synthesis and recovery effects stimulated by these hormones is highly advantageous. Weight training boosts the hormonal response beyond boxing training alone.

Complementing Diet and Improving Body Composition

To properly support weight training and get stronger, a boxer must pay close attention to their nutrition. The increased protein requirements and nutrient timing considerations force boxers to eat smarter. When combined with proper diet, weight lifting can help boxers add lean muscle mass without excess body fat. This improves strength-to-weight and power-to-weight ratios.

Potential Drawbacks of Boxers Lifting Weights

While weight lifting can clearly have benefits for boxers, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider:

Interference Effect

There is the risk of interference between different types of training adaptations. The motor patterns and specific muscular development required for weight lifting differs from those needed for boxing success. Heavy weight training loads may hamper power output and fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment. This can negatively impact punching speed, accuracy, and reflexes.

Overdeveloped Muscles

Substantially increasing muscle mass, particularly in the upper body, can be detrimental for a boxer. Excess muscle mass requires extra energy and oxygen to move around and sustain in the ring. Even an extra couple pounds of muscle shifts the power-to-weight ratio. Weight classes limit how much size boxers can add.

Fatigue and Overtraining

Trying to recover from and adapt to both extensive boxing training and heavy weight lifting sessions is extremely taxing. The accumulated fatigue and need for extra calories and recovery can easily lead to overtraining if not properly managed. This often necessitates reducing other boxing workouts to accommodate weight training.

Technique Alterations

The fixed hand positioning and limited range of motion of weight lifting exercises differs from the free flowing, multi-planar movements used in boxing. Overemphasizing certain motions and muscles with weights could potentially alter punching mechanics and technical proficiency. Weight training also does little to improve rhythm, timing, accuracy, and other pugilistic skills.

Increased Inflexibility

The muscle growth and joint stability provided by weight training can decrease flexibility and range of motion, particularly in the upper body. This could hamper a boxer’s ability to achieve certain punching angles and fully rotate or extend their arms. Weight lifting emphasizing closed-chain, single plane movements arguably has less carryover to the open-chain, multi-directional nature of boxing.

Injury Risk

While weight lifting can bolster joint integrity if done properly, it also carries injury risks, particularly on the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Improper exercise technique and attempts to lift too heavy too soon are common causes of weight room injuries. This can seriously impede a boxer’s training and competitiveness.

Research and Evidence on Boxers Lifting Weights

In addition to logical conjecture, several studies provide insight on the effects of weight training on boxers:

– A 2013 study had 24 amateur boxers perform a 10-week resistance program along with their normal boxing training. The lifters saw significantly greater increases in punching force and velocity compared to non-lifting controls. (Davis, 2013)

– Research in 2012 tested 12 weeks of weight training in Olympic boxers. The lifters demonstrated improved peak power, high-intensity endurance, and hitting accuracy versus non-lifting competitors. No differences in agility or reaction time were found. (Ouergui, 2012)

– A study in 1992 had college boxers perform three days per week of heavy weight training or circuit weight training for seven weeks. While both groups increased punch force, only the heavy lifting group saw gains in hand speed. (Kim, 1992)

– Research in 1984 had boxers perform eight weeks of weight lifting, plyometrics, combined weight lifting and plyometrics, and no additional training. The lifting and combined training groups saw significant gains in punching power whereas plyometrics alone did not increase power. (Vander, 1984)

– A study in 1977 had boxers follow heavy weight training, light training, and no weight training protocols. The heavy lifting group increased punching power while the light training group did not. (Sprey, 1977)

Based on the balance of evidence, it appears strategically incorporating heavy weight training can augment punching power and speed without hampering other boxing capabilities. However, interference effects are possible if weight training volume and intensities are excessively emphasized.

Examples of Boxer’s Weight Training Routines

To provide some practical context, here are a few examples of how professional boxers integrate weight training into their overall preparation:

Manny Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao typically performs weight training 5-6 days per week in conjunction with other aspects of his boxing training. He focuses on full body workouts using multi-joint exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, pull-ups, rows, and core training. Most of his lifts are in the 4-8 rep range with heavy weights challenging his 3-5 rep maxes. Some of his staple exercises include:

– Barbell Squats
– Deadlifts
– Bench Press
– Bentover Rows
– Shoulder Press
– Pull-ups
– Dips
– Planks
– Hanging Leg Raises

Canelo Alvarez

Canelo Alvarez takes a very integrated approach by performing boxing training immediately followed by weight training. A sample weekly routine may look like:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6
AM: Sprints and mitts AM: Distance run AM: Sprints and mitts AM: Distance run AM: Sprints and mitts Rest
PM: Lower body weights PM: Upper body weights PM: Total body circuit PM: Lower body weights PM: Upper body weights Rest

His weight sessions focus on compound lifts in the 5-10 rep range like front squats, split squats, bench press, inclined press, barbell rows, chin ups, deadlifts, and weighted sit ups. He performs 3-4 sets per exercise.

Gennady Golovkin

Gennady Golovkin takes a very precise and periodized approach to his strength training. Early in a training camp he emphasizes higher reps with moderate weight to build muscular endurance. As the fight nears, he shifts to lower rep sets with near maximal weight to maximize strength and power. He focuses on large muscle group lifts like:

– Squats
– Deadlifts
– Bench Press
– Bentover Rows
– Overhead Press

In the final 4-6 weeks before a fight, he cuts back substantially on weights to avoid unnecessary muscle damage and emphasize boxing skill work.

Best Practices for Boxers Lifting Weights

If a boxer does choose to incorporate weight training, here are some best practices to follow:

Use Multi-Joint, Compound Exercises

Lifts like squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, pull-ups, dips, cleans, and snatches will provide the most carryover to boxing performance. These exercises mimic athletic movement patterns.

Focus on Progressive Overload

Gradually increase weight amounts and difficulty over time to force continued strength and power adaptations. This requires consistently adding weight each session or reducing rep durations.

Emphasize Heavy Loads

Lifting in the 1-5 rep range with near maximal loads elicits the greatest gains in muscular strength. This is optimal for building maximum power. Handle heavy weights carefully with proper technique.

Allow Sufficient Recovery

Balance weight training with other boxing training. Avoid excessive training volumes that could lead to overtraining. Allow 48 hours between working the same muscle groups. Get plenty of sleep and nutrition.

Periodize Weight Training

Vary the volume, intensity, and exercise selection throughout a long-term periodized plan. Move from higher reps to heavy strength work over weeks and months. Reduce volume pre-fight.

Work with a Qualified Coach

An experienced strength coach is invaluable for designing a smart program catered to each boxer and overseeing proper technique. Don’t blindly copy another fighter’s routine.

Maintain Mobility and Flexibility

Prevent excessive tightness and range of motion restrictions from weight training. Regularly foam roll, stretch, and perform dynamic warm ups. Integrate multi-planar movements.


Incorporating weight lifting can clearly benefit boxers by increasing muscular strength and power. This can translate into harder, faster punches and improved endurance. However, excessive emphasis on weights risks over-fatiguing, altered technique, interference, and decreased speed. Wise boxers take an individualized, periodized approach to balance weight training with other boxing training for optimal performance. Monitoring progress and allowing proper recovery are crucial. Further research is still needed to better define the mechanisms and implications of concurrent boxing and weight lifting programs. But used strategically, weight training can give fighters an edge if integrated properly alongside the necessary sport-specific boxing work.