So what does boxing do for your body? This is a good question, and many people are unaware of just how beneficial regular boxing training is for your body and your health. Simply stated, the health benefits of boxing training are numerous and substantial. For this reason, boxing training is regarded as one of the most complete forms of exercise available today. In particular, boxing weight loss programs have become increasingly popular due to their effectiveness, and the myriad of health benefits of boxing training.
Boxing training places a broad range of physical demands on the participant. The boxer must have good strength, flexibility, power, speed, endurance, hand/eye coordination, aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Boxing, in its modern-day form, offers a variety of unique and comprehensive training drills and exercises that have evolved and refined over several centuries.
To utilise the health benefits of boxing training, the boxing enthusiast is no longer required to step into the ring to compete. Instead, boxing training is now accessible to people of all ages and walks of life, with different fitness levels, training goals and needs. Today, many gyms and trainers offer boxing training and boxing weight loss programs to their clients as part of a complete and well-rounded exercise plan.
Boxing Weight Loss:
One of the most commonly sought after health benefits of boxing training is weight loss. Due to the intensity, and complete and total body workout of boxing weight loss programs, boxing is an ideal choice for those seeking to shed a few unwanted kilos. Boxing training doesn’t just work cardio but also improves the phosphagen and anaerobic energy production systems. Consequently, boxing weight loss training burns an incredibly high number of calories. A single one-hour high-intensity boxing workout will often consume more than one thousand calories. Very few other exercise training approaches offer comparable work rate and intensity levels as boxing weight loss programs.
The endorphin release produced by high-intensity exercise has also been clinically demonstrated to help regulate appetite and food cravings. So the more you exercise, the easier it becomes to resist those comfort foods and unhealthy snack cravings. Furthermore, boxing weight loss training also significantly improves total body strength and increases lean muscle mass. So while you’re burning fat, you are simultaneously increasing lean muscle, and toning up to improve your overall physique and appearance.
Boxing Training is Fun!
An added health benefit of boxing training, commonly overlooked, is that it’s a lot of fun! Having fun is important because if you’re going to stick to a demanding exercise program, it has to be fun and enjoyable. We all know that exercise and hard training is good for us. But many of us struggle to maintain a regular exercise routine, because we get bored, lose interest, and then quit. Hence, what started as a great new workout routine to achieve those weight loss goals soon becomes a tedious chore that is impossible to maintain.
The advantage of boxing training is that, not only is it an incredibly complete and well-rounded form of exercise, it is also a subtle art form. There is always something new to learn; a new technique to refine; a different combination to master.
Boxing training tends to keep people both mentally as well as physically engaged. Muhamed Ali famously described boxing as ‘the sweet science’. The offensive and defensive strategies, the subtlety and finesse of the techniques, and the science of the body mechanics offer much to keep the boxing enthusiast mentally engaged and stimulated. However, perhaps more than anything, boxing provides a simple and satisfying pleasure. Namely, of being able to leave your cares and worries at the gym door, blow off some steam by hitting the pads and heavy bags, and push yourself to your physical limits; a pleasure that is offered by few other sports.
Energy Systems in the Body:
To begin answering the question, ‘What does boxing do for your body?’ let’s begin by examining the role and function of the different energy systems in the body.
Boxing training is a unique form of exercise that places high demands on all three energy systems of the body. These systems, or ‘metabolic pathways,’ are known as the phosphagen, glycolytic, and oxidative systems. Complete and total fitness must incorporate competency in all three energy systems. Furthermore, as mentioned above in ‘Boxing Weight Loss’, boxing training burns an enormous number of calories. This is due to the high demands placed on all three energy systems by boxing training. Consequently, such training is incredibly well suited to achieving weight loss goals.
Short Burst – Adenosine Triphosphate and Phosphagen System:
The phosphagen system is one of the two anaerobic energy systems in the body. The term anaerobic, in this instance, refers to the production of energy without the need of oxygen. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the main fuel for muscle contraction. However, muscle has a limited ATP storage capacity; approximately 10 seconds worth of high-intensity movement. Once this supply is depleted, ATP is reformed by breaking down phosphocreatine, and combining a resultant phosphate molecule with adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Completely replenishing this system requires, on average, 3-5 minutes rest.
Anaerobic – Glycolytic System:
The anaerobic glycolysis system kicks in during high-intensity workouts when there is not enough oxygen to replenish ATP through the oxidative system. The glycolytic system breaks down muscle glycogen – stored muscle glucose – to form ATP and pyruvic acid (also known as lactic acid) molecules. The glycolytic system can sustain energy supply to muscles for several minutes of high-intensity exercise. However, after sustained high-intensity activity, lactic acid accumulates and muscle fatigue sets in, significantly impairing performance. Regular training will improve the duration before fatigue sets in, and the recovery rate from lactic acid build-up.
Aerobic – Oxidative System:
The oxidative system, commonly referred to as ‘cardio’, is the only aerobic system in the body. The physiology and chemistry of this system is complex. The aerobic system forms ATP and water molecules from the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, combined with oxygen. The reliance upon the circulatory system for the supply of oxygen in this process means that the oxidative system can only be utilised for low to moderate levels of exercise intensity. However, the advantage is that it can be sustained for long periods, making it the primary system used in endurance activities. Sustained training of the aerobic system can significantly improve overall efficiency, increasing the upper limits of work rate threshold and duration maintained.
Boxing is a unique training discipline that demands competency in all three energy systems. As a sport, it is one of the most punishing and physically gruelling in existence. The boxer must have the capability for sustained Aerobic endurance as well as the ability to execute and recover quickly from short bursts of high intensity, explosive physical work. The continually changing work rate and rhythm of boxing competition and training require the athlete to shift gears between the different energy production systems.
How does boxing training achieve competency in all three energy systems?
Boxing training uses a diverse range of drills and exercises to train all three energy systems. These include skipping, running, fartlek training, pad work, heavy bag work, floor to ceiling ball training, speedball training, circuit work, medicine and swiss ball training, weight training, and sparring.
In competition, a boxing match, or bout, is broken up into rounds that separated by a short rest period. The following table explains the number of rounds, round length, and rest length between rounds for both amateur and professional Muay Thai and Boxing Fighters:
|3 rounds||6 to 12 rounds||3 rounds||5 rounds|
|Round Length||2-3 minutes||3 minutes||2 minutes||3 minutes|
|Rest Length||1 minute||1 minute||1 minute||2 minutes|
Due to the stop-start nature of a boxing bout, boxing training is usually broken up into rounds with a short rest in between to mirror the physical demands of competition. Depending on the training drill and apparatus used, the boxer will be required to alternate repeatedly from a moderate to maximal work rate. Training consecutive rounds of this with short breaks in between, allows the fighter to reach a higher maximal threshold of physical work during the round and also gradually improves the ability to recover quickly in the rest period.
Each boxing drill and apparatus has a different training rhythm requiring a different cadence of physical work. This variety of training stimulus provides the boxer with a comprehensive means of overloading, training and improving all three energy systems. So the first part of the answer to the question, ‘What does boxing do for your body?’ is: Boxing greatly improves the efficiency and capacity of all three energy systems.
Boxing Strength Training:
Another important health benefit of boxing training is the complete and well rounded strength training that it offers. A proficient boxer requires comprehensive functional strength training to be effective. Competency in each of the following aspects of strength and conditioning is an integral part of proper boxing training:
- Explosive strength for generating power.
- Strength endurance to last the distance in consecutive rounds of fighting.
- Balance and stability for efficient body mechanics and effective force transfer.
- Speed for quick and agile movement, and effective execution of technique.
A common misconception about boxing is that arm and shoulder strength alone generate punching power. If this were true, boxers would be ineffective after just a couple of minutes of high-intensity work. This is because the shoulder and arm muscles fatigue quickly and are incapable of sustained high-intensity use. Therefore, correct punching technique of a skilful boxer can be broken down approximately as follows:
- Arm and shoulder strength – 30%
- Waist and abdominal strength – 30%
- Leg strength – 40%
Consequently, to maximise efficiency, a boxer must adopt a strength training regime that is complete and comprehensive. It must target both the upper, middle and lower zones of the body, be functionally relevant to the demands of the sport, and integrate this strength into boxing technique in a coordinated manner.
Principles of Boxing Strength Training:
Proper strength training is about more than just making muscles bigger and stronger. It’s about cultivating correct body mechanics; creating symmetry of strength and flexibility between opposing muscle groups to maximise efficiency and reduce injury risk. Functional strength training is also about muscle coordination, timing, and correct firing patterns. It’s about getting the right muscles to switch on at the right time, at the right intensity, but also about getting the right muscles to switch off. It is this muscle firing pattern control that enables skilful boxers to hit with speed and power for sustained durations. Force production and acceleration become effortless, transfer through the body efficiently, without being impeded by unnecessary muscle contraction.
It is not uncommon for newcomers to boxing, that have good maximal strength in the weights room, to experience difficulty transferring that strength across to a boxing context. Powerlifting style weight training is geared toward maximal effort and contraction from many muscle groups over a small number of repetitions. The type and quality of strength demanded by boxing require the fighter to alternate between coordinated maximal contraction and complete relaxation of specific muscle groups in an integrated and coordinated fashion. Consequently, an accomplished powerlifter will often experience shoulder fatigue in under a minute of vigorous boxing floor-to-ceiling ball training. The early onset of fatigue is not because the powerlifter lacks strength, far from it. Instead, the ability to switch quickly between a contracted and relaxed state lacks efficiency, and the maximal contraction of powerlifting training is unsuited to sustained repetition.
Due to its unique strength and conditioning demands, boxing requires a different functional strength training approach to the standard gym routine. The following are just a couple of examples of the many varied boxing strength and conditioning training drills:
- Ipsilateral (single arm) cable pulls for shoulder joint stability and integrated core strength.
- Split squats with alternating tempo to train balance and explosive leg strength.
- Medicine ball circuit work to train core and oblique strength for explosive punching power, endurance, and dynamic stability while approaching fatigue threshold.
- Isolated core and abdominal strength to make integrated and efficient movement a functional possibility.
- Dynamic balance and stability training using a swiss ball to correct faulty movement patterns and improve technique efficiency.
Health Benefits of Boxing Strength Training:
Boxing training is one of the most complete forms of exercise. This is in part due to the total body strength required to be an effective boxer. There is a substantial body of research evidence supporting the health benefits of comprehensive functional strength training. Strength training and development promotes:
- Increased bone density, and helps prevent osteoporosis (this is particularly important for women).
- Lowering blood pressure.
- Increasing muscle mass and helping reduce muscle wasting with age (sarcopenia).
- The ability to perform routine daily strength tasks.
- Improvements in posture, stability, and balance.
The boxer must have strong legs for quick and agile movement, ducking and weaving, and as the foundation for generating power in punching technique. The boxer must also have an incredibly strong core and abdominal strength. Good core strength enables the boxer to twist, bend and rotate the trunk quickly and with stability during offensive and defensive techniques. It also links the shoulders and arms to the power base of the legs, ensuring that force is transferred effectively through the body during the execution of punching techniques. Strong arms and shoulders are also essential for throwing punches that are consistently fast and powerfull over successive rounds.
In addition to strength in the large muscle groups responsible for force generation and movement, the boxer must also have good proprioception and stabilising muscle strength. The nature of boxing competition is such that the competitors are continually moving and changing direction. Competitors change angles of attack and technique quickly in the hope of catching the opposition off guard. Therefore, it is essential that the boxer develops strong stabilising muscles across all joints in order to adaption to unpredictable and changing movement patterns.
Stabilising muscles provide little in the way of joint movement, but are instead responsible for keeping the joint stable and aligned while the ‘prime mover’ muscles act on the joint. When a boxer lands a punch on a focus pad or a heavy bag, there is a large amount of recoil force travelling back into the joints of the arms and shoulder. This is where strong stabiliser muscle strength is essential. The stabilising muscles secure the joint, preventing it from shifting or dislocating. They ensure that the force generated by the prime movers penetrates the target and is not dissipated through poor joint alignment and instability. Stabilising muscles are one of the most commonly neglected aspects of strength training programs, but are an essential component of good boxing training and strength training in general.
To sum up, improved strength is a fantastic health benefit of boxing training. Due to boxing training’s diverse strength demands, the strength developed in boxing training is highly functional and transfers easily to applications in many common daily activities. So the second answer to the question, ‘What does boxing do for your body?’ is: Boxing develops fantastic global functional strength, efficient body mechanics, injury resistance and physical resilience.
Most of us spend the majority of our working lives in front of a desk and computer. Sedentary work life tends to lead to posture that involves rounding the shoulders, hunching the upper back, and chin carriage sitting too far forward. An essential aspect of good boxing technique is proper body mechanics and correct posture. Consequently, a comprehensive boxing training program will address each of the following fundamental training goals:
- Cultivating a lengthened and upright spine to allow for easy rotation, force transfer and delivery.
- Proper joint alignment, stability and function.
- Symmetry of strength and flexibility across opposing muscle groups, ensuring efficient body mechanics, power generation, and injury risk reduction.
- Correct proprioception and muscle firing patterns to ensure balance, speed, and muscle adaptability.
For more detailed discussions on posture and the implications for chronic back and neck pain, click on the links below:
Boxing and the Circulatory Systems:
In addition to improving strength, posture, and function of the different energy systems, the health benefits of boxing for the circulatory systems are many. The two circulatory systems in the body are the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems.
The Cardiovascular System:
Three independent systems that work together in tandem comprise the cardiovascular system. They are:”
- The heart.
- The Lungs.
- The arteries, veins, and portal vessels.
The main functions of the cardiovascular system are to carry oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, organs and tissues of the body and to remove metabolic waste. The lungs supply the blood with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. The heart is the engine that pumps the blood around the body. The arteries and veins are the highway and network through which the blood travels to reach the muscles and soft tissues.
The lymphatic System:
The lymphatic system is the ‘sewerage system’ of the body. It helps remove cellular debris and metabolic waste and plays a vital role in immune function. The lymphatic system consists of the thymus, spleen, tonsils, adenoids, lymphatic vessels, and lymph nodes. Lymph is a clear and colourless fluid that surrounds and permeates the cells of the body. The primary functions of the lymphatic system include:
- Regulating the body’s fluid levels.
- Producing white blood cells.
- Assisting in the attacking foreign microorganisms and preventing infection from spreading.
- Absorbing some dietary fat from the small intestine.
- Managing the removal of cell byproducts.
The Health Benefits of Boxing Training for the Circulatory Systems:
There are several important health benefits of boxing training for the body’s circulatory systems. The first benefit is the training and workload to which the heart and lungs must adapt. Vigorous boxing training elevates the heart rate considerably and requires the lungs to maximise oxygen uptake and carbon dioxide expulsion. Commonly referred to as ‘cardio’, this aspect of training strengthens and conditions the heart and lungs, significantly improving their efficiency and work rate capacity.
Proper boxing footwork and technique has a beneficial effect on the circulation of fluid in both the lymphatic and cardiovascular systems. As blood returns to the heart via the veins, it fights an uphill battle against gravity. Thankfully, our veins have one-way valves that prevent blood from moving backwards in the opposite direction with gravity’s pull. Muscle contraction, applying pressure to the veins, is one of the primary means by which blood is pushed back towards the heart against the downward pull of gravity. To a lesser extent, muscle contraction also has a beneficial effect on the movement and circulation of lymph fluid.
The unique rhythmic alternating leg muscle contraction of standard boxing technique practice and, in particular, rhythm work drills significantly improve the return flow of lymph and blood. The alternating pattern of contraction and relaxation between different muscle groups acts as a pump to promote the return flow of blood and lymph.
An added benefit of this increased fluid flow, combined with the increase in heat produced by muscle activity, is a dilation of the body’s blood vessels. Combined with the increased heart rate of boxing training, blood vessel dilation causes more blood and lymph to circulate and reach more soft tissue. The result is increased nutrient uptake and increased removal of metabolic waste, leaving tissues healthier, better oxygenated, and more disease and injury resistant. So the third answer to the question, ‘What does boxing do for your body?’ is: Boxing training greatly benefits and improves the function of the circulatory systems.
The Psychological Health Benefits of Boxing Training:
In addition to the physical health benefits of boxing training, there are also numerous psychological benefits. These benefits include:
The Health Benefits of Boxing Training for Stress and Anxiety:
Our body’s stress response, also known as the ‘fight or flight response’, is an entirely natural process. The fight or flight response quickly prepares the body to deal with the physical threat and aggression of a predator or enemy. In modern-day life, encountering such a threat is rare. However, we all have to contend with the pressures of modern living. Working long hours, meeting deadlines, worrying about bills and finances, not getting enough sleep etc. affects us all. Our body responds to these pressures by using the same physiological mechanism that we used when we were hunter-gatherers, fighting or running from apex predators.
When we perceive a threat — such as a sudden and unexpected loud noise like a car backfiring or a dog barking — the hypothalamus in the brain sets off a chain reaction of hormonal and nerve signals. These signals, in turn, stimulate the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys, to release the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol.
The physiological effects of adrenaline include:
- Elevating heart rate.
- Increasing blood pressure.
- Maximising blood glucose levels.
- Pupil dilation.
- Expanding the air passages of the lungs.
The physiological effects of cortisol include:
- Flooding the body with glucose to prepare large muscles for immediate use.
- Dampening and suppressing the immune system response
- Suppressing the digestive and reproductive systems.
- Narrowing the arteries and, in conjunction with increasing the heart rate due to adrenaline release, contributes to elevated blood pressure.
- Inhibits insulin production, preventing glucose storage and keeping it readily available for immediate use.
Sustained exposure to high levels of cortisol and other stress hormones can have serious health consequences that impact negatively on almost every system in the body. The adverse health effects of sustained elevated cortisol and adrenaline levels include:
- Reduced mental clarity.
- Concentration and memory problems.
- Sleep disruption.
- Increased risk of Heart disease.
- Increased risk of cancer.
- Weight gain.
- Increased risk of Diabetes.
- Digestive problems.
- Increased risk of cognitive impairment such as dementia and alzheimers.
One of the great natural physiological antidotes to stress is endorphin release due to vigorous exercise. Endorphin release leads to:
- Decreased pain levels.
- Improved mood.
- Improved sleep.
- Reduced stress and anxiety.
- Better appetite regulation.
- Sex hormone release.
- Improved immune system response.
Endorphin release is a fantastic health benefit of boxing training. The sustained high-intensity work rate, combined with its varied athletic demands, ensures that traditional boxing training is an excellent way of achieving a regular endorphin fix. An additional benefit of boxing training is that, due to the complexity of the movement patterns and techniques, a typical training session requires complete mental focus. Most people literally don’t have the mental capacity to think about anything else while they’re training. This ensures a much needed mental break from day-to-day concerns and stresses.
Clients often remark that at the end of a boxing session, they feel both mentally and physically refreshed. This is due both to the chemical release of endorphins and the mental break boxing provides. Boxing training is a great opportunity to leave the pressures of day to day life at the gym door, only to reemerge later feeling calmer, more relaxed, and energised.
Improved Self Confidence:
The vital role that endorphin release plays in reducing stress and anxiety and achieving a sense of well being has already been discussed earlier. However, in addition to endorphins, the release of the brain neurochemicals dopamine and serotonin also play an important role in achieving a sense of well being, accomplishment and improved self-confidence.
Whenever we set ourselves a challenging goal, such as achieving a certain level of weight loss or increasing our workout frequency over a month, the brain releases dopamine and serotonin. The neurochemistry and effects of these chemicals in different areas of the brain are complex. However, serotonin and dopamine may be thought of as part of the brain’s reward system. Serotonin and dopamine give us a sense of pleasure and satisfaction when achieving a challenging goal. Experiencing regular and natural dopamine and serotonin release has a host of mental health benefits, including increased self-confidence.
Improved Self Discipline:
Boxing training is a lot of fun, but also difficult and challenging. To excel in it requires dedication, a willingness to push yourself physically, and to step outside your comfort zone. When the alarm goes off early in the morning to get up and head to training before work, it’s easy just to hit the snooze button and roll over. A big part of boxing training is being prepared to keep turning up each week to learn new skills and keep improving fitness levels.
Training dedication requires self-discipline, which is a virtue that only comes with practice. Boxing training can sometimes be difficult and frustrating. However, persevering through the frustration makes accomplishment and achievement all the more rewarding when attaining fitness and training goals. This practice of self-discipline has the added benefit of also spilling over into other areas of life, whether they be work or personal. When difficulties in life inevitably arise, having trained, practised, and acquired some self-discipline can be a handy tool for coping and moving forward.
Boxers are some of the most humble people I have ever met. This humility is probably due to several reasons. The first is the nature of the sport. Outside the comradery of the gym, boxing is a solitary sport. You don’t have any teammates to rely on when the going gets tough, just yourself. So when things don’t go your way, boxing will often require you to face up to your shortcomings and limitations.
The second reason is that, to learn new skills and to progress in boxing, you have to be prepared to admit what you don’t know. Accepting what you don’t know can be confronting and challenging at the best of times. It often means putting aside your ego and sacrificing a comfortable and easy victory to gain a new skill and a more in-depth understanding of the art in the long run.
Anyone who has struggled with the frustration of sparring will understand this all too well. The goal of sparring is not to ‘win’ or ‘beat your opponent’, but rather to help each other learn. When trying a new technique for the first time in sparring it usually won’t work and will involve getting hit. Only through repeated attempts, some trial and error, does correct execution and timing of technique gradually emerge.
It is only through being humble and embracing this process that genuine progress is achieved. Stepping outside your comfort zone is hard. Being willing to embrace making mistakes and failure to learn is never easy. However, it is a path and process that leads to character and genuine humility.
Improved Concentration and Mental Focus:
Unfortunately, we live in an age of instant gratification. The variety and abundance of information that is readily available at our finger-tips is unprecedented. This instant information and entertainment availability encourages an attitude of expectant instant gratification and the search for easy rewards. Social media often easily distracts us from pursuits requiring dedication and perseverance. Consequently, mental focus and concentration are attributes requiring improvement in many of us today.
As the boxing student progresses in skill, combinations and movement patterns become increasingly more complex. Remembering complex new movements and integrating them into existing body mechanics is no easy mental task. It requires high levels of concentration and mental focus. High levels of concentration and mental focus are great attributes to cultivate, especially for children and teenagers. Clients regularly report that the mental demands of regular boxing training have helped their concentration and focus at work and during study. So the fourth answer to the question, ‘What does boxing do for your body?’ is: Boxing training cultivates improved self confidence, self discipline, humility, mental focus, and alleviates stress and anxiety.
The health benefits of boxing training are numerous and wide ranging. Boxing training has much to offer the recreational athlete, irrespective of an ambition to set foot in the ring. Combined with a sensible diet, boxing weight loss programs are highly effective. The physiological health benefits of boxing training are many and include improved strength, appetite regulation, coordination, balance, agility, cardiovascular fitness, improved circulation and immune function. The psychological benefits incorporate reduced anxiety and stress, improved concentration, self confidence and self discipline. However, perhaps the best reason to take up boxing is that it’s a lot of fun! Click the button below to book a class or one on one training session. Hope to see you soon…
Chris Gauntlett.Book Online