VELOCITY BASED TRAINING FOR BOXING AND COMBAT SPORTS
By Danny Wilson
January 16, 2019
Boxing and combat sports are steeped in tradition. Long, slow runs and minimal strength training are still synonymous with fight preparation even today when it seems that many other sports have moved on. But things are changing…
SCIENCE BEHIND THE PUNCH
Boxing tradition states that adding muscle mass to a boxer will slow them down. Whilst contemporary S&C coaches argue against the latter. Depending on the training method, however, both are correct. Punching forces in amateur boxing are around 2500 N. If you weigh 70 kg (11 stone or 154 lbs), you’ll exert about 700 N of force just standing still. That makes punching force about 3.5 times body mass. And to make that even more impressive your punch takes around six-hundredths of a second (~60 ms) to throw. This means that punching and striking actions require rapid force development and can be developed by strength training. A forceful punch is dependent on momentum. This is related to how quickly we can move mass towards the target (glove to head). So the best way to punch harder is to get bigger, stronger and move faster. That’s why heavyweights with fast hands hit so hard. They generate a lot of force and momentum. However, boxers are limited to increasing mass because they have to make weight. Therefore, developing momentum without adding excessive muscle mass becomes a priority. This means that a boxer needs to focus on training to develop a neuromuscular system with the capability to generate force rapidly. To achieve this, we carefully select strength exercises across the force-velocity curve to focus on neural adaptations whilst avoiding muscular hypertrophy.
We structure our programs based on the Force-Velocity continuum. The curve shows an inverse relationship between force and velocity. This means the heavier the weight you lift (force), the slower you lift it (velocity); and the lighter a weight, the faster you lift it. The image above shows the different types of training that occur at different points of the force-velocity curve. Maximum strength is at the top left with high force, low-velocity movements and speed training towards the bottom right with lower force, higher velocity.
OUR MAIN FOCUS IS STRENGTH-SPEED
The aim is to optimise rate of force development. We use relatively high intensities within this zone (70-85% of 1RM), keeping the focus more on the strength aspect rather than speed – hence the term Strength-Speed. But why is strength-speed effective?
Strength-Speed might reduce the likelihood of muscular hypertrophy, making mass gains slower but increasing speed.
Improve the speed of motor unit recruitment and enhance intramuscular coordination.
Improve muscle and connective tissue resilience.
Activate type II muscle fibres and high-threshold motor units
One common question I get asked is ‘why strength-speed over pure speed'?’ It all comes down to rate of force development (RFD). This refers to how quickly we produce force. What we’re wanting to achieve is peak RFD. This has shown to be achieved at loads of 70-85% 1RM rather than 50% or less and relates to our strength-speed training. Increasing RFD whilst simultaneously reducing the time to peak RFD, will result in a left and upward shift in the force-time curve. This shift equates to improved explosiveness. OR large force development. High force development is critical to an effective punch.
WHY STRENGTH-SPEED OVER MAXIMAL STRENGTH?
Maximal strength training is achieved with loads 85%+ of 1RM. Whilst max strength training sessions should be included in a well-rounded strength programme, there are disadvantages to this type of training in boxing. Max strength training promotes hypertrophy, and if performed slowly will result in increased body mass and potentially slower neuromuscular recruitment which might impact skills training. Furthermore, training with heavy loads can result in neural and muscular fatigue, which can be detrimental to an athlete’s progress during intensified training periods. And there is always the risk that heavier weights will develop slower grinding type movements, which might have an adverse effect on boxing specific movements such as hand speed. In no way are we disregarding max strength training as a training parameter for boxers but it does need to be planned and implemented at the correct time.
HOW DO WE TARGET STRENGTH-SPEED?
Olympic lifts are the ‘gold’ standard for developing explosive strength, as they teach “explosive” movements, activating several muscles & moving multiple joints in the process. These have a large transfer to any sport that involves running, jumping, throwing or striking movements. It also promotes rapid kinetic chain sequencing, which again is important for any sport. For example, a punch in boxing whereby force is generated from the lower body and hips, through the core then into the upper body. We use variations of Olympic lifting appropriate to the athlete’s needs and lifting competency. Although it’s seen as the preferred method in developing strength-speed, it’s sometimes not necessary as it requires good technique. Developing Olympic lifting technique often takes time and good mobility, which are often limitations to how much we progress boxers on these lifts. Therefore we opt to use velocity based training – using lifting techniques are much easier to learn and we can load them up to produce more force through the lifts. This increases the likelihood of explosive strength gains.
VELOCITY BASED TRAINING
Velocity Based Training (VBT) encourages athletes to lift at speed. VBT is a method whereby the speed of a lift is used to monitor performance and structure programs. It’s often used in strength and conditioning for improving strength and speed. Lifting velocities can be monitored using linear position transducers (LPT) or wearable accelerometers (e.g. PUSH band) to give instantaneous feedback on the movement velocity during an exercise.
Gaining information quickly allows coaches to give very specific feedback to athletes, which increases motivation, competitiveness, mood and performance.
For example, let’s take the trap bar deadlift:
If an athlete lifts 110 kg at 0.67 m/s in an initial assessment, then in a follow up assessment 4-6 weeks later, after a period of VBT, lifts 110 kg at 0.77 m/s, and perhaps 120 kg at 0.67 m/s, we now know a few different improvements have been made.
Our athlete is now stronger and able to apply more force during the lift across a period of time (improved Impulse).
Our athlete is now faster, and able to develop the force they apply more quickly (improved Rate of Force Development/RFD).
Both Impulse and RFD are massively important to punching hard, therefore if the athlete has made improvements in their lifting velocities, we should see these improvements transfer over to a harder punch.
We use VBT for the following exercises:
Barbell Countermovement Jump
Trap/Hex Bar Deadlifts
Bench Press Throw
HOW CAN VBT BE USED?
Load-velocity profiling - Velocity decreases with an increase in load. This allows us to see where athletes need to develop. For example, if the gradient is steep, we are dealing with an explosive athlete that needs to work on strength.
Estimate 1RM and fatigue index - We can estimate 1RM from day to day. This is achieved through target velocities such as what velocities athletes should be hitting at certain loads. For example, 100 kg 1RM Squat, 85% 1RM = 85 kg, Target Velocity = 0.45 m/s.
Practical application - Based on research and practical application with our boxers, we can suggest the following zones for informing training:
Case Study - Callum Beardow
We’ve had some awesome results using VBT, and it’s become a huge part in how we prepare boxers for competition. Here is a great case study on how we helped amateur boxer Callum Beardow achieve impressive results using VBT.
Rebuilding the Beast!
If you’re a keen Boxing Science follower, you will already be familiar with Callum Beardow, as he is the longest serving athlete on the program. In fact, he was part of the program even before the launch of Boxing Science in 2014. During this time, the 23 year-old has built a reputation of being the strongest on the program – lifting the most on squats, deadlifts and Olympic lifting variations. However, the program isn’t designed to be creating the biggest and strongest lifters – we lift to meet the demands of the sport. In order to throw fast and hard punches repeatedly, we need to access our fast twitch capabilities, and apply high amounts of force in short time frames. When we first carried out a Load Velocity assessment on the Trap Bar Deadlift on Callum in September 2016, we compared his data to our baseline data for what velocities we expect athletes to hit at varying multiples of their body mass (1.2 x BW, 1.8 x BW, etc.).
We can see here that Callum was below the baseline at all loads, however this wasn’t too much of a concern as it is harder for larger athletes to score well on body mass relative measures. However, what we could see is that the gap is smaller at higher loads compared to lower loads. This meant that Callum was well adapted at maximal strength, however struggled to transfer that force into fast, explosive movements at lower loads. We had to adapt our training strategy to meet the demands of the sport. We developed and created Load-Velocity profiles with Callum, which gives him target velocities to hit, depending on the weight he is lifting. This season, Callum has undergone two 12 week cycles, to peak for his English Title Defence in October, and also the National Championships in April. Each cycle has included the following phases, each lasting 4 weeks-
Max Strength (>90% 1RM)
Strength-Speed (65-85% 1RM)
Speed-Strength (40-65% 1RM)
This means that for 75% of his training this season (18 weeks), he has been working under 80% of his 1RM. This allows Callum to be fresher and sharper for his Boxing sessions. Combining this with Velocity feedback has allowed Callum’s training to be hugely optimal, in all areas.
Results from the Programme…
We can now see that Callum is faster at both lighter and heavier loads. This indicates he is now a stronger, more explosive, and faster athlete. If we take a few key loads, we can see that Callum has improved relatively less at heavier loads, but massively at lighter loads. IMPACT: This means that despite not getting significantly stronger and increasing his max force production, Callum is able to be faster and more explosive with lighter loads.
Although boxing and combat sports are steeped in tradition, times are changing when it comes to fight preparation. Long, slow runs with minimal strength and power training being seen as acceptable fight preparation is becoming a thing of the past. As shown above, strength and power training, programmed in the correct way can have a huge positive impact on a fighters condition once they step into the ring, and the introduction of VBT has only cemented how that impact is quantified and fed back to the athlete and coach.
BIOGRAPHY: DANNY WILSON
Danny is the Co-founder of Boxing Science, a sport science organization dedicated to consultancy, education and research in boxing. Danny has coached over 100 professional and amateur boxers, and Boxing Science has become recognized across the world engaging with boxers and coaches in 20 different countries.