Core Exercises to Boost Your Boxing Performance
If you've ever joined a Gloveworx training session, taken a cardio boxing/kickboxing class or even just hit a heavy bag for a few rounds, then you're well aware of how boxing truly is a full-body workout. Nearly every muscle group in your body is "connected" to each move you make.
As such, it would make sense that to become a better boxer, you have to work all the different muscles in your body, not just your arms and your shoulders. The foundation of such full-body workouts would be strengthening your core muscles: your upper and lower abdominal muscles, your obliques and the muscles in your lower back.
While so much of your power and endurance in boxing is derived from your upper and lower body, your core is what connects all of those movements. That's why working and strengthening your core is imperative, both as an aspiring boxer and as someone who aspires for better health and fitness.
The Importance of Core Strength for your Health
Core strength training is often separate from your typical strength training exercise regimen. Most strength training exercises are focused on hypertrophy (making your muscles larger) and improving raw strength. Core strength training is about strengthening and even increasing the flexibility of your core muscles, specifically the muscles that comprise your upper and lower abdominals, obliques, lower back, pelvis and even the top part of your gluteal muscles (where your back meets your butt).
Simply put, having a strong core can make routine tasks that involve a moderate amount of strain, like reaching to get something from the top shelf or picking up one of your children, much easier.
Believe it or not, strengthening your core can also make you more productive at work. Mundane and routine tasks at the office -- like answering phone calls, responding to emails, typing away at that latest report or staring at your computer screen-- all require some level of exertion from your back and core muscles, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. If your core is weak, that can lead to becoming stiff, sore and fatigued, while a stronger core can prevent that.
As we get older and start dealing with the usual aches and pains associated with aging, improving the strength of your core can help limit those hindrances. Some medical professionals will tell you that the leading variable that links body pains associated with your body's performance comes from an under-performing core. For example, a 2015 study revealed that core strength training strategies can assist in the alleviate of chronic lower back pain. The same concept also applies to anyone who’s ever suffered a lower-back injury. Incorporating core strength and stability exercises can be of great help in the rehabilitation process.
Conversely, neglecting your core muscles can adversely impact your day-to-day health. Weaker core muscles can leave you with bad posture, making your more susceptible to the aforementioned aches and pains, and can also put you at risk for other muscular injuries.
The Importance of Core Strength in Boxing
Anyone who's ever delivered a "power shot" punch, whether it was upon another person or a heavy bag, can understand the concept that it might be your hands and arm that's delivering the blow. However, you're generating the energy, momentum, and force for said punch from your entire body. Your legs start the motion and generate the initial energy. That energy is then taken from your lower body and delivered to your upper body and arms by your midsection, more specifically, by your core muscles.
This concept is known as the Kinetic Chain: when punching, your force is transferred from your feet to your fist, the stronger or stiffer the core, the more force is transferred to the fist.
However, the strength and power of your punches is the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to the importance of your core muscles in boxing. To start, training your core muscles can enhance your body’s cardiovascular endurance.
Additionally, the core is what gives a fighter balance as they try and maintain a lower, stronger center of gravity to use their lower body to generate the momentum for a stronger strike. Your hips, midsection, and lower back are the gateway for all the power generated by your body, so a strong core will provide a fighter with the power, speed, flexibility and endurance needed to last the duration of a fight or Gloveworx training session.
Also, in sparring sessions or professional fights, any blows sustained to your body are going to be that much more damaging if you don't have a strong core to sustain such impact.
How to Train your Core for Boxing
As mentioned, while bodybuilding and lean-mass generating exercises alone are not sufficient for training your core, by no means should they be overlooked or neglected by aspiring boxers or individuals who want to look better in their clothes. Resistance training can be an effective way to improve anyone’s overall body composition, and the addition of lean muscle mass can improve a boxer's punching force by upward of 10% or more for each pound of lean muscle mass added.
Resistance training exercises stimulate the muscles in many parts of your body, including your core. However, the core muscles are often secondarily stimulated in this process, compared to the other muscles that are pushing the weights.
If you want to improve your explosive power as a fighter, then you want to make sure you're taking a very focused and targeted approach to training your core.
When training your core for boxing, there’s one important thing to keep in mind: you want to find a balance of explosive, “high-intensity” core exercises with commonly used “low-intensity” exercises as they focus on building the foundational strength and endurance of these muscles.
As boxing requires so many fast movements in which your body snaps and twists quickly, you want to incorporate core strength exercises that mimic such movements as well.
The Best Core Strength Exercises for Boxing
On this list, you’ll find the usual suspects of fundamental exercises for strengthening your abdominal muscles. Most fitness enthusiasts are very familiar with these exercises for one key reason: they work.
Sit-ups and boxing go together like peanut butter and jelly. When actor Jake Gyllenhaal worked with former professional boxer Terry Claybon to get the actor ready for his role in the boxing film Southpaw, Claybon had Gyllenhaal perform sit-ups during both his boxing and conditioning sessions. After months of training, Gyllenhaal eventually worked his way up to doing 2,000 sit-ups a day.
Sit-ups are a great exercise for anyone looking to improve their core strength, because its an exercise that forces you to flex, stabilize, extend and rotate your torso, and the repeated and prolonged motion of sit-ups also doubles as a cardiovascular workout. Best of all, it requires no equipment.
Sit-ups are one of those exercises that don't require a true regimen. Rather, work your way up to a reasonable volume per session or day and make sure you focus on your form as much as your repetitions. One trick: when performing a sit-up, keep your head straight and your chin up, pretending you're resting a large orange in between your chin and your chest. This will help you stabilize your neck and your ab muscles, ensuring you don't injure yourself by straining the former.
Some people prefer to do keep their feet flat on the ground when performing sit-ups, while others prefer to keep them elevated. There's no better, so choose which one works best for you and stick with it.
The plank is one of those exercises that looks like it accomplishes very little, even though the opposite is true. Like with all of these exercises, when performed correctly, the plank will torch your core in a way that few other exercises will.
The plank is another exercise that requires zero equipment. All you do is get down into pushup position, with your legs close together, your arms shoulder width apart, and most importantly, your back in a straight line. Make sure your midsection and your glutes don't drop below your shoulders.
Hold that position for as long as you can. Work your way up through longer time intervals, starting at 30 seconds, then 45 seconds, then 60 seconds. Eventually, get to a point where you're holding that position for two to three minutes, or even until failure.
If you want more of a challenge, either start by holding yourself up on your elbows instead of your hands or alternate by starting on your elbows, then working your way up to your hands, then vice versa, doing so repeatedly for those same intervals of time.
A Russian Twist might sound exotic, but at its core (no pun intended), it's nothing but twisting your torso back and forth when you're at the top of a sit-up position, thereby working the sides of your core. By doing so, you'll improve the rotational strength of your core, which will help in the snapping and twisting motion performed when throwing a punch.
A basic Russian Twist is tacked on to sit-ups. At the top of your sit-up motion, turn your torso 90 degrees to the right, then swing it back 180 degrees so that your torso is now 90 degrees to the left of your knees, bring your torso back to the center, and then drop to the floor. Then perform another sit-up, twist to one side, twist over to the other, then come back to the center, then drop down. That's it.
Variations of this exercise include holding a weight or a medicine ball in your hands while doing your sit-ups and twists, or if you want to make it even harder, keep your feet off the ground throughout the entire motion.
Bicycle crunches take the benefits of sit-ups and crunches one step further, by engaging your lower abdominal muscles through the "bicycling" motion of this exercise.
Start off in the same position you would for a sit-up, only with your legs laying completely flat on the ground. From there, bring your head and your shoulders up, with your hands behind your head and your elbows sticking outward. Then, start "pedaling" your legs as if you were on a bicycle. As your left knee begins to come "upward" towards your body, have your right elbow meet it, with your body "crunching" to accommodate this motion. Then bring your left leg back down and your right leg up, again is if you were pedaling a bicycle, and have your left elbow meet your right leg. Continue this motion over and over again.
Similar to planks, this exercise should focus on the duration you repeat the bicycling motion. Work your way up to 60 seconds of repeated motion as a benchmark. Once you're able to do that, then work your way up to being able to bicycle for three consecutive minutes. From there, your training should incorporate multiple sets of one-to-three minute bicycle crunches.
The standard plank is excellent for engaging a variety of muscles up and down the spine and targeting the connection between the lower back and the abdominals. The side plank will help work your obliques and stabilize your spine from side to side.
Side planks start with assuming the standard plank position. Lift one arm off the ground and motion that arm toward the ceiling while twisting your body outwards and away from the arm that's still on the ground and keeping you balanced. The raised arm should be elevated all the way up towards the ceiling such that it's parallel to the arm on the ground, and perpendicular to the ceiling.
Perform five to 10 repetitions of this exercise, with each arm.
Surprised to see this one on the list of core exercises? You shouldn’t be. When performed correctly, push-ups are one of the most effective and simplest exercises to build a strong midsection, as well as a strong upper body.
Again, ensuring proper technique is very important when you're performing a push-up; doing push-ups with poor technique is wasting your time. You want to make sure your body is completely stiff and straight; you don't want your midsection to dip down below your shoulders and knees. Your elbows should come out at a 45-degree angle from your sides, as you lower your body down to the ground. Make sure you breathe in on the way down, and when your chest begins to graze the ground, push yourself back up while breathing out.
With push-ups, you want to go “old school.” Don’t worry about following a routine; drop to the ground, and do as many as you can until you can’t lift yourself up anymore. Try to do this multiple times a day, or even between rounds during a boxing workout.
The Foundation For Fitness and Boxing
Even if you're not a true "fitness fanatic," improving your core strength can do wonders in improving the quality of your day-to-day life. That’s why so many different workout programs, including Pilates, Yoga, various other boot camps and boxing, have become so popular; their workouts can lead to direct and specific results in this part of your body.
As a baseline, training your core should come from a combination of trimming body fat, through a combination of a healthy diet, regular exercise and a focus on building stronger abdominal muscles via dedicated core exercises.
As always, Gloveworx training sessions will definitely accomplish the latter two!