Cycling vs. Running for Boxing Cross-training

We don't usually think of boxers as the type of athletes who you'll find running long distances or going for miles-long rides on their bicycles. And yet, you'd be hard-pressed to find any boxer who doesn't incorporate either of these exercises, if not both, in their cross-training regimen.

Boxing is another sport that requires you to perform a combination of explosive, high-impact moves, as well as prolonged, low-impact moves. That's why anyone aspiring to train like a boxer needs to focus on taking up a cross-training program, which trains your muscles to perform both types of movements.

Most people are familiar with the overall health benefits of running and bicycling. What they might not realize is that running and cycling are both fantastic exercises to incorporate into their fitness routine if they want to become a better boxer. They'll condition your most important muscle -- your heart -- into allowing your body to perform for longer and longer periods of time.

Why Running and Cycling Are Important For Boxing Cross-Training

The truth is: it doesn't matter how hard you hit, how many hits you can take without getting knocked down or how much more skilled you are than your opponent if you don't have a sustained level of energy throughout your bout. In other words: the number one way to become a better fighter is to optimize your level of cardiovascular conditioning.

Along with resistance-based training, cardiovascular exercise is one of the two main components of cross-training for any sport, including boxing. Cardiovascular exercise -- often referred to simply as "cardio" -- is essentially any exercise that has a sustained level of moderate intensity movement for a moderate duration of time. This exercise should raise your heart rate, causing your blood to pump faster, in order to deliver more oxygen to all the muscles being worked.

People who have never stepped foot in the ring, or even tried to hit a heavy bag for a few rounds, often fail to realize the intense cardiovascular demands of boxing. Because the sport involves the movement of virtually every single part of your body, your body needs to be trained to make the numerous boxing-specific movements over the amount of time you're boxing.

Almost everyone understands the fact that running and cycling are two of the best exercises to improve your cardiovascular health. So, it’s no coincidence that these two exercises are tremendously helpful to boxers trying to get into the best shape possible.

If You Prefer Cycling Over Running

It’s almost universally accepted that cycling is a bit “easier” on the body than running because it’s a non-weight bearing exercise. Your bodyweight is rested on a bicycle, and your muscles work to move this device, as opposed to your weight resting squarely on your legs, with those same muscles then being forced to move your body as well.

However, there is proof that, when compared side-by-side, cycling produces less negative stress to your muscles than running. Comparison between the exercise-induced muscle damage, soreness and inflammation in runners and cyclists who performed a period of intensified training have been evaluated. During the evaluations of the blood test results from both groups, they found that the muscles of the runners had suffered more muscle damage and inflammation compared to the muscles of the cyclists, even though their workloads and workout durations were identical.

So, if you're someone who has had any issues with inflammation or arthritis-related conditions in the joints of your lower body, cycling is a wonderful way to get in your boxing-related cardiovascular training without worrying about the potential impact on your joints.

The Benefits Of Cycling On A Stationary Bike

Using an indoor stationary bike is especially good for people who are more than 50 pounds overweight, as it reduces the stress on your back, hips, knees and ankles. In fact, it's been shown to induce less stress on those joints than walking, while burning substantially more calories.

Also, stationary bicycles also allow you to strengthen the muscles in your lower body at your own pace, as you can adjust the tension or resistance to your liking on virtually any bike. When you increase the resistance of your bike ride, your muscles work harder to move the pedals, thus strengthening your leg muscles and even your core.

The Benefits Of Cycling Outdoors

Of course, few things will challenge your legs to pedal harder than trying to bike up a hill to get where you're going. That's the benefit of bicycling outdoors. When you're indoors, you're able to control how hard you pedal and when you exert yourself. When you're cycling outdoors, you can't control when a hill, or any incline, will suddenly appear. Those varying terrains will challenge your muscles in a way that a stationary bike cannot.

Now, there's an upside to this as well. If you suddenly find yourself on a decline, you can enjoy that brief moment of "coasting," when you allow gravity and your bike to do all the work as you glide downhill. It's a great way to get in a little rest and save your legs for a few seconds before you start pedaling again.

Working your leg muscles in this fast-and-slow paced, back-and-forth manner can torch calories and build strength while improving your aerobic and anaerobic capacity. That will result in not only improving your cardiovascular health but also shedding some extra pounds along the way.

If You Prefer Running Over Cycling

If running is your cardiovascular exercise of choice for boxing training, then you’re in good company. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point states in their boxing training manual that if there were only one exercise allowed for boxers to utilize in their training regimen, running is the "indisputable choice." Former heavyweight champion "Smokin'" Joe Frazier used to reportedly run anywhere from three to seven miles a day as part of his cardiovascular training regimen (which he referred to as "roadwork").

Many boxers choose to get their running in early in the morning and then devote the rest of the day to more boxing-specific exercises.

What To Focus On When Running Indoors

Obviously, running indoors provides a bit more convenience, as you don't have to worry about the weather, the conditions of your running path as a result of the weather or any potential safety issues around running at night. You can simply hop on your treadmill in your home or at your local health club regardless of what's going on outside the doors.

If you're trying to focus on conditioning when running on a treadmill, it's better to avoid running at a steady pace and incline for a prolonged period of time. If your treadmill has such programs, you should train with one that automatically changes the incline and/or speed over the course of your workout, to keep your muscles guessing during your run. That will force them to work harder, which will improve the output of your overall workout.

What To Focus On When Running Outdoors

If you're someone who's suddenly transitioning from running on a treadmill to running outdoors, it's best to understand that there will be a difference in your run, both in terms of the duration you might be able to run, and how your muscles and your body will respond afterward.

Unless you happen to live somewhere that's perfectly flat, anytime you run outdoors there will be varying inclines and declines during your run -- as opposed to consistently flat terrain of a treadmill -- which will make your muscles work harder to adapt. Too many people believe that they can run the same duration of time outdoors as they can indoors; this is a recipe for doing more harm than good if you're not well-acclimated to the differences.

Also, most people associate running outdoors with running along the sidewalks or on the side of the street. However, if you live somewhere that has a dirt or grass running trails, you'll find it substantially less taxing on your shins and muscles, as those types of terrain allow for more shock absorption versus hard concrete or pavement.

Finally, as the saying goes: "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail." We recommend spending a few minutes online to try and plan out your run. Google Maps has a fantastic pedometer -- for free! -- that allows you to plot out a run and measure the distance. There are also other similar applications that allow you to do the same online. By knowing where you'll start, where you'll go and where you'll end, it will allow you to better pace your run and measure your workout progress.

Is Running Or Cycling Better For Boxers?

If you're truly comparing cycling to running to determine which exercise is the best for cardiovascular conditioning, then the truth is that running might have the slight edge.

On average, a 150-pound individual will burn approximately 1,000 calories per hour when running, compared to approximately 850 calories per hour on a bike (at roughly the same level of physical exertion for both).

A study at Harvard Medical School tested the heart rates of trained triathletes when they were running and cycling and found that their heart rates were often 6-10 beats per minute higher when they were running versus when they were cycling.

Further, in another study, male triathletes who did increasingly difficult workouts in both running and cycling were tested and the results showed that the amount of fat burned for energy was "significantly higher" when they ran, versus when they cycled.

Condition Yourself To Be The Best Possible Boxer

Instead of worrying about “what’s better” in general, it’s more important to focus on “what’s better for you.” Running might not be your thing. You might find cycling boring. You might already have an interest in outdoor bicycling or harbored a desire to train for a long-distance run. Regardless, you want to pick a training regimen that’s going to keep you challenged and motivated.

Another thing to keep in mind: you need to tailor your workouts to your specific goal; in this particular case, that's improving your conditioning to become a better boxer. While steady-state cardio is great for conditioning, incorporating anaerobic training -- like all-out sprints in the middle of your cardio workout --- can transform your workout results and fitness levels in general, given the fact that boxing is a sport that has both aerobic and anaerobic demands.

When you put all of these elements together, you’ll start to discover a “snowball effect” -- you can suddenly work out longer and harder, meaning you’ll find your workouts less difficult, meaning you’ll start to enjoy your workouts while challenging yourself to work out longer and harder. Not to mention the fact that you’ll feel like a rockstar the next time you step into a Gloveworx studio!