Why Working Out is About More than Sweating
We’ve all heard the phrase “work smarter not harder” but how do you implement that idea during a workout? Is sweat equity the most important thing or is there a more efficient way to achieve your goals? Working out needs to be about more than just sweating. Form, efficiency and preparation are actually more important than just how much you sweat.
One of the most important aspects of working out is your form. Think of a ballerina and how she dances: she didn’t just achieve the grace and movement of ballet one day, but rather worked over many years to achieve her goals. In the beginning, her dance teacher would have made her practice daily the correct form for ballet. In order to get her pointe shoes, she would have to be proficient in form before she could advance.
In the same way, your form can influence how smart or hard your workout is. Your coach may repeatedly encourage you to focus on your form, especially in the beginning and your form can dictate what muscle groups you’re actually using.
According to Gerard Casazza of the National Federation of Professional Trainers, the importance of proper form is key in strengthening the muscles. Improper form can strain the unintended muscle groups you are actually using versus the muscles you intended to use.
Casazza also stresses that by using improper form consistently the risk of injury increases. Again, picture the ballerina. In order to stand on point, she must engage her core just like you do in boxing. To provide support to your arms and legs your core must be in proper form to protect your spine and neck from impact. Improper form can strain the muscles in your back and shoulders.
Proper Form in Boxing
Johnny Nguyen, a trainer of professional and amateur boxers, says that proper form in boxing should be followed by proper technique. He says it is possible to have good form but terrible technique. He also lays out three phases of a punch, power generation, power delivery and power transfer.
There are two problems Nguyen observes in novice boxers. The first problem is during power delivery and transfer. He explains that a boxer needs to have firm support when jabbing but not to harden the body so much that you cannot move quickly for defense. Novice boxers often stiffen their bodies, which impedes their fluidity in the ring. They often jab but do not connect and therefore expend precious energy during a bout.
The second problem Nguyen sees is in the timing of impact. Generate tension too early and you won’t have the necessary power delivery and transfer you want. Think of a video game where you have to power up a laser gun before it works. You can try and shoot but nothing will happen because there is not enough power yet. Secondly, holding the position too long after generating that tension can be just as problematic. It is important, he says, to release that power quickly in order to start the process all over again.
Nguyen notes of professional boxers, “The less effort it takes to be powerful the better.” Fluidity of motion in applying power is the key.
Tension and Release
To do this, it is important to understand how to release the body and the arm, not just the hand. It is important how your hips and body pivot, making sure that your hips don’t pop off the ground or tilt off axis. This creates more tension in the body and allows your body to generate the power so that your arm is an extension of that power rather than the generator of it. If your body is the conductor of the power, you can relax into the punch versus tensing up when the arm is the conductor.
It may sound counter-intuitive to use relaxation to release the hand, not tension. But didn’t Nguyen say to generate tension? Think of a jack-in-the-box. When you open it a clown pops out at you with incredible tension. The spring is pushed down into the box and then released when the lid is opened. The spring actually has both tension and relaxation. So how do you do both at the same time?
This is where the arm and the body come into play. Your body activates by turning the hips, then extending the arm. Next, your hand turns over. You don’t just release the hand but the arm as well. Think of that jack-in-the-box and how when the music stops the lid pops open with the force of that release.
The jack-in-the-box, if you notice, extends all of the clown's body that was pressed down into the box when released. Visualize your arm and body like both the jack-in-the-box and the video game player. Feel the power being generated and released when that tension has been properly built up. The more relaxed your body and arm are, the more power you can generate.
Visualization in boxing helps to see what you can do instead of being inhibited by what you think you can’t do. Negative thought patterns keep you focused on your technique and less about experiencing how to box. You have to get out of your own way!
Yes, it is challenging to become one with your hand, but focusing more on your body and arm, before your hand, will become more natural the more you spar.
Above all, nothing can replace sparring in the ring. Hitting the bag cannot prepare you for an opponent’s countermeasures in the ring. Remember what Nguyen said about expending too much energy and not making contact? This is the number one reason why this happens. Speed and agility come with experience in the ring.
Exertion Versus Efficiency
Exercising more doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll reap more benefits. For example, when a pushup is performed while using a suspended apparatus, the rectus abdominus, external abdominal obliques, and latissimus dorsi had 184%, 46%, and 59% respectively higher mean activation levels than doing a standard push-up. Another example would be kettlebells that can burn 20 calories a minute.
Just like the relaxation in the body when building tension to punch is more efficient, so are other counter-intuitive measures.
It is very common for people to concentrate more on the workout itself than what needs to happen before the workout. What you eat, what you drink and how you prepare your body for the workout can greatly influence how effective your workout is.
Make sure that you have a balance between protein and carbs before the workout. Protein gives a longer energy burn while carbs give a shorter burst of energy. In order for the proper formation of ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) to occur, both energy sources must be consumed. ATP is a necessary compound for energy use, formed by either aerobic or anaerobic pathways. Anaerobic only forms a small amount of ATP that is converted into energy while aerobic forms more ATP that is then converted into larger amounts of energy.
Eat an hour before your workout to make sure you have the energy to perform. You wouldn’t try to go on a two-hour trip only on a quarter of a tank, so don’t try to workout without fueling your body. Dr. Nancy Cohen, head of the Department of Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts, also recommends you do not eat foods high in fat prior to your workout.
Foods high in fat take longer to burn and do not release the amount of energy that would be useful during an hour to two-hour workout. Fats usually are better for endurance type energy expenditures like marathons.
Recovery and Regeneration
Another issue with nutrition is the post-workout. Again, a balance of protein and carbs, like a smoothie using frozen bananas, milk and protein powder, will give you what you need to recover. Muscle mass gains during a workout are often lost when the body isn’t replenished with fuel after the workout. The body can’t repair tears in the muscle to allow for muscle fiber growth without that fuel.
Next, you must make water your friend. People often complain about drinking water and instead reach for sodas, coffee and alcohol. Dr. Cohen recommends that we need ½ to 1 ounce of water per pound of our body weight per day. So if you weigh 125 lbs you should be drinking 62.8 to 125 ounces of water for a tough workout to be profitable for your body. If you are in the 170-215 range you need just as much as your body weight. Why?
Losing just 2% of fluids during a workout can make the workout feel harder. Some even lose between 6-10% of fluids during a workout. The loss of fluids diminishes your workout performance all reduce your recovery after the workout. Our bodies are 70% water and our cells work best when hydrated. Cells cannot give us more muscle, transport oxygen for aerobic formation of ATP or engage our metabolism without being properly hydrated
Finally, one of the most important elements of “working smarter not harder” is motivation. Without consistent motivation, your workouts are not going to happen anyway. So how does motivation work?
In the brain are several structures that create the reward system or reinforcing stimuli. When exposed to a rewarding stimulus, the brain responds by increasing the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine and thus the structures associated with the reward system are found along the major dopamine pathways in the brain.
Goals as Motivation
From a psychology standpoint, motivation can be broken down into goal setting. Goal setting helps make the result you want obtainable. First, it is important to set a long-term goal. A long-term goal is that final result that you want from your workout - kind of like building a house - you see what the final product will be and know what to anticipate.
Secondly, in goal setting it is necessary to establish smaller goals to get to your long-term goal. Again think of that house as your endgame. Short-term goals are like the different phases of construction of that house. Starting with the foundation then continuing on to framing, electrical, plumbing, drywall, all of which are necessary to build that house.
One of the best ways to achieve both short-term and long-term goals is to keep an exercise journal. You can do either a written journal or a digital blog. Use pictures to show what your long-term goals are. For short-term goals like lifting a certain weight, losing an amount of weight in a six week period or beating a sparring opponent, record when you want to achieve the short-term goal.
Lastly, record the progress you are making. This can include daily exercise regimens, what exercises you did, how much weight you lost and why you may have lost to an opponent. Remember, failure is actually a good way to learn what you need to improve. Don’t look at failure as a negative but as a short-term goal not yet achieved.
So set some goals and get to Gloveworx ready to work smarter, not harder!