Training in Boxing: Road Work
Road work is one of the most essential components for any boxing training regimen. Some boxers might loathe it, while others thrive on the routine and the fact that they’re working hard while their opponent may not be. Of course, one of the enduring images of the film Rocky is of Sylvester Stallone getting up before dawn to imbibe raw eggs and go for a run down to the art museum. That image, as well as the image of every boxer from the local journeyman to Muhammad Ali jogging down the road, cuts to the core of one of the keys in any boxing program: road work. A few boxers have gotten by with constant sparring (notably Julio Cesar Chavez), but the rest must run, run, run to build up the necessary cardio-vascular conditioning and strength and stamina in the legs for boxing.
Basic Running & Beginning Road Work for Boxing Training
When a novice enters a gym for the first time and finds a trainer, most trainers send that novice off to run two miles a day, every day for two weeks with the warning “Do it or I’ll know you didn’t do it.” That warning has teeth, because if a man can’t manage that minimum of road work, they will lack the “wind” (cardio-vascular conditioning) to keep up in the gym!
The core of road work is nothing more than a brisk jog. A white collar boxer who is merely staying in shape might jog two miles on his off-days from the gym, while a fighter in training might run five miles for five or six days of the week. In both cases, a basic running program is the foundation of their overall physical conditioning, and the primacy of road work in boxing hasn’t changed in over a century. However, whatever the terms of the running program, road work must be consistent. Boxing is a tough sport, so running in all weathers or with a sniffle should prove no deterrent. Indeed, going out and performing under less than ideal circumstances is an important part of a boxer’s psychological conditioning.
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Once a fighter has built up the necessary conditioning for intensive work on the mitts, heavy bag and for regular sparring, road work becomes less important. In the last couple of weeks running up to a fight, a boxer might stop running altogether in favor of other exercises. However, that boxer is peaking their conditioning, and he never would have reached that peak without steady, constant road work. After the fight is over, staying in shape for the next training camp means going back to regular road work.
Mixing Things Up with Road Work
A trainer I met at Mooney’s Boxing Academy in Rockville, Maryland once said ordinary road work was not enough, because no opponent wants to let you plod along at a set pace. A long-term road work regimen should mix regular jogging with other types of running drills. Wind sprints are the most common example. In boxing, a wind sprint usually means running as fast and hard as possible for a two- or three-minute round, followed by a 30- or 60-second rest period, just like regular boxing drills. This form of road work and boxing training has received increased relevancy as of late with the popularization of “interval training” for participants of all sports and fitness buffs of all backgrounds.
A variation on wind sprints are stair sprints, where the boxer runs up (and perhaps down) flights of stairs during the sprinting round. I used to do the latter up the back steps of the Capitol, before they were closed for security concerns.
Another common way to spice up a road work regimen is to job backwards. Running backwards doesn’t do much to build up stamina, but it does improve muscles not well used in running forwards and improves foot coordination. Of course, mixing in punches while jogging and even head and upper body movement is also commonplace.
An old school way of taking any road work routine and ramping it up a notch is to wear army boots instead of running shoes. Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes and a host of other boxers have resorted to this over time. I used to run in canvas-topped jungle boots, which while not as heavy as an all-leather marching boot, were still more demanding than any running shoe. This step isn’t for everyone, since some people don’t have the shins and ankles for the added stress. Even so, it’s a classic and more effective than ankle weights.
There you have it, the basic tenants of road work for boxing training. From the first-time or part-time boxer to the championship-level warrior, they all have to master the basics of consistent road work to boost stamina, improve conditioning, and even lose weight. Be sure to check out the rest of our boxing training articles to get up to speed and learn the ins and outs of training in boxing at every level of the game.