Speed is a huge factor in boxing. Throwing fast multi-punch combinations, moving quickly to avoid punches and being able to execute a punch with minimal time once an opportunity arises are all key elements. Being quick allows you to throw multi-punch combinations and impress judges, evade shots and move impressively.
Some of the great speed pugilists in boxing history known for their speed include Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Roy Jones Jr and Joe Calzaghe. Ali’s quickness, as well as his impressive endurance and co-ordination, allowed him to constantly move his feet and upper-body to avoid punches and throw fast combinations when the opportunities presented themselves. Although a lot of speed does come naturally to some people, and has a lot to do with genetics and physical make-up, the right training techniques can increase anyone’s speed. Some methods that increase speed, on a generally basic, include:
· Sprinting Intervals (including Hill Sprints)
· Ballistic, Plyometric and Isometric movements
· Speed Strength Weight and Bodyweight Training
· Tabata Intervals
· Fast-Burst Intervals (such as punch-out drills or speed skipping)
· Lateral Footwork Drills
If I am in training camp and feel my speed is lacking, or could be generally improved, I like to add a circuit that includes Ballistic, Plyometric and Isometric movements once or twice a week. It is advised not to train these movements on consecutive days as they are very taxing on the central nervous system and can affect your boxing training. Also, I would advise against doing such intense training on Sparring days, as you want to keep your body as fresh as possible. The Ballistic and Plyometric movements will be explosive and force you to execute the move with maximum effort and minimal timing. Isometrics will improve your core and encourage your fast-twitch muscle fibres to rise to the surface. You can find an example circuit below:
5 Rounds of:
- Lateral Ladder Footwork x5
- Depth Clap Press-ups x10
- Box Jumps x10
- Challenging Plank Variation x30 seconds (e.g. Bosu Plank)
- Band Punches x10 (each side)
- Medicine Ball Slams x12
Complete each round as fast as possible. The huge intensity of these exercises will build great speed and explosive strength as well as giving you a mental toughness and sub-sequentially improving endurance. On completing each round; rest for 45 and 90 seconds. Immediately after finishing your last round, shadow box for three minutes. This will teach your body to fight through fatigue, which is an important factor during a fight. The Lateral Ladder is something you see soccer players use. It increases the speed of your foot movement over a short distance (which simulates moving quickly in the ring) and also strengthens your calves and ankles. If you do not have a ladder, set out some markers about one meter apart (e.g. cones or trainers). There are many variations you can use, such as one foot in each square, two feet, sideways, backwards, hops, diagonals etc. Choose a different variation each time. I would not implement this type of circuit in to your schedule as well as the circuit challenges. This is a circuit challenge and is just another option if you find you have weaknesses in this area.
Other movements you could include are Barbell Punches, shorts sprints, fast skipping bursts, Lateral Jumps, Sledgehammer Swings, Dumbbell Snatch, Clean or Press variations, Explosive Pull-ups, Wall Squats, Mountain Climbers and Squats Thrusts. You could also pair two exercises working the same body part to include both speed and strength gains in the same breathe. An example could be to perform Pull-ups followed by Medicine Ball Slams, Snake Press-ups followed by Clap Press-ups or Weighted Lunges followed by Squat Thrusts. An example workout could be:
A1 One-Arm Bench 5x3
A2 Barbell Punch 5x5 on each arm
B1 Dumbbell Step-ups 4x5
B2 Box Jumps 4x5
C1 Weighted Pull-ups 6x3
C2 Medicine Ball Slams 6x8
*Finish with a mile run, bike ride, stationary bike or rowing machine (complete the mile as fast as possible with maximum effort).
If you feel like you lack in both the speed and strength departments, then I would advise you to not jump straight in with this a circuit that consist mainly of Plyometric/Ballistic movements. The reason for this is the intensity of the movements could cause injury, therefore decreasing your gains. You will still include these types of movements in your strength and conditioning sessions, but with much less volume. I would instead stick to one max strength session and one speed strength session per week. The speed strength sessions will include one upper and one lower-body strength and Plyometric/Ballistic pared superset (like the examples listed above), therefore giving to a good fitness base for progression without over doing it. After six to eight weeks, try including a simple circuit similar to the one seen above, once a week, for two to three rounds and gradually increase the volume (e.g. increasing the reps by 5, increasing exercise times by ten seconds, completing an extra round, adding exercises or more challenging variations).
Remember that it is important to incorporate variety in to your training, so do not be afraid to change the exercises from session to session as this will confuse your muscles in to improving and excel your gains. You do not want your muscles getting used to or good at one specific movement as your fitness will plateau and we are not training to become better at single movements; we are training to give us a better engine in the ring!
You can also discover great speed gains by varying your bag work. Personally, completing the same bag work routine every session can get rather tedious, which in turn, decreases motivation, leading to a lack of fitness gains. The Speed-Bag and Double-End Bags are great ways to increases hand speed as well as foot, body and head movement and co-ordination but you can also discover incredible speed gains from a Heavy Bag. Tabata Punch-outs are a great option and you could also include the following:
- General Heavy Bag Work 2x3 minutes (1 minute rest between rounds)
5 Rounds of:
- Punch-outs x30 seconds
- Rest for 30 seconds
*Finish with 2x2 minutes of Shadow Boxing with one minute rest (focus on throwing hard and fast punches for the entire rounds).
These punch-out drills require maximum effort to be effective; otherwise you might as well pack it in! Literally go all out with maximum intensity. Make it feel like your arms are about to fall off!
Another great alternative is to do the same routine Shadow Boxing with light weights in your hands. I would caution you about going too heavy, as this can quickly lead to fatigue, decreasing your effectiveness and execution of punches. Going too heavy can also injure your tendons and ligaments, especially in your shoulders. Aim for between 1 and 3.5kg in each hand. If this is too heavy, start with boxing gloves that are heavier than you normally use (e.g. 18+ oz) and gradually add weights in to the equation (e.g. a plateless Dumbbell Bar). Fighters new to the game tend to be surprised with the heaviness of boxing gloves and the fatigue that incurs as a consequence. If you get used to throwing punches with weights in your hands, gloves with soon feel like second nature.
A close relative to speed is timing. Timing negates speed. It is useless having really fast hands if you do not have the timing to execute it effectively. You could be facing an extremely fast opponent but if they have no timing; your timing could give you the upper hand! Timing is also important in avoiding blows, as if you move too early your opponent can read this and adjust their attack or if you move too late, you will get hit. A common mistake is trying to roll a punch too early. You can think a punch is coming, roll or slip too early and as a consequence, move straight in to the path of a punch.
Pad work and sparring are important in improving timing. Pad work makes you think on the spot and time your punches and defence. In sparring, someone will be, of course, punching you in the head and body. Poor timing will be punished, making you conscious of what you are doing. It is also important to time your punches as wasteful shots can lead to fatigue in the ring.
There are also a few training methods, that are fun, that can improve timing. One is to spar with two or more partners, with means you have to be more aware of your surroundings and have to time your movements effectively, as you have more to deal with. If there are a few of you in a decent space, you could throw a few medicine balls in to the mix and literally throw them at each other, making you very aware of your surroundings as a heavy medicine ball is being chucked at you! You will be forced to move you feet and upper-body to avoid an incoming ball or you might have to bring your hands up to catch it, just like you bring your hands up to block a punch. You could also stand against the ball and have a partner throw light punches to one of the sides of your head, forcing you to time your head movement so the move in the right direction. This could also be done with a tennis ball.