Workout Routines

Pound for Pound Boxer's Workout

M&F gloved up to find out what it takes to build a boxer's physique.

by NSCA-CPT
Boxing Workout
Duration 7 days
Exercises 22
Equipment Yes

What is it about Rocky training montages that are so empowering? Could it be the music? Eye of the Tiger is a pretty inspiring anthem, after all. Maybe it's the anticipation of the big fight. Will he really defeat the odds and beat the obviously better boxer—again? Hey, it's Rocky—what do you think? No, it was something more that had people, myself included, walking out of theaters punching the air. It was the fact that Sylvester Stallone was actually doing this stuff. That was no stunt double you saw pummeling the speed bag, running sprints on the beach, duckwalking with a log across his back and doing inverted sit-ups in a dusty barn. That was all Sly.

Even more impressive was the end product. Stallone came in at a doughy 178 pounds for his first clash with Apollo in 1976. By the time he touched leather with Drago in Moscow three montages and nearly 10 years later, he had become the poster boy for fitness—a trim 173 pounds, with bulging serratus, broad, defined shoulders and deeply etched abs.

Two-time Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu, who trained Sly for Rocky II, said he could have parlayed his genetics and drive into a bodybuilding career if he had chosen to.

But it wasn't just rep after monotonous rep in the weight room that built Rocky's title-winning physique. Boxing training involves the coordination of many muscle groups working at a will-breaking pace over long periods, with very limited rest sprinkled throughout—think of it as choreographed interval cardio. Any M&F reader knows you have to shed bodyfat through cardio to uncover that kind of muscular detail; Rocky just did his with hand wraps on.

In the real world, boxers are some of the world's leanest, most well-trained athletes. Champs such as Vladimir Klitschko, Shane Mosley and Mike Tyson were all human wrecking balls in their prime and had the builds to show for it.

Gyms that are built on the idea of boxing-for-fitness are popping up left and right across the country, most advertising the promise of helping you burn up to 1,000 calories in an hour. Seriously? So, sadist that I am, I decided to glove up and enlist the help of famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach, making his Wild Card Boxing Gym in Hollywood my fitness home for 12 weeks.

By the end of my time with Roach and company, I may not have been ready to swap blows with a pro, but I was faster, leaner and stronger than I had been since college. Train this way and maybe you can salvage a bit of your youth, one punch at a time.

Welcome to the Wild Card

"This can't be it," I remember thinking to myself as I pulled into the parking lot of Wild Card for the first time. The gym, situated on the corner of Vine Street and Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, is much more modest than the esteemed list of fighters who have trained there; Tyson, Manny Pacquiao, James Toney and Klitschko have all worked under Roach. But Wild Card, its walls littered with posters, fight photos and autographed 8x10s, is every bit what boxing should be—gritty, confined, primal.

A full-size ring occupies most of the space in the room. A few heavy bags swing from the ceiling and I can hear the rattle of a speed bag getting worked in a back corner. The warning bell sounds on the round timer, indicating that only 30 seconds remain until the final bell. Instantly, everyone's pace increases to mimic a late, round-stealing flurry. The air is hot and muggy, and you get the feeling that it would be that way even if we weren't in the midst of another California heat wave.

Just beyond the front counter—where patrons pay beanie-capped trainer Macka Foley $5 to work out—Roach is consulting with a tall, fit young woman on basic boxing techniques. Standing about 5'6" with spiked hair and squared-off, black-rimmed glasses, it's a little hard to picture him as the fast-and-furious lightweight he once was. But that day, I wasn't there to see Roach. I had sentenced myself to three months of hell with Roach's No. 2 man, strength and conditioning coach Justin Fortune.

Fortune, a former Australian powerlifting champ and pro boxer (he fought Lennox Lewis in 1995, losing on a disappointing early-round stoppage), is so wide in the shoulders that he probably needs to walk sideways through most doors. And he isn't one to pull punches—not during his competitive career and certainly not when it comes to training people. While jovial and entertaining (in a crude, Def Comedy Jam sort of way) when you first meet him, things change once it's time to work.

Power & Speed

I was about 15 minutes into my first workout with Fortune when the thought entered my mind: What the hell am I doing this for again?

I dragged myself from station to station of plyometric punishment with another of Fortune's clients—superbantamweight champ Israel Vazquez—huffing and puffing like it was my first time in a gym. It wasn't. Until today, I actually thought I was in pretty good shape. I had even trained for several weeks at L.A. Boxing in Tarzana, California, to prepare for my time at Wild Card. But if I learned anything in the last few months, it's that no matter how in shape you think you are, this type of training will make you feel as though you've been beaten back to square one.

Fortune had us go through his floor-work circuit, about nine exercises total, all seemingly designed to make us vomit. Burpees—dropping into push-up position, thrusting your feet behind you, tucking them back in and exploding back into a standing position—were just the start. Without rest, we headed into squat thrusts and lunge thrusts (think of the traditional versions, only leaving the floor on each rep) and then, thankfully, 10 crunches. Turn over, do 10 push-ups, then it's back on your feet. Tuck jumps—where you jump as high as you can while bringing your knees into your gut—were next. Those oxygen-sappers are followed by burpees into a squat thrust. I was gonna need a bucket soon.

"Time!" Fortune yelled from the comfort of the canvas outside the ropes.

Thank God—I wasn't sure I was going to make it, I thought. But I was happy that I had persevered. I remember sneaking glances over at the 122-pound Vazquez as he went about his business, no stranger to the Fortune regimen. I was content to have just finished the workout with a champ, and was swelling with pride and dripping with sweat.

"Burpees!" Fortune shouted after about a minute of peace. Turns out we weren't done; we were just getting started. He barked us through the circuit twice more, although I had admittedly fallen well off the pace of Vazquez. Once we were finished with the third, knife-twisting circuit, I pulled myself out of the ring and started toward my gym bag. "Velazquez, put your gloves on," Fortune said through his thick Aussie accent.

"Yeah, that's what I was going to get," I replied, but he knew different. He knew I was done. A beaten man on my first day. But that's what he does—he takes men to the point where they're sure they can't possibly continue and then has them work harder. It's what separates winners from losers in the ring and can make the difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars for a man in his line of work. Feigning resilience, I gloved up and got back in the ring.

Fortune slipped on his punch mitts, which I would've been excited about if I could breathe or lift my arms. Luckily, I mustered enough enthusiasm to fight through the fatigue for my endurance drills on the mitts. After that, we walked into the free-weight section of Wild Card. I use the term "section" generously; it's more of a squat rack and adjustable bench piled into a corner and lined by various sets of dumbbells. This is where I truly learned what pain was.

Fortune's three-minute shoulder circuit—just thinking about it makes me wince—is every bit the DOMS-inducing thrill most bodybuilders strive for in a workout. It's six shoulder moves, each performed with light weight (I used the 2-pounders my first time) for 30 seconds at a time for a total of three minutes. My shoulders were fried after three rounds of this circuit, but after a quick look in the mirror, I didn't mind so much. My delts were pumped red full of blood, hard and detailed. I hurt, but I was hooked.

"I'll see you again Thursday, Justin," I said, trying to mask my pain. But I meant it. And over the next few months, he pushed me harder and harder—with a grin, too. Sick man, that Justin Fortune.

The Payout of the Pugilist

For the boxer who gets his head battered for a living, the payoff is bigger fights and bigger purses; he wants to fight more popular boxers to up his winnings. For guys like you and me, the sane types who like our noses just the way they are, the payoff with boxing is aesthetics and confidence.

"For conditioning, it's a great workout, and you get to learn something along the way," says Roach. "It's an ideal way to get in shape. And with the way Justin uses new techniques and gets creative, there's always something different."

Boxing provides a total-body workout, so you'll expend more calories during your time in the gym. Plus, boxing training involves the recruitment of both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibersslow-twitch for the constant motion of your feet and hands and fast-twitch for quick movements such as punches and slips. Because fast-twitch muscle fibers have the greatest potential for growth, most boxing trainees will notice a marked increase in overall lean muscle, which in turn helps burn more bodyfat.

National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Education Director Rodney Corn says a 200-pound athlete will burn roughly 455 calories per hour working the heavy bag and 720 calories per hour sparring. But as you can probably deduce from the sample workout provided here, the combination of activities, addition of plyometric work and other fast-paced conditioning can easily send that number soaring above the 1,000-calorie mark in a single workout.

But those who choose to wreck their bodies and test their mettle in the Sweet Science don't have to abandon the weight room. In fact, Fortune cautions, fighters who don't train with weights are just begging to end up on their backs.

"You have to train with relevance to your sport," he says. "Boxers have to generate power, so you should still stick to some basic power movements such as squats and deadlifts. Those types of lifts will help you produce power from your legs and core, which is where punching power comes from. Some guys are still stuck back in the '60s with how they train. Our guys will beat those guys every single time."

Vazquez, for instance, came back from some early-round knockdowns to KO contender Jhonny Gonzalez in the 10th round of a fight last September. Fortune credits Vazquez's conditioning for the win.

"He was getting his ass kicked in nearly every round," he said. "But as the fight dragged on, Israel got stronger and the other guy got weaker. In the end, it was all of Israel's ground work and conditioning that won the fight."

Fortune recommends two bouts with the iron per week to keep your strength gains coming. Adequate protein consumption and rest are crucial, however, if you expect to add or hold onto muscle mass.

The Final Weigh-In

Being right in the heart of Hollywood, Roach and Fortune get a lot of celebrities coming in to test themselves in the ring. Fortune will tell you straight out that the intent on a celeb's first day is to get them to quit. "We want people in here who want to work hard, not people who just go through the motions and waste our time," he says.

"This isn't fun, this is work," says Roach. "If you're looking for something fun, go play checkers."

Both men concur that this kind of training can drastically change your overall body composition—if you've got the stones to go at it 100%. "If you're willing to do what a fighter does, you can get into that kind of shape," says Fortune.

By the end of my 12 weeks at Wild Card, I'd gone from 178 post-honeymoon pounds to a trim 161. My bodyfat had dropped from 17% to around 10%, and my abs had made a cameo for the first time since ... well, ever. I was executing combinations on the mitts with Fortune and Roach like a seasoned vet, working out twice a day was pretty much common practice, and I was tackling 5-mile runs at the crack of dawn without complaint.

I'll always lift, but I took on the challenge of training this way because, like most of you, I despise the treadmill. For me, the sound of a perfectly delivered punch on the heavy bag and the rhythmic cadence of a good roll on the speed bag are much more pleasing than the droning of my own stride on a conveyor belt. It's pain with a payoff that you can see. For me, every day can be a training montage.

The Training Split

Day

Training (Bodyparts)

1

Boxing workout

2

Weights (back, legs)

3

Boxing workout

4

Weights (chest, arms)

5

Boxing workout

6

Rest/Optional run (work up to 5 miles)

7

Rest

Note: Because of the volume of training you get during boxing workouts, Fortune recommends avoiding regular weight training for shoulders. If this is a lagging bodypart, incorporate no more than 6–8 sets of basic presses and raises on day 6.

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Days 1, 3, 5 Boxing Workout

Exercise 1

Jump Rope You'll need: Jump Rope How to
3 sets
3 min reps
Rest no longer than one minute between sets. Between exercises, rest only as long as it takes to get set up on the next activity. rest

Exercise 2

Speed Bag
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-- sets
3 min reps
Rest no longer than one minute between sets. Between exercises, rest only as long as it takes to get set up on the next activity. rest

Exercise 3

Shadowbox
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3 sets
3 min reps
Rest no longer than one minute between sets. Between exercises, rest only as long as it takes to get set up on the next activity. rest

Exercise 4

Heavy Bag
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3 sets
3 min reps
Rest no longer than one minute between sets. Between exercises, rest only as long as it takes to get set up on the next activity. rest
If you have a partner or trainer, you can substitute mitt work for heavy bag work.

Exercise 5

Squat Thrusts You'll need: No Equipment How to
4 sets
20 reps
-- rest

Exercise 6

Lunge Thrust
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4 sets
20 reps
-- rest

Exercise 7

Lateral Leap and Hop You'll need: No Equipment How to
4 sets
20 reps
Rest no longer than one minute between sets. Between exercises, rest only as long as it takes to get set up on the next activity. rest
Choose three different versions of plyometric push–ups. Complete two sets of each, stopping the set once you begin to lose momentum.

Exercise 8

Plyometric Pushup
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6 sets
To failure reps
Rest no longer than one minute between sets. Between exercises, rest only as long as it takes to get set up on the next activity. rest

Exercise 9

Combo Shoulder Raise You'll need: Dumbbells How to
3 sets
3 min reps
Rest no longer than one minute between sets. Between exercises, rest only as long as it takes to get set up on the next activity. rest
Choose a light set of dumbbells and work on 30–sec cycles within each 3–min set. A typical circuit with Fortune involves 30 secs at a time of straight punching, overhead punching, rear-delt raises, lateral raises, shoulder presses and a 30–sec hold.

Exercise 10

Situp You'll need: No Equipment How to
3 sets
3 min reps
Rest no longer than one minute between sets. Between exercises, rest only as long as it takes to get set up on the next activity. rest
Choose three different exercises and perform each one for one minute. Rest one minute after each three–minute circuit.

Day 2 Back and Legs

Exercise 1

Barbell Deadlift You'll need: Barbell How to
4 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 2

One-Arm Dumbbell Row
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4 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 3

Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown You'll need: Adjustable Cable Machine, Lat Pulldown Bar, Bench How to
4 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 4

Barbell Squat
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4 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 5

Leg Extension
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3 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 6

Lying Leg Curl
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3 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 7

Seated Calf Raise You'll need: Bench How to
3 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Day 4 Chest and Arms

Exercise 1

Dumbbell Bench Press You'll need: Bench, Dumbbells How to
4 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 2

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press You'll need: Bench, Dumbbells How to
4 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 3

Incline Dumbbell Flye You'll need: Dumbbells, Bench How to
3 sets
10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 4

Bodyweight Dip You'll need: Dip Station How to
3 sets
To failure reps
-- rest

Exercise 5

Standing Dumbbell Biceps Curl You'll need: Dumbbells How to
3 sets
10 reps
-- rest
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