9 years ago, I stepped into the ring for my first sparring match. It was a moment of excitement and pure adrenaline. A Rocky fantasy dream-come-true moment that took all the life out of me.
I was dead tired long before the final bell. I couldn’t walk straight because my feet were stuck in the mud and my legs felt like noodles. The 14oz gloves clung to my arms like a prisoner’s ball-and-chain. Spectators laughed when I couldn’t lift my leg to climb out of the ropes. My shirt dripped like I had gone swimming. I almost vomited when I bent over at the water fountain.
You wouldn’t know it from the way I looked…but I won.
I might have been a winner but I sure didn’t feel that one. And that’s the miracle of fatigue. Fatigue is a crippling handicap ruining your physical performance right when you need it most.
We’d all be better fighters if only we had more endurance!
The Physical Aspects of Fighting Endurance
The first step to increasing your fight endurance is to work on your cardio, which means to increase your body’s rate of oxygen absorption (oxygen intake). Boxing is an activity expressed in physical movement. Physical movement requires the use of your muscles. And muscles need oxygen in order to break down the glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream to create energy.
The higher your oxygen intake, the more oxygen your muscles can absorb and the more glucose you will be able to take advantage of. In layman’s terms, having better cardio means you can do more physical exercise without getting out of breath. You’ll not only have more energy but also perform better. Having strong muscles won’t do you any good if your body can’t absorb oxygen fast enough to fuel your muscles.
Increasing your cardiovascular endurance
Pretty much any exercise that raises your heart-rate, when done for a period of time at a high-enough pace, could be considered cardio exercise. Running, swimming, biking, skipping rope, are all good examples of cardio training for fighters.
The general rule is that you have to raise your heart-rate. You have to push yourself a little bit. Being able to run 5 miles a day won’t mean anything if you were totally relaxed the whole time. Boxing itself is an excellent cardio exercise. Hitting the bag, sparring, and generally moving your body over and over is great for developing cardio.
Raise your heart rate
to raise your cardio (oxygen intake).
2. Muscle Conditioning
The next step of fighting endurance has to do with muscle conditioning. Your muscles have to be conditioned well enough to handle the repeated stress of a fight. You need strong legs to move you around the ring. You need a strong core to generate power. You need well-conditioned shoulders and arms to throw hundreds of punches at high speed. Every muscle you need to use in boxing must be well-conditioned or else you’ll experience muscle fatigue that makes it difficult to fight.
A weak link in your body will show as one part of the body prevents the others from working at their full potential. Boxing is a total body exercise so you’ll need strong legs, strong core, strong shoulders and arms. To be precise, you’ll need to focus on power, speed, and endurance rather than just pure raw strength.
Increasing your physical conditioning
Work out the muscles you would use in fighting, which is pretty much your entire body. Start running, skipping rope, squats for the legs. Bag work, speed bag, shadowboxing, push-ups for the arms. Sit-ups and crunches for the core. I’m generalizing here; there are MANY more exercises you’ll need to do to be a well-conditioned fighter.
My #1 tip for muscle conditioning:
do interval training.
Make sure you balance out your muscles. (Like working out the biceps to balance the triceps. Targeting the back to balance out the chest and abs.) Muscle imbalances contribute limited physical performance, limited range of motion, etc.
3. Neurological (Muscle Memory)
The neurological aspect of fighting endurance has to do with understanding how muscle memory works. Generally speaking, the more time you spend practicing a movement, the easier and more natural it becomes. Your “muscle memory” is a part of your brain that stores information repeated movements.
This is why it’s important to practice with real movements that simulate actual fighting. This means lots of punches, shadowboxing, and of course the act of fighting itself. This practice not only builds muscle memory but also confidence in your movements.
Increasing your muscle memory
Shadowboxing is the best exercise to build muscle memory. Jabs, crosses, hooks, uppercuts, slipping, bobbing and weaving, rolling, moving and dashing around the ring. Big steps, little steps, quick pivots, big pivots, sudden changes of movement. EVERYTHING. Every type of boxing movement imaginable must be practiced over and over.
Shadowboxing is the best exercise
for developing muscle memory.
Sparring is also a great exercise for muscle memory but it has its limitations. For one, you can only spar a couple rounds, maybe 10 rounds tops. Shadowboxing, on the other hand, can be done for hours. At the very least, shadowboxing can be your warm-up and your warm-down. The other issue with sparring is that it limits you to only making certain movements whereas shadowboxing can allow you to freestyle and work on any movement you want. Ideally, you’d be using sparring to find out what you need to work on, and then use shadowboxing to help develop these movements.
Effective and efficient fighting techniques allow you to get the same job with less energy and effort. This is why proper technique is so important! It doesn’t matter how amazing of an athlete you are; your physicality is useless if you don’t know how to apply it into boxing movements.
Good punching technique allows you to hit harder, faster, and with more precision. Good defensive technique allows you to evade swiftly without compromising your position. Good movement allows you to glide effortless across the canvas in and out of range as you please.
Study the best fighters and you’ll see that good fighting technique can do all the work for you. You don’t need to be a 200lb hulk if you know how to use all 160lbs of your middleweight frame. Even if you are big, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to slip all the incoming punches. Being strong doesn’t mean you’ll know how roll under a combination and chop down your opponent with a left hook over the top.
Have you ever seen an experienced fighter destroy a younger, stronger, more physically fit and able-bodied opponent? And experienced fighter does it all without trying?! That my friend, is the magic of technique. Power and leverage and all the benefits of physicality…without having to use so much effort.
The highest levels of boxing
can only be reached with technique.
At some level of boxing, it’s impossible to reach without technique. And this is part of why boxing is so beautiful: as raw and as brutal as it is, it can reach a level where the genius of the mind expresses itself. Never before have you seen the physicality of the body expressing the mind in such a beautiful way. Some would say this is the art of boxing.
Increasing your fighting technique
Get a coach, get a trainer. Someone more experienced, more wise and seasoned than you are. Learn from others. Don’t rely on your own “intelligence”. It’s true what they say, “Experience is the best teacher.” And it’s best to learn from someone with far more experience than yourself.
Ask intelligent questions and then listen to the answer. Open your mind, try it, try to understand it. If it doesn’t work, put it away and try something else. BUT ALWAYS TRY SOMETHING NEW.
Your fighting technique won’t improve
if you don’t try anything new.
The Mental Aspects of Fighting Endurance
1. Mental Relaxation
The more panicky you are, the more energy you waste and the more tired you will feel. Fear often casts a big shadows on small worries. I don’t know how to put this eloquently but here goes: LEARN TO RELAX during an ass-beating.
The next time you’re losing a fight, try your best to CHILL. Relax! Block what you can, but relax when you get hit. Breathe, don’t panic. Keep your mind calm and count down the seconds if you need. *Just ____ more seconds and the fight is over.* You can relax, enjoy the fight, and learn something. Or you can panic, get even more tired, and make the beating seem longer than it really is. It’s up to you.
Increasing your mental relaxation
It’s hard to stay mentally relaxed in boxing because of its physical and adrenaline-pumping nature. But nonetheless it’s possible. Mental relaxation has to do with self-respect. You have to know your level and admit it to yourself and to stay within your limits. Push yourself but be reasonable. Don’t get into nasty sparring situations that you clearly can’t handle. Being 100% terrified and worried for your safety is not the way to train. And it’s certainly not the way the pros train!
Being able to relax in stressful environments allows you to make smart decisions and benefit more out of the situation. Slow down and look around so you can absorb everything. If you’re always pushing yourself over the limit, you’ll end up making yourself quit and this attitude will show in everything that you do. You are your own worst enemy. It’s a good lesson you could apply to life, actually.
Putting things in perspective will relax the mind. Let your expectations inspire you but then accept yourself. You’re here to learn and be the best you can. Learn to accept that you are always a work in progress! Nobody is perfect!
Try to enjoy the fight,
because anything becomes tiring if you don’t enjoy it.
At some point, getting tired has to do with the way you think. And a lot of fighters get tired so easily because they have the wrong approach to fighting.
They’re always thinking,
“If I run out of energy, I’m dead.”
When a better alternative would be to think,
“These are the things I want to do with the energy I have.”
Instead of being energy conscious and always telling yourself that you only have a limited amount of energy, try focusing on being more effective with that energy. It’s not a bad idea to throw less punches and jump around less but you should look beyond that.
- How can I do the most damage to my opponent?
- How can I make my punches more effective?
- What’s the easiest way to avoid my opponent’s punches?
- What are some things I could do more to win this fight?
You should be trying to do MORE, while using less energy. Again, the goal is to do more with less, and not less with less. Using your energy effectively will PREVENT you from getting tired. Because every punch will do more damage. Every movement you make will be more effective. The fight WILL BE EASIER. The energy you use will drain your opponent’s energy even faster.
But if all you can think about is saving your energy and trying not to get tired, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. You’ll feel like your opponent keeps draining your energy and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. A good defense can slow down the energy loss but you’ll still get tired because of your attitude.
Aim for fight endurance, not for energy conservation.
Still getting tired?