Too Sick to Train?

We all know what it means to train hard regularly and then suddenly be faced with the prospect of missing gym days due to vacation, moving, or, worst of all, illness. Ugh… the tremendous horror of missing gym time! Don’t understand about the horror of missing gym time? You can skip this article, cutiepie.

When you’re young, it’s easy to decide whether or not you’re too sick to participate. If it’s a trip to Six Flags, you’re perfectly fine; if it’s a school day, you’re definitely super sick. As an adult, the equation often becomes complicated, especially if you’re in the camp that believes gym time is a good time.

Am I too sick to train?, she pondered

Am I too sick to train?, she pondered

The main things to think about when considering whether or not to skip are:
1. Will I risk making myself sicker?
2. Will I risk making others sick?
3. Will I risk increasing the recovery time?

First of all, how bad is it? There’s some definite no-no’s. For example, there’s a difference between a head cold and a chest cold. A head cold, aka “the common cold,” is typically a pretty minor viral ailment, mainly affecting your mouth, nose and throat. And if it’s not too bad, and you’re not incessantly coughing or sneezing, you can often get away with going to work or a light workout. Whereas a chest cold, although caused by the same viruses as a head cold, tends to be more severe and harder to fight. A chest cold can also turn into serious illness if not well treated. 

So how bad are the symptoms? Do you have a temperature? Is it something that you can keep in check and without significant risk of transmitting to others? Are you past the worst of it or might the illness potentially worsen? If you go to the gym and suddenly start feeling bad again, is there a chance it could cause you an embarrassing episode?!

Get a Second Opinion
Depending upon how sick you may feel, you may or may not want to consult a doctor. That goes without saying, but you might also discuss your condition with your trainer to help decide whether it is a good idea to work out and how much you should do.

And wash your hands often.

3. Be Sensitive and Sensible
Often times you can use good common sense to determine whether or not you’re too sick. Certainly if you have a fever, body aches, frequent sneezing or coughing; stay in bed and get rest. If your stomach merely aches or you’re feeling a bit “under the weather” you can probably train, and the training may even help you feel better, but take it easy and stop if suddenly you feel worse.

And wash your hands often.

5. Be Considerate of Others
Due to some illnesses being highly contagious, it is best to stay home when your sickness is more serious. Keep in mind that, even if your symptoms are light, and even if you’ve had a day or two to recover, your virus may still be picked up by others, especially if you sneeze or cough. While you cannot transmit a cold or flu through sweat, you can spread germs just by talking, so be thoughtful when coming into contact with others at the gym.

And wash your hands often.

Worried about disappointing your gym partners? They’ll get over it quickly, which is more than one can say about influenza!

While you don’t want to lose ground in your training, a couple days off won’t make much difference. You’ll get over it quickly, which is more than one can say about influenza! Anyway, it’s always good to take an extra day off now and then anyway. The main thing to remember is that you certainly don’t want to exacerbate a relatively minor problem and make it into a major one. That goes for both injuries as well as illnesses.

If you do miss any extended period of time from training you should not expect to pick up right where you left off. Ease back in the first session or two and allow your body to re-adjust to the stress of training.

We say it so often: Listen to your body. But even before you get that far you should know enough that any physical activity during an illness should be limited in duration and intensity.

And wash your hands often

Posted on June 1, 2016 .

Boxing is Your BFF

Imagine a workout routine that taxes virtually every muscle group, pushes your cardiovascular system to its limits, and ultimately tests your every physical and mental condition. No, it’s not CrossFit. There may be no other workout as complete as boxing. New to boxing? Get ready to meet some unfamiliar muscles and discover the limits of your body and mind. You’ll first be saying “never again,” but it won’t take long before you can’t wait to be at it again!

It was maybe late in the last century when boxing started to become a legitimate workout option for ordinary folks who wanted the intense training, yet weren’t necessarily interested in “being a boxer.” The boxer’s workout gained in popularity as more conventional gyms began adding stylized cardio boxing and kickboxing classes. Of course, due to its addictive nature, boxing began to catch fire as more and more participants became passionate for the sweet science and yearned to learn advanced aspects and techniques. There are endless anecdotes from women who either felt adventurous or simply stumbled into boxing training only to become completely possessed by its charm.

The sport itself is ancient and the action of punching (and kicking) to defend yourself and conquer a foe is strictly primal. Perhaps the reason boxing is so enjoyable and addictive has something to do with tapping into built-in, but often long-dormant natural urges. 

Amy Reid taking a break. Photography by   David Jaewon Oh

Amy Reid taking a break. Photography by David Jaewon Oh

The boxing workout covers all areas, starting at your toes and going all the way to your head. Calories will burn, as will your muscles. You’ll build strength. You’ll develop stamina. You’ll be spitting fire and belching smoke as you push your machine to its limits, both aerobically and anaerobically.

There is virtually nothing equal to the benefits you get from training for combat. ESPN ranked boxing number one among the toughest sports to compete in, just ahead of ice hockey and football. And the reason for its difficulty to master is also the reason it’s a superior workout - boxing’s the complete package. Perhaps fighters aren’t the fastest sprinters or highest jumpers among athletes, but overall fighters kick serious ass, and let’s face it, “ass kicking” is the ultimate objective in any sport.

Professional and amateur athletes alike, from a variety of sports, look to fight techniques to add some superior cross training in their respective off-seasons. The reason being, that so many of the skills that you can develop through boxing training are highly translatable to other sports disciplines and the physical demands of fighting are also a great conditioning tune up.

Heck, even supermodels, needing to enhance their god-given skinny physiques have taken to boxing and fight training as a means to remain “super.” 

And the benefits go beyond the merely physical. If you’re simply going through the motions for fitness then you’re missing out on some of the best byproducts of real boxing training.

For any person, perhaps especially a young person struggling with life’s hard knocks, boxing training is a great way to alleviate stress and release pent up aggression. The simple act of making a fist has been shown to help cope with stress. You might say punching makes you happy.

And with the tenacity and discipline required to develop as a fighter, boxing is kinda like military school. It breaks you down so you can build yourself up. This is exactly why boxing is often turned to as a way to help keep at-risk kids off the street and give them reason to feel good about themselves.

When you workout regularly playing soccer or basketball you begin to build confidence in your ability to compete in those sports. Oh sure, participation in any intense sport will help you to become a faster, stronger, better version of yourself, but when you train for fighting you build confidence in life. It’s in the facing up to danger and the persevering when any normal person would give up. 

Once your boxing skills advance and you step into the ring for some sparring or competing, you really get to see how far your skills, physical capabilities, and mental fortitude have developed. Our friend, Tricia Arcaro Turton, owner of Arcaro Boxing, said it best: “Boxing puts our brains and body to the ultimate tests. We have to relax under the threat of attack. We have to be present to each thought, each feeling that moves through our consciousness. We have to override our doubts and find belief…”

So be prepared to learn some less than appealing things about yourself. You may discover weaknesses you hadn’t noticed before. But that’s okay. Boxing is all about overcoming adversity and turning weakness into strength. 

Boxing is beautiful in the way that it is both a killer workout and an extremely satisfying activity. Yes, in the beginning learning boxing technique while attempting to not look awkward can be frustrating and, at times, humiliating. Especially if you’re being taught by someone who’s been there and seen it all. The toughest trainers are often very patient with newbies, but they will expect dedication and perseverance. And in the end, like a lifelong friend, the longer you stay with it and the more dedication you can muster, the greater the impact and the more you will ultimately love it.

Posted on December 3, 2015 .

How Deep is Your Tank?

You have no idea how much heart you truly have until you get into the ring to fight or spar with another person. Forget for a moment about strategy and technique - just to be able to stand up, stay up, and keep moving will take everything you have. The thing is, you don’t want to be running your engine too far past empty and end up putting yourself on the canvas. You’re going to need a bigger tank. That is, you’re going to need to develop serious stamina sister!

Fighting is intense and demanding, and, a lot like swimming, you’ll be doing much of it while holding your breath. A boxer can expect a busy round to consist of approximately 75% anaerobic activity. Punching, getting punched, avoiding getting punched, it all means holding in your breaths for periods of time, which takes a toll. Exhaustion sets in quickly as your body is taxed, leaving you grasping your opponent and gasping for breath in between bursts of activity. 

And, like swimming again, you’ll have to learn to time your breaths with your actions. But it’s not enough just to optimize your respiration, you’ve got to get your machine well-tuned to stand up to the rigors of fighting and fight training.

So to prepare for battle you should probably start your training day with a long distance run, right? Noooo! Jogging is really pretty pointless for a fighter. The most you’ll accomplish is to burn a few calories, maybe get a tan, and, frankly, put excessive wear and tear on your poor feet and knees. Running is completely aerobic, while boxing, again, is (mostly) anaerobic. Running is relaxing, while boxing is taxing. Get it? Sure, okay, jogging is worthwhile for overall fitness and health, we’re just saying it should not be considered as part of your training for boxing endurance.

jog (jäg)
1. run at a steady gentle pace

When you’re not doing actual boxing training and you want to supplement your conditioning for stamina, the thing to do is any kind of high intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT is essentially alternating extreme anaerobic exercise with periods of lighter aerobic activity. You’ve likely heard of HIIT before, as it’s a popular subject for serious athletes and trainers, but that does not make it a fitness fad. HIIT training has been around forever, they just never had a formal name for it before.

Now, if you still want to include running in your training and you need to build stamina, try doing some interval running. There’s endless ways you can program intervals, but for fighters we’d suggest doing two or three minutes of sustained running near full speed for a minute or so, then drop to a medium speed, sprint for a short distance, and follow it by a minute long jog or walk to catch some breath. Then repeat. You could also call this Sprint Interval Training (SIT), but of course we’d rather HIIT than SIT! haha… 

Like intervals, circuit training is also a great conditioning tool. Again, the idea is to go from one workout to the next with little or no rest in between just like in boxing. Put your focus on getting in the best condition for lasting 2 or 3 minutes since that’s the length of a round. Do several minutes of circuits, take a minute break, and get right back at it. You will know you’re doing it right when you say to yourself “I am probably going to die, but at least this torture will finally end.” And just as it is for fighting, it’s better to be able to do great work for 3 minutes at a time than to be able to do good work for 10 minutes straight.

You can also work the heavy bags and focus mitts or jump rope using the same interval methods. Keep the intensity high while intermittently stomping on the gas every so often for two or three minutes, catch your breath a bit, drink some water, and then right back at it. 

Let’s face it, you want to do your gasping for breath during your conditioning training, not when you’re in the ring facing an opponent. Keep in mind, you should be pushing to your limit, however if you end up doubled over, puking, you’ve overdone it. Listen to your body. Ultimately, your goal is to improve your overall athletic capacity and interval training is a great way to develop this capacity without burning out.

Okay, well what about the popular use of training masks that supposedly mimic the effects of hypoxia (living and exercising at high elevation with limited oxygen), you ask? Well, there do seem to be some benefits to this type of “enhanced” training, however there’s some serious shortcomings. First of all, these masks should really only be employed by high-level athletes during training and maybe not even by them. No athlete should be purposefully depriving herself of oxygen during training. If anything, you want to supply your body as much oxygen as you can get as you exercise. Moreover, most credible studies seem to indicate pretty meager support of these masks to substantially improve stamina.

The bottom line with hypoxic or high elevation training is that when your body is working with less oxygen, you can ultimately expect to become limited in the amount of work you can do. Thus, it would suggest that wearing one of these masks during training would actually decrease your workout potential. Now, if you’re one of those folks who has to wear a “band-aid” on your nose and “copper socks” on your elbows, then, I guess, go ahead and wear a mask. Just don’t wear it when you’re actually training! 

For any serious fighter looking to spar or compete it is not nearly enough for her to be a good puncher, have perfect technique, and solid skills. She must have the ability to last the duration of an entire round and outlast her opponent. Make interval training part of your overall conditioning and make your tank a bit deeper.

Posted on August 27, 2015 .

Better is Faster, More or Less

Speed kills. This expression, overused in sports, is still fairly apt when applied to a fighter’s punch. For pros, the quicker the delivery, the more power in the package. For amateurs, a faster punch means a cleaner point scored. Unfortunately, there is minimal that can be done to substantially increase your natural hand speed. However, a well-conditioned body combined with quickened reflexes and good technique can make your punching smoother and, indeed, faster. With some proper training you could be feeding your opponent shots that she will have to eat.

Using the Body  
When approaching the task of punching faster you might think you need to start with your arms, but this isn’t especially true. When you stand before a heavy bag and throw punches using just your arms, you can generate only a moderate amount of force. To throw a snappier straight or a crisper cross there are numerous muscles groups that will come into play before the arms add their contribution. Even a solid jab gets most of its power from what you put behind it.

Your entire torso and hips should be involved in throwing power punches. Add a little thrust from the shoulder and some twist at your waist and you’ll begin to pitch a faster, more wicked punch. You want your whole body to be a power plant for your punches, so it’s a good idea to get in the weight room and get some all-over muscle.

Betty's wind-up was good form for pitching, not so good for punching

Betty's wind-up was good form for pitching, not so good for punching

Conditioning for Explosiveness
With any kind of weight training, and really, most training you do as a fighter, you should be focused on explosive movement. And yes, girly, you should be doing some weight training. And no, lifting weights will not make you too bulky or slow you down. In fact, just the opposite: weight training will give you a leaner build and the explosive power you seek.

Boxing is more than upper/lower body. It's a whole body sport. That means, besides your arms and legs, you've got your chest, shoulders, back... and please don’t forget about your glutes! Your posterior muscles are among the largest and strongest muscles in your body and they play an important role in generating power and doing pretty much anything involved in athletics. So just get over it already and pick up some dumbbells. 

Kettlebells and medicine balls are also great tools for fighters looking to build explosive power. And when you’re conditioning for combustion (trademark!) don’t just swing through the motions. You’ll want to generate a burst of power through the initial portion of each rep and then maintain control as you return to the starting position. In this way you’re both developing muscles to create force and building stability in your core. Always use good form. In other words, use your muscles to do the work and not a lot of sloppy body english.

Fundamental Capabilities
Besides good punch technique and good physical fitness, you can also work on some other fundamentals to give your punches more snap, crackle and pop! Foremost is to develop efficient breathing for fighting. By optimizing your breathing you’re optimizing your capacity to perform. Read about it here. By the way, if you're training for competition, you might try including your mouthguard during drills to help you learn to time your breaths and also to breathe through your nose.

Additionally, having good hand-eye coordination coupled with timing will make you a snappier puncher. Mastering these skills together will help reduce lag time in initiating a punch by sharpening up your reflexes. To work on these you can battle the double-end bag or practice on focus mitts with a partner. As you get good at fast reflex fighting, your punching becomes fluid and more assured. And a sure punch is a fast punch.

Fallacy of Speed Bag Training
There are both supporters and detractors of the speed bag and its value in fight training. Honestly, we’re not proponents of the speed bag and believe the name is misleading. This popular apparatus can be fun to use and perhaps useful for developing shoulder endurance, but ultimately it’s riding a bike with your arms. If you watch someone masterfully using the speed bag you can see that their hands and arms are moving in a pretty limited circular range, and relatively slowly; it is the bag itself that is traveling with great speed. In fact, the better you get at the speed bag the less movement you’ll need to perform. Additionally, most of the motion used in speed bag training comes from moving the shoulder up and down, which is not proper form for punching. Therefore you don’t gain anything technically functional and you certainly don’t gain punching speed.

Likewise, using heavier gloves on the heavy bag or holding dumbbells for shadowboxing will not do much to increase your punching power in any significant way. Again, this kind of “enhanced” training will do far more to build arm endurance than it will to increase speed. How do we know this? Science.

In the end, your training should not focus so much on trying to achieve faster hand speed and instead emphasize creating power behind every punch. Once you develop a fighting physique and masterful technique you will become a fire-spitting, smoke-belching fighting machine.

Posted on July 28, 2015 .

Shadowboxing is Real Boxing (Training)

Shadowboxing is a pretty good way to train your fighting body, but it’s a very good way to train your fighting mind. Shadowboxing may be useful as a warmup, but its real use is as an effective training tool. Often you’ll see someone at the gym throwing punches at the air with complete abandon. There’s no skill developed. Their heart rate is picking up, but they’re also potentially picking up bad habits. Seemingly everything they may have learned over the years goes out the door and they’re simply punching for the sake of throwing a punch. Stop thinking of shadowboxing as a warm up and start thinking of it as training. It’s simply sparring with an imaginary partner.

It’s called “shadowboxing” because if you stand in the light it could look like you’re fighting your own shadow. But this wouldn’t work because it’s too choreographed. Your own shadow will move just as you move; an opponent would never do that. So use your imagination. Picture your opponent. If you have a fight upcoming against a southpaw, visualize a southpaw adversary so you can think about how they move and how you might counter and strike. Time your shots with their bobs and weaves. Practice your feinting and counter shots. Work on moving away from their advantage and towards yours. Jabs, combinations, body shots, defense - practice everything.

Don’t treat a shadowboxing session the way you would a set of jumping jacks or other calisthenics. While the body is moving, the mind should be engaged,  By coordinating your body and mind, actions and reactions can start to become automatic and effortless. When you can slow down your thinking during a fight you become a more fluid fighter. So use shadowboxing as a means to practice this body and mind coordination.

Instead of simply standing in place throwing punches, work on your footwork, work on defense, work the corners, work the ropes. Whether you’re in a ring or your living room or whatever space you have at your disposal, treat your surroundings as if there were boundaries and use the space as you would in competition. Even though you have no opponent you can still practice your ring generalship. Practice working in close quarters, putting into a corner, fighting off the ropes, chasing a running target, etc.

You might try setting up a slip line and shadowbox around the rope to add the effect of slipping, dodging, ducking, and ultimately avoiding punches. The line becomes the angle of an incoming attack. Again, visualize an opponent so you have a target as well as an attacker. Slip a punch and throw a counter combination. Throw a straight right and slip the counter.

Even though you’re not connecting with an actual target, throw your punches with a good measure of power. Snap her head back with those jabs. Make her feel your body shots. Put some juice into it. At the same time, don’t go overboard. Since there is no target to hit, it’s not difficult to hyperextend an elbow or strain a shoulder. Don’t get careless, you want intensity in your training, but with the lack of a landing pad, any punch you throw could be damaging to yourself. Find the right range and level of intensity and keep it there.

Of course shadowboxing is good for athletic conditioning too. Boxing is largely anaerobic so use this time to work on optimizing your breathing. Time your breaths to the action and keep the intensity up so your body has to learn to deal with deprived oxygen for periods of time.  

Shadowboxing should not be a mindless exercise. Deploy it as a true training tool. Whether you’re working outside of the gym, practicing for a future opponent, or trying to overcome some deficit in your technique, make it count.

Posted on June 16, 2015 .