Having chiseled abs is often a sign of great overall conditioning in boxers. But while having visible abs is not necessary for success in the ring, having a strong midsection definitely is. This is why core training is an important part of any boxer’s preparation.
Why the core is so important in boxing?
The most important principle underlying powerful punching is that the force at the end of the punch is generated from the ground up. The body forms a kinetic chain to transfer the generated force from the ground to the hips, upper body, and fist. A strong core musculature improves the efficiency of those transfers. Or in simpler words,
The stronger the core, the harder the punch.
Having strong muscles, of course, is not enough to punch hard. A powerful strike, especially combinations of punches, must be thrown with good technique that transfers power in the most effective way from movement to movement. But core muscles also are necessary to stiffen at the moment of impact to enhance the power of the punch. This is the “snap” at the point of contact.
Another way core strength is important for boxing is to take punches. As a viable target, the midsection is often targeted by attacks, and you must be able to withstand them. A part of that is conditioning to punches, but the other part is muscle strength, which is best developed by specific exercises.
Effective core training for boxing
Adding a few sets of sit-ups at the end of each workout is not bad, but it’s usually not enough to develop all aspects of the core musculature needed for boxing. The core muscles are not just the abs. The core includes
- the abdominal muscles,
- the lower back muscles
- the lateral stabilizer muscles (internal and external obliques).
The old-school method of training the core involves doing hundreds (or even thousands) of reps of a few crunch variations. Think about all the videos you’ve seen of Mike Tyson, Marvin Hagler, Floyd Mayweather, or Golovkin doing endless sit-ups. If this worked for them, then it will work for you as well. But in the 21st century, we have the luxury of well-developed sports science and we know how to make training more effective.
The core muscles never work in isolation and are responsible for the following movements:
- Rotation and anti-rotation
- Lateral Flexion and anti-lateral flexion
- Extension and anti-extension
Boxing movements require all of the movements to some degree, so the best solution for training will be to develop the whole core equally. By just doing boxing-specific movements, you will develop your core muscles to a certain level, but using specific exercises and workouts will strengthen the muscles much faster and will improve your boxing game greatly.
12 exercises to build a core of steel
Now let’s get on with the 12 exercises. Some of these are the classic tried and tested crunches, which are best done in high rep ranges to improve muscle endurance, while others may be unfamiliar to you, but they are all very effective for developing strength for specific movements.
Many modern fitness trainers will tell you that regular sit-ups are a waste of time. Scientifically, this may hold some truth, but this did not stop Mike Tyson, Canelo, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, and many other world champions from doing them in the thousands and dominate in the ring. Sit-ups alone are not enough to build a steel core for boxing, but doing them in very high rep ranges has a lot of merit.
2. Hollow body hold
The hollow body hold is a gymnastic move not often seen in a boxing gym but one that will benefit every pugilist. The hollow body hold teaches you to create whole-body tension, which is what you need at the end of each punch.
This hold is a fundamental gymnastics position, and gymnasts may very well have the strongest cores of all athletes, so implementing it in your training regimen will surely benefit your overall athletic performance.
3. Hanging leg raise
Where the regular sit-ups target mostly the upper abs, leg raises focus on the lower portion. The hanging leg raises are the best and most difficult version, and as an added benefit to the core work, you get improved shoulders and a decompressed spine.
Starting directly with hanging leg raises may be too difficult, in which case you can begin raising your legs while laying on your back. Just like with most bodyweight exercises, there is a progression that you can follow and gradually build strength.
4. Paloff press
The Paloff press in an exercise with targets anti-rotation. It went from an unknown exercise with a strange name to a favorite for many fighters for its high effectiveness and ease of execution. It can be done with a simple band or with a cable. The Paloff press targets the obliques and lateral stabilizers without putting any strain on the spine.
5. Side plank
The side plank is a staple exercise in many boxing gyms to develop the anti-rotational properties of the core. It is a great way to develop the obliques and stabilize the spine. Without any equipment, side planks can be done in a few variations with progressive difficulty. You can start off on your forearm, then progress to a straight-arm side plank. Both feet can be touching the ground for a beginner’s variation, while more advanced people can try lifting their non-supporting leg in the air.
6. Lateral oblique hold
The most advanced of you may want to try to fry your obliques with the later oblique hold. You will need an extension machine, so this exercise is not for those training at home. But hanging for 20-30 seconds in this position will surely fire up your side trunk harder than anything else.
There probably isn’t a boxing gym in the world where people don’t do planks. This simple static hold exercise may not seem like much, but holding it for extended periods of time is very difficult. The plank can also double as a mental exercise. A group of 10 boxers all holding a plank to see who is the last man standing is a sure way to fire up the abdominals and build a little bit of mental fortitude.
With that said, there are better ways to use your plank time. It’s important to use proper technique when doing a plank (yes, there are good and bad ways to do it). More details on how to do a regular plank and how to progress the move:
8. Farmers walk
The farmer’s walk is a multipurpose exercise that not only improves anti-lateral flexion but also overloads the forearms and greatly improves grip strength, all of which increase punching power. The single-handed carry is actually called a suitcase carry and is significantly better for core muscle building than the standard farmer’s walk.
The suitcase carry is best done with a heavyweight (ideally a kettlebell). It’s also important to be done with a straight body and the weight held slightly away from the body to emphasize the lateral stabilizer muscles.
9. Ab wheel rollouts
The ab wheel rollout is a really good exercise that works much more than the abdominals. It targets anti-extension mainly but also works the glutes and hamstrings in the bottom phase. And if you roll all the way to the bottom, the return will strongly activate the lats as well.
As good as the ab wheel rollout is, there is a real danger of hurting the lower back, so perform the exercise with care and proper technique. Another way of doing a rollout is by using a barbell instead of a wheel which adds additional benefits to the exercise.
10. Russian twists
The Russian twist is a wonderful and simple exercise that includes rotation on top of a regular sit-up. By doing Russian twists, you work at the same time on the abs and the rotational strength of the torso.
It’s very easy to do and adds just about any time to your practice, which makes it a favorite core exercise for many boxers. To add more to the Russian twist, you can hold a medicine ball or a dumbbell in your hands.
11. Landmine rotation
The landmine rotation is a great exercise for the core because it involves more than one core action. By doing the landmine rotation, you promote anti-lateral flexion, anti-rotation, and hip flexion.
This exercise is often used by other athletes, but it actually lends itself best to boxers and other fighters. These are best done with foot pivoting. The only downside is that you need a specific piece of gear to execute it.
12. Medicine Ball Rotational Throw
Medicine ball rotational throws are great for martial arts. It increases rotational strength and is very close in mechanics to throwing a punch. You will use your legs and hips to generate force and throw the ball. Be sure to not use your arms and shoulders, but your trunk and hips. The best way to do these is against a wall because the ball comes back immediately. Another good way is to pass the med ball with a partner.
Check out this great video by Phil Daru showing the best way to implement this exercise below:
Hopefully, this article was able to inspire you to start or try some of these core strength exercises and implement them as part of your overall boxing training plan.
I highly recommend you also check my other related article on this topic below.
- 12 Benefits And Reasons To Start Shadowboxing
- 10 Exercises To Increase Your Punch Power For Boxing
- Roadwork For Boxing | Why Do Boxers Run?
- Weight Lifting For Boxing – Good Or Bad?
- 8 Balance And Coordination Exercises For Boxing
- How To Jump/Skip Rope Like A Boxer | A Helpful Guide
- Boxing Footwork Training Drills And Equipment
- How To Get A Boxer’s Body Using These Tips
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