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?
let me do the honor of the first one to comment on such a beautiful article. I thought that fighting endurance is only connected with running and exercise, but Mr. Johnny hit it good here where he explained more factors that affects ones fighting endurance; such as the mental aspect of the game. Its true that our physical self will have its limits sometime but our mind will take it further. To exagerate things, i will say a fighter with a good mental conditioning (such as Mr. Johnny has explained) can go on 20 rounds if his mind can take it further compared to a negative thinking guy who has the same level of physcal attributes.
Our bodies are our weapon, but the mind controls it. Its no different from a sword where a good sword with a good handler can win battles, compared with a good sword handled buy a less skilled swordsman
Johnny i got a problem, i’ve been boxing for 3 months and everytime i fight my nose stars bleeding, is that normal? its just like, they land a jab and i start bleeding, what can i do?
It’s normal for some people. There are many reasons for it and I’m not doctor so I can’t tell you exactly what and why. My brother had the same problem for a while and then it went away on its own. I would say make sure you stay hydrated.
Well this week suddenly my nose stopped bleeding, thanks anyway and congratulations 🙂 i love your site
Hahaha! You are now one step closer to becoming super-human. Spar harder, my friend!
i need help i carnt fight
I had the same problem. I asked my trainer why my nose keeps bleeding, he said cuz u keep gettin’ hit. One day I took a hard uppercut that fractured the bridge of my nose. I sat out for 6 weeks to recover and when I came back, hasn’t bled since. My dr said it would heal back stronger than before.
another good article, but The Mental Aspects of Fighting Endurance is golden. thats some good readin’.
“Shadowboxing is the best exercise to build muscle memory.”
Soooo when is that article on how to shadowbox coming out?
Great read as always Coach Johnny!
In the nearby future, I hope. Thanks Keitharino.
Johnny N, I know your being nice! Keitharino….what Johnny should have said is, “YOU need an article on how to practice your punch and kick in thin air…?” I suggest you walk away from the ring my friend.
Thank you for the time you take to share your knowledge with us. I use a lot of this, where applicable, to my Muay Thai training. It’s great reading about the art while you are not doing it. It makes you even more keen to get back in the gym and try out new things. Regards
Very nice article, specially the part about the mental aspects of endurance. Thanks!
Another thing to consder is that when you feel exhausted, there is a good chance that your opponent is just as tired. I try to engage them at this point and see how they respond.. a lot of times they toss a weak survival jab out there and it rebuilds my confidence momentarily to know hes just as much if not more tired! Great article Johnny!
Great article thanks. When sparring similar to lower levels I have no issues with endurance as I pick my punches because I have more time. However when I spar higher ability fighters I’m absolutely drained and brought up liquid I’ve drank to rehydrate which has been more embarrassing than being drained. The advice from these fighters is I should throw more punches! I find its more mental tiredness from sparring these guys and would love to spar more but I only last 2 maybe 3 rounds! Help
Hey johnny . I notice that when I train regulary n in good physical condition
I do well in sparring . When I don’t train throughout the week n spar at the end of the week I don’t do have as well. When I train regularly throughout the week I have confidence when sparring . So my physical condition seems to control my mental conditioning . How do I have my mental control my physicalperfotmance . Cuz I seen guys who barely train but do well in sparring
The ones who do well without training are the ones who are comfortable enough with fighting. It looks to me like you’re not on their level yet. Take your time; you’ll get there soon enough.
Johnny, this is a great article to learn from. Thanks so much! Unfortunately, my boxer friend is one who smokes weed and I keep telling him that it will break him down. He is a great fighter you know?! Can you please clarify what weed can do to a fighter so he can see this message himself? Thankyou sir.
I don’t know the effects of weed on a fighter so I can’t say anything about it. It’s his loss if he wants to be distracted by marijuana and let it distract him from bigger things in life.
thx this realy helped
how do you feel about the ELEVATION MASK and the 2.0 Model ?
I feel like it’s hype. Sounds cool in theory but several of my friends who used it noticed no real difference in results.
I LOVE YOU JOHNNY
Hey Johnny . Here is my question . I’m 23 years old and about 6 feet tall and 200 pounds . I worked out for 2,3 years . You think boxing is good for me ? Is it late for me to start boxing as career ?
Please guide me about this .
Thanks a lot for your great site it’s really helpful .
Go to a gym and see for yourself if you’re too late or not.
Really impressive ,it’s one of the best article that i read.
But i have some questions: Does the fighting style have any impact?
During the fight or the sparing , it’s true that we have to fix small targets?Like we aim to connect jabs or combo ,or even one big punch?
It Is true that only physical and technical aptitude determine a good fighter?
Fighting style has a huge impact. Not necessarily the fighting style you use, but you’re ability to use that fighting style to adapt to your opponent’s style. Skills, training, and a LOT of hard work!
Monkey Muay Thai
So I’ve switched from karate and Taekwondo fighting to muay thai and here’s the difference. With the first two the ref will stop the fight after each perceived point or strike (giving a small rest which i didn’t think was a big deal). But in MT (or boxing) it is continuous sparring (with no little rests!) and even 2, 3, or 5 minute rounds (in class) feel like forever! OMG. I thought I was in pretty good shape. Now I know I need more aerobic training because I am gasping for air after only 2 minutes!
WUAAAU, ME GUSTA ESTA PAGINA SERA UNA DE MIS PREFERIDAS DESDE HOY POR EL ALTO NIVEL DE INFORMACIÓN QUE DA SOBRE ESTE DEPORTE BOX.
Hola Daniel, haz clic aquí 🙂 : http://www.expertboxing.es
what is th diferent betwen the automatic skills and muscle memory plz
They sound a bit like the same. But I think muscle memory is being able to make a move easily and effortlessly. Automatic skills feels more to me like a natural reflex.
Hey Johnny, I’ve just started training and have already had about three sparring sessions. The problem is that I feel that I’m far too tense and I feel that tires me out faster than anything. Any tips on how to be less tense? Also, its seems that my anger really helps me in a sparring session. But I know that using your anger is a bad thing. Any other tips on how to use my anger in a way that’s going to help me?
Anger won’t help much if you don’t know how to control it. As for learning how to relax, that comes with time. You have to spar more and more and do it so much that it becomes comfortable to you and that you don’t get over-excited or over-emotional (angry) about it.
Hey Johnny , theres so many things I would like to do during sparring like being able to jump in and out with beatiful footwork , and land my punches beatifully & weave punches in such a beatiful way but when I spar , I try it but I can’t do it how I want .I feel to slow to land my punches beatifully . And when I try to weave punches im either to tired or if I do weave punches I do it in a really ugly way . And I dont like my stance sometimes . I stand too straight up and I dont really move my waist a lot . I would love to master the art but I dont have the endurance, I will try everything in here . Thank you very much .
Keep practicing, Jose. Do what you can and work from there. Advanced skills come with time.
I want to congratulate writing ariticle which is true to the facts and easy to read. It’s great that other people can actualy learn something. I liked that part about increasing stamina and technique. I can confirm that when running the capacity of your lungs expand. It does not contribute to the power of your kicks, but it is still invaluable. You can run around the ring and be gereraly fresher. Your legs are your foundations. When weak, no shot will be powerful enough. As you said Johnny, don’t expect that after jogging 5 miles a day your shots will be substantially stronger. You will gain some endurance on an avarage level. If I can add somethng from myself: run a lot and increase the distance how you feel comfortable. When you run, do intervals: run as fast as you can for 10-15 sek and than relax jogging. It will build strength in your legs. Running will also increase your endurance. I mentioned kicking before, as my background is thaiboxing. Love, people…
Thanks for this marvelous article …
I am 33 and I have started boxing training around 7 months ago.
I am enjoying it a lot but I am still having issues with my cardio … my heart rate goes up very quickly during my training sessions which I guess is normal … and goes down fairly quickly but it doesn’t go back to my resting rate especially when I am standing up … I guess it has to do with gravity as I am tall guys (6.2).
I have no issues with my heart (checked it with a physician). But I am always the first person to get tired… even against people who look less fit than me, i.e. fat.
My average is 2 sessions of intense training and one less intense a week.
I was told that having a desk job can affect your cardio and heart recovery speed as sitting down for long periods every day trains your heart to do less work, is this nonsense or there is some truth to it?
Do you have any recommendation for me to improve my cardio?
Having a desk job can certainly make your body less athletic and more sedentary. As for advice to improving your cardio, check out my “EASY Boxing Workout”.
I recently got sucker punched in the upper lip.I have a small bump on upper inner lip because of piercing.Is this normal.I am training for exercise.I hate to say it I returned the same punch about five days later.I am not proud but feel it had to be done.? Normally how does a lip piercing heal? Thanks
I don’t have a trainer, is that bad? Boxing is my life and I hope to one even become pro. In a way I kind of feel like your my trainer. Other than you I have no one to go to when I have a question about if I’m doing something right or wrong. I’m only 14 so I still have a lot of room to grow as a fighter, what is your advice about not having a trainer for that sense of guidance and improvement?
Maybe you don’t have ONE trainer but it’s still important to learn from others. Find a way. Talk to friends, read online, but yes…find a way.
Shadow box, Shadow box, shadow box. Develope a workout routine to grow bigger muscles now since you are young. Simple movements like push ups squats and crunches and pull ups. When you hit your growth surge your muscles will adapt and you will be defined as a “natural” because your body will grow into it. So you would be ahead of the game physically so now you can work on technicality
I had a question
Would running long distance at a steady pace work better than short intense HiIIT running sessions, or are both good?
How long should a 12 round boxer take off from sex?
How long should a pro boxer take off from sex
When competing in amateurs, is it better to do normal 30-60 minute roadwork, or anaerobic stuff more? I’m assuming it’s the latter, and if so, what are good boxing anaerobic exercises and times? Sprinting until I can’t breathe is good painful fun, but it’s always hell on my ankles. What are some anaerobic jump rope tricks, and what intervals would be advised? Any other interval drills that one can do?
you mentioned pushups for endurance. right now, i max out at 14 reps and even that’s a struggle. my whole upper body feels so heavy around 10. on the other hand, i mostly do 5 reps most of the time but really grind it out. time under tension and all that. and sometimes it’s a breeze. but there seems to be no carryover when i try to do high rep push ups. from the slow rep training i’ve been doing i should be repping out 30 atleast but that hasn’t happened.
from my push up training can you tell i’m strong if at all but lack endurance? would i be able to throw strong punches all thru the round or is that a tall order?
how am i benefiting from my time under tension tactic? should i just focus on doing a lot of reps from now on ?
Very good and interesting reading. I am a fighter coming off a long break from the sport and that reading has put me in the right direction. Thank you for your help.
Hy khona, what is the best runing program for boxing for cardio for me I practice 100meters for10 time and 30second between rounds and the second 400 meters for 5 times and 1 minute between the rounds is that good
Hi Akram, I think you should do high intensity cardio once or twice a week and focus on your low intensity (heart rate between 130-150) long distance cardio 2-4 times a week to maximize eccentric hypertrophy of the heart.
I’d like to stress the fact that core strength is vital.
Its the most important muscle group for any martial arts and why boxers, thai boxers, etc, do hundreds of crunches each training.
I want to stress it because I long avoided ab training, especially as many modern advice states that crunches are no good for the body, isolation ab work is unncessary, etc. This is complete bullshit. I noticed it when I started boxing and noticed my core was weak as hell and I had no muscle endurance doing crunches.
Crunches and reverse leg raise crunches help. Alot. If there is a single strength exercise you need for boxing, its to train your abs. Not your arms, pecs, or anything else. Trust me.
Yeaup! It’s complete BS! Good on you for seeing for yourself. But with that said, there are many great core exercises besides crunches as well.
Hi Johhny, I’m 63 years old I just started boxing again after a 35 year lay off.
I’ve been training for 6 months now just shadow boxing. I gas out after 8 / 3 minute rounds.
Same with jumping rope, I’m lucky if I can do 2 / 3 minute rounds before I’m completely fatigued.
What can I do to to increase my stamina / endurance? I’ve plateaued & I can’t get passed where I am at the moment. Thanks.
Awesome thanks for the tips
Thanks Johnny–I first read your jumping rope for boxing article 8 years ago
I was a football Coach and Air Force Officer–We used to do slow grueling long runs
Nothing and I mean nothing compares to jumping rope
20 Minutes + and you are bouncy, quick, alert–and juiced with stamina
Keep it up…Thanks for the great articles
Every little bit helps