The image of a lean and muscled boxer has become iconic in contact sports circles - but also raises quite a few questions concerning the muscle-building effects of boxing training itself.
Are the physiques of high-level boxing athletes a product of specially crafted training, or a secondary effect of their sport? Do boxers need to include bodybuilding exercises so as to achieve greater muscle mass, or are boxing workouts enough?
To put it short, boxing does indeed build muscle, especially in regards to muscular endurance and power.
However, in comparison to athletes that specifically train for building muscle, boxers will often experience less muscular hypertrophy and gross strength adaptations, making the physique of a boxer closer to that of a sprinter or marathon runner than a bodybuilder or powerlifter.
Boxing is a rather taxing sport that recruits practically every muscle found in the human body.
Muscle groups of note are that of the serratus anterior or “boxer’s muscle”, the latissimus dorsi, the abdominal muscles, the biceps brachii and the calves - each of these muscle groups play a vitally important role in executing a powerful strike, and boxers would be otherwise ineffective without developing such muscles.
Other muscle groups that can play a rather important role in a boxing bout are the deltoids, the rest of the core musculature, the quadriceps femoris and the pectoral muscles.
While a round of boxing is considered to be a pretty intense full-body workout, not all of these muscles grow to the same extent as the others.
Due to differences in muscle mass, response to certain types of stimulus and the sort of movements involved in boxing, specific muscles will grow far better from boxing than others.
As any boxing coach will tell you, the force behind a powerful strike is not produced from the upper body, but instead from pushing against the ground and translating this force through the arms.
Considering the fact that the calves are the muscles that are closest to the floor, it is no surprise that they are also the muscles that are stimulated to the greatest degree during most boxing-focused training sessions.
Furthermore, the muscle fibers that make up the gastrocnemius and the soleus are of the sort that respond quite effectively to high levels of volume, rather than intense levels of resistance. This is doubly suitable for boxers, who may recruit their calves dozens of times within several seconds so as to strike, dodge a blow or otherwise move about the ring.
The musculature of the core encompasses the abdominal muscles on the anterior side of the torso, alongside stabilizing muscle groups of the back.
Because of the positioning and reach of these muscle groups, nearly every action taken by an individual will involve the core muscles to a certain extent.
This is even more applicable to boxing athletes, who require their core to translate force from the legs to their arms, or to otherwise withstand blows to the body without being knocked down.
Though the muscles of the core do not hypertrophy in a significantly noticeable manner, individuals who follow boxing training will often note a more stable and powerful set of abdominal muscles over time - as well as a reduced chance of injury as the core muscles become accustomed to force.
Just as the calves are responsible for generating much of the power behind a successful strike, the muscles of the quadriceps femoris and those of the hamstrings are also quite important.
Being placed around the upper thigh so as to maximize motion and force output, these two muscle groups are among the most effective for executing any movements involving the legs - including walking, bracing oneself for a blow or otherwise throwing a punch.
This sort of frequent stimulus compounds with the fact that the quadriceps and hamstrings are among the largest muscle groups found in the human body, meaning that boxers will often notice significant growth in terms of mass and power in these two muscles as they train for their sport.
Rotation and movement of the hips is another vitally important biomechanic in the sport of boxing, as proper striking form involves a twisting of the pelvis and waist so as to maximize force output through the body.
Furthermore, rapid movements such as weaving, dodging or otherwise maintaining proper movement cadence are all loosely related to the manner in which the hip flexors are recruited.
As such - though it is unlikely that any significant muscular hypertrophy will be encountered for such muscles, boxers will nonetheless note improvements in strength, coordination and endurance of their hip flexors.
The deltoid or shoulder muscle is divided into three axial heads, with the anterior or front-facing deltoid head being responsible for stabilization and movement of the arm during exercise.
For the sport of boxing, the anterior deltoid head both aids in force-translation through the arm while executing a punch, as well as maintaining the boxer’s guard while within the ring.
While the other two heads of the deltoids are also responsible for these actions to some degree, it is the anterior deltoid head that receives the greatest level of stimulus and thereby also develops to the greatest level as well.
The upper arm consists of the biceps brachii, triceps brachii and brachialis - three muscle groups that are recruited to a significant degree during any movement involving the arms.
For boxers, this can be seen when the brachialis is recruited during a jab, or the biceps during an upper-cut. The triceps also play a significant role in humeral adduction as well, meaning that they are recruited during any sort of motion that features the arm moving away from the body.
This sort of frequent muscular recruitment meshes quite well with the low-bodyfat of the arm and the relatively large size of these muscle groups, with boxing athletes often developing lean and relatively muscular upper arms without specifically training for such muscular growth.
Perhaps the most iconic pair of exercises to come out of the sport of boxing, striking a punching bag or otherwise practicing boxing without any sort of equipment is considered to be an excellent muscle-building workout of the entire body.
While shadow boxing applies little to no resistance and therefore is less likely to result in muscular development, the resistance encountered when hitting a punching bag is often enough to result in hypertrophy and strength adaptations over time.
Muscles trained in this way are often likely to develop by small increments in terms of size, but otherwise make great advancements in strength and endurance - especially those of the core, calves, serratus and back muscles.
An aerobic exercise frequently performed by boxing athletes, mountain climbers train the smaller muscle groups utilized during boxing alongside the cardiovascular system - making them particularly useful for sprinters or combat sports athletes.
In particular, mountain climbers are quite effective at training the muscles of the core, as well as the two muscle groups that make up the calves.
These two often-forgotten muscle groups are vital to executing practically any movement within the sport of boxing, and will undergo significant hypertrophy and endurance developments from the execution of mountain climbers.
A classic bodyweight exercise that has been performed by boxers for decades, the push-up is quite effective at training the pectoral muscles, serratus anterior, deltoids and triceps brachii of the upper body.
Each of these muscle groups are vitally important for control and translation of force in the sport of boxing, and will generally respond quite effectively to the sort of training stimuli produced by a set of push-ups.
Due to the anaerobic and relatively high-resistance nature of push-ups, significant hypertrophy and strength development will be encountered in these muscles, creating a more powerful and muscular upper body for the boxer.
The jump rope is another aerobic exercise commonly seen in boxing training programs, wherein it functions as a method of mastering proper cadence and improving the agility of the athlete.
A lesser known benefit of jump rope is in its capacity to develop the muscles of the calves and core.
The jumping motion featured in a set of jump rope will often involve the entire bodyweight being launched off the ground with the lower body as the main source of power, resulting in significant resistance being placed repeatedly on the muscles of the calves.
Alongside this are the small movements made by the muscles of the core so as to stabilize the body while it is in the air, resulting in some level of development therein as well.
Though exercise is doubtless quite important for muscle growth within the sport of boxing, it is not sufficient to ensure that such muscle growth occurs alone.
Other factors of the boxer’s lifestyle must also be brought into account, such as giving these muscles sufficient time to recover, as well as supplying them with the proper materials with which they may do so.
Ensuring that the boxer consumes enough protein and calories is one step in the correct direction, but they must also take time off between training sessions - something that the rigorous training of a competitive boxer does not allow.
As such, to avoid overtraining, many modern-day boxers have taken to a method of training known as periodization, wherein the intensity and kind of exercises employed will vary. This ensures that the body is allowed to recover as needed.
Yes - boxing is an excellent sport for developing the muscles of an athlete.
While it is unlikely that an individual training for boxing will develop muscle mass or strength as rapidly as their bodybuilder or powerlifting counterparts, they will nonetheless build a solid and powerful physique within a relatively short length of time.
To maximize muscle growth from boxing, ensure that sufficient nutritive intake is being followed, alongside the right rest and recovery protocols.
Boxers build muscle by employing a variety of exercises that improve both their boxing-specific athletic skills alongside the condition of their body.
The majority of these exercises are of a compound nature and recruit the entire skeletal muscle system in a single repetition, ensuring that the boxer’s physique develops in an equal and functional capacity.
Of course, this development of the musculature is aided by other factors like aerobic exercise, a proper diet, training program structuring and adherence to correct workout methodology.
Yes - in fact, boxing is among one of the most calorically-taxing sports out there. The frequent usage of high-intensity bouts of aerobic exercise alongside anaerobic exercise and high levels of conditioning equate to boxers burning a great deal of fat within a relatively short amount of time.
Combining this with the moderate muscular development also encountered during boxing workouts will equate to individuals becoming “ripped” as a result of their boxing training.
So - does boxing build muscle? Without a doubt, yes.
However, the type of muscle building, as well as the quality therein, will depend on a number of factors pertaining to the athlete’s lifestyle and diet.
Furthermore, if your muscle-building goals skew more towards pure mass or powerlifting exercises, it may be best to choose a different sport, as boxing produces the sort of physique that is lean and toned but less bulky, and less geared towards strict free weight exercises.
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