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Roadwork: Why do Boxers Run?

 While few runners are boxers, nearly all boxers are runners. Strange? Contradictory? Perhaps, although there are some key differences between running to train for boxing and running to enjoy the sport of running.

For instance, runners typically train for one purpose, which is of course to develop their straight-line running speed and stamina.

However, boxers don't just move one direction or at one pace, and instead move backward, forward, up, down and sideways. They also need to develop explosive power and quickness, along with balance and coordination, all of which running alone won't fully accomplish.

And, there is even more to it than that.

In fact, let's fill you in on what you need to know about boxing roadwork, how it can help you become a better combat athlete, and how to correctly use it in your boxing workouts. 

What is Boxing Roadwork?

First, let's get one thing straight: boxing roadwork is NOT the same as distance running, nor should it be treated as such. If you want to be a runner, be a runner—nothing wrong with that. It's a great sport with many benefits, although preparing you for the ring isn't one of them.

However, let's start by looking at the iconic scene in "Rocky II" in which Sylvester Stallone runs through the streets of Philadelphia to the delight of dozens of his young followers.

In the scene, we see that rather than just jogging along at a steady state, Rocky shadowboxes and adds wind sprints, leaps over obstacles, side steps and stutter steps to his workout. He also finishes with a hard push up the 72 stairs leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (now known of as the "Rocky Steps," by the way), and then continues to move and shadow box at the top of the steps as he regains his breath. He throws his arms up dancing in victory as though his young followers are rabid fans cheering a knockout victory, and he never stops moving as he soaks it all in.

This all seems like something he randomly throws together just to entertain the kids, right?

No, since everything he does has an intended purpose to his training, right down to the dancing at the top of the steps.

For instance, we see Rocky begin with a steady-state warmup, after which he adds sprints and park bench hurdles in between lengths of easy jogging. He also keeps his hands up and moving through combos when he can, and uses obstacles, side-steps and stutter-steps to engage his muscles, improve his balance, and instil coordination.

And, that dance at the top of the steps with arms held high in victory?

That may arguably be one of the most important aspects of all, since in order to be the champ, he needs to see himself as the champ. No, this doesn't mean you need to make a spectacle of yourself at the end of every training run although using visualization can help you become a better fighter. 

  How to Incorporate Running into Your Training

Getting the most out of your roadwork means making sure it to reflects the rigors of a fight. This means avoiding the "old school" approach, which is to plod along slowly for miles-upon-miles. Yes, doing this does have cardiovascular benefits, but that's about it.

Instead, you need to mimic the bursts of intense power, quickness, constant motion and stability you need in the ring.

As with any workout, it all starts with a good warmup, which for running should come in the form of a slow and steady jog. This usually means about 1.5-kilometres (around 10-minutes) of steady-state running at a pace easy enough to hold a conversation without running out of breath. Getting the hands up and working through combos is also recommended during the warmup, which will help engage upper body and core muscles along while instilling focus and visualization.

Once the warmup is complete you can begin short sprints of around 100-metres each followed by slow jogging and shadowboxing for around 150-metres. The sprints need to be at an anaerobic pace, which means running hard enough so that speech is nearly impossible, and recovery should be a slow jog of around twice the duration of the sprint (20 seconds on followed by 40 seconds off, for instance).

Doing this is what is called "high intensity interval training (HIIT)," which not only improves muscle strength and power, but also aerobic endurance, anaerobic endurance, and your body's ability to burn fat.

However, we also need to remember that this is boxing we are talking about here, which rarely requires straight line speed and power. In fact, most of the time boxers move sideways, backward, up and down.

This means that lateral movement, upper body movement and even running backward should also be added to a running workout to better mimic the game of boxing.

This can mean using:

  • Stutter-steps and side hops—These can be done during recovery periods along with shadow boxing to help engage different muscles along with improving balance and coordination. Do side-to-side hops while evading imaginary punches before stutter-stepping suddenly and unpredictably and continuing.
  • Burpees, squats and "boxer's push-ups"—These can be added in between wind sprints and can also be part of shadow boxing and visualization. For instance, boxer's push-ups are an evasive technique in which you drop to the canvas and pop back up using what is essentially a burpee and can be done while shadow boxing to avoid an "opponent's" punch and keep core and upper body muscles engaged. You can also stop trailside and do burpees, squats, or even chin yourself using playground equipment or tree branches before resuming the run, although remember to keep moving and keep all your recovery active.
  • Stairs and hills—Pushing hard up stairs or hills is also an excellent way to add intensity to intervals. Remember too that this works in both directions, since downhill (or downstairs) running is also a great way to engage your quads, although due to risk of injury, running downhill should be limited to an active recovery pace only.
  • Running backward—Running backward can be done in place of a regular interval and is a great way to engage quads and other muscles not utilized in forward motion. Remember that boxing often requires moving backward quickly, and backward running also helps develop coordination and balance. 


While the idea of boxing roadwork may have you envisioning jogging along for endless miles, it needs to be more than that.

In fact, by making your roadwork reflect the intensity, quickness and rhythm of boxing, you can not only gain the strength and stamina you need in the ring but the mental vision of winning as well.

Plus, mixing it up on the road doesn't just prepare for the ring, it also keeps your workouts from becoming boring—which is something steady-state jogging almost always is!

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