Does Boxing Build Muscle? What Role Does Muscle Play in Boxing?

It’s not uncommon for any athlete of any kind to seek having a muscular body. This is no different in the case of boxers. However, it’s usually more complicated in their case since some of them can’t surpass a certain weight limit to even be eligible to compete.

But, as a big fan of MMA and boxing in general, it has always intrigued me whether or not boxing plays a role in building muscle. This led me to do some research on this idea, and I’ve stumbled upon a few important things that I want to share with you today.


The Basics of Building MuscleHow to build muscles in general

Being an athlete, having a proper muscle mass might be a deciding factor on whether or not you can win against your opponents. This is the case for all kinds of athletes, including boxers.

Even if you’re an average joe, it does matter to have some muscle on your body; it’ll help you function, look, and generally feel way better in your day to day life.

Nowadays, most people who lift weights do it to build muscle, regardless of whether they’re professionals or common folk. However, if you’ve tried gaining some muscle before, then you already know that it’s not that easy of a task.

Still, just because it’s not that easy doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s complex. On the contrary, it actually comes down to three, easy to memorize principles:

  • Progressively lift more weight
  • Consume more calories than you burn
  • Give your body enough rest to recover properly

On the topic of boxing, though, it might come as a surprise to many people that some big boxing stars, such as Holyfield and Mike Tyson, look very muscular even though they implement little to no weight training in their workout routine.


Do Boxers Even Need to Build Muscle?Do Boxers Even Need to Build Muscle

I know, I know. Having big muscles does seem impressive on athletes. But, believe it or not, boxers don’t actually require big muscles to win. And over the history of boxing, some of the best fighters out there haven’t relied much on single punch knockouts, a move that requires a decent amount of muscle.

For example, Floyd Mayweather rarely attempted to knock his opponents out throughout his career. Instead, he relied on his movement, accuracy, and intelligence to reign supreme for numerous years. The same goes for other boxers like Sergio Martinez and VasylLomachenko, who never had any large muscles, but instead relied on their incredible movement and speed.

However, there is no denying that most boxers eventually move up the weight classes, which means that the threat of the single punch K.O. becomes greater, necessitating greater muscle mass.

Once they make it to the heavyweight level, they won’t have to worry about gaining more weight, which means that they can have muscles that are as big as they wish them to be.

But there comes a point where having extra weight becomes a disadvantage, as it requires more energy and can harm agility and movement.

Here are a few reasons why muscles can be a bad thing for boxers at some point:

  • Muscles may give boxers a false sense of security
  • Muscles can slow them down and reduce the speed of their arms
  • More muscle means more oxygen, of which we have a limited supply each certain period of time

So, Boxers Don’t Need Huge Muscles?

does boxing training build muscle

As I’ve explained before, the temptation that some boxers get to have larger biceps and triceps is usually based around the idea of being able to unleash that one knockout blow.

However, when giving it some thought, you’ll realize that an accurate and powerful punch doesn’t really come from the arm muscles, but it instead starts all the way from your legs.

Calf muscles push off from the ground, engaging the rotation of your hips as a result, which propels your upper body into the opponent. This rotation of the shoulder and movement of the arm generate the necessary speed for the punch.

In other words, it’s mostly about speed, and not sheer force, as some might believe. Speed is the one common thing between all of the most impressive punches ever delivered in boxing history.

Why do you think speed bags are such a popular piece of boxing gear for the elite boxers?

To put it simply, sheer force without speed won’t do you any good inside a boxing ring, and adding more muscle than your body needs will more than often end up affecting your speed.

However, reality shows us that almost all boxers still do some type of weight training. The only thing that differs is what kind of regime they implement, which is usually completely different from that of a bodybuilder, for example.

To be more specific, boxers usually lift lighter weights for more reps in order to keep their muscles lean and fast, for optimum performance when boxing.

Again, there are many exceptions to the rule, such as Mike Tyson, who has managed to build an impressive body without implementing any kind of heavy weight training in his workout.

So, how did he pull that off?


With Boxing Training Alone Can I Build Muscle?Can you build muscles with boxing training alone

As I’ve explained before, there is no escaping the simple fact that building muscles equals increasing your weight, which is something that not many boxers appreciate or need.

So, the next thing that comes to mind is: can a boxer rely on their profession instead of lifting weights to build and tone muscle? And the simple answer is, yes.

The whole gist of building muscle is doing more than your body feels like it’s capable of doing. This is the main reason why lifting heavy weights in short reps is one of the best ways to do it.

It’s a simple equation, really the exercises basically tell your body that it’s weak as is and that it needs to generate more muscle so that it can handle the weights better next time around.

If you’re lifting smaller weights with many reps, however, then what you’re doing is toning your muscles and not building them. In other words, lifting weights doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to build muscle. It’s possible not to build any while doing weights or build some while doing other types of exercises.

In Contrast

In contrast, you’re more than capable of adding muscle to your body while you’re away from the gym.

This can be achieved by doing squats, chin-ups, pull-ups, press-ups, etc. To put it short, continuously pushing your body with these exercises will help your build more muscle and, as a result, increase your overall strength.

What I mean to say is that boxers shouldn’t and usually wouldn’t exclude weight training from their workout routines, but they just have to do it in the right way depending on what their end goal might be.

For example, different weight classes could require different training styles. A welterweight fighter, for example, muscle mass isn’t really important since you’ll be relying on other skills to overcome your opponent.

However, once you’re at welterweight or above, you’ll start to notice that body mass and one-punch knockouts become more of a factor. Some fighters get that bigger body mass naturally, while others end up having to work hard for it.

Heavyweights are usually looked at in an envious way by other levels of boxers. This is mainly because they can add all the gains that they wish to add. However, there comes a point where this body mass will become more of a disadvantage rather than an advantage.


Can I Get Abs from Boxing? What About Big Arms?Can you get Abs and Big arms from boxing

Can You Get Abs from Boxing?Can you get abs from boxing

To put it short, yes, you can. Building stronger abs depends on two factors: calories and muscle, both of which can be dealt with through boxing.

Calories

In order to fine tone any muscle in your body, you’ll need to focus on your body fat percentage. If you wish to be able to see your abdominal muscles clearly, for example, then you need to make sure that the levels of fat on your torso are kept at a minimum.

However, you can’t really focus on the fat of that specific part, and you will have to do it in a broader way instead. In other words, you got to try and decrease your body fat percentage across the board. There are several ways to reach this outcome, and boxing is one of them.

It’s a proven fact that almost every boxing technique is a huge calorie burner in the long run. Exercises like skipping, sparring, running, and heavy bag workouts all burn a great number of calories over time. This is especially the case if you’re someone who has a good amount of stamina. It’s also up there alongside cardio and other calorie-burning exercises.

All in all, boxing and the different exercises that come with it are a great way to build some abdominal muscles over time.

Muscle

Logically speaking, if you’re using any part of your body a lot, then its muscle definition will most likely increase, and so will their visibility. Of course, this only happens if you manage to lower your body fat properly, as I’ve mentioned above. Long story short, the more ab exercises you do, for example, the larger your abdomen muscles will get.

Fortunately for you (and me), boxing is one of the best ways of gaining muscle definition. All the punching and the body movements that are usually involved in your boxing training will have a direct impact on how your muscles form.

However, keep in mind that you shouldn’t be too focused on a single body part while exercising because you’ll end up creating an imbalance.

All in all, getting refined muscles isn’t really the result of one thing, but rather a number of different things working together. You’ll need to find a balance between your calorie burning and muscle building.

In other words, eat right and train right, and you’ll see your body transform before your own eyes.

Once again, I can’t stress enough how good boxing is of an exercise if muscle building is one of your main goals, especially when it comes to abs.

What About Big Arms?Can you get big arms from boxing

Does boxing help tone your arms? Of course, it does. But is it enough? Not really.

As I’ve continually demonstrated above, boxing will most definitely help you lose fat and build muscle to a certain extent.

However, it probably won’t be enough for you to get all toned up. In order to reach a noticeable effect, you’ll have to be training constantly.

I recommend that you add some arm weight exercises into your boxing workouts, which will help you cut into that calorie intake of yours as well as losing some fat.


How Do Boxers Build Muscle Without Lifting Weights?

The question that some of you have probably been asking ever since you started reading is exactly what kind of exercises, excluding lifting weights, do boxers do to build muscle. I mean can hitting the punching bag build muscle all on it’s own? Or are boxers adding in other exercises to build their physiques?

If you’re a boxer who wants to add some extra muscle without losing a lot of weight, here’s what you can do:

Calisthenics

These are gymnastic exercises that focus on body training and strength. It’s known to improve strength, posture, and body compositions, among other things.

One obvious advantage of these exercises is the fact that you won’t be needing to use any major gym equipment to perform them. No need for a squat rack or home gym, all you need is your bodyweight.

Numerous studies have shown that men who perform calisthenics manage to drastically lower body fat percentages while also increasing muscle without the need to lift any weights.

Moreover, calisthenics exercises can cover any and every part of the body.

Upper Body CalisthenicsUpper Body Calisthenics, like push ups, help boxers gain muscles without lifting weights or without using any exercise machines

Calisthenics exercises for the upper body include the famous pushup and its variations, like incline, decline, diamond, wide, handstand pushups, etc. In addition to being an all in all great exercise to burn fat and build muscle, pushup exercises also increase the muscle mass of parts such as the chest and shoulders.

You can also perform triceps dips, dip holds, back calisthenics, kip ups, diamond pushups, etc.

Abdominal CalisthenicsAbdominal Calisthenics help boxers gain muscles without without using any exercise machines or lifting weights

Abs can be worked on through numerous different exercises, most of which are great for gaining muscles and burning fat without adding any extra body weight.

For boxers, I recommend that you focus on planks and leg raises because not only will you be working your ab muscles but also your arms and legs. These exercises are also great for burning calories and maintaining a perfect posture.

Some additional ab exercises include flutter kicks, starfish, bicycles, side planks, etc.

Leg CalisthenicsLeg Calisthenics help boxers get better lower body muscles without using any exercise machines

It’s a known fact that the legs are one of the more challenging muscle groups to build, and there are only a few exercises that you can utilize to pump them up.

The most common of these exercises are squats, which help work both your legs and glutes. You can also do lunges, calf raises, and wall sits, all of which are equally as good as squatting.

Another great thing that you should keep in mind is the fact that when throughout your full-body exercises, your legs are constantly workings, especially in workouts that require you to stand.


Cardio

While it is true that cardio isn’t really the best type of exercises out there to build muscle or bulk up a bit, it still is a great way of maintaining the muscle mass that you’ve built by doing other stuff.

It’s an ideal workout for boxers since it requires a lot of cardiovascular conditioning which is essential for the elite boxers who need to have enough gas in the tank to be able to make it through those final championship boxing rounds.

Sparring, jumping rope, pad work, running on the treadmill, and many more exercises should be key components in every boxers’ workout.

Jumping Rope ExercisesJumping Rope Exercises help boxers gain muscles without using any exercise machines or lifting weights

Boxers performing jump rope exercises will benefit in different ways:

  • Weightless exercises
  • Increases stamina
  • Improves endurance
  • Improves footwork

It also improves your coordination and power conditioning. It prepares you for the on-court action.
Additionally, these exercises reduce your body fat and can noticeably increase muscle visibility if done right. Indeed, it is one of the main reasons why boxers look so muscular at times.

SparringSparring helps boxers build muscles without lifting weights

Then there is sparring, which is yet another great technique that you use to build some muscle. It’s also great for getting in shape and practicing your form for the ring.

It is also extremely helpful for mastering both your defense and offense if done properly through a series of drills with a partner.

Sparring comes with a series of techniques such as footwork and tap sparring. The former is basically you practicing a series of shuffles forward and backward and from side to another with your partner.
The main aim of whoever is following is to always stay within punching distance of the other person.

Tap sparring, on the other hand, is yet another exercise that doesn’t utilize any training gloves. Its main idea is to touch your partners’ shoulders within punching range but without actually punching them.

Keep in mind that even though you are not actually punching it is always recommend to wear your boxing headgear not only for protection but also to simulate real world training. You do not need to be wearing full blown face saving headgear but some protection is still recommended.

This exercise is a great choice for beginners who are just starting to get comfortable with their form and reaction time.


Punching Bag WorkoutsPunching Bag Workouts help boxers in gaining muscle mass without lifting weights

A punching bag is a great way to gain muscles for boxing – lean and powerful ones, to be exact. It’ll also help you gain a great deal of endurance in addition to building muscle.

Additionally, you can switch between the speed bag, which will help you gain speed (duh), the reflex bag, which improves your reflex timing, and the heavy bag, which is the choice when it comes to trying to gain punching power. There is also the fact that you’ll be burning loads of calories in the process.

During boxing, you utilize your entire body at all times, and using a punching bag will help you tone many of your body muscles, including your pectorals (chest muscles), triceps (back of your arms), glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings (your legs), and your abs, etc.

Here are a few workouts that you can perform using a punching bag. Any bag will do, whether its a full size 100 lb heavy bag or a smaller apartment bag does not not matter. But don’t forget to warm-up first and gradually and slowly start your training.

A Simple Set of CombosA Simple Set of punching bag Combos that help boxers build muscles

Once you’re done warming up, you then start doing a simple set of punching combinations. Firstly, start with light hitting at a slow speed. Then, start doing simple combos such as jabs, hooks, cross, uppercuts, etc. Once that is done, start moving around the punching bag more quickly to get your heart rate up.

Fast Hitting Combos

Start by adding a variety of punches at a much faster pace than the previous section. Constant speed will help you improve your accuracy. The intensity and speed are also a great way to utilize many different muscle groups simultaneously.

Found this video that illustrates this point

Tabata Style Punching Intervals

Tabata is basically an interval training that alternates between a 20 seconds high-speed drill and 10 seconds of rest for a total of 8 sets in a row. Your objective is to throw as many punches as you possibly can in those 20 seconds, which will help you develop more cardio endurance, in addition to speed and stamina.

This video illustrates the Tabata style punching intervals

Power PunchingPower punching helps boxers in building muscles without lifting weights

Next up, I recommend that you try and develop a series of basic moves with which you’ll hit the bag as heavy as you can. Don’t forget to focus on accuracy and constantly circling around the bag, as this will increase your awareness in the ring.

Additionally, you mustn’t forget that one of the key elements of boxing is learning how to properly land your punches. So learn the basics of boxing before focusing on your punching power.

After all, having big muscular arms is somewhat useless if you don’t have the accuracy to utilize them properly.

I can’t deny that sometimes people will get fixated on muscle building; however, there is much more to boxing than that.


Does Shadow Boxing Build Muscle?Does Shadow Boxing Build Muscle

Shadowboxing is a great exercise for muscle gain, especially for your shoulders, triceps, and biceps. It’s also super useful for toning your body’s different muscle groups.

To put it short, when you throw punches in the air, contraction occurs, which contributes massively to muscle gain.

However, you have to keep in mind that, although quite helpful, shadowboxing won’t really help you add a substantial or noticeable amount of muscle mass.

Related Readings:

Unmentioned Sources:

  1. https://www.boxingscene.com/forums/showthread.php?t=669366
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