Study Review: PERFORMANCE ASPECTS AND PHYSIOLOGICAL RESPONSES IN MALE AMATEUR BOXING COMPETITIONS

In a study published in the Journal of strength and Conditioning, Slimani et al. (2016) reviewed the physiogical and technical/tactical requirements of boxing. In their review of the scientific landscape, the authors focused on aspects such as the activity to rest profile, technical efficiency, and physiological markers such as blood lactate concentration (BLC) and maximal oxygen consumption(VO2Max). The presented findings offer guidelines for creating energy system training (EST) routines for boxers. In this article, I am briefly discussing what the researchers did, what they found, the limitations of the study and my takeaways.

What the researchers did

The authors investigated 18 peer reviewed studies looking at the physiological aspects of amateur boxing. Specifically, they discussed the

performance aspects (i.e., activity profile and technical-tactical analysis) and physiological responses of male amateur boxers in relation to the competitive levels (i.e., novice vs. elite), combat rounds, match outcome, and type of contest (i.e., official vs. simulation).

What they found

Although the researchers state that „no single performance characteristic dominates in combat sports“ (Slimani 2016), the researchers identified some key performance indicators of successful boxers. For one thing, he A:R ratio was higher in elite boxers than novice boxers. Triple punch combinations are more often used by winners than losers. Concerning those triple punch combinations, the authors conclude that they „seem to have the highest probability of being scored by the judges and increased the likelidhood of landing a scoring blow and, ultimately, winning a bout“. In general, winners throw more punches, with higher accuracy. This should not come as a surprise. The difference becomes most apparent in the third and final round. Drawing from related work, the authors state that male amateur boxers throw between (approximately) 20 and 40 punches per minute. Vo2Max in elite amateur boxers seems to be between (approximately) 55 and 65 ml * kg-1 * min-1.

Limitations

When reading though this publication, some things struck me as odd. For example, the inclusion criteria for considered studies included that all study participants be male. Of course, this is clearly identified in the title, so it should not come as a surprise. On the other hand, I do not see a reason for this narrow focus. On the contrary – if different skill levels and weight divisions are compared to each other, why not go the extra mile and add gender specific differences into the analysis as well? 

Another thing that was rather counter intuitive for me was the comparison of the frequency of technical actions between different weight categories. The authors found that

„… the frequencies of technical actions differed significantly between the weight categories in novice and elite amateur boxers, with lower frequencies for the “lighter” and “middle” weight groups, and higher fre-quencies for the “heavy” group.

This is surprising, to say the least. Watching fights, one thing that stands out is the high pace of fighters from lighter weight categories. Demetrius Johnson probably stands out in that regard, as does Joanna Jedrzejczyk. 

Time-motion analyses for different combat sports such as Mixed Martial Arts (Del Veccio 2011) Kickboxing (Ouergui et al. 2019), Taekwondo (Santos et al. 2008) and Karate (Tabben et al. 2015) show activity-to-rest (A:R) ratios between 1:1 and 1:17. In contrast, this study claims A:R ratios of 18:1 and 9:1 for elite and novice boxers, respectively. This needs further investigation from my side, so a clarification may follow soon.

Finally, I found it relatively odd that the authors state that „a typical boxing competition contains 3 x 2-minute rounds“, whereas in reality, most federations actually implement 3×3 minutes for amateur men. Since most of my fighters compete in Kickboxing, though, I see this as rather positive.

Discussion

Although many points in the study do, at the time of writing this, seem unclear or counter intuitive to me, I took away some interesting key points that can be used to construct a boxing-specific conditioning protocol for amateur fighters. Three punch combinations seem to be most beneficial, so the proposed protocol revolves around these. Also, the data suggests a striking frequency of 20 to 40 punches per minute. Differences between winners and losers become most apparent in round three, so working towards a „big finish“ may be critical for success.

RoundPunches per CombinationCombinations per Minute
138
2310
3412
Four Week progression for boxing-specific endurance

Figure 1 illustrates my heartrate while implementing this protocol. In the first round, I threw a 2,3,2 (ie, right cross, left hook, right cross) combination every 7 seconds, for a total of 17 repetitions. Rest in between repetitions was active, and consisted of stepping, blacking and evading. In contrast, rest between rounds was passive. In the second round, I threw a 1,2,5 combination (left jab, right cross, left uppercut) every six seconds, for 20 repetitions. Finally, in round three, it was a 1,2,3,6 (left jab, right cross, left hook, right uppercut) every five seconds, for 24 repetitions. All punches were thrown with the highest possible power. The attached videos show Anna and Johnny, two of my fighters, go through the drill.

As can be seen in Figure 1, my heartrate climbed up to a maximum of 180 beats per minute, with an average of 161 bpm, including the one minute rest intervals. This seems consistent with the data presented by Ghosh et al. (1995). That indicates that the protocol can be used to implement a cardiac power interval session as described by Jamieson (2009), although longer rest periods and slightly more rounds might be necessary.

Figure 1: Heart rate plot of three, two minute rounds inplementing the protocol outlined above.
Three punches, every 7 seconds
Three punches, every 6 seconds
Four punches every 5 seconds

Despite some (perceived) shortcomings in the referenced review, I really enjoyed the opportunity to look at a thorough statistical analysis of the sport of boxing. Especially the number of total punches per round really helped me design the presented conditioning protocol. I am a firm believer when it comes to keeping most of the conditioning specific. This way, not only physical capacities are raised, but at the same time, technical efficiency can be developed. Put differently, specific coniditoning imporves both the hard- and software of the athlete. Of course, unspecific training means should be included at times, to avoid overuse problems and possibly develop tissue resilience along force vectors other than the ones usually encountered in the sport. Still, in camp, most training should be very specific, so this protocol is something I will probably use in weeks seven through three (counting back from the fight, with fight week being week 0).

In the coming weeks, I will evaluate the protocol for kickboxing and MMA applications, so make sure to check in again. So long, don’t get hurt.

References

Bridge, C. A., da Silva Santos, J. F., Chaabene, H., Pieter, W., & Franchini, E. (2014). Physical and physiological profiles of taekwondo athletes. Sports Medicine, 44(6), 713-733.

Del Vecchio, F. B., Hirata, S. M., & Franchini, E. (2011). A review of time-motion analysis and combat development in mixed martial arts matches at regional level tournaments. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 112(2), 639-648.

Ghosh, A. K., Goswami, A., & Ahuja, A. (1995). Heart rate & blood lactate response in amateur competitive boxing. The Indian journal of medical research, 102, 179-183.

Jamieson, J. (2009). Ultimate MMA conditioning. Performance Sports Incorporated.

Ouergui, I., Hssin, N., Haddad, M., Franchini, E., Behm, D. G., Wong, D. P., … & Bouhlel, E. (2014). Time-motion analysis of elite male kickboxing competition. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(12), 3537-3543.

Santos, V. G., Franchini, E., & Lima-Silva, A. E. (2011). Relationship between attack and skipping in taekwondo contests. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(6), 1743-1751.

Slimani, M., Chaabène, H., Davis, P., Franchini, E., Cheour, F., & Chamari, K. (2017). Performance aspects and physiological responses in male amateur boxing competitions: A brief review. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 31(4), 1132-1141.

Slimani, M., Chaabene, H., Miarka, B., & Chamari, K. (2017). The activity profile of elite low-kick kickboxing competition. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 12(2), 182-189.

Slimani, M., Miarka, B., Briki, W., & Cheour, F. (2016). Comparison of mental toughness and power test performances in high-level kickboxers by competitive success. Asian journal of sports medicine, 7(2).

Tabben, M., Coquart, J., Chaabène, H., Franchini, E., Ghoul, N., & Tourny, C. (2015). Time-motion, tactical and technical analysis in top-level karatekas according to gender, match outcome and weight categories. Journal of sports sciences, 33(8), 841-849.