Periodisation: It isn’t easy

By Ben Massey MSc, BSc for All Elite Boxing

For this article, the theme I envisioned would revolve around Manny Pacquiao and the potential reasons for his shoulder injury and how much this affected the outcome of his fight against Floyd Mayweather. However, in light of the feedback I received for the previous article “Old school boxing training: What’s the point?” It seemed easier to respond to/clear up a few issues by writing a piece that dissects training priorities a bit deeper than it would be to respond to every critique via social media. The Pacman article will have to wait.

Critical response

A number of critical responses that were posted were along the lines of: “you did not have full access to Floyd Mayweather’s training and therefore there was probably more to it”“you talk too much about explosive strength and explosive fighters always gas out after 7 rounds” and “hitting a punch bag is good for boxing as it is a full body exercise”. In response to these criticisms, I will post my immediate answers to them before I commence the full article which will be orientated around planning a block of training for a fighter and the different phases that this entails — periodisation.

The first critical point is true, and it was a major weakness of the article that I did not have full access to ‘Money’ Mayweather’s’ training and so to write an article criticising it was perhaps a little unfair, but based purely on what I saw I stand by my observations. The other criticism, that hitting a punch bag is good for boxing, is of course correct and yes it is a full body exercise. However, I objected to the way Mayweather used it continuously for 45 minutes without breaks, making it all but impossible to vary the intensity (I criticised how he was using it not what he was using). Swimming is a full body exercise but doing that for 45 minutes will not improve one’s explosive strength the same way hitting a punch bag or wood chopping continuously and slowly will not improve explosive strength. However all of these exercises performed at maximum velocity for a short period of time with an adequate recovery could improve speed and explosive strength.

“Explosive fighters always gas out after 7 rounds”

The observation of “explosive fighters always gas out after 7 rounds” is not strictly correct but the individual did have a point with what they were saying. Endurance is very important to fighters and in my defence, the article did point this out and that it is needed for a boxer mainly to recover quicker: “A fighter needs a sound aerobic base to tolerate the large amounts of lactate that accumulates during training and during a fight; as the 1 minute rest between rounds does not allow sufficient recovery time for blood lactate to decline (Guidetti, Musilin, & Baldari, 2002)”. The better the aerobic capacity of an athlete, the quicker they will recover. I can’t stress enough the importance of endurance in boxing. It should not, however, predominate over explosive strength and maximal speed.

Maintain endurance and explosive strength?

Training for a sport that requires both maximal speed and explosive strength whilst maintaining an adequate level of endurance might sound a difficult and a little contradictory. Well, it is both of those things, so how do you do it properly? Should you focus on building endurance before developing your explosive strength or vice versa? It is worth remembering that some models will not work for every athlete and as a coach you need to be able to change your approach if it does not seem to be working.

Periodisation

Periodisation is the ability to design a series of adequate training programs, with workouts based on specific outcomes achieved through training, which enables the athlete to progress their performance (Verkoshansky, 1998). So, certain levels of an adaptation must be reached before the training progresses onto the next physical capacity be it endurance, strength, power etc. Therefore, the adaptation you achieve in the first training block (mesocycle) is not then abandoned in the second one, it has to be maintained. Thus, a fighter may be focussing on explosive strength but they still need to maintain an adequate amount of maximal strength that they achieved earlier in the training block (macrocycle).

  • Macrocycle — usually referred to as a competitive season, and will comprise of any given number of mesocycles. It can also be broken up into a preparatory period and a competitive period.
  • Mesocycle — will normally be comprised of 2 to 6 microcycles. At the end of a mesocycle you would expect to witness some sort of measurable adaptation- I.E. level 15 on a beep test (endurance) or be able to squat 1.5 times your bodyweight (strength).
  • Microcyle — involves a number of training sessions appropriately interrelated in order to reach one or more specific objectives. It is generally accepted that a microcycle can range from a few days to 14 days in length (Naclerio, Moody, Chapman, 2013).

Although amateur and professional boxing would be planned differently in terms of the training layout due to difference in the duration of a bout (up to 12 3-minute rounds for pros and either 3×3 or 4×2 minute rounds for elite amateurs) the prep phase would be similar in its execution. But, it would differ in regards to the competitive period. The target aims for each mesocycle and the order of those can be seen in table 1. This is based on professional boxing for a training period of around 12 weeks.

Order of priority for boxing is:

  1. Increase aerobic endurance/ muscular hypertrophy
  2. Increase muscular strength
  3. Increase explosive strength/ maximal speed

Justification

Aerobic endurance, muscular hypertrophy and maximal strength are all general physical capacities. These are not directly responsible for competition performance but assist in the advancement of training. The importance of aerobic endurance has already been discussed, a base level of muscular hypertrophy is necessary before training for maximal strength can begin. And strength is required before an athlete of any sport can commence explosive strength training usually in the form of plyometric or complex training (CT). A good recommendation for levels of strength to be achieved before it is safe to start explosive strength training is set by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA). It states participants must be able to squat 1.5 times bodyweight and bench press their bodyweight (Carter and Greenwood, 2014).

Before each mesocycle can advance there must be some sort of measureable adaptation which will allow for a quantifiable way of measuring the performance. Below are some examples.

  1. Aerobic endurance — achieve level 15 in the beep test (non-boxing specific) or throw over 75 punches per round in sparring (boxing specific).
  2. Maximal strength — Increase one repetition maximum (1RM) squat 1.5 x Bodyweight/ Increase 1RM bench press to bodyweight.
  3. Explosive strength — Increase explosive jump performance — Counter Movement Jump (CMJ) to over 40cm (non-boxing specific) or throw five punches on the pads in less than one second (boxing specific).
  4. Maximal speed — Sprint 30m in less than four seconds

How to train for each capacity

Before this turns into a long-winded assignment, I will conclude by providing some quick examples of how it is possible to train for each physical capacity. You’ll notice that the training method is similar but the way it is performed will be different.

Aerobic endurance:

  • Heavy bag work, 3-minute rounds with short recovery — aim to throw lots of punches,
  • 3-minute pads with short recovery- aim to throw lots of punches,
  • 200- 400m running efforts with short recovery, swimming, cycling.
  • Remember at this point the volume of training is high but the intensity is low.

Muscular hypertrophy: requires the build-up of anabolic hormones will comprise of fairly high intensity exercises (>70% 1RM) with short rest intervals using large muscle groups together (West, et al., 2010). This stage of the training will be high in volume so the recovery time will be shorter (60–90 seconds).

  • Examples of compound exercises are deadlifts, squats, pull ups and the bench press (all 8–12 reps).

Maximal strengthThe exercises remain similar to the exercises used during muscular hypertrophy with the main difference being the intensity increases to beyond 100% 1RM for one to six repetitions as this is the load associated with enhancing maximum strength (Tan, 1999). The duration of rest is longer so the volume starts to decrease as the intensity increases.

Explosive strength — These sessions are low in volume but high in intensity.

  • Heavy bag work/pad work where 3–5 punches performed as fast as possible followed by 20–30 seconds. The emphasis here is on velocity and not volume of punches, hence the long recovery.
  • Intensity of resistance exercises are usually between 30–60% 1RM. The use of complex training (CT) can also be included in the sessions. This involves combining a heavy resistance exercise prior to an explosive movement (Hodgson, Docherty, & Robbins, 2005). There must be biomechanical similarities between the high load exercise and the subsequent plyometric activity (Ebben, 2002). A good example would be squats and counter movement jumps (CMJ). This is a good way of maintaining maximal strength and improving explosive strength.

In summary this article shows the stages of training that is required for an intermittent sport as training progresses through each mesocycle. What I will do over the next few weeks is construct shorter articles/ programs that can be applied to individual sessions for each physical adaptation.

*To gain further understanding of periodisation I recommend the following article

Naclerio, F., Moody, J., & Chapman, M. (2013). Applied periodisation: a methodological approach. Journal of Human Sport and Exercise, 350–366.

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