CUTTING weight is one of the most essential, but also controversial, aspects of preparing for a fight. If done correctly, weight loss gives fighters a definite edge by enabling them to compete at lighter weight classes against relatively weaker fighters. If it is done incorrectly, fighters can lose a significant degree of power and may be more susceptible to illness.
To be at their best, boxers must adopt a long-term approach to fat loss when preparing for a fight. Losing weight too quickly results in a loss of muscle mass, and less muscle means a fighter will not be able to punch as hard or withstand damaging punches. Let’s look at some facts.
Researchers looked at the results of 493 studies on aerobic exercise published between 1969 and 1994. The researchers concluded that 15 weeks of this type of training would result in an average weight loss of only 7.3 pounds (3.3 kilos).
Aerobics can be particularly ineffective as a weight loss strategy for women. A three-month study on the effects of aerobic training was published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition in 1998. The women who did aerobic exercise lost an average of 2.9 pounds (1.3 kilos). Alan Utter, head researcher for this study, concluded, “Moderate exercise training has a minor, nonsignificant effect on fat mass.” Further, just doing more exercise may result in a case of diminishing returns, as one study found that the heaviest aerobics instructors (those with over 24 percent body fat) were the ones who taught the most classes!
So, if aerobics is a relatively ineffective activity for weight loss, what is better? Many studies that support the idea that short, high-intensity interval training such as sprinting is a superior method of achieving fat loss compared to the other types of energy system training. One such study published in the July 1994 issue of Metabolism is “Impact of Exercise Intensity on Body Fatness and Skeletal Muscle Metabolism.” The compelling results of such studies is the reason I favor repeat sprints of 40 meters for my fighters rather than having them do distance running.
Going to the other extreme, Mike Stone, Ph.D., studied the effects of Olympic-style weightlifting on body composition of college-aged students in a paper entitled “Cardiovascular Responses to Short-Term Olympic Style Weight-Training in Young Men.” This paper appeared in the Canadian Journal of Applied Sport Sciences in 1983. After two months, the students decreased their body fat by six percent while increasing their lean muscle mass by four percent.
Keep in mind that the great results in that study were obtained by using Olympic lifts, which require considerable coaching and access to a facility that has Olympic bars, bumper plates, and platforms. Even so, Dr. Stone’s study proves that it’s possible to preserve (or even increase) muscle mass while losing body fat.
A more practical way for boxers to lose body fat is to perform conventional weight training exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, using a protocol called the German Body Comp (GBC) program. Created by strength coach Charles Poliquin, GBC is based upon the work of Hala Rambie, a Romanian exercise scientist who defected to West Germany. Rambie found that compared to the aerobic pathway, the lactic acid pathway is superior for losing body fat.
Rambie found that weight training created high blood lactic levels, which in turn decrease blood pH levels that stimulate the production of growth hormone. Higher growth hormone levels are associated with more rapid fat loss. One study that validated Rambie’s research on blood lactic levels and growth hormone is “The Role of Lactate in the Exercise-Induced Human Growth Hormone Response: Evidence from McArdle Disease,” published in 2009 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
In a nutshell, a GBC program involves three factors: 1) Use multijoint movements such as squats and deadlifts; 2) Use a relatively higher number of reps, such as 8-12; and 3) Use relatively short rest intervals (about 15-30 seconds). The short rest intervals provide another bonus for fighters by increasing muscular endurance. In contrast, an aerobic training program does little to help a boxer fight fatigue in the ring.
How much weight should a trainee use in a GBC workout? According to sports scientist William Kraemer, PhD, the optimal rate of growth hormone production is about 70-75 percent of an individual’s best result for one repetition (1RM). So, a trainee who can do a shoulder press with 100 pounds would use about 70-75 pounds in a GCB workout. For a reference, consult Kraemer’s paper, Compatibility of High-Intensity Strength and Endurance Training on Hormonal and Skeletal Muscle Adaptations,” published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in March 1995.
Here is a simple example of a GBC workout that can be performed in less than 30 minutes using minimal equipment. It can be used 2-3 times per week with one day of rest between workouts.
A1. Deadlift, 3 x 8-10, 3010, rest 30 seconds
A2. Military Press, 3 x 8-10, 3010, rest 60 seconds
B1. Dumbbell Lunge, 3 x 8-10, 3010, rest 30 seconds
B2. Semi-Supinated Chin-up, 3 x 8-10, 3010, rest 60 seconds
C1. Dumbbell Step-up, 3 x 8-10, 3010, rest 30 seconds
C2. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press, 3 x 8-10, 3010, rest 60 seconds
I use GBC workouts during the early stages of preparing for a fight, a period called the preparation phase. In the later stages of a fight further fat loss is accomplished though other means, such as by increasing the amount of work performed in the ring. My strategy with fighters is to get their body fat to a level such that they will only have to lose about 2.2 pounds (1 kilo) of weight by sweating the day before a fight.
By pumping iron with GBC protocols, my fighters will have a definite edge against opponents who have chosen to do long-distance road work that can compromise muscle mass. Training fighters to be weak makes no sense. Want to win? Keep them strong.
As a strength coach for boxing, Moritz Klatten has trained three Olympic champions, four amateur world champions, and five professional world champions, including Yuriorikis Gamboa, Juan Carlos Gómezs, Herbie Hide, and Jack Culcay. Among the boxing coaches he has worked with are Ismael Salas, Orlando Cuellar, Fritz Sdunek, Michael Timm, Freddie Roach, Joey Gamache and Jimmy Montoya. Coach Klatten is also an accomplished strength coach for football and has attracted an international clientele that includes Zlatko Junuzović, Werder Bremen; Tolgay Arslan, Beşiktaş; and Piotr Trochowski, Augsburg. Coach Klatten works primarily out of Champ Performance, his own gym in Hamburg, Germany, where he offers strength coaching internships and operates a satellite training service to work with athletes worldwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org