SINCE turning professional in late 2007, Keith Thurman has risen through the ranks with consummate ease. From prospect, to contender, to interim WBA champion, the 28-year-old welterweight now has the full WBA world title.
But where does his punishing power and sparkling speed come from? The answer is that he trains… hard. Relentless sparring, pounding pads sessions, gruelling runs, even his stretching is described as “intense” by his coach, Dan Birmingham.
ADJUST AND CONQUER
During a typical training camp for Thurman, sparring generally begins six weeks prior to fight night. “We start Keith with six rounds of sparring, then we graduate to eight, then 10. Around two weeks before the fight, we’ll do 12-15,” Birmingham reveals.
“We usually have three different sparring partners, so every two, three or four rounds, we present somebody who’s fresh and who has a slightly different style.”
Sparring a mixture of foes forces Thurman to adapt on the spot, which is something a fighter is often faced with during an actual bout.
“When you work with multiple sparring partners, you have to adjust to different styles,” Keith affirms. “I like two of my sparring partners to fit the criteria of my upcoming opponent, and I like the third guy to be a curve ball – someone who doesn’t fit my opponent’s criteria.”
While working the bag or pads helps boxers to hone certain facets of their game, sparring allows fighters to sharpen every tool in their arsenal, as it mirrors genuine fight conditions.
“In sparring, we work on speed, defence, movement – the whole gamut,” says Birmingham.
Although Thurman realises that sparring is unique in the sense that if offers an opportunity to improve all areas of his performance, he is also well aware that sessions on the pads and bag have an important role to play during camp. This is where fighter and coach formulate their strategy.
“When I’m on the heavy bag, I imagine it’s a person chained up in front of me, so I’m always thinking about tactics,” Keith remarks. “I use the heavy bag and mitts for devising game plans.”
Birmingham believes that the pads and bagwork should be used as instructional exercises, whereby the coach and his charge mimic certain fight scenarios and develop a blueprint to overcome the opponent. Throwing an endless array of punches without thought is certainly not on the agenda.
“Like sparring, we start out doing six rounds on the pads and bag, before working our way up to 12 as the camp progresses,” Dan informs. “I’m probably one of the few trainers who boxes with my guy on the mitts. He’s touching me and I’m touching him back. I replicate his opponent and we work on slipping and positioning. It’s all about strategy.”
SEPARATE TO ACCUMULATE
Following sparring or some work on the bag/pads, Thurman concentrates on strength and conditioning in order to reinforce his body to deal with the rigours of combat.
“Boxing’s one of the hardest sports there is,” the unbeaten star opines. “You’re constantly moving your arms and legs, which is why I separate my S&C training into upper-body and lower-body exercises.”
When targeting the lower body, a personal favourite of Thurman’s is the P90X [Power 90 Extreme] plyometrics workout, which is a home exercise regimen available on DVD. This high-impact jump training features several lunge and squat variations, providing “a great 35-45-minute plyo session”, according to Keith.
Thurman’s upper-body S&C routine includes extensive core work, although specific parts of the anatomy are also singled out. “We use dumbbells to work the wrist at different angles,” states Birmingham. “It’s important to strengthen the wrist and forearm for generating punch power.
“Bodyweight training like pull-ups and push-ups are important, and we also use the resistance bands a lot because they give you freedom of movement and allow you to work various muscles.”
MIX IT UP
Variety is an essential feature of Thurman’s outlook on cardio. Different lengths and types of runs are spread out at random across the week in order to “shock the body and keep it guessing”, as Birmingham puts it. “Keith runs on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, while a long run takes place on Wednesday,” Dan notifies. “His shorter four or five-mile runs allow him to implement interval training into his cardio. On other days he’ll hit the track and do three 800-metre runs, followed by two 400-metre sprints, followed by two 200-metre sprints. Then we’ll do a couple of 100-yard dashes and then walk for a mile.”
Thurman concurs with his coach’s view on the importance of diversifying routine cardio sessions to achieve maximum gains.
“I always try to mix it up,” Keith conveys. “Sometimes I’ll do swimming or cycling instead of running, as they have less impact on the joints and they’re good for dropping weight.
“I tend to run for longer distances at the beginning of camp and do sprints when it’s closer to the fight. During the last week of training, I cut the running out and stick with shadow-boxing and jump rope for cardio, as I don’t want to overexert myself.”