Fitness Training

How Carl Froch stayed in condition

Carl Froch
Action Images/Andrew Couldridge
Carl Froch was not only a three-time world champion, he was also a paragon of staying in exemplary shape all year round

CARL FROCH believes most things can be taken in moderation, just one of the many principles he lives by, whether in serious training or not. It all adds up to a healthy lifestyle that has enabled Froch, trained by GB amateur squad performance director Robert McCracken, to excel as a professional for over 10 years and continue to make the same 168lb weight limit.

“My lifestyle outside camp, that gives you longevity, 100 per cent, no doubt about it,” Super Six tournament finalist Froch emphasises. “Healthy living, clean living outside of training camp, training hard. Be sensible with everything – you know what you should and shouldn’t do. Don’t lie to yourself.”

And if a demand for honesty is insufficient instruction, Froch has a super six pieces of advice to help you stay battle-ready all year round.

DON’T LOOK DOWN

While Froch makes 168lbs relatively comfortably, he is keen to emphasise this is because he does not naturally carry a great deal of excess weight; he also scoffs at the traditional practise of boxers dehydrating to compete in a division that would otherwise remain beyond their reach.

“I was 176.5lbs this morning,” Froch tells me on the first day of a 12-week training camp for his IBF title defence, against Yusaf Mack. “I’m probably 171lbs or 172lbs the week of the fight. I don’t think I could boil down to middleweight [160lbs].

“I walk around close to my fighting weight because my body-fat count is naturally low. I’ve got a six-pack, I can see my ribs; I’m very skinny out of camp. So where would I lose that weight, where would it go from? I’d have to start losing some skeletal muscle, I’d have to cannibalise and do long runs with no energy. My body-fat count is about three per cent, two per cent on fight week; I’m ripped to shreds. To then get down another 8lbs, I’d have to become skinny and lose my back which is my power or get skinnier legs which means my punch resistance wouldn’t be as good. I wouldn’t be the same fighter.”

Carl Froch
Carl Froch stays close to his natural weight

Boxers will often perceive a strength advantage when their opponent appears smaller than them at the weigh-in or in the ring, but Froch believes the reality is quite the opposite. He looks beyond the bare aesthetics into the methods his larger rivals have used to make the weight limit.

“Scientifically it’s impossible to rehydrate any sooner than 72 hours after dehydrating but you’ve got 30-33 hours depending on when you fight,” Carl reasons. “If you take off 4-5lbs of fluid before the weigh-in, you can’t expect to be rehydrated and ready to fight the following day. So when I see them in the ring looking like they’ve put 14lbs on from the weigh-in, it brings a big smile to my face and I think, ‘Oh dear me, where’s your abs gone? You’ve put all that weight on overnight which tells me you took a load of weight off before the weigh-in, which also tells me you’re absolutely exhausted and drained.’ So come round six or seven when I’m just getting warmed up and thinking about stepping up to the next gear, they’re looking at holding on, conserving energy and surviving. It’s a great feeling.

“When you lose weight you kill yourself, you’re drained. I did it once for Mikkel Kessler because my flight got cancelled and I took 5-6lbs off by sitting in a hot bath for two hours the night before the weigh-in and I was absolutely exhausted when I fought Kessler, I felt weak. I hadn’t done it before then and I won’t do it again. For the last three or four weeks before the fight, I weigh just under 168lbs, straight after training and it means my body is used to working at that weight. I was 171lbs or 172lbs when I fought Bute. It’s a massive advantage, huge.”

DO ENJOY MOST THINGS IN MODERATION

Froch confesses he had, the day before we spoke, washed down his mum’s Sunday lunch with half of a banoffee cheesecake. I say ‘confesses’ but he does not sound at all repentant; in fact he seems to be relishing the memory and eager to repeat the dubious achievement. Froch explains that he eats what he wants when out of camp but further investigation reveals this is not the whole truth; while his current diet is far less strict than it will be over the next 12 weeks, there remain rules to abide by. The timing of a fighter’s food and drink consumption is as important as the chosen fare, while an athlete should not do the nutritional crime without being willing to put in the reparative time.

“My diet’s not the best you’ve ever seen,” Froch claims. “For example, I’ve moved into a new place in Nottingham and there’s a Chinese around the corner and it’s lovely so I’ve been in there twice, three times a week. I have quite low carbs, I don’t really have too many noodles or rice. I’ll probably have some chilli salt and pepper ribs which is all protein and fat or hot and sour soup or a chicken dish on its own with no batter round it. I won’t eat battered pork balls. I’ll eat a McDonald’s five Chicken Selects meal but a lot of times I’ll have a quarter-pounder with cheese as well; once a week it’s alright. If I eat that at half-past 12, one o’clock, I’m in the gym by two o’clock and you’re starving. Your body burns sugar as your first source of energy then it burns carbs then your fat so if that’s all you’ve had all day – a light breakfast then a McDonald’s – by four o’clock when I’m mid-flow in my training, sweating like a lunatic and really digging in, all them calories are gone. If you eat that high-calorie food after seven, eight o’clock at night when you’re not training or doing anything, it just sits in your stomach and then it just goes as dead carbs and sits on your fat reserves, starts giving you love handles. I don’t eat after seven, eight o’clock, a load of crap; if I eat, I eat quality food.

“The banoffee cheesecake was outrageous: one sixth of it was 23g of fat and 22g of sugar and I had half of it. There’s my fat and sugar count for the day. And I didn’t do anything when I got home that night so I probably put on a couple of pounds. But I got up this morning, done my run, had a very light breakfast, I’ll probably have a really sensible lunch, if anything, so I’ll go to the gym hungry. By this afternoon it’ll all be burnt off.”

Froch believes fervently in taking time off from the rigid discipline he adopts in camp, but recognises that in his line of work, complete nutritional anarchy – gorging on fast food and booze every day until securing a fight date – is out of the question.

“I’m an athlete, I can’t eat what I want when I want all the time. This morning, I had an NRG Fuel breakfast shake and that’ll do me now until I train. It’s all part of a professional boxer’s lifestyle if you’re doing it correctly. For the next 12 weeks now I will be quite strict. I’ll still have a McDonald’s breakfast on a Sunday morning. You can enjoy certain vices in life, you can have a bit of a cheat day, you just can’t overdo it constantly. It’s common sense.

“I don’t drink much alcohol, it gives me headache; I’m like a weasel around alcohol. If I go out I drink Grey Goose vodka, because it’s distilled, pure, it’s a good-quality vodka. I’ll have two or three neat shots of vodka then I’ll drink a pint of soda water and lime. The vodka puts me on a nice level, I can let my barriers down, I’m a little bit tipsy, then I’ll dilute it with the soda water and lime.”

DO EDUCATE YOURSELF

As you have probably gleaned from his comments on diet, Froch may be more knowledgeable on physiology and nutrition than many fighters.

A three-year HND in sports science and physical education at Loughborough University will do that for an inquisitive and restless mind. Carl insists professional athletes have a duty to learn as much as they can about what should and should not be going into their bodies.

“I was only training part-time and wanted to keep busy,” he recalls. “With me doing that course and having access to people like Team GB nutritionist Mark Ellison, he’s giving me tips, not just what to eat but when, because it’s all about timing. On the week of the fight he told me not to eat immediately after the weigh-in, he told me to drink a rehydration drink, wait two hours for my stomach to settle then eat.

“I’m not saying go and do a two or three-year course at college or university because you probably haven’t got time to do it, but get educated about diet and nutrition certainly – what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat it, because there’s a half-hour window after you’ve trained when your body will absorb all the carbs and protein and store it in the muscle for the next day. If you don’t eat anything for two hours then eat a big load of shitty food, you’ve just wasted your time and you’ll feel absolutely exhausted the next day. A little bit of education will do wonders for your weight control, performance, your sense of wellbeing and energy levels, massive. You can’t call yourself a professional boxer if you’re not educated in diet and nutrition. I’ve been educated since I turned pro in 2001.”

Carl Froch
Froch trains at the GB gym

DO STAY IN SHAPE

Training outside of camp, even without a contest on the horizon, means a fighter has less work to do when the big countdown begins. It also means the body is in a state of constant readiness, the rigours of training proving less shocking as a result and injuries can, to an extent, be avoided.

“Prevention is better than cure and if you keep yourself in shape all year round and you’re quite tough and strong, everything’s tough and strong – your muscles, your tendons, your ligaments, they’re all quite used to the impact,” says Froch, speaking from personal experience. “It’s like sparring, you get whiplash in your neck and the bones around your head can hurt for the first week or so but then that pain goes away, it stops. So you get used to being fit, you get conditioned. If you have too long off between fights, go overweight and don’t do any training at all, your body becomes weak, soft, so when you start getting into training, your body is in shock and that’s when you get your injury.

“I didn’t train very hard for the Dale Wasserman fight, a Commonwealth title defence [in February 2006]. I was in America partying on New Year’s Eve and in round three I tore my bicep in half; it was horrific. My body was soft, my muscles were quite weak and I weren’t toughened from training because I’d not been training for long. If you don’t do your preparation right and train hard enough, your body’s not tough enough to withstand the fight.”

Froch’s training schedule during his down-time is drastically reduced from the regime employed to prepare him for a fight, but even the ‘Cobra’ in repose would give the average gym-goer a run for their money.

“When you’ve got a bit of down-time you can’t just do nothing, eat what you want and sit on your arse. You’ve still got to go on a run once or twice a week or like me, I go on a fixed-wheel bike and I do my push-ups before I go to bed. Bang out 50 push-ups before you go to bed, let your body know you’re still doing something.

“I probably had two weeks where I did nothing: a week in Disneyland with [son] Rocco and a week in Marbella with [girlfriend] Rachael. But I did two steady runs on the beach in Marbella. If I want to stay in bed and not do anything all day I will, and if I want to jump on my bike and do a 10-mile bike ride on my fixed-wheel in about 45-50 minutes, I will. Cycling’s good for the joints and the back, it don’t really hurt you and you can do it right up until your 70s, because it’s low impact. I’ve been doing the odd run. I’ve been doing two or three bike rides a week. That keeps my legs really strong, keeps my breathing going. I’ve been doing nothing intense, no punching really, a tiny bit of shadow-boxing. I’ve been doing maybe two sets of push-ups a week, at night before I go to bed; a quick 50, 80 or a hundred push-ups depending on how I’m feeling. If I’m burning at 50, I stop at 50. I just push myself to the point where it’s hard, it’s three-quarter pace when I run, three-quarter intensity on my push-ups.”

DON’T OMIT A PRE-CAMP

If you thought Froch’s push-ups, runs and bike rides represented his typical pre-camp routine, think again. He forces himself to complete a two-week programme that would be gruelling for many boxers preparing for a bout. Carl needs to feel assured that when he presents himself to trainer McCracken at Sheffield’s state-of-the-art English Institute of Sport, he is ready – both physically and mentally – to do anything asked of him.

“I always have a 12-week camp but I have two weeks on my own, doing my own thing, then 12 weeks with Rob,” Froch outlines. “When I start camp with Rob, it’s not 12-round intensity but it’s still eight or 10 rounds of hard work. If I don’t do two weeks before I start with Rob it’s absolutely excruciatingly painful. He doesn’t take me from 0 per cent to 100 per cent, he takes me from probably 40 per cent to 100 per cent. It gets your body in a decent enough state before you start your camp, so I’ll meet up with Rob this afternoon and do four or five rounds of shadow-boxing – steady, not too intense – and I’ll jump on the pads with him and the pads are going to be hard. I’ll finish on the bag and because Rob’s there I’m hitting the bag hard with heavy shots. I wouldn’t be able to do it if I hadn’t had two weeks just getting into it; I’d probably be able to do five or six rounds and then I’d be dragging the session and the quality would be rubbish and Rob would be like, ‘This is a waste of time.’ I want to make sure my 12 weeks with Rob are quality weeks, not two or four weeks of getting into it.”

Carl Froch
Froch ‘re-introduces’ himself to training before his proper 12 week camp

This ‘gentle’ reintroduction to regular training consists of a run or bike ride in the morning and a gym session in the afternoon – five days a week. It doesn’t sound a million miles away from a standard training week for Froch’s peers.

“The morning runs vary. Some are three miles, some are five miles and I do one in 42 minutes which I think is about six-and-a-half miles. But as for my gym session it mimics what I do with Rob, but not as intense and the only reason it’s not as intense is because I’ve not got Rob watching me. I do my punching and all my ground work; shadow-boxing and bags but I don’t do pads because Rob’s not there. Then I do my push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, dips, a few deadlifts.”

DO KEEP A DIARY

So far we’ve established that Froch, in his off-season, eats what he wants except for starchy carbs, dines when he wants except for after 7pm and drinks whatever he likes, as long as it’s good-quality vodka and he only has three shots before cutting himself off. So it should come as no surprise that Froch, who, outside of boxing owns a number of properties, diarises everything he does that could be construed as training, although he initially attempts to pass this practise off as an organisational aid.

“I’m quite busy,” he scrambles. “I’ve got to be here, there and everywhere – I’ve got to be at this property, get this boiler serviced – and I just slip in there, ‘Yeah I picked that up’, ‘I did that interview’, ‘Did press-ups in the hotel before I went to bed.’ I’m writing it down but not thinking about it, it’s like an automatic reflex.”

When pushed, however, Carl admits the diary helps to impose discipline in the absence of McCracken and acts as a measuring stick for his fitness. “I think the reason I do it is if I look back and I’ve got nothing in my diary for two weeks, I think to myself, ‘Ah, damn it, I need to do something.’ It’s to keep me sharp and on the ball. If there’s nothing in my diary for a week or 10 days that makes me do something. And if it’s been quite decent it makes me think, ‘Yeah, I’m on it.’ It keeps me mentally strong. It’s all part of my preparation. My diary is my personal trainer when I’m not with Rob.

“I can look back to the [Arthur] Abraham and Bute fights when I felt great, I was training hard and doing everything right. I can look at that and say, ‘I had a hard camp, what did I do? How many press-ups, how many runs, how many cycles?’ And if I can mimic that at the ripe old age of 35, I know I’m fit, ready and as strong as I was for the Bute fight.”

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