A two-time world champion by the age of 22, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez has already become a Mexican legend and rising towards being a boxing superstar. Canelo, nicknamed after the spanish word for cinnamon, made his professional debut at the tender age of 15 years old.
Now 25 with an impressive record and a stunning knockout percentage, his fight against Miguel Cotto will be his biggest test since his lone defeat to Floyd Mayweather. Boxing Science analyse the training methods the Mexican partakes in.
The Training Mask
On the first episode of HBO 24/7, Canelo was filmed running using, what the narrator described, a “Hypoxic training mask that simulates altitude conditions”.
THIS IS FALSE
Any of you that have tried the mask on will know that straight away it is harder to breathe. The mask works by restricting your air flow, as you are breathing against a resistance. In comparison, when you breathe at altitude the air is free flowing. There is not actually less oxygen at altitude, but the barometric pressure is lower.
As a result, the masks do not generate lower oxygen concentrations in the air when you inhale. Instead they use mechanical valves to breathe against a resistance on inhalation which works your respiratory muscles; diaphragm and intercostal. This type of training is known as inspiratory muscle training (IMT), a good way to view it is strength training for your respiratory muscles.
There is one similar response between the mask and training at altitude, which is the fact that breathing is harder. A physiological consequence of this is decreased arterial oxygenation in the body (SaO2). However, these are a result of two different mechanisms. With the mask, there is some evidence to suggest that the hypoxemia (reduced oxygen in the blood) is caused by the rebreathing of expired carbon dioxide that has accumulated in the mask’s large dead space area.
Essentially you are rebreathing the by-products that your body is trying to get rid of. In addition, your respiratory muscles require more oxygen due to extra mechanical work required to pull in the air through the resistance of the mask. There is a potential that your respiratory muscles are ‘stealing’ the oxygen from your working muscles.
Low Intensity Plyo’s
Although Canelo appears to have a muscular physique, he is not renowned for being massive on his strength training and weight lifting. He has only been seen using small weights for high speed exercises and doing bodyweight exercises. We’ve seen Canelo doing low-intensity plyometrics. These are beneficial for joint stability and smaller motor units that generate low amounts of force, but are highly resistant to fatigue.
But to really generate force for a stronger punch, we need to use the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) effectively, which plays an important role in punching.
Jump Higher Punch Harder
Greater development of lower body power output and jump height has been shown to occur when performing a counter movement jump (CMJ) compared with a squat jump (SJ). This is due to the sequencing of a fast eccentric (stretching) and concentric (shortening) action of the lower body muscles in the CMJ.
However, boxers actually score higher on the SJ rather than the CMJ. This means that boxers may not effectively use the stretch-shortening cycle due to less control of eccentric movements.
Presuming that he has the same characteristics, Alvarez would benefit from plyometric exercises that have an increased eccentric demand to develop the stretch-shortening cycle.
We have been using dumbbell loaded countermovement jumps (CMJ) that increase the eccentric demand and have been included in training programs that increased jump height by 29%.
Alvarez seems to be doing very boxing specific footwork drills. In our sessions, we like to implement general speed, plyometrics and co-ordination drills to improve joint stability, balance and the elasticity of muscles.
Danny Wilson is a strength and conditioning coach at Sheffield Hallam University and the co-founder of www.boxingscience.co.uk