Monday, July 5, 2010

Benchmarking Your Training

In this article, I'm going to talk about the long term goals of your training so that you can have a perspective on what you want to accomplish this week, for your next fight, and for the toughest fight you'll ever have.  Like most of us still in the fight game, we haven't reached our full potential just yet, and the positive aspect of this is that we have a lot to look forward to in terms of work to be done, skills to be had, and fights to be won.

The problem however, is that fighters don't have standard metrics to measure themselves against, they don't really know their current level or what's possible.  It's often a guessing game.  If you are a 100m sprinter aiming for the olympics, then you know that you have to pull off sprints somewhere under the 10.50s mark if you want to be remotely competitive.  If you are an aspiring pro basketball player, then you are measured by points scored per game, or rebounds per game, free throw percentages, your vertical jump height, your actual height etc... coaches and scouts can get get a pretty good idea of what this will translate into at the professional level.

Having said that, your goal as it pertains to the fight game is twofold:

1)  Start to define these metrics for yourself through your own experience
2)  Keep an open mind as to what you are capable of and the work you are willing to put in (don't sell yourself short)

In boxing, you don't always know for sure what it takes to be a champion.  You are only as good as your competition and it's hard sometimes to even know how good they are at the international level.   Even if you've won a solid amateur title it still comes down to how good the competition was and how you performed on that day.  And unlike a lot of sports like tennis, basketball, soccer, hockey you can't afford to play hundreds or thousands of matches to figure out what works.  In the fight game, that's just a bit too much wear and tear.

So, ask yourself this:

1)  How can I take the guess work out of what it takes to be a solid fighter at all levels.   How can I tell now if I will be good before I take a beating that wakes me up?
2)  What's it going to take in the gym to become the best fighter I can possibly be in the long run?

The most important thing you can do is focus on what you can control, and the answer to both of the above is threefold:

1) Set goals
2) Benchmark your training
3) Continuous improvement

I'm sure you've heard the sayings, 'the harder you work the luckier you get' or 'the more you sweat the less you bleed', you need to turn those sayings into hard data, something you can measure, and we'll start with the end in mind.  Ask yourself, what you would need to do, how would you need to train to beat Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Roy Jones jr. in his prime, or Bernard Hopkins in his prime.  Your goal as a fighter is to build up to that level of training.  There is a direct correlation between how you train in the gym and how well you do in fights, even if you are the type of fighter who has mental issues when you step in the ring for the real deal.

A fighter like Floyd Mayweather throws around 5,000 - 6,000 punches per workout, guys like Pacquiao often perform 40-50 rounds of total work in the gym on any given workout.  Let's say you typically run 3-5 times a week, and when you hit the bag you usually do 6 rounds, with 3 on the speed bag, 3 on the double end, 3 for shadowboxing, along with some padwork, burpees, ab work, weight training etc.  These are decent workouts, but the hard truth is that they're not enough to beat Manny or Floyd.  To be successful, you have to be extremely critical and self-confident at the same time.

Unfortunately, we are all limited by our current level of fitness and ability (nobody expects you to beat Floyd tomorrow), plus we have limited time (you may need to work or go to school full time to get by), motivation is a factor (getting motivated for an amateur show is not the same as fighting for $20 million in front of the whole world).  I understand that this plays into your life, which means that even more so you have to take advantage of the time you have.

Let's talk about what it's gonna take.

1) Set Goals:  Take serious note of what you are doing now, how many times a week are you in the gym?  How many rounds do you do on the bag? How many punches do you throw per round (video yourself over 4 rounds to get a feel)? How many miles a week do you run?  How often do you perform sprints?  How many burpees can you do in 5 mins? How fast can you run the 800m, 400m, 100m over multiple sets with a minute rest?  How often do you spar?  How many total rounds do you perform each workout?

2) Benchmarking:  Set standards for yourself that indicate whether you are in shape for your current level.  I know I'm in decent shape when I can bust out 100 burpees in 5 minutes anytime, anywhere.  I also know I'm in decent shape if I can run the mile in around 5 mins 30 seconds (of course I have other measures, but those are examples).  Start to set standards for yourself in anything that you can think of.  Measure by total rounds, speed, punch output, number of times per week etc...measure what you can control, and take advantage of what you can control.  When you get ready for a fight, you build up to these measures and maintain them for a couple weeks before the fight.  You can't keep training the same way you always have, you have to constantly look for weaknesses and opportunities to improve in your training.

3) Continuous Improvement:  Gradually increase your output, frequency, intensity and start to train the way you would need to in order to beat Manny, Floyd, a prime RJJ, B-Hop etc...add rounds to your workout, add punch volume, punch intensity, more sprints, more rounds of sparring etc.  Do it one piece at a time, one brick at a time, don't try to knock it out all in one month.  One thing to keep in mind is that you will need to have breaks and down times, and this is where benchmarking comes in again.  As you get better over the long run, you set your benchmarks higher so you know what you need to get back to in order to continuously elevate your game.  6 rounds on the bag per workout might have been good in your first 3-4 fights, but your gonna need to step it up to 10 eventually, or make sure that those 6 are at a hard pace where you crank out 250 punches per round.  The specifics are different for everyone, but I think you know what I mean.

This endeavour should take years, and that's the whole point of the time you are investing, to realize your full potential as a fighter, as an athlete.  Your coaches can help you, they can guide you, your stable-mates can motivate you, and work with you, but it's ultimately up to you to take it to that level.  Nobody is going to hand it to you!

Good Luck,

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How to Shadowbox

Based on my experience, there are different ways to shadowbox, and in this article I want to discuss some of the most effective ways to use this aspect of your training.  At the amateur levels, shadowboxing is often overlooked and undertrained, which is surprising because next to sparring and good padwork shadowboxing is the closest thing to simulating a fight. 

When considering how you want to train any aspect of your boxing you must take into account what stage you are at in your boxing program, and in this article I mean that on a mini-scale.  For example, are you months out from a fight, are you weeks or days out from a fight, or are you just coming off a fight etc... this is going to impact how you focus your efforts and what part of your game you need to work on.  But before we get into these aspects, I recommend that you wear very light hand weights during your shadowboxing, nothing too heavy, something around the weight of a boxing glove (which is 1lb. for sparring gloves, 12 oz for bag and 8-10 oz for fight gloves).  You don't have to wear them all the time, but at least half the time to get a feel for carrying the weight of a glove during shadowboxing.

Having said that, there are five major ways to utilize shadowboxing:

1) Repetitive Drilling - this is the simplest form of shadowboxing.  Basically, you pick a single technique and you repeat it over and over to improve this technique.  A lot of amateur boxers have a left hook that is not up to par with their right hand, so you may want to take a round or two each workout and just work on left hooks until it becomes a 'money' punch.  As well, you can always add a second component to drilling, you may want to work on your jab and add a step back by pushing back off your front foot after throwing the jab, sort of popping in and out.  The main component with drilling is to keep it simple and focus on your technique

2) Freestyle (single aspect) - With this type of shadowboxing you are moving freestyle (moving around and going by what you feel and whatever comes to your head), however you are only working on one aspect of your game.  For example, you can take a round and just work on head movement, or blocking and parrying, or footwork, or straight punches.  With this type of training you can add in other components, but the focus is on what you are working on.  If you take a round and focus on head movement, you can still add the odd punch and you can still add footwork, but make sure that 80% of your effort is focused on head movement.

3)  Sequencing - This is when you work on a specific sequence of moves that you have set up between you and your imaginary opponent.  For example:

You - throw the jab
Opponent - slips jab and throws jab
You - catch jab and counter with left hook, duck after the hook and throw another left hook
Opponent - blocks both left hooks in sequence and quarter turns out to your right to get away

You can make this sequences as long or as short as you want.  The key is to treat it like a chess match so you can deal with different scenarios.  Try to imagine problems an opponent has given you and create solutions for these problems.  Play them out in shadowboxing and then test them out in sparring.

4)  Scenario - This is similar to above, but the specifics are taken out.  In scenario based training you adopt a certain mindset and you shadowbox based on this.  One of my favorites in the last 30 seconds of a training round is to imagine that I have my opponent hurt and I'm going after him.  I'm laying on the heat, but still cautious of any wild counter punches from my opponent.  I'm trying to put him away but he just won't go down, I'm landing but he's fighting to stay alive.

You can also imagine yourself as the counter puncher, or that you are down on the scorecards and you need the round to win.  Imagine you are the against the ropes and picking your shots.  The key is to create a mindset based on the situation you've created, and shadowbox to win.

5) Freestyle - This is where you work your complete game, from offense to defense to head movement to footwork.  When you do this you want to simulate the fight as much as possible.  Imagine your toughest sparring or a recent fight.  At the end of each shadowboxing round you should feel as though you just emerged from one of these rounds.  Shadowbox fast, at fight pace.  Anything slower just won't do.

Friday, April 2, 2010

How to Increase Punching Speed

In this article, I'm going to tell you what you need to do to increase your punching speed whether it's for boxing, Thai boxing or MMA.  One thing to keep in mind is that punching speed is much more than the time it takes for your fist to go from A to B, anyone with experience knows this.  To increase your punching speed you have to look at your overall game, there are no quick solutions and the painful truth is that anything gained in the art of combat involves a lot of hard work.  Now, hard work doesn't mean you have to discount being smart, and it is possible that you are currently focusing your efforts in the wrong way.  So, read what I have to say, make the adjustments that are required, and I guarantee that you will increase your punching speed.

1)  Throw twice the amount of punches you are currently throwing per workout - to punch quickly you need to punch efficiently, and throwing lots of punches is the only way to communicate with the muscle fibres that perform this action.  It's too bad you couldn't just send them an email telling them to pick things up, but unfortunately, in order to become more efficient you have to throw thousands of punches.  In order to punch efficiently, you need the least amount of muscle fibres to activate in order to execute the action, and you need the surrounding muscle fibres to relax so that the necessary fibres can function without restriction.  Repetitive sport specific movement is the only way to accomplish this.

I would say that most good amateur boxers throw about 200 punches per 3 minute round, some of the best can crank it up to 300 punches per round.  If you're putting in 6 rounds on the heavybag, some double-end bag work, speed bag, shadowboxing, and focus mitts, then you are probably going to hit somewhere in the 2500 punch range.  Now consider that some top pros are throwing 5,000 - 6,000 punches per workout.  If you want to punch fast, throw a lot of punches.  At the end of the day, efficiency = speed

2)  Punch fast when you train - Imagine running four sets of 400m against a few of your friends. Let's say they consistently run it in 1:15s and even though you could run it in 60 secs, you opt to run each set at 85% and come in under 1:10 secs.  You could probably do this all day long and not get tired.  Now, throw in a guy who runs it in under 55 secs and watch what happens to your energy levels as you try to catch him.  I guarantee you'll tire out in a couple trials.  Everybody has their threshold for speed, and if you consistently train at 85% of your max punch speed then you can expect to punch at 85% of your potential. Too many fighters punch at 85% in the gym, and gas out in the fight when it's all on the line and speed really counts.  Try to constantly push your speed threshold.  To be fast, you have to train fast.

3)  Work on your footwork - Some people don't realize this but there is a difference between hand speed in throwing combinations on the inside, and punching speed when closing the distance from the outside.  Some fighters are able to rip combinations together with lightning speed, but are at a loss when they are on the outside against an opponent with fast feet.  If you are fighting from the outside, your hand speed is limited by the ability of your feet to take you to your target, in other words, if your feet can't take you there fast enough your punch will be short.  Invest in rounds improving your footwork.

4)  Increase your total sparring rounds - I recommend 3 sparring sessions a week if you are not already at that level.  Sparring is the ultimate in simulating a real fight situation where speed is paramount. As well, all other aspects of punching speed such as timing, distance, reaction, feinting, and set-ups come in to play.

Depending on your level and your sparring partners, it can be a bit rough doing that much sparring, but you don't have to train like this all the time.  Set a period of a few weeks and stick to an enhanced schedule.  Needless to say, there are some gyms that advocate sparring 5 days a week up until fight time,  I agree with this as long as the fighters are putting in the rest of their work, and not just leaving the gym once sparring is over. 

5)  Sprints/Tabatas - It's easy to have speed in the first minute of a fight, but the best fighters are able to maintain their punching speed throughout the rounds as the match goes on.  One of the best ways to accomplish this is to just simply be in better shape overall and to have your body conditioned to deliver speed over and over again.  The most effective way to do this is to incorporate speed work into your training.  Try to perform two speed workouts per week.  My recommendation is Tabata sets; this is where you sprint for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.  Traditional testing has held this at 8 total sets per Tabata workout, which is already challenging enough, but eventually can try and pick it up to 14-16 total sets and possibly more.  If you are just starting out, then 6 sets is a good way to get in the groove.

6)  Flexibility - This is the most overlooked aspect of speed.  But tight muscles are like tight rubberbands all over your body, they will only slow you down.  The more flexible you are in your hips, hamstrings, chest, shoulders, and upper back, the less restriction you will have on your movement.   The only thing restricting a flexible body is gravity and the air around you.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Slipping Punches

I'm going to discuss slipping punches and how you can develop this skill in combat and make it an integral part of your game. In boxing in general, there are three major ways to defend. The first way to defend is to use footwork to simply move, this is often accompanied by covering up with your hands for added protection. The second method is to proactively block the attack with a defensive maneuver such as a parry, block, or shoulder roll. The third way is through evasion such as slipping, ducking, or leaning back to avoid the oncoming blow. The advantage to evasion, and more specifically slipping, is that it leaves both of your hands free to attack. Mastering this part of your game will keep your opponent guessing, force them to take greater risks to hit you, and it will open up a whole new world of counter-punching.

It's difficult to properly teach slipping technique through the written form, so I highly recommend that you have a coach or boxer teach you the technique in person. The points I am going to outline below will tell you what to keep in mind and how to improve as you go.

1. Keep your hips loose and allow them to sway back and forth when you slip, this creates a pendulum effect on your body and allows you to move your head faster. Stetch your hips before and after training.

2. Keep your head moving in small motions in a rhythmic way even before your opponent has thrown any punches. This is part of your rhythm and will allow you to react faster, don't stand still and straight up waiting to be hit.

3. Pay attention to the distance your opponent is from you, and keep your eyes on their upper chest or the base of their neck. When the opponent moves towards you and when their shoulders start to turn you know a punch is coming. This is the indicator that tells you to react. Timing this takes practice, you'll get it over time.

4. To get good at slipping you have to take risks and try it in sparring. Choose a round and tell yourself that you are only going to slip to avoid punches for that round. Try to keep moving your head so that you become conditioned for this movement.

5. There are two basic ways to attack while slipping (essentially, slipping is a counter-attack). First, you can throw your punch and slip at the same time, this is extremely effective if you can time your opponent's punch. A classic move is to slip to the left and throw your straight right or overhand right while your opponent jabs. Second, you can slip and then throw. Some classic moves are to slip to your left and then counter with the left hook, or to slip right and then counter with the straight right. It's very difficult to slip left and then counter with the right hand unless you do it at the same time. However, some boxer's are able to pull this off.

6. Keep trying to increase the speed of your slipping, and make sure to move after you slip and counter. Some opponents will figure out your pattern and will feed punches for you to slip so they can hit you as you lean to the side. You need to be fast and have good reaction to avoid this, and you need to make sure that you keep moving your head after you slip and counter.

7. Learn to move your feet while slipping so that you can advance and move your head at the same time. As well, practice moving forward after you slip to gain ground on a retreating opponent.

For more information check out my 'Slipping Punches' video on my channel - http://www.youtube.com/user/tripleVVV3

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mental Training Part II

Let's go over the concept of mental movies as they relate to sports.  A mental movie is a dynamic sequence that you can watch over and over again in your mind.  A mental movie could be of an opponent throwing a jab at you, or a left hook, or of someone blocking your left hook etc.  You could also put yourself in situations that you see in pro fights on TV.  Your goal is to create mental movies with positive outcomes, and to create answers for situations that cause you problems.  You want full control of the movie, you want to be able to watch it frame by frame.  For the most part, positive outcomes in your mind come from positive success in the past, or at least they come from the belief that success is possible.  Train your mind to see yourself succeeding and you stand a much better chance of doing so.

Ok, let's create a scenario where I'm fighting a taller and faster opponent.  Start movie - He's circling me to the left and he's snapping the jab quickly and frequently.  How am I going to deal with this?  Ok first, I see myself cutting off the ring, he switches directions to the right, I move to my left and I cut him off again, he then moves back to his left (in your mind you could just work on cutting off the ring, no piece is too small).  As I get closer he snaps the jab, double jab, and moves back to his right.  I see myself slipping each jab, I'm just on the end of his punching range. I move left as he's moving right and I cut him off again, he throws his jab again, as he does I make my move by slipping to my right and simultaneously stepping in with the double jab and overhand right.  I land the overhand right, and follow up with the left hook and right uppercut which he covers up and blocks, I then step out to the right - end of movie. 

The scenario above is actually quite complex, it would be just fine if all you wanted to work on was blocking and slipping individual punches. Just imagine a guy in front of you throwing single techniques. Play your movies at super slow speed, and once you are comfortable, play them at normal speed.  Change up the opponent, make them faster, shorter, taller, stronger.  Put yourself in front of Pacquiao or Mayweather and see what you can do.

Ok, so how can you maximize the the effect of mental movies.  First, you want to create them and work with them in a relaxed state so that your mind can focus on all aspects of each movie (primarily sight, sound, and feel).  The relaxed state is also important because you want your mind to associate your sport with feeling relaxed.  This is the optimal state for high performance.

Here is the program outline:

1) Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed for 20 - 30 mins.
2) Get into a comfortable position either laying down or sitting in a chair
3) Take 8 deep breaths - inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds
4) Take 10 seconds for each body part and focus on relaxing it as much as possible, make each body part as heavy as you can (start at the bottom) - feet, calves, thighs, hips and glutes, lower back, stomach, mid back, chest, upper back and neck, shoulders, arms and hands, face.
5) Next 5 mins - Start to visualize yourself performing in the ring (or Octagon, or your arena of competition).  At first, watch yourself as a spectator, imagine you are in the front row watching yourself perform.  Go through every scenario you can think of, see yourself dealing effecively with attacks, see yourself successfully moving, defending and landing strikes.  Go slow at first and see things clearly, pay attention to key details such as distance and technique.
6) Next 10-15 mins - Now go inside yourself and start to watch from your own eyes as a performer, feel how your feet move, notice your opponent in front of you, his expression and his intent, show no fear, you are calm.  Now have him attack you, defend and counter, then have him go on the defensive and watch yourself penetrate his defense.  Create as many scenarios as you like.  Work slipping the jab of a very tall opponent as you get inside and throw your combos.
7) Conclude the event the way you would like to see it.  If it is a match then conclude with a KO, or you winning by decision.  If you are visualizing sparring then conclude with the final bell and you standing strong as if you could go another round.
8) Wake yourself up slowly, rub your eyes and face, rub the back of your neck, sit up and massage your legs and feet in case they have fallen asleep.

I recommend performing your mental training 3-5 times per week.

JT Van V

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Combat Footwork

In amateur boxing, MMA, and Thai Boxing, footwork is an often overlooked aspect of a complete fighter's arsenal.  When viewing two fighters, it becomes apparent rather quickly who has superior footwork, and how that will affect the outcome of a fight.  In simple terms, solid footwork will take you where you want to go, and take you away from where you don't want to be quickly and effecitvely.  This allows you to set up your strikes and counters, it allows you to re-attack quickly, it allows you to adjust small distances and create angles, and it saves you from having to stand and trade with an inferior opponent.  All of these are top notch reasons to take your footwork very seriously!

The first way to improve your footwork is to focus solely on footwork drills and practice during training.  It's not uncommon for a good fighter to spend 15-20 minutes a workout focused on footwork.

Second, incorporate active footwork into all aspects of your training such as bag work and sparring.  Spend rounds moving a bit more than usual.  Switch up from an offensive mindset, to a counter-punching mindset, to a defensive mindset and watch how your footwork changes.

Third, watch pros in your sport during their fights, most notably boxing.  Watch Roy Jones, Mayweather, Ali, Tyson (for inside footwork).  Study Anderson Silva and GSP. Notice what they do, and incorporate it into your training. 

Fourth, Learn from a variety of disciplines such as Muay Thai, wrestling, fencing, and other martial arts.  The top MMA fighters of today such as A. Silva and GSP, have primarily adopted a boxing style of footwork with components of Muay Thai and Wrestling for various transitions.

Fifth, train plyometric and agility drills consistently to improve your capacity to sustain a high pace.

Check out my Footwork video on my Youtube page - www.youtube.com/user/tripleVVV3

Mental Training Part I

I played hockey throughout my childhood and teenage years; I was a goalie.  The main reason I became a goalie was because I was one of the worst players and slowest skaters on my team, and becoming a goalie was my attempt at getting some glory out of hockey as long as I was playing it.  Fortunately for me, I was a pretty damn good goalie.  Although I wasn't athletically blessed with speed or natural ability, I was blessed with two things: quick reaction and good awareness, both of which are essential to boxing.

In my last few years playing goalie, I came upon a book at my local library called Basketball FundaMENTALS which outlined the core concepts and benefits of mental training for sports.  I incorporated the ideas into my practice, then made a some adaptations and saw huge improvements in my game!  Since then, I've read dozens of books on mental training for sports and I've created my own template for boxing. I would like to share the framework with you.

I can't tell you how many people I've fought or sparred who could kick my ass in a 40 yrd dash.  Most of my opponents have been taller, stronger, and faster.  If you're not blessed with raw speed, then you can definitely make up for it with quick reaction, sound defense, and scenario based training.  But the key is to be able to 'read the play', see what's going on, and have these skills embedded in your mind and in your boxing repertoire.  Of course, you do need the essential skills i.e. how to block a left hook, how to slip a right hand etc. I'm going to assume you have these skills.  If you don't, then write me and we can talk.

When I talk about mental training, I am referring to how your mind responds to external stimuli such as a kick or a punch or a takedown attempt.  There are other aspects to mental training such as mental toughness, confidence and composure under pressure, all of which are related to how you respond physically but will be covered in another post.  Essentially, with mental training, you are creating movies in your mind.  The clearer they are the better, the more you can control and manipulate them the better, the more senses (touch, sound) you can incorporate the better.

In the next post I'll lay out the framework for how to create mental movies, and how to organize your mental training.