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TRAINING STRATEGY FOR EVANDER HOLYFIELD
Frederick C. Hatfield, Ph.D., FISSA
The time-honored -- but unfortunately ill-conceived -- practice of long, slow distance work as a conditioning regimen for boxers is what Evander learned from the training dinosaurs of his youth, and had continued with for years. When I was brought aboard his team, prior to his fight against Buster Douglas in 1990, Evander was in sad physical condition considering the specific demands of his sport. I immediately tested Evander’s responses to three minutes of boxing specific total body work (see the 3 minute drill description below), which brought his heart rate above 180 bpm. He needed a full 7 or 8 minutes to recover back to 120 bpm after this single bout, analogous to one hard boxing round. What was worse, after doing five of the 3 minute drills with a one minute rest between, his heart rate remained above 150 between bouts. In short, he did not have the capacity to sustain a high performance level for even half of the duration of a professional fight.
My responsibilities were limited to the physical conditioning component of Evander’s training, which had to be integrated into his skills and sparring training. Boxers require not only agility, speed and strength in short, explosive bursts, but also a high level of anaerobic strength endurance in order to perform these bursts over and over for ten rounds or more. I designed Evander’s training regimen and nutritional protocol to reflect these all-important elements. The road work ended promptly and completely.
After the 12 week cycle described below, Evander recovered quickly from intense activity, even after a series of ten, 3 minute drills. His agility and limit strength levels increased, and his lean bodyweight increased from 208 to 218.
The conditioning program described below was the program I personally supervised Evander through prior to the Buster Douglas fight. He also used the same training cycle in preparation for this most recent fights against Mike Tyson, but I was not there personally to oversee his training. This preparation was supervised by a friend of mine in the strength coaching profession who assures me the Evander followed the prescribed program precisely.
GENERAL POINTS OF CONDITIONING FOR BOXERS
There are several general concepts which helped to shape the specific program that I designed for Evander. First, the work profile of boxing is repeated 3 minute rounds of activity, often with very high intensity bursts within a round. The rounds are separated by one minute rest intervals. Thus, the relative contribution of anaerobic energy release pathways is considered extremely important, with aerobic capacity playing an important role in terms of facilitating rapid recovery. Extreme conditioning is required to fight effectively for ten intense, 3 minute rounds and anaerobic endurance is a key aspect that cannot be overlooked. Short of an early round knockout, boxers cannot afford to win only the early rounds of a fight. They must maintain an intense, but measured pace throughout a long and competitive bout. So conditioning counts almost as much as skill for boxing success. Optimal physical conditioning provides the platform from which the skills can be used. The best way to simulate the demands of boxing is to use conditioning methods which mimic the work/rest ratio and integrated bursts of power that typify boxing.
Boxing is a highly individual sport. Fighters possess unique styles that create specific physical demands. Some rely on explosive strength ("power"), for others it's starting strength
("speed"), and for most a combination of the two ("speed-strength"). True champions alter their style in a way that will make them more able to attack the weaknesses of any given opponent. It's important to know what kind of boxer you are, or hope to be from the
start. Improvements in specific techniques can be made, but they are only helpful if integrated into the fighters style. For example, extensive footwork exercises may not benefit the power puncher who prefers to stand and slug it out (and win that way). Similarly, a dancing, jabbing, bobbing-and-weaving fighter shouldn't put all his training hours into body
punching and in-fighting. So, the program design must not only be specific to boxing, but also specific to the boxer.
Ideally the boxing punch consists of a synchronization between arm, leg, and trunk
actions. The punching movement of a boxer consists of leg extension, trunk rotation, and arm extension, in succession. The more effective the coordination between arm, leg and trunk movements, the greater the impact force of a punch. The leg muscles play a vital role in the power developed in this sequence. Increasing leg force development and coordinating it with trunk and arm action is the most effective way to increase punching power.
Because boxing is an explosive sport, ballistic training methods are
especially effective during weight training for boxing. This kind of
training method requires the athlete to perform each repetition explosively, with maximal intended velocity
Finally, in my view, the best way to weight train for competitive boxing is via a cycled training schedule. This type of training schedule integrates workouts and exercises
that will meet all the basic performance demands—strength, power, speed, agility, and
EVANDER’S CONDITIONING PLAN
The twelve week macrocycle was broken down into four mesocycles of three weeks duration. Each 3 week period had specific goals, and each subsequent 3 week period built upon what
was established in the preceding periods. The conditioning goals for each mesocycle were as follows:
WEEKS ONE, TWO AND THREE
1. Maximize muscle mass -- Evander needed to increase his body mass from under 210 to 220 pounds.
2. Minimize fat accumulation during hypertrophy phase (dietary strategies including “zig-zag” diet were employed)
3. Improve general strength and fitness foundation (esp. weaknesses),
including moderate aerobic threshold intensity training.
4. Begin training to increase anaerobic threshold
5. Introduce light plyometrics
WEEKS FOUR, FIVE AND SIX
1. Maximize limit strength of muscles/movement used in boxing (emphasis on
2. Increase anaerobic strength endurance (maximum force output time after
3. Begin training specific skills (weaknesses) in earnest
4. Concentrate on between-workout recovery
5. Introduce explosive strength and starting strength with moderate
WEEKS SEVEN, EIGHT AND NINE
1. Maximize explosive strength
2. Specific event skills must predominate all skills training sessions
3. Continue anaerobic threshold training
4. Maximize between-workout recovery
5. Incorporate weighted plyometrics and hill/stairs running
WEEKS TEN, ELEVEN AND TWELVE
1. Maximize ballistic strength (starting strength) using "shock"
plyometrics (built on a 9 week base of plyometrics progression).
2. Heavy emphasis on anaerobic threshold
3. Maximize between-workout recovery ability
4. Heavy emphasis on skills
5. Emphasize speed, agility, ballistic movements
6. "Overspeed" drills in final preparatory period
7. Begin Complex training as a replacement for normal weight training