Core Training For Boxers, Fighters and Martial Artists

Core Training For Boxers, Fighters and Martial Artists

If you read our article on core training, you’ll know what we think of sit-ups and crunches. If you haven’t – check that one out herewhere we discuss what the core is, and the general approaches to effectively training it.

Sit-ups and crunches are being resigned to history.They belong in crumpled, faded copies of muscle magazines.

More and more people are catching on to the fact that effective and safe core training involves resisting motion of the spine.

Dr Stuart McGill, the world authority on spine bio-mechanics and back pain, is now a household name among well informed coaches and fitness enthusiasts. However, within the culture of combat sports, traditional methods including sit-ups still prevail. Well we are here to help change that.

The function of the core for fighters

So why do fighters need a strong core? Well, everybody needs a strong core to some extent. We need to be able to shift furniture around the house and tie our shoe laces (yes, this requires support from the core musculature). Fighters have additional requirements though.

The core functions to shift force from the lower body to the upper body.

When a boxer pivots around their hips they are transferring energy through their core to their fist, to their opponent's jaw.

When a judoka throws their opponent to the ground, they are transferring force through the core.

A strong and stable core allows the body to function as a unit. A weak core will not efficiently transfer force. Worse, the fighter is more vulnerable to back injuries. After all, one of the primary purposes of the core is to protect the spine.

It is vital therefore that fighters train their core effectively, and in such a way as to

a) prevent injury; and

b) support the requirements of their sport.

For example, fighters must train their core in all plains of movement – anti-rotation, anti-extension, anti-flexion and anti-lateral-flexion. Of particular importance to fighters will be anti-rotation exercises. If you are unfamiliar with these terms, check out our summary here.

Traditional methods vs contemporary methods – the evidence

But fighters have been doing sit-ups for years! They obviously work!?

Look – sit-ups do train the abdominals. They make them harder and firmer and probably help you take a punch.

However sit-ups, crunches and the like (known as dynamic core exercises) do not train the core to do what it’s supposed to do: resist motion and transfer force. Rather they act to contract the abdominal muscles repeatedly, stimulating growth. Repeated spinal flexion from dynamic core exercises damages the intervertebral discs – read more about it here, or catch up on the research by Dr Stuart McGill and colleagues.

A study by Dr McGill and his student Ben Lee (1) compared the effectiveness of isometric ‘anti’ exercises such as planks, bird-dogs and side planks with traditional dynamic movements like sit-ups, crunches and Russian twists.

Twelve trained Muay Thai fighters and twelve novice trainers (the control group) undertook either an isometric core programme, or a dynamic core programme.

Guess what?

After 6 weeks of training, the isometric programme resulted in greater ‘core stiffness’ both immediately after the workout, and after 6 weeks of training. In simple terms, core stiffness is basically how strong the core is and this relates directly to how well it supports the spine and functions to transfer force.

Why are isometric exercises better?

When engaged isometrically, muscles spend more time under tension than dynamic exercises. Though you may be more knackered after your coach makes you do 100 sit-ups, you’re better off with some core sliding:

Grab a set of BEASTGEAR Core Sliders here. These bad boys offer a great value intense and effective core training solution you can take anywhere.

Knowledge is power, build a rock solid core and take the advantage over the sucker who is still busting out hundreds of crunches.

  1. Lee, B. & McGill, S., 2015. The Effect of Long Term Isometric Training on Core/Torso Stiffness.  The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 29(6).

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