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How Gymnastic Strength Training Improves Your Boxing & MMA Performance

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Gymnastic Strength Training is not what springs to mind when you think of strength & conditioning for boxing. Having been boxing for 17 years and trained under a number of different professional coaches, I’d never given it a second thought, until I was introduced to the concept around a year ago.

Increased strength is obviously one of the targets of all forms of ‘strength’ & conditioning training. However, increased mobility (strength & flexibility) of the muscles is something that is not achieved from weight training or HIIT sessions alone, and is often overlooked in the training of boxers.

Core strength and mobility are components of fitness achieved directly from GST. Many boxers are plagued with injuries from all the high impact, intense training, and subsequently waste timing ‘fixing’ shoulder and lower back problems. GST increases the range of motion (ROM) around the joints in important areas such as the shoulder and hip joints. Therefore you’re taking a preventative approach to injury, rather than dealing with an injury in the future.

Much of the training involves a strength exercise, followed by a stretch/flexibility movement. For example, pull-ups to strengthen muscles in the upper body, followed by skin the cat on the gymnastic rings to stretch the biceps, shoulders and develop core strength.

My first foray into GST was when I attended a workshop hosted by GST practitioners and movement specialists Angus Martin and Elliot Moger, who together form ‘Lift: The Movement’. Lift is a training concept designed to reduce injuries and address postural deficiencies picked up from intense sports training (think boxers rounded shoulders) and poor movement habits acquired from modern life. By improving the mechanic's joints and strengthening connective tissue, this kind of training can vastly improve the speed and power generated in a punch.

Since attending the workshop I have continued to train with Lift and incorporated routines and their programming into my training. From a combination of pre and post-training routines to mobilize my hips and shoulders to specific strength and skill-based sessions, I am now able to perform exercises I hadn’t been close to before, such as pistol squats and ring muscle-ups.

One combat athlete known for incorporating such techniques is UFC superstar Conor Mcgregor. Famed for his long-armed, loose-limbed and athletic style and physique, the benefits of movement training and GST style workouts are clear to see.

The benefits from such training are obviously not just limited to combat athletes either. Many people are put off from exercise when they enter a gym and the first thing they see is some kind of gorilla wearing what looks like a mankini, aggressively throwing weights around with muscles bulging. Aesthetics are not the sole aim of GST, though undoubtedly a welcome by-product of the training.

Much like boxing training, ego’s can be left at the door before undergoing a combination of bodyweight exercises, ring movements and weighted to stretches to improve the quality of your movement and general wellbeing.

Lift’s next class will take place on 14 July at Local Motion. Details can be found at http://liftthemovement.com/classes/. Use the code LLOYDLIFT when booking to receive £20 discount to Lift’s next class.

Follow LIFT: The Movement for workshop updates, GST routines on Instagram @Liftthemovement and their website http://www.liftthemovement.com

Below is a routine designed to increase shoulder mobility and hip mobility, as provided by LIFT. The exercises, though not time consuming, when incorporated daily into your pre and/or post workout routine will have untold benefits for the range of motion used when punching and moving, not to mention giving your joints the strength and movement basis to perform impressive strength moves such as a handstand or muscle up.

*Perform 3 x10 reps of each exercise

Shoulder Dislocates

Perform as in the demo, keeping arms straight and do not perform the movement at speed. Prepare and warm the shoulder for more complex exercises.

Twisting bear

Restore mobility in the thoracic spine (upper and mid back) while protecting the lower back/lumbar spine.The more fluid you become, the smoother combinations of punches and lateral movement to avoid punches will be.


Punching power comes from the hips, so increased mobility Hip-Openerin this area will increase your punching power. To get into the 90:90 position, your lead leg should be directly in front of you, bent to 90 degrees. The other leg should be to the side and also be bent to 90 degrees, with the heel lining up with the back leg.

*Superset (90:90) Knee lifts After each set of 90:90s, perform 10 knee lifts as demonstrated below.

Jefferson Curl

The Jefferson Curl is a staple of gymnastics training. Weight for this exercise should be minimal and pain free, only increasing as mobility increases over time. Lower back pain and tight hamstrings are common for most boxers.

With a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, or other weight in your hands, stand up tall with your legs straight and perfectly together. Standing on a box/stall as below, begin the movement by tucking your chin into your chest, then slowly flexing your spine (rounding your back) one vertebrae at a time as you feel the weight “pull” you lower towards the floor. Continue lowering, being sure to keep the weight balanced on the ball of your foot so that you do not lean back. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute/ Reverse the movement on the way up, engaging the abs and glutes throughout. As mobility increases, your hands will lower closer to the ground.

Thoracic Bridge (hold for 3 x 30 seconds – work up to 60 seconds)

Strengthen and loosen your middle back, preventing roundiThoracic Stretchng of the shoulders, releasing the anterior side of the shoulder and strengthening the posterior side. This a problem brought on from years of boxing, standing in the forward position and appearing to have a ‘hunched’ and rounded shoulders posture. Release this tension by performing this stretch after punching and other stretch training sessions with this stretch. Ensure arms are locked straight throughout, elbows turned in so you feel shoulder blades squeezing together and eyes looking up.

Skin the cat (5 x 1 repetition holding each for 10-15 seconds)

Gymnastic rings or a chin-up bar are required for skin the cat. Achieve a full range of motion in the shoulders (which should have carry-over benefits with other exercises such as dips, pull-ups, and chin-ups) as well as stretch the whole upper body, particularly the biceps, through the continued practice of skin the cat.

Lightning’ Lloyd Ellett


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