MythBuster: Can Boxers Really Build Muscle Without Lifting Weights?

Can Boxers Really Build Muscle Without Lifting Weights?

Muscles and boxing have a curious relationship as boxers all have to find that balance between power and weight. I say all boxers, it’s something that heavyweight boxers don’t have to worry too much about. A fighter like Anthony Joshua can lift all the weights that he wants and he doesn’t have to worry about being over a weight limit.

Balancing Weight & Power

Even for heavyweight boxers however, a balance has to be struck. Muscles carry a lot of blood, and that blood requires a constant flow of oxygen. That muscle also requires extra weight that you have to carry around in the ring. Nowhere can this be seen as a greater example than in Round 5 in the Joshua vs Klitschko fight. After a cagey start to the fight, Joshua came out all guns blazing and put on a 30 second onslaught against the Ukrainian, that eventually saw him down on the canvas.

During that onslaught, oxygen would have been used at an incredible rate in Joshua’s body, and there’s only so much that his lungs could do. Klitschko got up, and Joshua tired. Over the course of the rest of the round Joshua ended up taking some huge shots and looked dead on his feet, but somehow managed to survive. The next round he barely survived either after being put down, and then in the seventh he took a rest and managed to get his breath back. In the 11th he was a lot more measured and finished the job.

That fight was a case study in how muscles aren’t always a good thing, the extra power is counteracted by a reduction in speed and lung capacity. For anyone below heavyweight, that extra muscle could be the difference between one weight class and the next. There is a reason that you don’t see boxers with huge arms against boxers who are much taller than them, that extra muscle just isn’t worth it.

Staying At Your Weight

Boxers then are left with the aim to be as powerful as possible, without adding any wasted muscle mass. They have to try and build muscle in a way that enables them to still stay in the weight that they want to fight at. So instead of boxers having huge muscles, you will see that most have very lean and sculpted bodies that are perfect for fighting.

Boxers can’t really lift many weights or not heavy ones at least. All boxers however work on their muscles, but instead try and make them lean and quick rather than big and heavy. Maintaining muscle mass is pretty simple by continuing with pull-ups and press-ups, but can you actually build muscle mass? It depends how much you train and the exercises that you use. You build muscle by resistance, and the easiest way to do that would be with weights, but you can also use the resistance of your own body.

Most boxers won’t actually want to build muscle if they are in training, but might actually use weights in order to maintain their shape. More or less everyone in the world has the same set of muscles. For most people, they are hidden under the kind of body fat that most of use mere mortals carry on a day-to-day basis. With boxers training at such an elite level, their body fat is so low that all these layers are taken away so that they are left with muscles that look ripped and lean. This muscles mass comes from their natural body muscle that can be obtained during training, and could be added to by simple techniques.

If a boxer was to lift weights before a big fight then that extra weight could push him over the weight limit and not have the ability to lose it. Fat is a lot easier to lose than muscle. If a boxer was to move up weights then they may want to use that opportunity to add a bit of extra muscle to their bodies, or they may wish to use that extra weight to have a more relaxed camp and not have to punish their body to make the weight.

Here’s a really useful video guys.. Being buff doesn’t mean you can take a punch!

Boxer’s Don’t Realistically Need Big Muscles

While it may seem counterintuitive for many, boxers don’t require the need for big muscles. The best fighters don’t rely on single punch knockouts, and for many in the lower weight classes they are too hard to achieve anyway. For the majority of his career Floyd Mayweather didn’t even bother trying to knock his opponents out, instead relying on his accuracy, movement, defence and boxing intelligence.

The same can be said for the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko who wouldn’t have large muscles at all, as he doesn’t need them with the speed and movement he possesses. As boxers move up weight classes, then the need for muscle mass does become greater as the threat of the single punch knockout becomes an effective tool. At heavyweight level fighters don’t have to worry about making weight and can have their muscles as big as they want and lift as many weights as they wish. Even at heavyweight level however there still comes a point where that extra weight and the energy required to power it becomes a disadvantage, and not an advantage.

Reasons why muscles are to be avoided for boxers:

  • Extra weight that has to be carried around the ring
  • Muscle requires oxygen, therefore uses up more of our valuable storage
  • Can slow down your arm speed
  • Can add more difficulties in making weight
  • Give you a false sense of security

The temptation comes to have large biceps and triceps to be able to unleash that knockout blow in devastating fashion. Everyone who has ever thrown a punch in anger however knows that the power doesn’t really come from the arm muscles. It all starts from the legs. Those calf muscles push off from the ground, allow the rotation of your hips and in turn propel your upper body into the target. That speed is delivered through the rotation of the shoulder and through the arm.

When it comes to the most devastating punches in boxing history, they have all been delivered with speed. You can’t have force without speed and there is no point taking that away from your punch by adding muscle mass, which will actually slow you down and take up your natural resources. Boxers require a certain amount of muscle, but there comes a peak level where anything beyond that is just a waste.

The reality is that most likely all boxers do some type of weight training. This won’t be the same kind of regime as a bodybuilder as it is a totally different method of doing things for a totally different end goal. Boxers want to build strength, and will do that by lifting lighter weights for more reps, this will keep their muscles lean and fast, and at their optimum fighting prowess.

So, Can Boxer’s Build Muscle Without Lifting Weights?!

The simple fact is that if your build muscles then you are also increasing your weight. Not many boxers would want to do that. You are able to build muscle without the need to use weights. The natural exercise of boxing will help tone and build muscle which is what would naturally be an advantage when it came to fighting.

When it comes to building muscle you need to do more than what your body feels it is capable of doing. This is why the best way to do this is by lifting heavy weights in short reps. In simple terms, this tells your body that it needs to build muscle so that it can do it better next time. If you’re lifting a smaller weight with many reps then this might tone your muscle, but your body has no incentive to grow as it’s not required to lift a heavy weight.

So lifting weights in themselves doesn’t actually build muscle, it depends on the size of the weight and what you are doing with it. It’s possible to not build muscle while doing weights, and it’s possible to build muscle doing other exercises.

You can still add muscle away from the gym by using your own bodyweight as resistance. This can be done by the use of squats, pull-ups, chin-ups and press-ups. Continually pushing your body with these methods will help build muscles, but in a way that will increase your strength but without adding any significant body mass. This will be done on a more gradual basis and will be a lot more controlled.

The truth is that boxers shouldn’t shy away from using weights, but they just have to be done in the right way dependent on what the end goal is. For any fighter below welterweight, muscle mass shouldn’t really be a consideration. At that kind of size, it’s unlikely that you will have the punching power to intimidate an opponent and therefore other skills become far more important.

At welterweight and above, you start to see the body sizes where that one-punch knockout starts to become more of a factor and that extra bit of muscle mass might be of a benefit. Still, even at these weights you are still trying to fit into a weight class. The likes of Gennady Golovkin is the perfect example of a fighter who carries a lot of muscle for his weight, some fighters just get that natural advantage that they don’t really have to work on.

The rest of the boxing world must look at the heavyweights with a great deal of envy. They can eat what they want whilst also being able to add all the muscle mass that they desire. They don’t have to worry about making weight and it all makes life a lot simpler for them. Still, however, they don’t get things all their own way. The bigger things are, the harder they are to move and that applies to muscle.

A Pointless Temptation

Boxers can increase muscle mass without the need for lifting weights, but there isn’t much point. If you want to increase muscle mass then you might as well just lift some heavy weights and do it in the easiest way. If a boxer simply wants to maintain their strength and muscle definition, then their boxing training will naturally do this for them.

The temptation for a boxer to increase muscle is quite obvious. Not only does it look better, but there is a general feeling that increased muscle means increased power. While that may be true, there is a misconception about exactly what power is. Power doesn’t knock people out, force does. In order to apply force you need speed. I order to have speed; you need to keep mass at a minimum.

The bigger the muscle, the slower the speed. The bigger the muscle, the greater the mass. There comes a sweet spot for each individual person when the muscle reaches a point where it doesn’t lose speed, and therefore can apply the maximum force. A fighter needs to find that sweet spot. If they need to add muscle, then they can do via the use of weights.

Manny Pacquiao learnt his craft!

Learning Your Craft Is Much More Important Than Big Muscles!

Boxing isn’t people comparing muscle size at the gym, and world titles have never been given out to a boxer with the biggest biceps. It’s easy to get fixated on the lure of muscle. Muscle = knockouts = wins? If only the formula was that easy. Instead boxing is overwhelmingly about skill. There is no point having big muscles if you can’t land a punch and it doesn’t matter how small your arms are if you don’t get hit. Whilst people get drawn to the brutal part of the sport, hardcore fans knows that there’s a lot more to it.

Boxers can build muscle without using weights, but it doesn’t make much sense to do so. It is easier to weight train and that is what most boxers do. They use weights for a variety of different reasons including simply to maintain muscle mass or to increase speed. If a boxer wants to truly add significant muscle mass, they might as well do it in the weight room.