It's an age-old question: to lift or not to lift before a sport or activity? There are several ways you can answer that question. However, regardless of which side of the argument you land, one thing is for sure — strength training is an essential component of your overall fitness program.
Effects of Weight Training
When you lift weights, it affects your muscles and overall energy. During a workout, resistance training causes microscopic tears to form in the fiber and connective tissue of the muscles. Your muscle fibers grow thicker and stronger by repairing these tears. Your heart and breathing rate also increases, which causes your body to fatigue quicker. Anything you do after you become fatigued, you're going to do less effectively. This, of course, results in less benefit to the skill you're trying to improve.
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Alice Holland, a physical therapist and clinical director for Stride Strong Physical Theory, in Hillsboro, Oregon, says knowing whether to lift before or after boxing depends on a variety of factors. She recommends lifting weights that work the back and shoulder/scapular stabilizers before a boxing workout.
"Boxing is a very front-heavy sport and good boxing form tends to push boxers to a scapular-elevated and protracted posture," she says. "This predisposes boxers to rotator cuff impingement," which is a common injury that causes pain in the narrow space between the bones of the shoulder.
Before a workout, she likes to do a few scapular stabilizing exercises such as rows, lat pulldowns, TRX rows — anything to work the rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius. Doing this, Holland says, will "preload and prime" activation of those muscles so boxing later becomes a little more balanced.
As for regular lifting, like bicep curls, tricep pushdowns etc., Holland doesn't recommend doing a "strength-building workout" before boxing (high weight, low reps).
"You are already fatiguing a lot of the muscles and would predispose you to more fatigue and possibly injury when you are boxing (especially with the heavy bag)," she says. Instead, she says to do an endurance-training workout using weights (i.e. low weight, high reps) because this won't fatigue your muscles as much.
NYC-based trainer James Shapiro says when adding boxing to your training program, you have to know what role you're looking to categorize boxing in. He explains that if you're using it for conditioning, you want to be utilizing weights or resistance training before boxing because you're going to be performing a higher intensity with your weights. Boxing is going to be utilized more at the end as a finisher.
If adding it into a circuit, though, he says you can choose to do weights with your boxing as long as the intensity is low and it does not interfere with your arm speed. In the case of boxing for cardio, he advises against utilizing weights prior to boxing or even after because maintaining an elevated heart rate for a prolonged period of time forces the body to start using oxygen more as a source of energy rather than your stored energy.