Journal Logo


Applying Complex Training Principles to Boxing: A Practical Approach

Matthews, Martyn MSc, CSCS; Comfort, Paul MSc, CSCS

Author Information
Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2008 - Volume 30 - Issue 5 - p 12-15
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e318187d31b
  • Free



Complex training, or the use of contrasting loads to elicit an acute enhancement in power output (12), has gained much interest in recent years, both as a training method for developing power and as a warm-up (7,14,15). In practice, complex training involves exercise sets whereby a traditional strength movement is followed by a biomechanically similar power exercise (1,2). An example of this is a set of heavy back squats (5 repetitions at 5RM) followed by a set of 5 counter-movement jumps. This approach can lead to an enhanced performance of the subsequent lighter set over and above that which would occur without the previous heavy resistance set (3).

The short-term augmentation of subsequent power exercise is likely a result of enhanced twitch potentiation (11,12,16) after the heavy resistance exercise. This is usually termed postactivation potentiation in situations in which the muscle actions are voluntary.

Several studies have shown positive effects of complex training for the acute enhancement of upper-body power. Gullich and Schmidtbleicher (10) observed a significant reduction in the movement time of a rapid bench press movement after isometric maximum voluntary contractions; Evans et al. (7) observed a significant increase in medicine ball put distance after the performance of a 5RM bench press; Baker (3) reported a 4.5% increase in power output, assessed by Smith machine bench press throws with a resistance of 50 kg, following the performance of 6 repetitions of bench press at 65% of 1RM.

Other than the type of exercise chosen for the initial potentiating exercise, 2 major variables must be considered: the optimal load for the initial potentiating exercise and the rest interval before the performance of the subsequent power set.


There is some evidence supporting the use of heavy loads for the strength movement. Successful protocols have used loads in the region of 5RM; these protocols require participants to lift at intensities approaching 85% of their 1RM for 5 repetitions, before performance of the subsequent power exercise. Significant increases in the performance of the subsequent power activity (in both upper and lower body) have been observed after these heavy load protocols (5,7,8,13-15,17).


When seeking to enhance performance with complex or contrast methods, there is a trade off between the degree and time course of the potentiation achieved and the fatigue induced by the preload stimulus (6,10). It is important, therefore, to identify the time when the muscle has recovered from the fatiguing preload, but still demonstrates an enhanced or potentiated performance. Significant increases in the performance of the subsequent power activity have been observed after rest intervals of between 3 and 4 minutes (3-5,7-10,13-15,17).


The training methods used with boxers have evolved from the findings and principles highlighted previously but with specific application to the movements used in boxing. Typically, we adopt the following steps when applying complex training principles to boxers (Table 1).

Table 1
Table 1:
Steps taken when applying complex training principles to boxers


Most of these exercises are performed with the boxer's hands wrapped and wearing mitts, which allows the boxer to grip the cables/dumbbells and also protects his hands when punching a bag in the subsequent power set. Some experimentation with foot and body position is required with individual athletes to make these exercises feel as natural as possible.

The authors recommend a variety of rest intervals, from 30 to 240 seconds. Although previous research would suggest that 240 seconds provides an appropriate balance between fatigue and potentiation (3,4,7,9,10,14,15,17), the authors have observed enhanced performance with as little as a 30 seconds rest interval. We believe that this short interval is likely a result of the emphasis we place on correct technique during the heavy preload activity, with the boxer performing just enough repetitions to induce potentiation, yet not enough to induce fatigue (see Table 2 for examples; Figures 1-5).

Table 2
Table 2:
Exercises used
Figure 1
Figure 1:
Cable uppercut.
Figure 2
Figure 2:
Cable hook.
Figure 3
Figure 3:
Dumbbell shadow boxing.
Figure 4
Figure 4:
Dumbbell shadow boxing-tethered.
Figure 5
Figure 5:
Explosive punch bag combinations.

The exercises are performed in the order shown, which allows us to always finish the session with high-velocity movements (Table 3). We do, however, usually only perform 3 or 4 separate exercises in each session. For example, typically, we will include only 1 complex training session per week and continue to build over a 6- to 8-week period from 8 to 10 weeks out from a fight. This schedule allows this type of power training to compliment the fight-specific work undertaken without compromising the athlete's other training.

Table 3
Table 3:
A typical session

It is important when training athletes to enhance speed and power that the training emphasis stays firmly on high-velocity, high-quality movements and that the sessions do not induce metabolic fatigue. Ideally, these sessions should be performed when the athlete is not fatigued. They can be incorporated before other boxing sessions. Close liaison with the coach will be required to ensure there is no conflict with the other training the boxers will be undertaking. Attributes such as local muscular endurance, fatigue resistance, or boxing-specific cardiovascular fitness should not be trained within these sessions. These attributes can and should be trained elsewhere.


1. Adams K, O'Shea JP, O'Shea KL, and Climstein M. The effect of six weeks of squat, plyometric and squat-plyometric training on power production. J Appl Sports Sci Res 6: 6-41, 1992.
2. Baker D. A series of studies on training of high-intensity muscle power in rugby league football players. J Strength Cond Res 15: 198-209, 2001.
3. Baker D. Acute effect of alternating heavy and light resistances on power output during upper-body complex power training. J Strength Cond Res 17: 493-497, 2003.
4. Baker D and Newton RU. Methods to increase the effectiveness of maximal power training for the upper body. Strength Cond J 27: 24-32, 2005.
5. Burger T, Boyer-Kendrick T, and Dolny D. Complex training compared to a combined weight training and plyometric training program. J Strength Cond Res 14: 360. 2000.
6. Chiu L, Fry L, Weiss W, Schilling B, Brown L, and Smith S. Postactivation potentiation response in athletic and recreationally trained individuals. J Strength Cond Res 17: 671-677, 2003.
7. Evans AK, Hodgkins TD, Durham MP, Berning JM, and Adams KJ. The acute effects of a 5rm bench press on power output. Med Sci Sports Exerc 32: S311, 2000.
8. Fleck S and Kontor K. Complex training. Nat Strength Cond Assoc J 8: 66-68, 1986.
9. Gourgoulis V, Aggeloussis N, Kasimatis P, Mavromatis G, and Garas A. Effect of a submaximal half squats warm-up program on vertical jumping ability. J Strength Cond Res 17: 342-344, 2003.
10. Gullich A, Schmidtbleicher and D. Short-term potentiation of power performance induced by maximal voluntary contractions. In: Book of Abstracts-Xvth Congress of the International Society of Biomechanics. K. Häkkinen, K.L. Keskinen, P.V. Komi, and A. Mero, eds. Jyväskylä: Isb., 1995. pp. 348-349.
11. Hamada T, Sale DG, and MacDougall JD. Post activation potentiation in endurance trained male athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc 32: 403-411, 2000.
12. Hamada T, Sale DG, MacDougal JD, and Tarnopolsky MA. Postactivation potentiation, fibre type, and twitch contraction time in human knee extensor muscles. J Appl Physiol 88: 2131-2137, 2007.
13. Hrysomallis C, and Kidgell D. Effect of heavy dynamic resistive exercise on acute upper body power. J Strength Cond Res 15: 426-430, 2001.
14. Matthews M, Matthews H, and Snook B. The acute effects of a resistance training warm up on sprint performance. Res Sports Med 12: 151-160, 2004.
15. Radcliffe JC, and Radcliffe JL. Effects of different warm-up protocols on peak power output during a single response jump task. Med Sci Sports Exerc 38: S189, 1999.
16. Vandervoort AA, Quinlan J, and McComas AJ. Twitch potentiation after voluntary contraction. Exp Neurol 81: 141-152, 1983.
17. Young WB, Jenner A, and Griffiths K. Acute enhancement of power performance from heavy load squats. J Strength Cond Res 12: 82-84, 1998.

boxing; post-activation potentiation; complex training

© 2008 National Strength and Conditioning Association