If you’re a serious runner, you know that cross-training days are just as important as long runs in building stamina and strength and improving your overall health and fitness. Cross-training has been proven to help prevent injuries, “improve fitness, promote recovery, enhance motivation, and rejuvenate the mind and body during breaks from formal training.” (1)
Most runners add cross-training activities like swimming, strength training, weight lifting, and yoga to their training plan to actively recover from long runs. But, when planning their workout schedule or marathon training plan, most people forget about one of the best cross-training options out there – boxing.
The ultimate goal of cross-training – and training in general – is to become a better runner. And when you think of improving as a runner, you probably want to run faster, improve your endurance, and build up your stamina. Cross-training increases your body’s power and decreases your fatigue – “it’s safe to say that almost every runner can run faster by cross-training appropriately than by running only.” (1)
If you want to run faster and build power – boxing is for you. Boxing is an intense exercise that will build muscle, reaction times, and stamina. Boxing coach Christina Cunningham says, boxing can “improve footwork, reaction time, and cardiovascular health, [and] hitting the heavy bag is a great form of resistance training to build upper body and core strength.” (2)
In a recent article from Runner’s World, Rozalynn Frazier shared that boxing is especially beneficial to runners because it builds core muscles – something that runners often lack. When you run, you use your core muscles in your abs, your back and your hips to stabilize your body. Having a weak core can be one of the reasons you tire easily and can contribute to injuries and soreness, especially in your lower back. Heather Milton from NYU’s Running Lab Program says that “boxing helps build up that rotational core strength” – allowing you to run with more stability and confidence. (2)
Besides from being a great core workout – there’s three major benefits of boxing that are especially important for runners. First, boxing improves your breathing techniques. Since boxing is a very technical sport, when and how you breathe when boxing is important. The best boxers know that they have to keep their breathing slow and controlled – taking “long, slow breaths in through the nose, short bursts out when striking.” (3)
Breathing techniques are super important for runners because they can influence how tired you feel and how much oxygen gets to your muscles. Boxing can help you maximize your breathing and run faster than ever before.
Second, better balance. Boxing is all about footwork and shifting your weight to create the perfect powerful punch. Constantly changing your position and changing your balance can improve your reaction time and your stability when you run. One Harvard article about boxing says improved balance can also prevent injuries because “if you encounter a crack in the sidewalk, you may be more successful protecting yourself, because your strength and reaction time may have improved.” (4)
Third, it builds strength. Most runners focus on leg strength – squats, lunges, and calf raises are all tried and true exercises for running fanatics. But, upper body strength-building exercises are also important. Boxing is an intense workout for your shoulders, arms, and core, and it activates almost all major muscle groups in your body. That’s why it’s one of the best cross-training options for runners.
Starting something new can always be intimidating at first, especially if it’s a “tough-guy” thing like boxing. If you have never boxed before, you can do one of two things – (1) buy a punching bag and boxing gloves and start boxing in your home gym or (2) find a boxing club near you.
If you are just starting out, I would recommend option number 2. With a quick google search, you can locate gyms nearby that have boxing classes. Most even offer a free workout where you can go and test it out to see if boxing is something you enjoy.
Having an instructor there to lead you through a class will help you to get the best workout possible and prevent injuries as well. And while it might seem intimidating to go to a boxing gym (you might be imagining a Rocky-style, hole-in-the-wall place with a bunch of hard-core boxers in a dimly-lit arena), you’ll find that boxing is a much more diverse sport than you think. Since it has become more popular in the past years, people of all ages and backgrounds have started boxing both to stay in shape and just for fun.
If you don’t want to commit to going to a gym or buying a punching bag, you can still try adding boxing to your workout plan. How? With shadowboxing! Shadowboxing is a no-equipment activity where you throw punches in the air as if you were fighting someone. Boxing club founder Angela Jennings says it’s still a great workout because it “requires you to generate force and power with nothing stopping your impact—just individual body control.” (2)
Another no-equipment option is kickboxing or shadowboxing videos online. There’s a ton of free videos that you can play on your TV or iPad in your home workout space and follow to build strength, improve your balance and cardio, and get in a great workout.
Besides the fact that boxing is a super cool and hard-core exercise (I mean, who doesn’t want to be able to tell their friends that they are a boxer?), it’s also a great cross-training activity that can improve your running abilities. So, grab your boxing gloves, cue-up some Rocky music and start swinging!