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Sit ups are a different kind of pain. Unlike the bench press or squats, where there’s a satisfying feeling of pure strength and a display of manliness to accompany the torture, ab workouts are just plain uncomfortable.
In fact, let’s just say it; abdominal exercises SUCK! As much as I love to train, I’m not a big fan (to put it mildly) of core-targeting workouts, and I often neglect this area.
However, having a strong core is vital in boxing. It helps with quick slips, rolls, and upper body movement, being able to take a punch, and transferring your body weight into the punch.
So, knowing that stomach conditioning is important (and unavoidable), I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 ab exercises for boxers and fighters. Enjoy! – If that’s at all possible.
Advice on Ab Exercises for Fighters
While there is no one best ab workout for boxing, there are some exercises that are more beneficial for the specific conditioning required for fighters. Exercises such as medicine ball drops and taking light punches to the stomach prepare you physically and mentally for taking punches, and allow you to work on tensing and exhaling just before impact – techniques vital for surviving body shots.
If your goal is a functional and solid core and not just show-off ripped abs, then add fighting specific ab exercises to your routine. Also, make sure that you include a combination of exercises that work the upper, middle, lower, and oblique stomach muscles.
And for those of you that are just after wash-board abs (shame on you), know that while the below exercises build and tone muscle, the clearly defined six-pack abs pro fighters possess is the result of a low body fat percentage. If you want to be ripped, you’ll need to follow a strict diet and keep up with your roadwork, heavy bag and mitt sessions.
1) Jab Cross Sit-ups
Sit-ups have been my arch enemy since high school gym class, but the jab cross sit-up is one variation that I find just about tolerable.
- The starting position is similar to the traditional sit-up: on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Instead of your hands touching your temples, hold them slightly lower and in your guard position.
- Using your stomach muscles, lift your back off the ground and bring your upper body towards your knees. Keep your back straight!
- When nearing the top of the sit-up and when you’re in range, throw the 1-2 combination. Make sure that each hand goes over the top of the opposite knee.
Partner Up: If you have a mate on hand, try locking legs at the ankles and performing sit-ups simultaneously while one person throws the jab-cross into the palms of the other. Switch the person throwing punches each round.
2) Punching Crunches
Punching crunches are a hybrid between traditional crunches and the air bike, which are tailor made for boxers.
- With your back on the mat, bend your knees and lift your legs up. Your shins should be parallel to the floor, and your toes should be pointed towards the ceiling. During this whole exercise, your legs should not move.
- Contract your abdominals and use the force to lift your head and shoulder blades off the mat. Your neck should stay straight and your chin up, and your hands should be near your chin.
- Throw continuous, fast jab-crosses with your fists passing over the opposite knee.
If you’re a tough son-of-a-bitch, try punching crunches with a dumbbell in each hand.
3) Rocking Plank
The plank is a phenomenal exercise that engages the core, leg, and shoulder muscles. This version of the plank steps the intensity up a notch – Hell yeah!
- Starting from lying on your stomach, lift up and support yourself with your forearms and toes, so that these are the only parts of your body touching the floor.
- You need to keep your bum down, body in a straight line, core tight and your head up. Hold this position. Now, let’s get rocking.
- Push off your toes so your body rocks forward, but stop yourself before you fall forward. As soon as you stop yourself, push lightly off your forearms so your momentum goes backwards.
- Continue this rocking motion while maintaining proper form.
4) Oblique V Twists
Strong oblique muscles helps in producing the fast and powerful rotation required for knockout hooks. This oblique isolation exercise is most effective with a medicine ball or plate, but can be done without weight.
- Start in a sitting position with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Hold the medicine ball (or plate) in your hands by your chest.
- Lift your feet off the ground and lean back a little. You should be in a v-shape, but keep your knees slightly bent and your feet off the ground.
- Twist to the right and gently tap the ground with the ball, then immediately twist to the left and do the same.
- Repeat this motion, being sure not to move too quickly as you end up using momentum more than muscles.
5) Alphabet Leg Raises
My first Muay Thai coach used leg raises as punishment. He would make us hold our feet one inch off the ground while raining down on our stomach with Thai pads. While not quite as extreme, this an equally torturous variation of leg raises.
- Start on your back with your legs straight, a few inches off the ground. Your head should be slightly off the mat staring directly up at the ceiling, and your hands should be at your side and not under your back or bottom.
- Keeping your feet together, lift them up and draw a letter “A” in the air. Then, bring them down to your starting position. Draw the letter “B.” Continue this all the way to the letter “Z”, never allowing your feet to touch the ground. Ever!
6) Medicine Ball Drops
Punishment. That’s the only word I can think of to describe med ball drops. Here’s the method for the afflicting pain on your partner:
- Lie on your back. You have the choice of having your legs flat on the ground or bent, and having your arms by your side or near your head.
- Your partner stands over you and holds the medicine ball roughly a foot above your stomach. A 4kg medicine ball is a good weight to start with.
- Partner releases the ball and then catches it on the bounce. Repeat for a set number of reps or for the duration of a round.
- Standing partner smiles wickedly and lets out an evil laugh; “MWAH HA HA HA”… until it’s their turn.
Note: Increase the height or the weight of the plate until a sufficient level of pain is reached.
7) Stomach Punch Bag
Allowing your partner free reign to throw punches at the torso is excellent conditioning (honestly). Your stomach muscles will benefit from time under tension, and you’ll learn how to deal with body punches effectively while toughening your mental fortitude.
- Both you and your partner glove up and set a round timer for two or three minutes.
- Throw continuous punches at your partner’s mid-section. Add hooks and body rips and not just straight punches.
- Change roles after 30 seconds.
Note: Power should be set so that your punches are hard enough to be uncomfortable, but not so hard that you’re crippling your partner. An intensity of 50% is a good benchmark. However, it’s important that you communicate with your partner and let them know if they’re punching too hard (or soft).
8) Partner Throw Down Leg Raises
Standard leg raises are for sissies. Let’s power up that second-rate, warm-up exercise with some throw downs!
- Begin by lying on your back. The standing partner should be facing you with feet about shoulders width apart and near your head. Grab the back of your partner’s ankles and lift your feet one inch of the ground. This is your starting position.
- Keep your feet together and raise them to your partner's hands.
- Partner pushes your legs down to the ground. Legs can be thrown straight down or to either side.
- Use your stomach muscles to stop your feet just before they touch the ground.
- Repeat the motion and lift your legs to your partner from where they are (you don’t have to return to centre).
9) V Sit-up (a.k.a Jackknife Sit-up)
V sit-ups are a mix between leg raises and full sit-ups. They target all of the front stomach muscles while also helping to improve your balance.
- Lie on your back with your arms stretched out above your head. Lift your legs and arms off the ground about an inch.
- By contracting your stomach muscles, raise your legs and arms at the same time and meet in the centre.
- Slowly return to the starting position.
10) Ab Roller / Barbell Ab Rollout (Knee Position)
I like sticking to body weight exercises that don’t require weights or machines, but I make an exception for the ab rollout as it is a sick core workout.
- Start on your knees with the barbell in front near you. Place your hands on the barbell about shoulders width apart.
- Slowly roll the barbell out until your stomach is fully stretched out.
- Roll the barbell back until you return to the starting position.
Unless you already have a strong core, doing only 25 of these will leave your abs aching.
Wrapping It Up
You have to train the stomach if you want to be a boxer. There are no exceptions.
Neglecting to train your core will negatively impact your agility, strength, and form when it comes to boxing training. And more embarrassingly, you’ll be left squirming on the canvas, crying, and screaming for your momma when you take a punch in the gut.
If you want to toughen up your core, I suggest you start adding the above exercise to your training. If you’re looking for more variety, then check out bodybuilding.com’s huge database of ab exercises.