Boxing training with nothing in the dystopia

30 April 2020

A pestilence has descended upon us, and its myriad consequences include the closure of the gyms and the isolation of boxers in their homes.

This has apparently thrown many people’s training regimes into disarray and confusion. The internet abounds with anecdotal evidence of ordinary boxers struggling to come to terms with the new pestilential order. Locked out of the gyms, cloistered away from their coaches and training partners, and most likely reeling from other dramatic changes in their daily lives, they simply don’t know how to best go about training any more.

What to do?

I will admit that, before the onset of the pestilence affected me, I would’ve probably responded to that question with a contemptuous sneer followed by a few questions of my own. Don’t you already have a heavy bag or something at home? If not, why don’t you just buy one? And how can’t you know how to train yourself? Why don’t you do drills and exercises like the ones you did at your gym? Or make some up? Pull yourself together, man!

But eventually – and inevitably – the pestilence spread its dark cloud over my own life. 

All of a sudden, I was madly packing up my house in a foreign country and generally preparing my family for our imminent return to Australia. I shortly found myself on an aeroplane with my two children and no training equipment other than three pairs of my favourite gloves and, rather wishfully, my mouthguard, head gear, groin protector, and boots. Everything else had been sold with much weeping and gnashing of teeth in a fire sale: my heavy bag, water bag, double-end bag, and speed bag, as well as the Jim Bradley stand which had held it all.

It was thus poorly equipped, and with two young kids and a work-from-home partner, that I completed the 14 days of very strict home quarantine then mandated by the Australian government for all international arrivals. (I was fortunate enough to arrive back in Australia just before the federal government mandated an even stricter 14-day period of quarantine in a hotel room under police guard.) I’m now living under the more liberal, yet still highly restrictive, regime of self-isolation, just like most other boxers across the Western world. 

Personal experience is, of course, the surest stimulus to empathy; so rather than an arrogant interrogation, let me proffer instead this bespoke update of an old proverb: never judge a boxer until you’ve trained in isolation at his house.

No equipment

Ever since I first started boxing, I’ve always had a boxing training set-up in my home comprising, at a minimum, a heavy bag on a stand, but usually also a double-end bag, a speed bag, and a water bag. All that, even during those times when I’ve been an active member of a local gym.

The same goes for generic fitness equipment. I’ve always had some kind of resistance training set-up at home comprising, at a minimum, a set of adjustable dumbbells, but usually also a few other things like kettlebells. And again, I’ve owned all those things even as an active gym-goer.

Always… until now.

The pestilence has revealed that many or even most gym-goers are/were as poorly equipped for home training as I currently am.

In Australia, the panic-buying of generic fitness equipment has rivalled that of toilet paper. Rusty old 20kg sets of adjustable dumbbells are now selling for anywhere between A$250 and A$500 on Gumtree and eBay. They’re the same sets you can normally pick up brand new for A$50-A$100 at Rebel or Big W or Target.

There appears to have been no such run on boxing equipment, or at least not to anywhere near the same degree. But the online anecdotal evidence about the lack of home training set-ups is pretty compelling. Many boxers in Australia and elsewhere don’t have enough equipment. It turns out that not even Jeff Horn owns his own heavy bag.

Under the new pestilential order, simply recommending that ordinary boxers pull out their wallets and buy home training set-ups for themselves would be glib at best and callous at worst. Millions upon millions of people have been thrown out of work, and Western nations are bracing themselves for extremely severe economic downtowns, possibly the worst since the Great Depression.

No motivation

I’m an introvert. The degree of my introversion ebbs and flows, but it tends toward the extreme end of the spectrum, as evidenced by the regularity and vehemence with which extroverts have thought it reasonable to apply the invidious adjectives of “anti-social” and “autistic” to me. 

Yet even I’m vaguely perturbed by the regime of self-isolation. There’s a kernel of truth in most platitudes, and there’s perhaps much more than that in John Donne’s oft-quoted observation that “no man is an island” (which, incidentally, is merely a lyrical take on Aristotle’s ancient observation that “Man is a social animal”).

The sources of motivation may be divided into internal and external. As an introvert, much of my motivation for doing the things I do derives from within. But not all of it. Almost everyone feels the motivational pull of extrinsic factors such as status, praise, and money. To be sure, there are very many people, including very many boxers, for whom nothing else seems to matter.

Ideally – and Clubber Lang notwithstanding – training in boxing should be founded on the relationships of master/apprentice and apprentice/apprentice. You can train solo up to a certain point, but eventually you will require a master (i.e. coach) to further advance the development of your skills. And you will require other apprentices (i.e. sparring partners) with whom to practise and test them. Serious training, in other words, is fundamentally a social activity.

But the everyday phenomenology of the regime of self-isolation is characterised by indefiniteness. There is no sense of finitude in any of it; in particular, no one knows when the gyms will reopen. As the days and weeks of isolation in the home drift by, never to be lived again, you might begin to wonder whether the glorious lineage originating in Ancient Greece and illuminated by the names of Figg, Broughton, Cribb, Sullivan, Johnson, Dempsey, Pep, Louis, Robinson, Ali, Tyson, Pacquiao, and many others besides, will terminate in you, The Last of the Boxers.

The new pestilential order is fertile ground indeed for that most noxious weed of the psyche, avolition.

Aliquid Ex Nihilo

Our task, then, is to make something from nothing.

The very idea of doing so has confused and tormented the greatest minds for millennia, leading many to regard it as a logical impossibility. And yet here I shall demonstrate not only its possibility, but its actuality as well; for I myself have successfully transmogrified my own state of boxing nothingness into actual training.

My method is twofold. The first phase focuses on rectifying the lack of motivation, as this seems to be a necessary precondition for any serious training. In the second phase, the emphasis shifts to dealing with the lack of equipment, while maintaining and hopefully increasing the motivation created in the initial phase.

(It’s worth noting parenthetically that the emergence of this blog post from my not-so-great mind might constitute a further demonstration of not only the possibility of aliquid ex nihilo, but its actuality as well. I shall leave you, dear reader, to exercise your own judgement on that question.) 

Phase 1: Classic fights

To begin with, you should sit down. That’s right: sit down. This might seem like weird advice given that you’re a boxer. But anyone with any experience in it will tell you that boxing is as much psychological as it is physical. So sit down.

Now that you’re seated comfortably on the couch or wherever, lean back and try to recall the misty past of your origins as a boxer. In particular, try to recall a time you watched a truly great fight, one which made you think, “I want to do that.”

I’m a generally banal, predictable guy, so for me it’s Ali vs Foreman. The Rumble in the Jungle was, in my opinion, a fight of the most epic proportions, perhaps rivalled only by the Thrilla in Manila. Whether or not you share this opinion is irrelevant; what you’ve got to do is identify a fight that profoundly moved you, like the Rumble in the Jungle moved me.

Next, you’ve got to apply something like Weberian verstehen to really put yourself in the fight’s historical context. Read the Wikipedia account of the fight. Use Google to find two or three other accounts, such as first-hand reports or interviews with the boxers, trainers, managers, and so on. Don’t hesitate to dive into some click holes if you think you need to fill-in the background a bit more. But always keep in mind that this motivational exercise is more about feelings than facts.

To put it simply, you need to get a feeling for the fight as it unfolded for the boxers and others at that time in history. This isn’t retrospective analysis. It’s more like time-travel. Only when you’ve travelled back to the historical context of the fight should you open YouTube and actually watch it. And even then what you need to do is not so much watch the fight as live it.

The motivational power of this kind of nostalgic reminiscence is strong yet ephemeral. As soon as you feel it, you should act upon it.

Phase 2: Online workouts

If you’re anything like me, you might be naturally inclined to put your new-found motivation into action by drawing on your own ingenuity. After all, how hard could it be? The fact that you’ve got no equipment just means that all you can do is calisthenics. In its most general sense, calisthenics comprises all bodyweight exercises involving large muscle groups, such as jogging, push ups, sit ups, squats, lunges, shadow boxing, shadow skipping… yadda yadda yadda. Do those things then!

Well, ok. But first of all you’ve got to select some calisthenic exercises and put them together into some kind of workout.

One option is to select and combine exercises intuitively as you go, otherwise known as winging it. I often wing it myself, but it’s a very bad habit. Winging it undermines self-discipline by making everything depend upon your current mental state. For example, when you’re tired or just don’t feel much like training, you’re more likely to (perhaps unconsciously) go easy in your ad hoc workouts than when you’re energised and eager.

An explicit, well-designed workout plan is always better. Another option, then, is to prepare such a plan for yourself. This, however, may be an intimidating and confusing task if you’ve got little or no understanding of the principles of exercise programming. It can also be onerous and time-consuming, especially for those of us with a proclivity for overanalysis, obsessive evidence-gathering, and click-hole diving.

But the biggest problem for these two approaches is that they won’t do much, if anything, to maintain your motivation under the regime of self-isolation. Whether you wing your workouts or plan them out to the nth degree, you’ll still be doing all your training as The Last of the Boxers. 

It’s sad to say, but there’s no denying it: on the internet, salvation ye shall find.

The best approach to training with nothing is to do online calisthenic workouts five or more days a week. This goes a long way to mitigating the problems discussed above. By undertaking a weekly schedule of online workouts, you’re able to avoid the vice of winging your training as well as the inconvenience of programming your own workouts.

Most importantly, though, the simulated sociality involved in following along with online workouts can be highly conducive to the maintenance of motivation. A good online trainer will provide the necessary instruction and encouragement to get you through a complete workout. The best ones can almost make it seem as if you’re in a real gym with a real trainer.

Resources

The economy of YouTube, like that of the internet more generally, is prima facie impervious to the problem of scarcity. If you go and hit it up for home workouts, you might soon begin to wonder whether you’re the only person in the world who isn’t an online trainer.

A great deal of the fitness stuff on YouTube is, however, either faddish bunkum or irrelevant for our purposes or both.

We require online workouts focused on calisthenics for boxing. We also require the trainer to instruct us through the entire workout. This latter requirement is especially important for motivation. There are many short videos in which a trainer describes what’s involved in a workout without actually instructing it. So what they provide are not so much online workouts as online ideas for workouts. We need something more substantial.

My research has so far identified three YouTube channels providing good quality workouts satisfying the above requirements. These channels are probably just the tip of the iceberg, so if you know of any others please feel free to report them in the comments section below.

Precision Striking

All-things-considered, this is certainly one of the best boxing training channels on YouTube. It’s got informative, practical videos on pretty much every aspect of boxing training, including several workouts you can perform at home without any equipment. The home workouts provide a good mix of technical work and conditioning. The trainer is competent, lucid, and encouraging.

Check out Precision Striking’s Boxing Home Workout!

Nate Bower

This guy has posted more workouts on YouTube than there are stars in the sky. Quite a few of them are straight-up calisthenics. The choice of exercises is spot-on and the intensity is high. My only misgivings about this channel are the lack of verbal instructions and encouragement in some of the workouts. And the fervent, grinding gym muzak can get on one’s nerves a bit.

Check out Nate Bower’s Ultimate 20 Minute In Home Workout!

Jawbreaker Boxing

A new channel on the YouTube boxing block, this was established directly in response to the new pestilential order. Although it’s much less polished than the more established channels, it provides a growing catalogue of quality workouts designed specifically for the home. They’re all 60 minutes in length, which makes them more like a session at the gym. This well-intentioned channel merits more attention than it’s getting.

Check out Jawbreaker Boxing’s Coronavirus Quarantine Home Workout #1!

Do you know of any other good resources for home boxing training? Let me know in the comments!

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Posted by Critical B&F

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