I took 6 weeks off of boxing lately, mostly just to rest, focus on work, and give myself a break after my last fight.
I’m not crazy, though — I kept up my runs and weights at home. I just didn’t do any boxing-specific work. No heavy bag, no sparring, no punching drills. I didn’t even show my nose at the gym.
When I went back for the first time this week I carefully stayed out of the classes that were training in the gym and did my own slow and careful workout: warm-up, shadowboxing, 10 rounds on the heavy bag.
The next two days showed me the muscles I had not been training while out of boxing: forearms, lats (although I swear I did lats!!), and some obliques. Also my neck was sore from carrying all the tension of the first workout back.
But amazingly, my shoulders were good.
I’ve had chronic bursitis in my hips and shoulders for as long as I can remember.
You gotta have shoulders to box.
You gotta have everything, I guess, but I never would have guessed that I could actually find work-arounds for the issues I have to deal with in my body’s performance, and still box well.
I was over 40 when I started this sport, and I was astonished that I could box well even though my hip joint issues meant I couldn’t run distance (for me, that means more than 4 miles).
Now I’m learning that I don’t have to punish my shoulder joints, either, in order to compete in the ring.
At first I sweated hard to learn to do dozens of standard push-ups, along with burpees, pull-ups, and the other shoulder-intense exercises. For several years I dealt with a level of everyday pain that I thought I would have to live with, if I was going to box.
Then I tore the rotator cuff in my right shoulder (doing unassisted pull-ups), requiring 3 months of physical therapy and a lot of time out of the ring. That shoulder became — and still is — the single body part I most have to favor.
My physical therapist — a pro fighter a few years older than me — told me to cut back on the heavy shoulder work. “You’ll still box just fine,” she assured me. And I decided to test it out.
So I stopped obsessing about building the number of push ups I could do, and I started re-working my personal training workouts.
And my pain levels started to recede…
But the real challenge is in what to do when the whole team is working out together.
I began by thinking up a few alternate exercises.
For example, when the team is doing entire rounds of toe-taps on the medicine ball, I do steps instead, which hurt my hips less. When the team is doing burpees, I do deep lunges instead. If the command is for 50 standard push ups, I’ll do knee push ups.
It’s extremely difficult to be doing something different from everyone else on the team, but I try to tell myself that I’m 46 and they are 20, and I’m allowed. I can still meet them with a nasty-ass right when the bell rings.
This one single thing — not doing what everyone else is doing — is the absolute hardest part of my sport. I must have a big pride thing going on, because I absolutely *hate* having to do my own thing. But I’ve finally decided to do it anyway.
And I’ve found that my results in the ring are just as good, which is why I am sticking with it.
The second thing I’ve changed is to lower the weights, reps, and impact.
If the call is for 50 arm lifts with weights, I’ll do 30, or lighten the weight. I don’t shadow box with 5-pound weights, I use 1-pounders instead. Believe me, I could do all this stuff full-bore before, but I paid a heavy price in pain levels and injuries.
And there was simply no need to do that.
The third thing I’ve done is test the time limits.
By testing, I’ve found that I can do as many 1 minute (not 3 minute) sets of toe-taps as everyone else and still be relatively pain-free.
I’ve been working actively on that particular exercise, so I haven’t yet tested 2 minute rounds, but the 1 minute rounds are solid.
I can’t change all my time limits, but I change the ones that hit my hips and shoulders the worst. Amazingly, sparring is not affected at all. Which is probably further proof — if I needed it — that just because I’m not starting every workout with 100 push-ups doesn’t mean I am going to suck in the ring.
When I was back in the gym this week for the first time in 6 weeks, I was struck by how many shoulder-intense exercises both training groups were doing.
One coach had the team doing literally hundreds of dips, followed by alternating-hand push-ups on a medicine ball. (If you start with your left hand on the ball and your right hand on the floor, you do a push-up, then shift quickly so that your right hand is now on the ball and your left is on the floor. Repeat. It takes balance, speed, and lots of shoulder strength.) Anyone who fell behind was assigned 50 more push-ups.
That session would have been a total loss for me.
As it was, I did my own workout, which involved exactly zero dips or push-ups. I’ll put some of those in there as I get going again, but it will be far less than those guys are doing.
In the end, my lesson has been — once again — that I have to know my own body and look out for myself. Even in the face of pressure from a coach or the team.
So I’m passing it along to you. Boxing is an incredible, joy-giving, empowering sport and with a basic level of fitness, you can do it. Even if you’re over 40. Even if you have cranky hips and shoulders. You can do it!
And so can I.
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