Q: Is there an optimal bodyweight or bodyfat % one should be at for speed, quickness, and explosive jumping ability? I'm naturally quite chunky and although I've lost some weight and dramatically improved I really don't know if I should try to become as lean as some athletes are.
A: The answer to this question is that in large part the optimal percentage of bodyfat is going to vary depending on the individual. There is a very good correlation between having low bodyfat levels and sprinting speed, jumping ability, and all around explosiveness. That is, the leaner one is the less luggage they have to carry around so all things being equal they oughta be able to move faster and this is demonstrated in research.
However, most of the fastest and most explosive athletes you see are so lean because they're naturally that way and their bodies accept the amount of bodyfat they carry as being normal. Rest assured these guys aren't frequenting weight loss centers to be as lean as they are. The body better expresses speed and power when it is in a well fed state because it associates this state with normalcy. The amount of leanness that people can acquire without causing a disruption in the body's normalcy, or homeostasis, will vary. If you've been a little heftier most of your life then your body will tend to accept a higher percentage of bodyfat as the normal low end for you, probably somewhere around 10-12% instead of 4-6%.
If you try to get below this and find you have to starve yourself or do countless hours of aerobic activity to get even leaner the body will work against you in many ways. To illustrate, both starvation victims and ultra endurance athletes are lean yet they aren't able to demonstate superior speed and power.
If you can maintain or achieve a low bodyfat while eating pretty much normally and performing a normal training regimen your body will better express speed and power. Likewise, if you have to practically starve yourself to reach a low bodyfat one of the ways your body adapts to this is by inhibiting power expression. This is due to many reasons, among them hormonal. It also causes changes at the muscular level that favor endurance rather than explosiveness.
So the take home message is get as lean as you can without it interfering with your performance, mood, energy etc. That point will be different for someone who naturally tends to be around 20% bodyfat vs someone who's naturally 6% bodyfat. Look at Charles Barkley in his prime or look at any number of explosive athletes from other sports. Not everybody is 5% bodyfat! If you're naturally 20% and you attempt to diet down to 6% you might get there, but I can just about guarantee you that you won't have much explosiveness when you do because you'll have to diet too hard and this will cause your body to more or less "freak out" and work against you. Eat a well balanced lower calorie diet to shed some extra baggage but don't try to get lean to a point that you can't maintain it without an extraordinary amount of exercise or severe diet. If you find yourself lacking energy due to not eating enough calories or having to do a large amount of conditioning work to continue or maintain weight loss then that's the point where your bodyfat is getting lower then what your body is comfortable with so you'd probably be better off backing off.
Q: Got any tips for increasing the power of my boxing punches? I've been doing a lot of bench presses and shoulder presses, should I also be doing speed and explosive versions?
A: You didn't say what weight class you were in or anything else but often the easiest way to increase punching power, in addition to working on your technique, is to simply get stronger. You'll also want to pay attention to the speed at which you move weight with both sub-maximal and maximal loads. There will come a point where strength increases will occur that are non-transferable to a quick speed movement. The more one is geared towards strength (think of a big heavyweight) rather than speed the sooner this will occur whereas a naturally faster guy (Roy Jones) might never have to worry about this. Some guys who are speed dominant can complete 3 reps in around 3 seconds with 70% of their maximum on the bench press. On the other side are often strong but slow guys who have to use around 50% for the same task. As for assessing speed of maximal loads, you might put 50 lbs on your bench press but if it goes from taking you 3 seconds to lift the weight up to 6 seconds then that's not good for your specific task and that extra strength is largely useless.
Now, for your specific situation, what I would do is work on the extreme speed end of things see how long it takes you to throw a given combination. For example, you might see what kind've quality combination you can get off in a second. Have someone time you, record it, and use it as a barometer that you try to improve consistently.
Next, see how high you can do something like bench press throws with a given weight. You might start out with 15% 30% and 50% of your max and measure the distance thrown. Smith machines are great here. Note the weight used and from then on use that as an assessment tool, just keep the weights the same even as you gain strength.
Next, see how an increase in maximal strength affects both your speed of movement and your ability to increase the bench press throws. If you're like a lot of boxers there will be a direct transfer. An increase in X amount of strength in your max bench press translates into an immediate increase in bench press throws and punching power. So in this situation there's no real need to spend a lot of time doing submaximal rate of force development or upper body plyo drills etc. Just concentrate on getting strong by training heavy with good recovery.
However, you might be one of these guys who can increase maximal strength without a direct increase in rate of force development, power, or in your case - the power of your punch or your ability to do bench press throws. If this is the case you would be better of spending one session dedicated to max strength, like 5 sets x 3-5 reps on the bench press, and another session a few days later dedicated to power, like 5 sets of 3 at 60% bench press and 5 sets of bench press throws. Then continue to alternate the sessions back and forth.
Q: My problem is trying to gain speed for football while gaining weight at the same time. My lifts have been increasing nicely and I've been doing speed work twice a week and speed endurance work once a week. What would you suggest I do about gaining weight and increasing speed at the same time?
A: This is a pretty common problem and it's a tough one to be in. Not only is your competition bigger then you are but they're faster too! Although I can identify with the problem it's really all psychological. A lot of guys have trouble gaining weight because they're afraid they're going to get fat. Fearing a loss of speed is also valid, but most fast guys are muscular and fairly heavy and definitely not skinny.
Training can get you strong and fast but only eating can get you big! In truth, muscle weight doesn't come unintentionally it must be earned. The way you earn it is by eating. If you've been making strength gains with your current training then there's no need to have to start a bodybuilding specific training protocol in order to gain weight because most likely you're already stimulating your muscles more then enough, you just need to provide them with the material they need to grow. Simply keep training the way you've been training and eat more calories and you'll gain muscle. As long as you're using strength training protocols like you've been doing and performing your speed training 1-2x per week then for every pound of muscle mass you gain you should gain a disproportionate amount of strength which will then enhance your power. Many studies show around a 30% strength increase for a 10% muscle mass increase when using strength training methods. If you currently weigh 150 lbs and squat 300 lbs and you gain 10% muscle mass (15 lbs) and increase your squat by 30% (up to 390), in most situations you will become faster not slower.
The bottom line is you gotta eat for your size and once you have the size you want you can decrease the volume of your lifting and increase the volume of your sprinting to enhance your speed even more. That will give you the best of both worlds and you still have plenty of time for that during the summer, AFTER you gain the weight. Here are several approaches you can start using immediately to start packing on the pounds.
Train normally but make sure during you start on a protein/carbohydrate drink at the beginning of every weight training workout and sip on it continuously throughout your workout. As soon as your workout is over have another such drink. The total amount of protein and carbs consumed during this period should be 0.4 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight and 0.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. After your through with your drinks try to eat as much high quality food (carbohydrate and protein) as you can stomach down during the 2 hour period following your workout. Basically what you're doing with this approach is overfeeding in a brief 2-3 hour window. Your workout stimulates hormones that cause your body to suck up these nutrients like a sponge. The rest of the day eat smaller high protein/moderate carbohydrate meals. This approach alone should be good for an easy 10 lbs of muscle without any fat accumulation for the average trainee.
The zig-zag approach entails alternating periods of high calorie consumption with periods of low calorie consumption to gain mass for extended periods of time while keeping fat gain at bay. Eat high quality food like a pig for 3, 4, or 5 days consecutively, or until you've put on a good 3-5 lbs of bodyweight. Next, have 2 consecutive days where you intentionally cut slightly back on the eating. Follow the recommendations from above for during and postworkout nutrition during the high calorie days. So you intentionally overeat for 3, 4, or 5 days and then slightly undereat for the following 2 days. Try to put the bulk of your running and conditioning work during your low calorie days and the bulk of your weight training on your high calorie days.
The number of consecutive high calorie days will be commensurate with your metabolic rate and ability to eat. This is a 2 steps forward - 1 step back approach designed to put muscle on you without the fat. You might gain 3-5 lbs during the high calorie phase while losing 2-3 lbs or more during the low calorie phase. The majority of this fluctuation will be due to water but at the end of every cycle you should be 1-2 lbs heavier and more muscular than before.
Weigh yourself and take a waist measurement first thing in the morning when you start the cycle and then again first thing in the morning after each cycle is complete. If your bodyweight goes up while your waist measurement stays about the same you're definitely on the right track. This is an excellent approach because it is effective and isn't overly complicated.
Interestingly enough, if one wanted to lose weight they could follow the same basic zig-zag approach but switch the 3-5 consecutive high calorie days to low calorie and switch the 2 low calorie days to maintenance calories.
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