The 6 Best Strength Training Exercises to Make Your Boxing Workout More Effective

Punch up your boxing routine with these trainer-approved tips.

woman punching with boxing gloves on


Whether you've been hitting the heavy bag for a while or you're still a newbie learning how to wrap up your hands, not many workouts make you feel more powerful than boxing. Strapping on your gloves, punching as hard as you can, and releasing any pent-up aggression you've stored up? Sounds pretty badass, TBH.

But if you're ready to level up your boxing workout and start putting a dent in that heavy bag, you'll have to strength train, explains Jill Goodtree, an NASM-certified personal trainer and Rumble boxing instructor. "When I’m training myself and my clients, I program a fifty-fifty balance of boxing technique on the bag and strength exercises — so as your skills grow as a boxer, your power increases as well," she says.

Want to feel even more powerful when you get into your boxer's stance? Here, Goodtree explains how to strength train for boxing (spoiler alert: it's not just arm workouts) and demonstrates the best exercises to add power to your punches and unleash your inner fighter.

Benefits of Strength Training for Boxing

Think about the classic Rocky montage, and you probably imagine a lot of cardio going down (such as jumping rope or running up the stairs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art). But in order to be a strong boxer, you have to focus on strength too, says Goodtree. "Boxers are typically really good at cardio, but the only way to punch harder and stronger is to have bigger and stronger muscles," she explains.

Certain strength training moves are especially beneficial for boxers because they help you build explosive movement, she continues. "For example, in the thruster, you have to use your legs to power your upper body," she points out. "Similarly, boxing isn't just upper body or lower body — it's the entire body working together." In that sense, strength training strategically will help you build that explosion and punch harder than ever.

Finally, certain core-strengthening moves will improve the power of your punches more than lifting heavy weights. "Think about hooks and uppercuts," points out Goodtree. "They're twisting movements, so your core and your spine need to know how to flex and rotate." Similarly, in certain defensive moves (think slipping to the side or suddenly ducking), your core needs to be either stable enough to stay in place or agile enough to twist safely.

Best Tips for Strength Training for Boxing

One common misconception when training for power punches is that you'll only be doing upper-body exercises. Not so fast, says Goodtree. "Legs do so much of the work in boxing," she emphasizes. "Every single punch you throw is dominated by lower-body strength." So make sure to devote time to training your legs and hips for power.

You can also alternate between compound exercises (exercises that use multiple muscle groups and require multiple joints to move throughout a rep) and isolation exercises in your training. "Isolation exercises are great for building muscle mass," says Goodtree. "I also like to do compound movements where we're moving the body together. That way, you're training your muscle groups to be coordinated and also improving stability and balance." (Here's why that's important, BTW.)

The 6 Best Exercises to Power Up Your Punches

Below, Goodtree demonstrates the best exercises to power up your punches. Remember to keep your chest proud and your back flat for optimal alignment, and engage your core in each exercise.

How to add these best exercises for boxing to your workouts: For a standalone workout, complete 3 sets of each exercise in reps of 8 to 12, at a weight that feels moderately difficult (read: you can get through the reps without stopping, but the last few are tough). Or, maintain a workout split by adding the first two exercises to your lower-body day, the middle two exercises to your upper-body day, and the last two exercises to your full-body day.

Ready to hit the bag? Add these strength exercises to your routine to make your punches even stronger.

1. Thruster

Why It Works: "This is one of the most explosive movements you can do," says Goodtree. Pro tip: Let your legs assist your arms by using the squat to power the overhead press. Make it one fluid movement rather than two separate ones.

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand, and core engaged. Keeping arms bent at 90 degrees, raise elbows up to chest height and out at sides, a few inches in front of the body. Face palms inward. This is the starting position.

B. On an inhale, sit back into hips and bend knees to lower until thighs are parallel or almost parallel with floor, keeping chest up and preventing back from rounding.

C. On an exhale, press through feet to straighten legs and simultaneously press the dumbbells directly overhead so wrists stack directly over shoulders and biceps are next to ears.

D. On an inhale, bend elbows and lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

2. Squat-Lunge-Lunge

Why it works: "The squat is really important for getting down and coming up in boxing," says Goodtree. "Lunges are great single-leg exercises to help you learn balance." If you're not sure how far back to step in a reverse lunge, use a mirror to check your form at first (you're aiming for 90-degree angles in both knees).

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding one dumbbell in goblet position at chest.

B. On an inhale, sit back into hips and bend knees to lower until thighs are parallel or almost parallel with floor, keeping chest up and preventing back from rounding.

C. On an exhale, press through feet to straighten legs and return to standing.

D. Step backward with right foot, keeping hips square to the front and pelvis neutral. Lower until both legs are bent at 90-degree angles, keeping chest tall and core engaged.

E. Press into mid-foot and heel of the left foot to stand, stepping right foot up to meet left foot with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.

F. Step backward with left foot, keeping hips square to the front and pelvis neutral. Lower until both legs are bent at 90-degree angles, keeping chest tall and core engaged.

G. Press into mid-foot and heel of the right foot to stand, stepping left foot up to meet right foot with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.

3. Front/Lateral Shoulder Raise

Why it works: Your shoulders are one of the most important muscle groups to train for powerful punches. But be careful: "Don't ego-list on this exercise," cautions Goodtree. "Focus on form over weight, because you're isolating the smaller muscles in your shoulders." Start with half (or even less) of what you'd typically use for a biceps curl, and adjust from there.

A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding one light dumbbell in each hand with arms at sides.

B. With palms facing inward, exhale and lift both dumbbells to shoulder height, keeping a slight bend in elbows.

C. Maintaining arm extension and length, open arms wide and bring both dumbbells backward until wrists are in line with shoulders. Keep the dumbbells at shoulder height. You should be in a "T" position.

D. With palms facing inward, bring both dumbbells in to directly in front of chest, keeping the dumbbells at shoulder height.

E. Slowly and with control, lower both of the dumbbells to sides.

4. Reverse Fly

Why it works: Think of this boxing exercise as a direct way to counteract the time you spend sitting at your desk. "Our upper and mid-backs are relatively weak," explains Goodtree. As with the front and lateral raise, don't be afraid to lift light weight here.

A. Stand with feet hips-width apart and knees soft, holding a light dumbbell in each hand by sides. Hinge at hips with soft knees, flat back, and neutral neck, leaning torso forward about 45 degrees. Let hands hang directly below shoulders, palms facing in to start.

B. Keeping core engaged and maintaining a slight bend in elbows, exhale and lift the dumbbells up laterally in a wide arching motion until they reach shoulders height. Focus on squeezing shoulder blades together.

C. Pause at the top of the movement, then inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells to return to starting position.

5. Kneeling Woodchop

Why it works: This core move assists with anti-rotation training to add some oomph to your hits. "Take the kneeling woodchop slower than you think you need to, and draw the ribcage down" during the move, advises Goodtree. "If you're arching your back, you won't get the core engagement that you need."

A. Start in a half-kneeling position with right leg forward and left leg kneeling. Both knees should form 90-degree angles, hips stacked directly under shoulders and spine long. Hold one dumbbell with both hands, and place both hands at the outside of left hip.

B. With both arms extended long (a slight bend in elbows is okay), slowly bring the dumbbell from left hip up and over toward right shoulder. Keep shoulders square and facing straight ahead so they don't rotate at all.

C. "Chop" the dumbbell back diagonally down and toward the left across torso, as if chopping a block of wood with an axe.

D. Continue on the same side for a set duration or number of reps, then switch legs and repeat on opposite side, chopping in the opposite direction.

6. Dumbbell Plank Pull-Through

Why it works: The challenge here is keeping your hips steady (facing the ground) as your torso tries to rotate to drag the dumbbell. "Keep your hips in line with your shoulders and don't pike them up in the air," says Goodtree. "If you pike, you're losing core engagement."

A. Start in a high plank position with a dumbbell lying on the floor off to the right side, perpendicular to body.

B. Keeping core engaged and hips square, reach the left arm underneath the body to grab the dumbbell and drag it to the left side of the body.

C. Repeat, using right hand to drag the dumbbell back to start. Continue alternating.

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