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The Sweet Science: When Fighting Beats Running

– Derek M. Hansen – December 14, 2009 –

One of the great thing about sports – almost any sport – is that when you see a sporting skill performed well, with little effort or extraneous movement, it is a delight to witness. In the current era of mixed martial arts and cage fighting, you get numbed into submission by bodies sprawling all over the ring, elbows and knees striking an opponent or simply two big guys falling over each other from sheer fatigue. At some point, we begin to yearn for something fluid, dynamic and inspiring.

Fighting is pretty much on the opposite end of the sporting spectrum when compared to running. Either you are a good runner, or you are a good fighter. The two rarely go together. Many of the fighters I work with (MMA and boxing) have the worst running mechanics of any athletes I’ve encountered. I suspect you could look at it one of two ways. When you have lots of natural running ability and speed, the best form of self defense for you is moving those feet and removing yourself from the situation. “Exit stage-left…”, as Snagglepuss would put it. Then there are the individuals who are not fleet of foot or gifted in the running arts. They are forced to stay and fight, and they develop their skill set accordingly.

I recently encountered an example of advanced techniques that made me fully appreciate the skill set of boxers. I attended an amateur boxing event last week and filmed a few of the boxers that I had helped with training plans. Off to the side, two young kids were involved in a warm-up routine that I thought was simply amazing. One of the kids – the one getting ready for a fight – was amazing with his hand-speed and punching accuracy. I had heard that this kid is 16 years old. The other kid was even more impressive in the way he was holding his hands up as targets and couldn’t have been much older than 11-12 years old. Together, they put on a warm-up routine that blew my mind. The combination of their youth, expertise, fluidity, confidence and teamwork got me excited about teaching movement skills to young athletes. The two of them must be brothers raised in a boxing family. These type of skills can only be imparted with early exposure, good teaching, commitment and discipline.

The video below is an excerpt from their warm-up routine.

Boxing Tune-Up from Running Mechanics on Vimeo.

One can easily see why there is so much anticipation for a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight in 2010. It is a contest between two highly skilled individuals – arguably the most skilled of their era. It is not about two brawlers meeting in the center of the ring and throwing bombs at each other.

What do I take away from this experience? First and foremost, I know very little about boxing. Perhaps I am easily impressed by what is shown in the video above. For all I know, all boxers look like this at 12 years of age. However, it did reaffirm my belief in teaching youngsters the fundamental skills of a sport properly and consistently, over a long period of time. One of my favorite quotes is, “Advanced techniques are the basics mastered.” The training of young athletes should involve the development of skills, without regimented physiological training and conditioning being thrust upon them. I watch my own young kids (3 and 5 years old) run around, chase each other, jump over obstacles and roll around on the ground. I am not holding a stop watch or conducting blood lactate tests with them. But I will take the time to show them some simple running skills, as long as their attention span will allow. I offer my knowledge via simple tips and sometimes they disregard me and laugh. The window of opportunity is open and broad. However, I spend so much time teaching 16-23 year olds how to run that I am determined to give my own kids a head-start in the realm of sporting efficiency and elegance.