Last year I took on the challenge to fight in an exhibition boxing match at a local boxing gym. I wanted to experience what it was like to prepare for such a physical event and to test what I was made of.
Being a contact sport that involves vigorous training regimes, boxing has a high injury rate. During the two months preparing for the fight, I consistently trained five days a week but besides having DOMS and feeling like a stiff plank, I sustained no injuries. I was often approached and asked about little ‘niggles’ and areas of pain the other fighters amongst my training camp were experiencing (as everyone knew I was a physio).
My injury immunity came down to having the knowledge and understanding of biomechanics (body movement). I knew the importance of maintaining mobility through certain areas of my body which enabled me to keep up the heavy training load and stay in good stead for my upcoming fight. These key areas include:
- Thoracic Spine
- Hip Joints
- Superior Tibiofibular Joints
- Ankle Joints
Mobility is vital for safe and positive loading throughout the body during any physical activity (not just boxing). From walking around the supermarket to climbing up stairs, or getting out of your car, sufficient range of movement through each compartment is needed. Otherwise, another area will try to move beyond its normal limits to perform the necessary action. For example, if one cannot rotate their spine to one side of the body, compensation occurs in another area of the body to make up for this immobility. This results in the excessive load being placed on the compensatory area, which can therefore lead to re-occurring pain and injury.
In relation to boxing, movement through these four areas is crucial to perform a punch effectively and efficiently. In order to understand how and why mobility is important for boxing, here is how a jab essentially works and why adequate range of movement is key to preventing injuries.
Mechanical pattern of a left-hand jab (orthodox stance):
Thoracic Spine – requires right-sided rotation.
Hip Joint – left hip internally rotates (left hip turning towards midline).
Superior Tibiofibular Joints – fibular head translates anteriorly (frontwards) and posteriorly (downwards) during the entire sequence.
Ankle Joints – requires adequate dorsiflexion (pointing toes upward) and plantarflexion (pointing toes downward) to allow even body weight distribution.
A boxing punch generates a high velocity arm swing force. This force, combined with the repetitive and high intensity nature of boxing results in a much greater injury risk if compensations are occurring due to immobility.
Here are some examples of how dysfunctional movement patterns (specific to boxing) can significantly increase the risk of injury:
Reduced thoracic rotation
- Excess load through lumbar spine rotators (quadratus lumborum/erector spinae thoracis) causing lower back pain.
- Less rotation places more pressure on the shoulders, increasing the risk of shoulder and neck pain.
Reduced hip joint range of motion (ROM)
- Lack of hip internal rotation causes compensatory inward tracking of the knee, ultimately leading to medial knee and shin pain.
Superior tibiofiblular joint stiffness
- Tightness through this joint arises from tightness in the lateral knee compartment and surrounding soft tissues such as biceps femoris (hamstring muscle), which are subjected to substantial amounts of load. Over time, tightness through these structures influences the patella (knee cap) tracking resulting in mal-tracking issues and pain.
- Restriction in ankle ROM creates difficulty in generating or absorbing force from the ground. Unconsciously, more weight is then placed onto the ankle with normal ROM and therefore causing compensatory loading through the ‘good’ side.
It is also important to note that a sport like boxing creates dominance through one side of the body. This is heavily due to the back foot in boxing stance being the main driver of force when throwing a jab. This asymmetry places more stress on one side of the body and therefore unbalanced tissue load, resulting in increased risk of immobility and injury.
However, boxing and sport, in general, is not to blame for immobility. From adolescence to adulthood, we are prone to developing a poor posture due to prolonged sitting and the tendency towards sedentary lifestyles (which coincides with the rapid development of technology). This is the main reason why I am highlighting the importance of ‘mobility’ as opposed to ‘stability’, as we are more likely to develop stiff joints than hypermobile joints.
Performing targeted activation and self-release exercises daily, will help prevent the build-up of tension through certain areas and thus help promote efficient movement. In conjunction with other manual therapy services that incorporate soft tissue release work, this will sustain or enhance the progression of one’s mobility.
Some of the simple exercises I did to maintain my mobility throughout the two months of boxing training included:
Thoracic extension on a foam roller – Improves thoracic mobility and posture
Lat release – Improves thoracic rotation
Frog stretch – Improves hip internal rotation and overall hip ROM
Glute activation – Encourages more activation through posterior chain muscle groups and prevents overloading of lower back muscles
Even after my boxing challenge, I have continued similar exercises and apply these principles daily, as maintaining mobility enables me to remain injury free. In order for our bodies to work efficiently when performing any particular skill, every major joint needs to work in sync to promote sound movement throughout the whole body. If there is insufficient movement through specific parts of the body, compensatory movement patterns occur and this is where pain and injury will arise.
In summary, functional training is not just about strength, stability and fitness. Mobility is key to injury prevention and enhancing overall performance.
By Josh Ioane
Physiotherapist | Kinematics Health + Performance