Train Like a Fighter — Workout #1: Cardio, Plyometrics, and Agility Training

by A Manly Guest Contributor on July 10, 2012 · 34 comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports

Editors note: This is a guest post from Chad Howse.

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” -Muhammad Ali

In a sport where livelihood and fitness are so closely linked, it’s no wonder that fighters are in such great shape. Their conditioning is just as important as their talent and skill.

For a fighter, how well-prepared he is usually determines how well he performs. A supremely conditioned fighter can overwhelm a less-conditioned athlete with a constant and unrelenting barrage.

If they’re not in exquisite shape, fighters run the risk of not only losing, but also having their years of hard work and dedication wasted and missing their chance to let their talent and skill show and shine. Thus, fighters take training pretty seriously.

Training is where the mind, the heart, AND the body are pushed and tested.

Even though you may not be planning to walk into the ring anytime soon, that doesn’t mean you can’t train and look like these elite athletes. Bring a fighter’s mentality and work ethic to what we’re going to cover over the next two articles, and you’ll accomplish this. The skills and conditioning we’ll be hitting will help prepare you for life; every man needs to feel some fight in him.

My background being in boxing, we’ll focus on boxing training. But the TRAINING aspect–the roadwork, weights, and sprints–will transfer to any discipline of fighting.

Today we’ll look at how we can train like a fighter through cardio, plyometrics, and agility training. Next time we’ll get in the gym for some bag work and weight training.

How to Train Like a Fighter:  Cardio, Plyometrics, and Agility Training


We’ve all seen Rocky wake up early, pound back raw eggs, then head out for a run.

Roadwork is a big part of the sport. But sprinting and more intense forms of cardio are as–if not more–effective than the slower method of running. We’ll do both.

Early Morning Roadwork

Roadwork is typically done upon rising on an empty stomach. Ideally run 3-5 miles. Although when Rocky Marciano read that Joe Louis ran 5 miles, he started running 10. I’ll leave this up to you.

Do this 5 days a week, and feel free to shadow box as you jog. It’ll get you used to throwing punches as you move your feet.


Intense bursts of cardio, such as sprints, better replicate the explosive combinations of a fight. They also help boost human growth hormone (HGH) levels, helping us burn fat while maintaining muscle.

Sprints are great for improving conditioning. They’re also easier on the body due to the lessened impact on our knees when sprinting at full speed (in comparison to the typical “heel/toe” gait of a jog that creates a high degree of impact on the knees and lower back).

I like performing sprints up hills or stairs due to the added difficulty. If you have access to either, use them. If it’s your first time running in a while, warm up with 10 minutes of skipping, and only sprint at 85% to avoid pulling anything. After an initial session or two, up the intensity to 95%, then to 100%, and remain there for the duration of the program.

Depending on your conditioning levels, do these sprint workouts 1-3x a week as a part of the plyometrics and footspeed drills (below). Start with once a week, as over-training can occur if you do too much too early.

Weeks 1-2

6 sec sprint; 54 second recovery x 4
8 sec sprint; 52 second recovery x 4

Weeks 3-4

8 sec sprint; 52 second recovery x 4
10 sec sprint; 50 second recovery x 4
12 sec sprint; 48 second recovery x 2

Weeks 5-6

12 sec sprint; 48 second recovery x 4
14 sec sprint; 46 second recovery x 4
16 sec sprint; 44 second recovery x 4

Plyometrics and Footspeed Drills

Too many fighters focus on their upper body to build power, when our lower body is where our power originates. Take a look at a guy like Rocky Marciano; he had tree trunks for legs and a relatively skinny upper body. He ended his career 49-0 with an 88% knockout percentage, and the heavyweight championship around his waist.

Footwork and agility are also very important in all combat sports. It’s often the guy with the best footwork, who can create the best angles and get his opponent off balance, who wins the fight by decision or knockout.

In the following video I’ll show you plyometric exercises that are great for developing explosive power. To improve agility and footspeed, I’ll also show you some “ladder” drills.

What’s great about the following workout is that you can do all the exercises outside. Do the workout 3-4 times a week:

Footspeed Drills

Perform each exercise seen in the video for one set, there and back on a 15-20-foot line (they’re usually done with a ladder, something that most of us don’t have, so we’ll use a line instead). Take no rest between each exercise. Only rest after completing all 5 exercises for 60 seconds.

Start with 4 sets, and then add 1 set to the workout every week.


A. Box Jumps 1 (12-15 inch box); 4 sets of 10 reps; Rest: 15 seconds
*Add 4 reps every week.

B. Box Jumps 2 (tall as possible); 4 sets of 6 reps; Rest: 60 seconds
*Add height to the box every week.

C. Drop Jump; 4 sets of 6 reps; Rest: 60 seconds

Note: Stretching is very important with training. Be sure to stretch your hip flexors, groin, gluteus, hamstrings, and calves after a workout like we’ve just done. Here’s a quick tip with stretching:

Perform each stretch in 3, 15-second increments. Stretch for 15 seconds, relax the muscle for a 2 second count, and then get back into the stretch. We experience more positives from stretching in the first 15-20 seconds of a stretch. By stretching in 15-second increments, we’ll experience these benefits more than we would in a static 45-second hold.

Read Part II: Weight Training and Bag Work

Chad Howse, author of the PowerHowse Challenge and founder of Chad Howse Fitness, is a former skinny guy and amateur boxer. Chad created his company to help men become their own hero. Check out Chad’s site: Be Legendary: Unconventional Tactics for Life, Fitness, & Work.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jack July 10, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Hey Chad, cool article man. I visit your site pretty often and I was wondering how you schedule your weight training and cardio. Do you do them on the same days?

2 Ryan July 10, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Awesoe post chad! I love his sight! Great workouts, motivation, and support

3 Iain ND July 10, 2012 at 10:13 pm

With this and the Hero Workouts, are AoM trying to turn their audience into an army of Batmen?

4 Joe July 10, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Very good article, can’t wait for more!

5 rundrd July 10, 2012 at 11:24 pm

That’s my beach!

6 Ryan H. July 11, 2012 at 12:11 am

I have been scouring the web looking for info on how to train like a fighter, this is EXACTLY what I was looking for! Thanks so much Chad and the guys at AoM, I can’t wait for the next post!!

7 Chad Howse July 11, 2012 at 12:48 am

Hey guys glad you like the article. You’re going to love the second one. We bring some more weight training into it.

@Jack – I do sprints/stair sprints in the morning 4-5 days a week. I don’t discriminate whether or not they’re on the same day as a lift.

8 Andrew July 11, 2012 at 1:01 am

It’s hard to truly appreciate the shape fighters have to be in until you’ve done it myself. I boxed with a few of my friends for the first time about a year ago. We only did two rounds of two minutes each, but that alone took an incredible amount of effort and energy.

9 Mike July 11, 2012 at 1:08 am

No jump roping? Man, I was hoping to see some jump roping as I’ve been looking for a good jump roping workout. Please keep in mind for future post.

I did really like this one btw. Just wanted to add a suggestion!

10 Jarlo July 11, 2012 at 2:14 am

Great article!

I especially liked what you wrote about emphasizing lower body explosive work.

And also continuing to do running and roadwork as well as sprinting and intervals. Too many people now are jumping on the bandwagon of interval training only.

I was an (amateur) kickboxer and I know I felt much better when I kept my running up.

11 Joe July 11, 2012 at 7:53 am

When I was in high school, I boxed with the PAL as a light-heavyweight. The boxing training we did had me in the best shape of my life.

12 Johnny July 11, 2012 at 9:03 am

Skip the stretching though. I’ve trained pretty hard for the last ten years (running, weight lifting) and I’ve never stretched before or after and I have never been injured. Obviously, if you’re traying Muay Thai or something where you need to be flexible enough to throw high kicks, stretching would be necessary, but otherwise I’d advise everyone to not stretch. I do believe there are quite a few scientific studies to back up my claims too.

13 Native Son July 11, 2012 at 10:16 am

Excellent article.
I would have a minor quibble. Chad seems to underrate cardio-endurance training. It’s the combination of quickness and staying power that builds the foundation. The opening quote from Muhammad Ali demonstrates the point..skills and endurance being equally important.

14 Ian July 11, 2012 at 10:31 am

Politely must disagree. Stretching is critically important, especially as you get older and/or if you work a sit-down job during the day. I train in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu heavy MMA program, so your qualifier does apply, but my shoulders and back absolutely need stretching after a sparring session or they run the risk of tightening up and getting injured in other things, such as falls.

Besides, it’s easy to do after the workout while you chat with your training partners, or while you watch TV when you get home. The warmer you are when you stretch, the better off you’ll be.

15 Joe D. July 11, 2012 at 10:55 am

Always enjoy your boxing articles, Chad, whether at your site or here at AoM. I have actually taken to sprinting up the stairwell at work periodically, and it’s a great way to stave off the PM blues. My mainstay is always the heavy bag workout, so will be looking forward to the next post. Thanks for this great info!

16 Hristo July 11, 2012 at 11:08 am

Thanks for this link. I’m no boxer by any stretch of the imagination (I only weigh 110 pounds), but I am an avid tennis player and have been looking for quite a while for drills to improve my footwork and endurance, and I think that many of these workouts will help out with both

17 Michael July 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Chad, your hero workouts are what inspired me to begin working out actively. Before, I wondered around a weight room unsure of what to do. Now, I call friends in the middle of running miles barefoot or doing burpee-pullups to tell them if even a skinny guy can push it so can they. I appreciate the explainations and straightfoward manner of your articles and workouts to no end. Too often writers babble and leave out the particulars of how to guage your performance level, or how to work out on your level and still push yourself. Your insistance on plyometrics has enabled me to grow WAY beyond the boundaries I thought I had.

18 Lex July 12, 2012 at 10:33 pm

As a runner, the boxing workout is a great routine to get my cardio on days between longs runs, which helps keep me in shape while letting my legs rest. Excellent article. I look forward to the upcoming posts.

19 mill4138 July 13, 2012 at 12:32 am

Crossfit Journal has plans for making plyo boxes (for box jumps).

20 Neil July 13, 2012 at 10:06 am

What, no “Chicken Chasin”? But seriously, great article. Back when I did a lot of martial arts, I found that including a couple of sprint workouts a week along with my endurance running helped immensely with my sparing. Also, don’t underestimate the value of stretching, the pros do it, and you should too.

21 Chad Howse July 13, 2012 at 10:30 am

I’m happy to see all the positive response. Glad you guys are able to get something from the article.

@Michael – glad you found my site man. It’s cool to see the impact the workouts have had on you.

@native son – Cardio’s very important. Didn’t mean to diminish it. My best “cardio sessions” always came from sparring. The running was great, but still nothing could replicate a great sparring session.

@Johnny – I don’t put stretching here just for injury prevention, but also to stay loose. If you don’t stretch and do the weight lifting we’re going to do next, you can get tight, and your punches will be less effective. It’s hard to prove that stretching isn’t effective, but it’s also hard to disprove that it is. In my experience it is effective for both injury prevention and staying loose like you need to in boxing.

@Mike – good point! I have skipping in the next one, but just as a warm-up, no crazy routine. Maybe in the future.

22 Russ Davis July 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Great article – but can anyone really tell the difference between sprinting at 95% and 100%?

23 Drew Spriggs July 14, 2012 at 6:53 am

Even better than sprints – Prowler Runs. Those build up fitness and explosive power more than any other exercise I regularly do.
As for stretching, keep your pre-workout streches dynamic (ie. high kicks, arm swings, etc) and save the static stretches for after your workouts. Quite a few studies backing this up, as well as what I’ve found personally.

24 Matt July 14, 2012 at 11:04 am

Hi Chad,

Great article – looking to getting back into boxing training and wasn’t sure where to start. This video looks like a great place to begin and your website is great. Thanks to AoM and yourself, keep up the good work!

25 CLNT! July 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm

This is the best fitness resource I’ve yet found:

Note the emphasis on gymnastics, parkour, and general mobility; this is for good reason, as many if not most gymnasts accomplish incredible levels of strength (well-rounded, functional strength at that) without ever lifting weights or using anything much more than parallels or rings.

26 Sean July 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Thanks for the article, looking forward to the rest of the series!

27 flek July 17, 2012 at 4:47 am

I’d like to recommend a book I use

The Art of Expressing the Human Body
Bruce Lee, John Little

An excellent study of Bruce Lee’s training methods. Keep in mind, Bruce was a forward thinker and was always researching new training methods and evaluating them. You should too.
No one can argue against his astounding pysique, commitment, and determination. Bruce Lee was certainly the Art of Manliness!


28 Ben July 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Chad, congrats on making it onto!

29 John July 19, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Anyone know how to get rid of shin splints?Its really put a damper on my offseason training for wrestling because I cant run and get my cardio up.Any suggestions?thanks.

30 Jake July 20, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Hey John, I used to get shin splints pretty bad when I ran track. The thing that helped me out the most was running on a softer surface like the grass football field rather than the track. Also stretching before and after your workout was huge. Hope this helps.

31 Skyler November 24, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I find that I feel more bored and mentally tired of running before I feel physically tired. I know flat bottom is better than treadmill but I feel less bored on a treadmill. Even then I usually get a mile at just over jogging speed before I’m bored and slow down then stop…any advice? MP3 players are an annoyance and uncomfortable

32 chintu February 22, 2013 at 10:47 pm

hey chad i am 19 years old and a beginner to boxing i love ur article its awesome tell me some more exercises to make my legs stronger for better punching

33 Norman Cole March 31, 2013 at 12:44 am

These are great. I love finding good workouts for Agility Training and King Sports Training has some great workouts and drills. They have really helped with my speed and agility, as well as my football game.

34 Marc January 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm

good drills, I used to sprint twice a week up
A long hill, Even the best sprinters could only sprint for 10sec’s at they’re fastest. sprint up a hill for power, run down a hill for speed, shortening the steps for speed.

former pro boxer myself, coordination is very important a fighter without foot work will lose balance on every punch.

Thanks for the workouts Chad.

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