Becoming a Contender
To Avoid a Knockout, This Aspiring Boxer Must Balance Training With His Trial Calendar
Posted Jan 10, 2006 9:40 AM CST
By Jill Schachner Chanen
OUR EXPERT Jim Karas Jim Karas is the author of the health and fitness book Flip the Switch and The Business Plan for the Body, a New York Times best-seller. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business and a high school gym flunk-out, he is now the owner of Solo Sessions Personal Fitness Training in Chicago. He also appears regularly on ABC’s Good Morning America.
VITAL STATISTICS Keith Sullivan POSITION Solo practitioner, New York City AGE 32 GOAL To become an amateur boxer
Keith Sullivan isn’t the kind of guy who’s comfortable in the corner. Whether he’s in court advocating on behalf of injured plaintiffs or teaching law students as a legal clinic adjunct professor, Sullivan takes it all on, never backing down in the face of a challenge. The latest of those challenges is boxing.
A lifelong fan of the sport, Sullivan only recently ventured into the ring. But now he’s hooked. Indeed, he is so smitten with the sport that he hired a trainer at the famed Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn and is angling for his first bout.
But, as anyone who’s ever gone a round or two in the ring knows, boxing requires extreme physical and mental conditioning. And Sullivan is having a hard time finding room in his hectic schedule to fit in the extra workouts he needs to get into fighting form. For the last year, he has been working out six days a week—twice weekly with his trainer at Gleason’s and on his own the rest of the time. But the regimen is not working for him.
“I did not know going into it how much of a demand [boxing] is on your body,” says Sullivan. “I thought in a couple of weeks that I’d be in shape. But the amount of training you need just for the first few minutes of a round is enormous.”
Still, Sullivan is not backing down. If anything, he is even more determined to move out of his current status as a “white-collar boxer” and up into the amateur ranks.
“I am 32 years old, and I do not want to be 52 years old and say, ‘Oh, I wish I had tried boxing,’ ” he says. “It’s not about being competitive. It’s just something I want to do.”
WILL AND SKILL
Life Audit health and fitness expert Jim Karas applauds Sullivan’s fortitude but says he has a tall order to fill given his schedule, which often results in missed workouts, meals on the fly and precious little sleep.
If Sullivan is really serious about taking this sport to its next level, Karas says the first thing he needs to do is pare down his schedule to nothing more than his law practice and physical conditioning.
Given his brutal schedule, Sullivan is setting an ambitious goal, Karas says. And if he doesn’t keep a fighting focus, he “will be very frustrated because he will not progress to where he wants to be.”
According to Karas, boxers not only need body strength to be able to endure a succession of blows to their body, they also need the cardiovascular stamina to respond to the adrenaline rush that the body typically produces during fights. “You need to be tremendously strong from the tip of your toes to the top of your head,” he says.
Karas says Sullivan is on the right track with his six-day-a-week workout schedule, but he should focus better to get the most from his workouts. Because of the peculiar demands of boxing, Sullivan needs to focus his time on three key areas: large muscle groups, core strength and cardiovascular conditioning.
Because Sullivan works out on his own four days a week, Karas wants him to devote two of those days to heavy-duty strength training. That means working large muscle groups as well as his core region (abdominal and back muscles). Karas says Sullivan should continue his current free-weight training and add in weight machines for big muscle groups like his legs.
Full-body exercises like pull-ups, chin-ups and push-ups also need to be incorporated.
Strengthening his core region will help Sullivan withstand the flurry of punches that often are directed to the midsection in boxing matches. “If you are getting the wind knocked out of you constantly because you cannot withstand those punches, then you are out of luck,” Karas says.
On the two days Sullivan is not strength training, Karas wants him to focus on cardiovascular endurance. Currently, Sullivan tries to run or bike long distances, but Karas says this is the wrong kind of training. A boxer’s heart rate rises and falls explosively during a boxing match, he says. Interval training—measured periods of work followed by measured periods of rest—is the only way to properly condition the cardiovascular system for boxing.
Karas recommends spinning classes as an excellent interval training option. If they’re not an option, then he says Sullivan should use cardio equipment to interval train: Run, step or climb as fast as possible for two minutes, then walk for one minute, keeping the cycle going for as long as possible. “Don’t just set it for 30 minutes at one level. It’s a waste of time because it does not train the body for explosive cardiovascular bursts,” says Karas.
WEIGHING IN ON MEALS
Sullivan also needs to start paying more attention to his eating habits. A bachelor who rarely cooks for himself, Sullivan says he almost never has breakfast and eats lunch and dinner whenever and wherever it is convenient.
When Sullivan does eat breakfast, chocolate milk and muffins are typical choices. Lunch might be a sandwich loaded with fat calories from mayonnaise or other fatty dressings, and dinner —often eaten late in the evening—runs the gamut from pizza and pasta to take-out Chinese.
Karas says this type of eating has to stop. Poor nutrition, he warns, will KO all of Sullivan’s physical conditioning. While the high-fat meals are problematic, Karas is more concerned with how often he skips meals —especially breakfast. “When you skip meals, you can diminish your metabolism. When you do that, the first tissue your body attacks is muscle,” Karas says.
Ideally, Sullivan should eat three meals a day, as well as three snacks. Breakfast is a must, Karas says. If Sullivan cannot prepare himself a healthy breakfast, Karas would rather see him eat a protein bar instead of skipping the meal.
Even though Sullivan eats most of his meals out, Karas says he can still eat right if he aims for simple foods. Because he lives in New York City, Sullivan is fortunate to have a wide variety of restaurants and grocery stores that offer healthy take-out foods like steamed vegetables, grilled chicken breasts and undressed salads. Even favorite foods like Chinese or sushi can be healthy if he keeps it simple —steamed veggies and chicken over rice, hold the “glop.”
If Sullivan still cannot take the time to plan out his meals and make healthy choices, Karas wants him to explore a food delivery service. Myriad such services exist, providing three meals and snacks each day. “Everyone thinks these are for single women on diets, but they are great for single men like Keith,” Karas adds.
And, no matter how much time Sullivan devotes to conditioning, Karas says he’ll take a dive if he doesn’t slow down. Sullivan needs to get eight hours of sleep a night —and even more rest on the weekends. “With what he is asking of his body,” Karas says, “he really needs it.”
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