The Pugilist’s Workout

An illustrated guide to getting in fighting shape — literally

By The Editors

The Pugilist’s Workout
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20 January 2016

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” once quoth Mike Tyson.

Until that day of ill-fortune arrives, here’s yours: The Pugilist’s Workout, an illustrated guide to getting — and staying — in fighting shape.

The Mickey to our Rock? Terrence Smith, trainer at the leather-clad boxing gym at Soho House Chicago. He’s a former Golden Gloves winner. An automaton of a fighter. A self-proclaimed “slow, accurate bastard” when it comes to training, and a man who preaches patience, fitness and proper form.

From throwing a broad, powerful punch to a high-intensity round-robin drill that’ll keep your inner butterfly afloat, here’s everything a novice needs to know about the sweet science.


The perfect punch is not about strength, torque or anything resembling Popeye the Sailor’s signature wind-and-swing. It’s about form and control. And shadowboxing — a warm-up that emphasizes technique and mental relaxation while kicking up your heart rate into the calorie-burn zone — is the best way to refine those things.

Basic fighting position: Chin down. Guard up. Elbows tucked in. A wide stance slightly angled toward your opponent with knees slightly bent and dominant arm back. Your focus here is on balance, power and mobility. Fighting legacies are built on posture, not strength. Aim with your front two knuckles.

The four punches you should know how to throw:

1. The Jab
Throw your lead hand. Push off your back foot and make it straight and snappy, following your jawline to the target.

2. The Cross
Also known as the straight-punch. Pivot your weight from front foot to back while throwing your dominant hand, hip and shoulder into the punch.

3. The Uppercut
Similar body mechanics to a hook, but the punch moves upward from a 90-degree angle.

4. The Hook
Drive your rear leg into the ground and pivot inward with a full hip rotation leading into the punch.


Now it’s time to connect the punches and unleash on a heavy bag. Keep your feet moving and concentrate on hand-eye coordination and timing of impact. Work into a rhythm. Start with three-minute intervals. Take a minute rest and then proceed to the next drill. Smith recommends doing this as lightly as possible consistently until your form is sharp.

Drill Combo Round 1
First minute: alternating jabs. Second minute: alternating jab-cross. Third minute: a mix of power crosses and uppercuts. One-minute break: 10 burpees.

Drill Combo Round 2
Looped circuit of 30 jabs, 30 crosses, 30 hooks and 30 jab-cross-hook-cross. One-minute break: 15 squats.

Drill Combo Round 3
Rotate as follows: 30 seconds on alternating sprint of jab-cross; 30 seconds off the bag with high-knee jumps; 30 seconds alternating uppercuts; 30 seconds off the bag with mountain climbers; 30 seconds alternating sprint jab-cross; 30 seconds off the bag with 30 second standing sprint.


“The main thing in boxing,” Smith says, “is conditioning.” In other words: being able to go the distance. Here, a round robin of cardio workouts to ensure you never use the ropes as a hammock. Go a minute on each exercise — as many reps as your body can handle — performed right after one another in succession. No rest for the weary.

1. Stability Ball Crunches
Hands behind your head, elbows at 180 degrees. Push up and through the torso with your abs, not your arms and neck.

2. Medicine Ball Throw
Hold a medicine ball with both hands. “Wind up” by raising the ball over your head, and then throw the ball into the ground as hard as you can. Upstairs neighbors: don’t do this at home.

3. Medicine Ball High-Knee Jumps
With the medicine ball on the ground and looking straight ahead, jump from one foot to the other, grazing the ball with the balls of your feet as you pass.

4. Jump Rope
Feet together, legs straight. Once you feel comfortable, mix it up by bouncing from one foot to the other or transitioning into high knees.

5. Step-ups
Step up onto a bench, then step backward to starting position. Alternate.


Illustrations by Mike Falco

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