Upon clicking the image below, you will be directed to an online scan of Jack Dempsey’s classic Championship Fighting text. Additional formats can also be accessed here.
Please note – If you opt to read the online version, you may need to alter the magnification by clicking the + or – lens in the lower right hand corner. Failure to do so could cause certain pages to be missed.
As for the material itself, Dempsey’s text is a must read for anyone involved in boxing. It is always useful to learn from legendary fighters who came before us. Whether you agree with Dempsey on all topics is of less concern. As Bruce Lee would say, absorb what is useful, discard what is not.
As for his beliefs on training, I support many of Dempsey’s conditioning ideas. He strongly believed in using the sport as a primary means of conditioning. He considered sparring, brisk shadow boxing, and bag work to be essential conditioners.
In regards to sparring, Dempsey states:
“Although some exercises help condition and others speed improvement, there’s one all-important activity that assists both. That activity is sparring. THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR SPARRING. You must spar regularly and often… Sparring not only improves your skill, but it also conditions your body for fighting by forcing your muscles to become accustomed to the violent, broken movements that distinguish fighting from any other activity…
For a beginner, at least, sparring is the most important conditioning activity.”
In regards to shadow boxing, Dempsey states:
“Shadow-boxing is the next best exercise for the twofold purpose of conditioning and sharpening. It might be described as fighting an imaginary opponent. It is particularly helpful in developing footwork. Although most professional fighters do not use boxing gloves during their shadow work, beginners should use them. Their weight will help to develop stamina. As you shadow-box, go through the same offensive and defensive movements you use in sparring. To be most valuable, your imaginary fighting should be done at top speed. Too many scrappers loaf at this work.”
In regards to bag work, Dempsey states:
“Bag-punching is another exercise that conditions and sharpens… Work on the bags will develop all the muscles you use in punching, and it will give “tone” to them. Your chest, shoulders and arms will take on that sleek, well-rounded appearance that distinguishes the bodies of most fighters from those of ordinary chaps.”
Dempsey goes on to discuss the importance of running and jumping rope.
In regards to running, he states:
“Running strengthens the legs and develops stamina. It also takes off weight… After you’ve become accustomed to roadwork and your feet have hardened, mix up your runs by sprinting for 100 yards, then jogging, then shadow-boxing for a few seconds, then jogging, then sprinting, etc.”
In regards to the jump rope, he states:
“In skipping, you do not jump with both feet at the same time; nor do you skip with a hippity-hop, like a school girl. Instead, you bounce off one foot and then off the other. That will seem awkward at first; but soon you’ll be skipping with an effortless grace that will surprise you and your friends. To make skipping interesting, you can learn to do it backward. You can learn to cross the rope forward and backward, and to make the rope go around you twice while you are in the air once. You’ll have a lot of fun with the rope. You’ll be able to do footwork while skipping, and perhaps you’ll even be able to dance a jig while the rope is whirling about you. Naturally, the skipping is done in a gymnasium or in whatever you are using for a gym. Do at least two rounds of skipping at each workout.”
He then goes on to discuss the importance of calisthenics and protective exercises to harden the midsection, develop the neck, and strengthen the hands.
In summary, Dempsey believed strongly in conditioning oneself through the sport itself. Such work was then supplemented with basic activities such as running, rope skipping, and calisthenics. Ironically, many modern boxing trainers follow a similar approach. Those with experience coaching the sport recognize the significance of the actual boxing training. Such work is obviously important for skill development, but also critical for conditioning.
Unfortunately, the significance of sport training isn’t written about very often. Boxing trainers don’t typically publish training articles. It is more common for strength and conditioning coaches to write such material. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the bulk of conditioning related material is focused towards other facets of training. If the S&C coach isn’t involved in the boxing training, he will naturally write about other topics. If he doesn’t highlight other areas, he would essentially diminish his own significance.
Yet as I make these comments, please don’t misconstrue my intent. I am not here to knock the strength and conditioning profession. Speaking as a boxing coach however, I do believe certain S&C coaches attempt to be too involved in the training process. As a result, the fighter isn’t able to focus as much attention to the sport itself (ie. sparring, mitt work, bag work, etc.). It is these activities that are most important for the skill and conditioning development of the fighter.
And again, this isn’t to say that the supplemental work isn’t relevant or important. I do believe that supplemental conditioning for a fighter can make a difference. Such work will always be secondary to the actual sport however. There have been many dominant champions both past and present who were highly conditioned fighters without any of the new-school advancements that are often touted today. Such athletes excelled by relying heavily on the sport. They sparred hard. They hit the bags hard. They hit the mitts hard. They worked through their exercises religiously. There wasn’t anything fancy in terms of equipment or programming.
In summary, I am always open to new ideas, but I am also aware that fighters have been well conditioned for many years now. The best way for a boxer to get in shape is by working with the gloves on. Supplemental work can then be added in small doses. Such additions can be useful, but don’t allow them to interfere or take precedence over the actual sport.