Fitness Testing & Physiological Profiling of Boxing Athletes: A Review of the Literature

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Fitness Testing & Physiological Profiling of Boxing Athletes
A Review of the Literature

Boxing has been an Olympic sport since 1904, and is one of the oldest and most globally recognized combat sports. Boxing athletes can go to the professional level, and fight for organizations who offer purses (i.e. cash prizes) for defeating your opponent. However, at the Olympic level, amateur boxers represent their respective countries and compete to obtain medals and make the podium. Like the other combat sports, boxing also utilizes weight classes to separate their athletes. Additionally, at the amateur (i.e. Olympic) level, boxing athletes must be between the ages of 17-39 to compete. Although one of the older combat sports in the Olympic Games, the current literature on fitness testing and physiological profiling of boxing athletes is sparse. Table 1 provides a summary for all articles included in the literature review for boxing athletes.

Methods
A computerized search was performed in SPORTDiscus™, PubMed, Google Scholar, and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research database for English-language, peer-reviewed articles. The following key words were used in addition to the specific sport being researched: "physical fitness", "fitness testing", "anthropometry", "strength", "muscular power", "aerobic", "aerobic performance", "anaerobic", and "anaerobic performance". References from the original studies that were found were further searched for relevant research. Only scientific research that studied major fitness components of combat sports and that used accepted methods that showed practical application to combat sport performance were included in the current review.   

Participants
All of the studies that were analyzed in this review of the literature used amateur boxing athletes as participants. One study was a review article comprising many different aspects of boxing competition (Chaabene et al., 2014). Most of the studies used participants from different boxing weight classes. However, one study included athletes strictly from the middleweight (75-81kg) category (Guidetti, Musulin, & Baldari, 2002). While men have competed in Olympic boxing since its induction, it wasn't until 2012 that women were allowed to compete in boxing at the Olympic level. Because of this, much of the current literature on boxing athletes has been conducted on males. In the review of fitness testing on boxing athletes, the majority of studies used strictly male athletes participants.  However, there were two studies which used both males and females (Chaabene et al., 2014; Barbosa de Lira et al., 2013). No studies to date have looked at fitness testing or physiological profiling for strictly female boxing athletes. While all of the studies included senior athletes (between 17-39 years old), two of the studies also included junior athletes (<17 years old) in their group of participants (Smith, 2006; Barbose de Lira et al., 2013). In these cases, junior and senior athletes were analyzed in separate groups. The majority of the studies used athletes that either participated on their respective National team, or were considered highly trained. However, several of the studies included recreational or novice level boxing athletes (Giovani, & Nikolaidis, 2012; Davis, Leithauser, & Beneke, 2014; Khanna, & Manna, 2006). None of the articles reviewed aimed to show the difference between elite and novice athletes.   

Test Measures
In the current literature, the main fitness and physiological performance measures of boxing athletes are aerobic power, as well as body composition and anthropometric measurements. In nearly all of the studies included in this review, some form of an aerobic power and/or capacity test was performed (Guidetti, Musulin, & Baldari, 2002; Chaabene et al., 2014; Barbosa de Lira et al., 2013; Cinar, Bicer, Pala, & Savucu, 2009; Smith, 2006; Bruzas, Stasiulis, Cepulenas, Mockus, Statkeviciene, & Subacious, 2014) The most common test protocol was the graded treadmill max test using a gas analyzer to determine maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), as well as ventilatory and lactate thresholds. Other testing procedures for aerobic capacity and power included the Douglas Bag method (Smith, 2006), and the use of the 12-minute run test to predict these values (Cinar, Bicer, Pala, & Savucu, 2009). Body composition and anthropometric measurements included height, weight, as well as the 7 or 10 site skinfold methods to determine percentage of body fat (Guidetti, Musulin, & Baldari, 2002; Chaabene et al., 2014; Barbosa de Lira et al., 2013; Cinar, Bicer, Pala, Savucu, 2009; Smith, 2006; Giovani, & Nikolaidis, 2012; Khanna, & Manna, 2006). Additionally, 3 studies included measures of muscular strength of the upper body (bench press), lower body (squat), and/or grip (Guidetti, Musulin, & Baldari, 2002; Chaabene et al., 2014; Barbosa de Lira et al., 2013). Two studies included tests for lower body anaerobic power by using the cycle ergometer or vertical jump tests (Chaabene et al., 2014; Cinar, Bicer, Pala, Savucu, 2009). There was only 1 study found that used a measure of flexibility (sit-and-reach test) on boxing athletes.

Main Findings

Despite being one of the original Olympic sports, research on fitness testing of boxing athletes is limited. However, the current literature included in this review provides an overview of the common physical fitness testing measures that have been used on boxing athletes. It is generally accepted that boxing is considered predominantly an aerobic sport, due to the length and number of rounds for each fight. This is supported by the literature which shows the most common physical fitness testing measure being aerobic power and capacity. Because the gold standard assessment for these parameters is the graded treadmill max test, it can be argued that this protocol is imperative to include in any testing of boxing athletes. Additionally, due to the weight categories that are used in boxing competition, some form of body composition and/or anthropometric measurements are common. Due to the anaerobic nature of performing boxing techniques, a test that measures lower and upper body anaerobic power may also be included, such as the wingate anaerobic test on a cycle ergometer or arm-crank ergometer. More research needs to be conducted in order to validate the use of other physiological parameters in fitness testing of boxing athletes. 

Table 1. Summary of current literature on fitness testing and physiological profiling of boxers
Author(s)
Purpose
Participants
Test Measures
Results
Guidetti, L., Musulin, A.,
& Baldari, C. (2002)
To examine the relationship between ranking in boxing competition performance and some physiological factors
N= 8
- Males only
- Middleweight
  category (75-
  81kg)
- Participated in 
  International
  tournaments
 - Anthropometric
  and body
  composition
  (weight, height,
  skinfold,
  circumferences)
- Grip Strength
- Vo2max,
  venitlatory and
  lactate threshold
  (graded treadmill)
- Boxing
  competition
  performance
  (based on AIBA
  rankings)
Highly related (p<0.01) to boxing performance:
- anaerobic threshold =
  46.0±4.2ml/kg/min
  (r=0.91)
- Grip Strength =
  58.2±6.9kg (r=0.87)

Moderately related (p<0.05) to boxing performance:
- Vo2max = 57.5±4.7
  ml/kg/min (r=0.81)
- wrist girth =
  17.6±0.6cm (r=0.78)
Chaabene et al. (2014)
To critically analyze the amateur boxers physical and physiological characteristics
 (review article)
- Anthropometrics
- Body composition
- Aerobic Power
  and capacity
- Anaerobic power
  and capacity
- Strength (squat
  and bench press)
- Isometric Strength
  (grip)

Measures related to boxing success:
- Low body fat levels
- High level of
  cardiorespiratory
   fitness
- High peak and mean
  anaerobic power
  output
- Muscle strength in
  upper and lower
  limbs
- Muscle power in
  upper and lower
  limbs
- isometric grip
  strength
Barbosa de Lira et al. (2013)
To describe heart rate (HR) responses during a simulated Olympic boxing match and examine physiological parameters of boxing athletes
- N=10
- n=6 (men, 2
  junior and 4
  senior)
- n=4 (women, 2
  junior and 2
  senior)
- Different weight
- Highly trained
  (5x per week, 
  2.5 hour
  sessions, >2
  years training)

- Vo2max &
  ventilatory
  thresholds (graded
  maximal test)
- Heart rate
- Skinfold
  measurements (7-
  site)
- Simulated boxing
  match
- VO2max = 52.2±7.2
  ml/kg/min
- HRmax = 193±7bpm
- Ventilatory threshold
  = 47.5±6.0 ml/kg/min
Highly correlated (p<0.01) with boxing competition ranking:
- VO2 at the individual
  anaerobic threshold
  (46.0± 4.2 ml/kg/min,
  r = 0.91
- Hand-grip Strength (58.2±6.9 kg, r = 0.87)
Cinar, V., Bicer, Y., Pala, R., Savucu, Y. (2009)
To compare Turkish and Ukrainian national team boxers in their physical availability
- N=26
- 13 from each
  Country
- Different weight
- 20.77±1.34
  years old
- Compete on
  Turkish national
  Team
- Males only
- Height/Weight
- Skinfolds
- Resting HR
- aerobic capacity
 (Cooper 12min
  run)
- Lower body
  anaerobic power
  (vertical jump)
- aerobic power
  (VO2max)
-Flexibility (sit-
  and-reach)
No difference between 2 countries in:
- height, age, weight
- resting HR
- Aerobic capacity
- vertical jump
- Aerobic power
- Anaerobic Power

Meaningful differences in:
- flexibility (in favour
  of Turkish)
- % fat (in favour of
  Ukraine)
Smith, M. (2006)
To determine the physiological profile of Senior and Junior England international amateur boxers
- N=49
- n=23 (seniors)
- n=26 (juniors)
- Amateur boxers
- Different weight
- Males only
- HR analysis
- Blood Lactate
- Body 
  Composition (4-
  site skinfold)
- Aerobic capacity
  (Douglas bag
  method for
  seniors, Aero test
  for juniors)
- Punch profile
- Blood profile
Seniors:
- Relative VO2max =
  63.8±4.8 ml/kg/min
- 9.1±2.3% body fat

Juniors:
- Relative VO2max =
  49.8±3.29 ml/kg/min
- 10.1±2.6% body fat
Bruzas, V., Stasiulis, A., Cepulenas, A., Mockus, P., Statkeviciene, B., & Subacious, V. (2014)
To assess the aerobic capacity of boxers and its relation with sport mastery
- N=12
- 21.8±3.4 years
- Males only
- Lithuanian
  National Team
- Different weight
  categories
- Sport mastery
  (achieved results
  during last year of
  boxing
  competition)
- Aerobic capacity
  (Graded treadmill
  test)
- Gas analysis
VO2max in correlation with boxers mastery:
- 58.03±3.0 ml/kg/min
  (p<0.05)

Giovani, D., & Nikolaidis, P. (2012)
to examine the ratios of physiological characteristics between upper and lower limbs of male boxers.
- N=12
- Males only
- Recreational
- 29.5±3.2 years
  old
- Different weight
  classes
- Body
  Composition
  (height, weight,
  10-site skinfolds)
- Force-velocity test
  (upper and lower
  body ergometers)
- 77.9±8.1kg mass
- 22.4±3.9 %BF
- Pmax, rPmax, F0, v0
  and v0/F0 differed
  significantly between
  upper and lower
  limbs (p<0.01)
Davis, P., Leithauser, R., & Beneke, R. (2014)
To determine the energy expenditure of boxing athletes during a semi-contact simulated performance
- N=10
- Senior athletes
 (23.7 ± 4.1 years)
- Males only
- Novice
- Different weight
- VO2peak (graded
  treadmill test)
- semi-contact
  boxing bouts (1
  per subject)
During treadmill test:
- Mean VO2peak =
  59.8 ± 4.3 ml/kg/min
- Mean HRpeak =
  191.6 ± 11.1 bpm
- Overall lactate
  significantly  
  decreased over all 3
  rounds of simulated
  performance (p<0.05)
- Metabolic profile of
  amateur boxing is
 predominantly aerobic
Khanna, G., & Manna, I. (2006)
To study the morphological, physiological and biochemical characteristics of Indian National boxers as well as to assess the cardiovascular adaptation to graded exercise and actual boxing round
 2 studies:
- N=60 (junior
  boxers, <19
  years, n=30;
  senior boxers
  20-25 years,
  n=30)
- N=21 (n=7
  lightweight, n=7
  medium weight,
  n=7 medium
  heavyweight)
- Males only
- All participants from Indian National camp
- Body
  Composition  
  (weight/height)
  and skinfolds
- aerobic capacity
  (graded treadmill)
- Biochemical
  Parameters
  (hemoglobin, 
  triglyceride,
  cholesterol)
- HR and Blood
  lactate responses
- Muscle strength
  (back and grip)
- Significantly higher
  (p < 0.05) stature,
  body mass, body fat
  and strength of back
  and grip in senior
  boxers compared to
  juniors
- Significantly lower
  (p < 0.05) aerobic
  capacity and
  anaerobic power
  were noted in junior
  boxers compared to
  seniors.
- Significantly higher
  (p < 0.05) maximal
  heart rates and
  recovery heart rates
  in seniors compared
  juniors