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Training with the Greats: Muhammad Ali

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Last time we checked, floating like a butterfly was a feat that only a world-class boxer could achieve. Let’s not even get started on mastering the art of stinging like a bee. In case you were wondering how the greatest pugilist of all-time, Muhammad Ali, was able to maintain his level of greatness, we’ve done some digging to find out his secret.

For a guy with undoubted skills in the ring, you’d expect Muhammad Ali to have spent most of his time sparring in the squared circle, right? Wrong. Although he was a boxer, he didn’t put too much into the idea of practicing in the form of a dry run of fake boxing. In fact, his trainer even attested to that fact, stating “Ali would flash his skills for 10 to 15 seconds…but the rest of the time he did not appear interested.” Maybe being perfect doesn’t require practice.

It’s pretty clear that boxing is a game of fists, but Ali was more concerned with his legs, dabbling often in what’s known in the boxing world as roadwork. He’d run 3 to 5 miles daily when training for a fight, then taper down in the last 2 weeks leading up to fight night. In this case, sometimes preparing yourself for one thing requires you to think outside of the box when determining training methods.

He was a boxer, so he couldn’t leave his hands to chance completely. So while sparring wasn’t his method of choice, the speed bag was his forte. Being all about finesse and finely tuned prowess, Ali preferred quickness over power, often putting on a show at the speed bag, while showing disinterest and appearing bored at the heavy bag. His affinity for speed over strength proved to be a smart decision as it was quite possibly the deciding factor in his famed fight against George Foreman, and we know how that turned out.

His footwork was where he hung his hat, and to further improve on that and maintain his nimbleness, his weapon of choice was the jumprope. Not only among heavyweights, but also in the boxing world in general, Ali was quite the jumprope maven. Not only did jumping rope aid in his quickness, which would prove important given his weight class, but it was instrumental in his overall fitness and conditioning.

While strength might seem like the obvious area to shore up on, Muhammad Ali went with less conventional methods focusing on speed, agility and quickness to stay ahead of the curve.