Boxer Kell Brook moved up two weight categories for the fight of his life – here’s how we trained him

Ready for the unthinkable. PA/Steve Paston

Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin (known as “GGG”) is the undefeated middleweight champion of the world. He’s considered by many to be the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world and has a knockout rate of 91%, stopping 32 of his 35 opponents. It’s easy to see why the media call him “the most dangerous man in world boxing”. Not a single middleweight has come close to beating him.

Kell Brook is a welterweight (between 140lb/63.5kg and 147lb/66.7kg) champion, undefeated in 36 contests and a hugely talented boxer. He’s never fought in the middleweight category (between 154lb/69.85kg and 160lb/72.57kg). Yet on September 10, he will move up two weight classifications to face GGG. He’s never faced anyone like this before and he’s only had nine weeks to prepare. The odds are stacked against Team Brook. To get him ready for the event, my colleagues and I at Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Sport and Exercise Science have put him through a training regime like no other. Here’s how we did it.

The fight was announced on July 8 2016 so we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare Kell for this contest and there was no room for error. Optimal preparation has been the only solution to this challenge.

We began by putting Kell through his paces in our boxing-specific test battery. This enabled us to gain an insight into his physiological strengths and weaknesses. We wanted to find out what was limiting his performance and how quickly we could cause his body to adapt to overcome these limits.

Boxing Science Physiological Testing.

This included using a treadmill test and gas analyser to assess his oxygen uptake and energy expenditure. We used something called a linear position transducer to determine how fast Kell can punch and how much punch-specific strength he has. Jump tests were used to assess how well he can produce vertical force and deal with the elastic demands of jumping. And we used a 3D body scanner that mapped the surface of his body to a resolution of 2mm so we could assess how his body shape was changing in response to training.

Most boxers need to lose weight before a fight so that they fall just within the boundaries of their category but with the biggest mass possible. Although Kell needed to move up from his usual category, he still needed to lose weight – but much less than normal. His diet hasn’t been as low on energy so he’s been able to fuel for his training sessions. It means he’s more switched on, he can push himself harder, he can try things he’s never done before. He’s happy and content and that builds confidence.

But we still needed to bring his weight down. It’s not just a case of dropping a little bit from everywhere, we’ve had to target specific areas to retain and lose lean mass. When boxers move up weight classes they generally increase their upper body mass but this can slow them down. Punching force is determined by force generation in the lower body and torso, not the upper body, which primarily transmits force.

Losing weight in all the right places

It was key for us to limit lean tissue loss in the lower body and core, while losing mass from the arms. We did this by focusing on strength training using heavy weights for the lower body and core but using light and fast weights for the upper body. Kell’s boxing coach Dominic Ingle, used a similar approach when Kell was in the early phases of his training, using padwork, speedballs and footwork drills to keep Kell fast at his new fighting weight. His nutrition was tailored by Greg Marriott to match these demands, who importantly cooked Kell meals that he enjoyed, which also had a positive influence on Kell’s mood and, in turn, performance.

Kevin Bizier vs. Kell Brook. Nick Potts/PA

Eight weeks of training is not long enough to induce certain physiological adaptations that contribute to boxing performance such as structural changes to the cardiovascular system. But it is long enough for other changes, such as altering the chemical signals that control the number of energy plants or “mitochondria” in the body’s cells and other processes that control how the body uses oxygen and promote recovery.

His strength training sessions were designed to maximise force production at high-speed by lifting heavy weights very quickly. Kell’s running training has been dominated by sprint interval training, designed to improve the way that his muscles utilise oxygen and deal with cellular acidosis. A typical session would involve just 30 seconds of maximal effort running with three minutes recovery, performed four times.

This type of interval training is very intense. A single 30 second effort is accompanied by searing muscle pain, dizziness, nausea and very heavy breathing. But these sessions push Kell to his limits. He says he’s been through hell in this camp, and he would be right.

Movement training both in the boxing gym and before strength and conditioning training has helped him transmit more force from his feet up to his fists, while gliding around the ring. Most of this type of training is a hybrid of yoga, animal flow and body weight exercises, designed to improve the range of motion around Kell’s hips and shoulders.

Kell’s physiological responses to training have gone according to plan and exceeded our expectations. We’ve seen improvements in his ability to rapidly produce force of up to 29%. Because of our focus on high-intensity training, he’s now finding running at faster speeds easier, even compared to when he weighed less. The effort from Kell, Dominic Ingle, Greg Marriott and everyone who has supported him at the Ingle Gym has been astounding. Kell Brook is ready to do the unthinkable, and shock the world.