ATHLETE SERIES: Anthony Joshua on training to beat the pain
Anthony Joshua is almost certainly the kindest, most genuine man in sport, with a disarming smile and a body that has delivered knockout punches to all 17 of his professional boxing opponents, earning him a 100% TKO record, IBF Heavyweight Champion title, and Olympic Gold at London 2012.
Luckily when we met it wasn't to fight, but to go for a run and have a chat about AJ's training, and how he keeps on top of his game. How does he do it? What can we learn from world class athletes like AJ that we can apply to our own health and fitness goals? And just how difficult is it to do a plank rollout on a Swiss ball in front of a room full of professional athletes?!
ANTHONY JOSHUA ON: RUNNING!
Given we'd just finished a quick jog around the tranquil Hampstead Heath, it was only fitting to kick things off with a question about running: does AJ run often, and how enjoyable is it for a 6'6" boxer?
"I run a lot, yeah. I enjoy it but it's hard. You have to beat the pain. I do steady runs in the mornings - I'm not a fan of treadmills so I run outdoors - plus intervals, speed work, agility, and track sprints. All sorts! I train a lot up at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, so I use the track a lot when I'm up there." Fancy a trail run in the Peaks instead, AJ?!
It's good to see how important running is to athletes who don't run competitively (CrossFitter Katrin Davidsdottir equally recognises the importance of running in a total training programme - check out her interview here). But it can't all be about running - how else does a world champion boxer train?
ANTHONY JOSHUA ON: STRENGTH TRAINING
When I asked AJ about his strength training, I expected a response along the lines of isolated muscle movements, lots of chest press and maybe some deadlifts. What I didn't expect was an answer relating mainly to bodyweight movements and core strength, and I was even more surprised when I got some live-action coaching from AJ on how to do a plank on a Swiss ball...
"I always start a strength session with stretching, really opening up the body, and then we go into core work with things like a TRX [AJ gestures to a TRX hanging across the gym we're in] and a Swiss ball - have you ever used one of these?" I nod yes, but fear what's about to happen. Then: "Do you want to try it?" Well, when this guy asks you to do something, you can't very well say no, can you?!
These are seriously worth trying if you want to build core strength. Start by balancing your forearms (or, for a more advanced version, your hands) on the ball, drop your heels and hips so your body is in a straight line. If you're doing it right then trust me, you'll feel it in your abs.
How important is size and strength in boxing? Not as much as you might think:
"I always want everything to be bigger, bigger, bigger and my coach says to me 'I don't want you just to do squats in one place.' You can build strength but some people don't know how to express it as power. My coach wants me to be able to express my power: being able to stand here and BAM! jump so high in the air. That's the way we work, rather than just building strength for the sake of it."
ANTHONY JOSHUA ON: MINDSET
AJ and I chatted about getting through the pain of training and competing, including the last few tough miles of the London Marathon which I ran in April with Lucozade Sport.
"It's all about the mind, especially with something like a marathon," AJ said. "If it was me, then I'm not going to train to be able to run this thing easily because it's going to be hard. Your body will always get to a stage where it gets so hard your mind has to take over."
Is it possible to build a mindset like that, or is it something you're born with? Says AJ: "You've got to do it for yourself. If you listen to the people who say you're good, you'll take your foot off the gas. If you listen to the people who say you're rubbish, you'll give up. You have to know what's going to make you the best you: what's good for you and what isn't. Know what you want to achieve and put yourself around the right people. And-" AJ gestures to his group of friends and teammates around the room "even though I'm around all these great people, I don't expect them to be the ones to make me get up and go running, you know? Be in tune with yourself. Know thyself. You've got to do it for yourself, that's what's important."
ANTHONY JOSHUA ON: MADE TO MOVE
I should've said earlier that it wasn't just me and AJ going for an evening jog - there was a 300-strong group of people who'd responded to his social media post the previous day and had turned out ready to run as part of Lucozade Sport's Made To Move campaign. Here's what AJ had to say about the campaign:
“It was amazing to have so many people come out and join me for a run tonight. This was the start of my training camp so I really appreciated everyone making the effort. The idea behind the run was to get people moving more, which is a personal passion of mine – that’s why I have linked in with the Lucozade Sport campaign Made to Move. Following on from the run I will also be hosting another training session coming up next month so keep checking @LucozadeSport for more details.”
Lucozade Sport's aim is to get 1 million more people moving more by 2020. Given they got me - who previously had zero enthusiasm about running - to run a marathon and two half marathons, I'd say they're going to smash this target.