Mike Tyson was once the most feared boxer on the planet. Shorter than almost anyone in his weightclass – his combination of offensive footwork, seamless combination punching and defensive head movement made him both impossible to hit, and devastating to get hit by.
In this post, we’ll explore how Mike trained to become the monster that he was.
First, we’ll look at a summary of what his day looked like. Then we’ll break this down into strength & conditioning work, and technical work. You’ll get some excellent ideas on how to train like Mike so you can fight like Mike. Let’s get to it.
4am, 5-Mile run
10-12 rounds of sparring
Technical Work (mitts, heavy bag, jump rope, slip bag)
Cooldown on exercise bike
Strength and Conditioning
Mike employed a variety of training methods to develop his body, but they’re mostly stuff you’ll already have seen in a boxing gym. What set him apart was the volume and consistency with which he did it. You won’t find any crazy new workouts here, but you will find the structure he used to train.
Mike used to start his day at 4am, running between 4 and 5 miles for cardio, and walking for 10 miles after that. He tried to keep a good pace while going for these morning runs, not allowing it to turn into a passive jog.
On top of this, Mike was a big fan of the jump rope. He developed a very explosive, high intensity jump rope routine with intervals of rest (slow jumping) and work (fast jumping.) Although the primary purpose of the jump rope was to build cardio – he got the added benefit of improved hand-to-foot coordination.
Nothing too out of the ordinary here frankly. Again, it’s not always what Mike did – but how he did it. Check out some youtube videos on how Mike used to skip to see the just how intense it was.
Contrary to popular belief, Mike was not a big lifter until after his prison stint. In the prime of his career – Mike’s strength training mainly consisted of calisthenics. Although it’s hard to pin down the exact number of reps, the following is pretty close based on Mike’s book, interviews, and his coaches:
Neck bridge (3x 10 minute sets)
2000 sit ups
500 barbell shrugs
Of course, these numbers are cumulative. He would do them throughout the day until the number was hit. With the exception of his neck bridges and barbell shrugs – the focus was maximum intensity. Mike was always preparing his body for two things: to explode and recover. The barbell shrugs and neck bridges were something he focused on to build his neck muscles. This is so he could absorb blows better and decrease his chances of getting KO’d.
Mike loved the heavy bag. He credits his power to working the heavy bag rather than lifting weights. The heavy bag lends itself mostly to careless offense – it doesn’t move around too much, and it doesn’t hit back. So when throwing combinations at the bag, Mike tried to build in head movement into the start and end of all his shots.
Some Tyson combos include:
Left body hook, left uppercut, right overhand.
Left hook, right uppercut, left hook
Body jab, right overhand
Left body hook, right body hook, left head hook
Similar to his bagwork, Mike was a huge proponent of shadowboxing. Shadowboxing is better for improving balance – as there is no heavy and hard object to receive your weight. This means you have to keep your feet underneath you at all times. Mike threw his ferocious combos with full intensity in shadowboxing to perfect his technique and balance. So that if he ever missed – he wouldn’t end up stumbling and getting countered.
As working mitts gives you the benefit of chasing an opponent – this is what Mike used to practice his entries. The Peek-a-boo style he used is a seamless blend of offense and defense. So Mike used mitt sessions to practice getting into closer range without getting hit, and landing combos when up close. Pretty much everybody he fought was taller and had a longer reach, and many of his opponents would try and jab on the back foot. So in Mike’s mittwork sessions, he’d often try to pressure his coach into the ropes within seconds. All the while slipping every shot coming at him and looking to land his shots as soon as possible.
A somewhat unique staple of Mike’s training was the slip bag. Since a slip bag swings behind you and in front of you – you can’t rely on seeing it. Mike used it to develop a good sense of rhythm to his slips. That way – he could make sure he wasn’t moving too fast or too slow to make the opponent miss before making them pay.
Mike’s sparring sessions were brutal. Cus D’Amato, who was Tyson’s coach, strictly believed that one should “train how they fight.” So Mike would often have sparring partners brought in from other gyms from all over the country. The fighters were usually older, more experienced, and happy to put a kid back in his place. Usually though, Mike burned through his sparring partners within minutes.
Unlike a lot of boxers today, Mike did not wear headgear during sparring sessions at all. He believed that it affects his peripheral vision too much, which makes it harder to see shots coming. While that type of training is not necessarily sustainable or healthy in the long run – there’s no doubt that it helped develop a freakishly intimidating boxer on fight night.
Mike’s routine was extremely difficult by any standard. But if you can even use parts of his approach – your boxing will eventually improve in leaps and bounds. The most important thing to note is that Mike’s routine isn’t particularly unique. What separated him from everyone was the consistency, discipline and intensity. If you find yourself already doing most of these in your training – ask yourself “what would happen if I just pushed myself harder?”