Josh Warrington is best known as a world-class flyweight boxer. But the man they call the “Leeds Warrior” has another passion: running. The 32-year-old spoke with Runner’s World before his upcoming fight against Leigh Wood on Saturday 7 October. From Yasso 800s to 12-week training camps, there are some unlikely parallels between boxing and distance running – and Warrington also has some knockout advice for runners in terms of how to approach hard training.
He’s been ‘active commuting’ since childhood.
‘I was always active as a kid. I played all sports and tried my best in everything I did. I always wanted to win; I liked the glory. I played football and rugby and started boxing aged seven. By the time I got to high school, I realised I wasn’t going to play for Leeds United; I was going to be a boxer. So instead of taking the school bus home, I’d run home.
He was a decent middle-distance runner at school.
‘I went to quite a rough school in Leeds and, for cross-country, there’d only be about five of six participants from a year group of about 150 lads. My PE teacher saw something in me and said, “Let’s put you into some competitions.” So I represented the school over a few distances and did alright. I came second over 800m and 1500m. The only guy I lost to ran for Yorkshire. So that weren’t a bad a feat, because I must have been about 4ft at the time, and some of these lads were 6ft with square jaws and stubble all over their faces. I’d keep myself behind them and then try to overtake them on the home straight. I believe I still hold the record for best cross-country result at my high school – and that was about 15 years ago.’
Yasso 800s, the classic marathon workout, are a thing for boxers too.
‘As I go into a training camp for a typical 12-week camp, the first four weeks will involve two or three runs a week, and there’ll be 4-6 miles in length. As the fight gets closer, the runs go to the track – and I hate the track. We’ll do four weeks of 8-10 x 800m sprints, with 45 seconds rest. The rep time has got to be kept to under 3 minutes. As I get fitter, there are some good times on there: 2:37, 2:39. But it’s horrible. What we’re trying to do is replicate the three-minute rounds you get in boxing.
Boxers need seriously powerful legs.
‘A lot of people think that boxing is just throwing arms, but a lot of explosive strength comes from your legs. With deadlifts, at the early stage of a camp I’ll do a high number of reps, 10 to 12 maybe, at about 60-70% of my max – so around 120kg. Towards the backend, when it’s just about raw power, I’ll do three reps – I did 180kg recently. And I fight at 56kg, so it’s more than three times bodyweight.
Fasted running plays a role in his training.
Fighters have to make weight, so there are parts of my camp where I’ll go on a 5-mile fasted run. I’m breaking no records on these runs; it’s just about burning off any excess fat.
He’s a decent 5K and 10K runner – and might do a marathon one day.
‘I’ve looked on my Strava and it estimates my 5K to be around 18 minutes or so and my 10K to be about 38:30. Most definitely, I’d be tempted by the Yorkshire Marathon or London Marathon in the future. I’d love that challenge.
Sometimes, he just runs for fun.
‘Where I live in Leeds, there are a fair few runners. I’ve seen some of their runs online, and a neighbour of mine went out for 13 or so miles. It was shortly after one of my fights, so I thought, “I’m fairly fit still; let’s see what this is all about.” Running is good for your head. Sometimes I’ll run with no music, just my own thoughts, and I’ll come back and I’ve had loads of ideas. My wife always says I’m really hyped after a run.’
The hills are a boxer’s best friend.
‘A lot of my runs are on hills. I live in the east Leeds area, where there are loads of them. And I purposefully include a lot of hill running for the simple reason that you can’t argue with hills. If slow down too much on a hill, your time will plummet. There’s a run I do a couple of times in a training camp: three miles on a dirt track and three miles back up some horrible hills. For me, that replicates a fight – that’s when your second wind kicks in. Round 6 or Round 7, your opponent might pick up the pace, and you’ve got to go one better than them – so that’s where the hills kick in. It’s about getting the head down, focusing on your pace and form, and keep on going when you get to the top. The route finishes on a 400m uphill. When I get to the top, I have a bit of a Rocky moment – I do my shadowboxing and everything.’
Without aerobic fitness, a boxer is toast.
‘I’m known as a fighter who has a big engine. If you’ve got tens of thousands of people screaming your name, and you’re in the ring with someone trying to punch your head in, there’s nothing worse than being tired. So I always try to maintain as high a level of fitness as possible in between fights, and I feel better for it.
He’s stepped up his running shoe game.
‘When I first turned pro, I couldn’t afford anything fancy so I use to run in Nike Air Max. But these days I’ve invested in my equipment, because they’re my tools at the end of the day. For a number of years now, I’ve run in the Asics Gel Nimbus. They’re absolutely fantastic, and the recent ones feel a bit more like a sprinting shoe, which I like.’
He’s got some excellent training advice for runners.
‘Not every day in training going to be perfect. If I knew what I know now when I was a younger fighter, I might have enjoyed training camps a little bit more. Because there was a time when every session had to be perfect, and I’d get so worked up if I turned up to the gym and wasn’t feeling motivated or was tired. We’re human beings, man. You might have a bad night’s sleep. Or it might be work or stress in your home life. That mental fatigue can get into your body. If you’re preparing for something and it’s not there for a day, don’t lose heart. If you can get it done at 50%, that’s fine. But if it’s that bad that you need to rest, then rest.
Follow Josh Warrington on Instagram at @j_warrington
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