As I wander out of the blinding Brisbane sun and into the darkened hall of the Stretton Boxing Club, I find a tableau straight out of a movie. Concrete walls, lino floor, the ding-ding of the bell, the lone fighter shadowboxing in the ring.
But something’s missing.
Start talking to Joe Goodall, the man working the ring, and the tableau falls apart. Sure, he looks the part in his red trunks and black hand wraps, his 193-centimetre, 103-kilogram frame floating around the ring with deceptive speed.
But his voice is soft. His smile’s shy. He laughs often.
As two-time Australian champion and 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist, the 24-year-old is gunning for Australia’s first Olympic boxing gold in 108 years. But where’s the venom? Where’s the mongrel? Where’s the pugnacity?
He grins: “I’ve never been aggressive. I can’t even remember the last time I was angry. I treat boxing as a sport. Yeah, it’s an intense sport – you’re getting hit in the face, after all – but it’s still a sport. It’s just a collection of movements. I think of it as a game rather than a fight.”
According to his coach Glenn Rushton, Goodall’s clinical approach to boxing is one of his greatest assets in the ring. “You don’t have to be covered in tats and have a bone through your nose to be a good fighter,” says Rushton. “In amateur boxing, it’s all about nine minutes of perfection. If you’ve got the right skillset in the ring then you’re relaxed and your energy goes further. If you’re tense and angry, it doesn’t matter how fit you are – you’re going to tire quickly.”
Want to knock your body into fighting shape? Here’s how to build a physical skillset that’ll allow you to go the distance.
The Sweat Science
After a childhood spent running around on AFL paddocks, Goodall only took up boxing at the age of 17 when he and a mate starting mucking around in his backyard with a pair of tattered gloves. After a few rounds, his mate wisely threw in the towel and suggested Joe join a boxing club. Within four years, he’d claimed the Australian super heavyweight title.
Goodall’s rise through a division populated by grizzled brawlers has been powered by a ravenous work ethic that sees him train three times a day, six days a week. He’ll snap out an intense 20-minute run first thing in the morning, then he’ll head to the gym for an hour-long session of heavy-bag work and light sparring in the ring – all mapped out in three-minute intervals. And the third session? “That’s the hard one – that’s where we do our proper sparring in the ring,” he says. This typically plays out as six three-minute rounds in the ring before grinding through six more rounds of plyometric leg work.
It’s a relentless regimen that carried Goodall to the peak of his sport within four years – but it also pushed his body to the point of breakdown after the 2014 Commonwealth Games, when a chest infection promptly morphed into glandular fever. The illness left him bedridden for two weeks, with flu-like symptoms haunting him for months afterwards.
Monitoring his energy levels has since become a crucial aspect of Goodall’s training. Meditating is a daily ritual, with 10 minutes of mindful breathing granting him the silence to listen to his body. He also wears a fitness tracker and keeps a close eye on his resting heart rate. At peak condition, his heart rate hovers around 53 bpm; when he’s stressed, that figure creeps up to 56 bpm. “And that’s when I know I have to back off the training,” he says.
It’s a fight-game truism that the best punches come from the sole, not the soul. But according to coach Rushton, this still undersells the importance of the lower body in boxing. “Your legs are crucial, not just for attack but also for defence,” he says. “They should never stop. Boxing’s 70 per cent legs.” For this reason, a huge slab of Goodall’s daily training load is dedicated to strengthening the prime movers in his legs while keeping his feet light and fast.
The leg work starts with the morning run. While old-school training methods saw boxers rack up huge mileage at slow pace, Goodall’s running sessions never last longer than 20 minutes and are always snapped out at red-line intensity. He maintains variety by alternating between tempo runs, where his heart rate is constantly nudging its maximum; interval sessions, where he’ll do 30x100-metre sprints; and hill sessions, where he attacks the cruel inclines that are plentiful in Brisbane’s south. “You’ve got to mix it up,” he says.
After his morning run, the morning and evening gym sessions continue the assault on his legs. In the ring he’ll do three-minute rounds of skipping and footwork drills with a partner. Outside the ring he’ll don a 5kg weight vest and complete three-minute rounds of squat jumps, step-ups and lunge jumps on the lip of the ring, the emphasis fixed on speed. “You’re always looking to keep your movements fast and your reps high,” says Goodall.
Hands of God
If foot speed forms the bedrock of Goodall’s fighting style, then hand speed provides the knockout flourish. The key to this speed, however, is clean technique rather than fast-twitch muscle fibre.
“In your mind, you have to know the difference between a power punch and a speed punch,” he says. “If you want power, you have to wind up and dig your toes in.” He demonstrates with a left hook on an unsuspecting heavy bag, the sound ricocheting around the gym like cannon fire.
“But when I’m throwing a speed punch, I like to imagine I’m trying to catch a fly.” Again, he demonstrates with a whip-like straight left that rings out like a rifle shot. “See, my hand and my arm are relaxed. I only tense my fist when I make impact. Loose, loose, loose – snatch!”
To maintain the elasticity necessary for lightening hand speed, Goodall stretches religiously after every session, starting with his legs, then working up through his back and shoulders before finishing with neck rolls. “Stretching’s underrated,” he says. “I reckon it improves my speed, endurance and power in the ring by at least 15 per cent.” To prove his point, he unloads a vicious five-punch combo on the heavy bag: left, right, left, right and – whump! – a shuddering left hook. Then, with the thunderous sound bouncing off the concrete walls, he steps back and smiles.
Comprising three three-minute rounds, an Olympic boxing match demands a brutal mix of power and endurance. For this reason, even super heavyweight fighters like Goodall don’t want to be encumbered by unnecessary bulk. “Boxers aren’t bodybuilders,” says Rushton. “Boxers need to work hard and fast in three-minute bursts.” This workout, courtesy of Rushton, will build top-to-toe strength, speed and stamina.
Complete the four exercises in Circuit 1 back to back. Once you’ve finished (it should take roughly three minutes), rest for 30 seconds then move to Circuit 2 and repeat. Once you’ve completed all three circuits once, have a three-minute break, then repeat the process. Aim to complete each circuit twice – the 18 minutes of work time equating to two amateur boxing bouts.
Circuit 1: Shoulders (complete these exercises holding a pair of 2.5-7.5kg dumbbells)
100 vertical punches
30 lateral raises
30 bent-over lateral raises
30 front raises.
Circuit 2: Chest and back
30 knuckle push-ups
30 triceps dips (on a seat or knee-high box)
30 wide-grip push-ups (hands twice shoulder-width apart)
Chin-ups to failure
Circuit 3: Legs (advanced trainers should wear a 5kg weight vest)
60 seconds of jumping step-ups
20 body-weight lunges, 10 on each leg
60 seconds of box jumps
10 burpees with vertical jump