What Makes a 52 Year Old Decide to Start Boxing?

I received an email from Gerhard Potgieter, a 52 year old who seriously took up boxing to improve his fitness level about 8 months ago at the time of this writing.

I asked him if he would mind sharing his story and the challenges a 50+ year old newbie to the sport has in regards to training and anything else he might find useful. Thankfully, he did and I think you'll agree that his story below is both inspirational and testament to what you can do if you put your mind to it.

Special thanks to Gerhard for writing this, and I would encourage you to leave comments for him after the article especially if you want clarification or to offer words of encouragement.

From Gerhard Potgieter,

I hope this can or will help motivate other people in my situation and even for some younger boxers who sometimes need a bit of a jumpstart to get going again.

I have a serious back problem in that I do not have any cartilage between my lower vertebras. This means that just about permanently – because of bad posture and weak core strength – some or other nerve is always pinched somewhere. It is problem I had from high school days but as I have always been very active, it wasn’t that much of a problem. All my activities meant I had good core strength. I cycled a lot, played provincial underwater hockey and went to gym 5-6 days a week and did scuba diving just about every weekend. I got married when I was 37 and when the family came; all my sport stopped one after the other because of family commitments and finances.

My back problem became worse and worse and there were days that I walked like an old, old man when I got up in the mornings. My weight increased slowly and when I started training, I weighed 120 kg. Length 1.9 meters. My wife gave me a punch bag as a Christmas gift in 2007. I have always wanted to hit the heavy bag but never got round to it. I changed what I had, for a bigger and heavier bag and proper gloves as well. The training I did was a bit wishy-washy, no sustenance or effort to it, stupid pushing the bag around instead of hitting the damn thing. I think I felt too self-conscious to hop around a bag in my garage and call it training!

One morning Feb 2008 as I took my shoes off, I hurt my back quite seriously and could hardly walk because of the pain. After numerous doctors’ visits – who advised an operation - and seeing a chiropractor – who treated me with big success - I decided I need to do something about my health as I could not go from one painful day to next, hardly able to bend or walk properly, let alone jogging or running! I decided to increase my heavy bag activities. The chiro also recommended heavy bag exercises in moderation as well as some other exercises. (What’s moderation?)

At an age where most men would at most play with their grandchildren (I will be 53 in April), I decided to take up one of the most strenuous manners of sport – and I enjoy every minute of it! So I stepped up my training, prancing around in my garage amidst rivers of sweat. But what was I supposed to do and how to do it? I started searching on the internet and found several websites with boxing info, amongst them this website which helped me tremendously.

There is a big boxing club not too far away and went to do some photographs for myself – I am an semi-professional photographer - and for them. I have been invited to train with them by some of the younger boxers I took photographs of – I do not think it will work because of my lifestyle, I could not commit to their rigorous training schedule and in any case, I see clients every day and pitching at a meeting with a broken nose, face bruises or blue eye is not the done thing! Not to mention that I don’t think my speed and co-ordination can match the younger fighters!

Anyway, from here I taught myself how to jab, do the right cross, left and right hooks and upper cuts, etc. As I read further and found more info, I became more and more enthusiastic about my training and decided I will train as close to a real boxer as possible. What I have seen from the training at the boxing club as well as chatting to the boxers I photographed, I try to do just as they do.

Investing in a Gymboss imported from the UK (one of the better investments in a long, long time), I now train in 3 minute rounds, use the proper equipment including hand wraps, proper gum shield, x-large heavy bag, double-end ball, proper 16 and 14 oz leather gloves and recently a friend brought me a good pair of boxing boots from England. (The boots we get here is absolute rubbish and very expensive).

Training:

I found that my family commitments clashed with my training requirements (my wife is away a lot and I have to be Mom and Dad for our son) and to solve the time problem, started training for 90 to 120 min per session at 04h00 every morning, 6 days a week, summer and winter.

Basically it will consist of the following:

  • Warm up starting at ankles and end with neck
  • Recently started jump rope as well
  • Shadow boxing 4 - 6 rounds (all rounds 3 min ea and 1 min rest)
  • Heavy bag – 4 rounds average doing footwork one round, combinations next round, 1-2 next round and hooks and uppercuts the next. Depending on time, I might do more rounds…if I have the energy to still stand that is!)
  • Sometimes – 2-3 x per week – I do speed and power drill, 20 sec hitting the heavy bag as fast as possible and 15 sec rest, done 8 times like in Tabata training.
  • Weight training comes next and I do mostly high reps and not too heavy weights. Concentrate mostly on shoulders and arm.
  • Next comes alternating either floor exercises or purely ab exercises. Floor will be 25x each of wide push ups, sit ups, crunches, leg raises, boxer sit ups, oblique raises and one or two other I see from time to time on the www. Abs I will sometimes do (with a Swiss ball) do 20x ea. woodcutter swings with barbell, upper body raises, leg raises , plank for 60 sec, ‘windscreen wipers’, leg raises, sit ups, etc. As I said, these are done focusing mainly on core strength training.
  • Then I would go running on two 40 and 60 degree up hills for just under 2 kilometer the one morning and the next I will do 70m sprints and jog back (sometimes with push ups, burpees, sit ups at either end) on the 60 degree uphill and jog back home. Distance then is about 1.5 kilometers.
  • Cool down will be done by doing various stretching exercises. I change the route sometimes for a way of a change but normally do between 1.5 and 2 km. I find if I do too much my back starts intruding later in the day when my muscles cool down….

This I do every day and try to have my off day on a Monday. That leaves the Sat and Sun morning with lots of time to do extra technique or try new combinations or whatever without having any time constraints. Sometimes on Sat and Sun I will focus on technique only and do 40x ea of jabs, 40x right cross, etc.

Granted, there are some days that I really don’t feel like it or got to bed late the previous night although does not happen often. I enjoy the whole training thing too much.

Nutrition wise, I eat as healthy as possible. I have never been fond of junk or fatty foods, gas cool drinks, sweets and confectionary in any case. I eat healthy foods as much as possible like fresh fruit, brown rice and legumes, raw vegetables and green veggies, whole wheat bread and pasta and lean meats as much as possible. My big sin is wine – I have always been very fond of red and dry white wine but have managed to cut down hugely on this as well. I only have a few half glasses over a week end as far as possible.

I have slowly lost about 20 kilos (44lbs) since I seriously started training in March 2008 and feel much better. I downsized on my pants and upsized on my shirts! I have minimal back problems now days but that will always be with me. If there is no cartilage, there is no cartilage and no amount of training is going to bring that back.

Obviously, I am not a real fighting boxer but I try my best. I am willing to listen too anybody talking sense who know what it is all about and will always be open to learn something new. My eyes literally opened re the sweet science and I realized that there is so much more to boxing than just two men exchanging blows in a ring. Maybe, just maybe, I would like to take up an offer to spar with some of the guys at the gym….. Naturally in controlled situation with full head gear etc. Just to see for myself how I would match up and naturally really experience the whole atmosphere of fight night and everything that goes with that.

Motivation

Imagining that I train for a real fight and thinking that my opponent is training more that me does drive me to do just that extra 5 or 10 reps or keep on going hitting the heavy bag no matter how tired I am or how heavy my arms are. It helps to get positive remarks from my wife, friends and family about my looks and weight loss and even the car guard at the shopping centre commented on my shape. The more sweat I see on the cement floor of my garage the better because then I know I have been working out and not wasting my time putting on the gloves.

I train with a gum shield (as close to a normal boxers situation as possible, remember) and don’t know what the motorists think of me running kitted out in boots and hand wraps, soaked in sweat – it takes to much time to change into other clothes – but I don’t give a damn. As long as I can train, see some results and I feel good about what I do, I will keep on as long as I can. Comments of crazy to get up so early in the morning, trying to simulate being a boxer, even just the connotation to boxing, etc have elicited some crappy remarks from a lot of people but at the end of the day, who feels, look and walk and run better than 8 months ago? For sure I am the winner in this situation!

I found the following words which I enlarged and put up in my ‘gym’ and it does motivate me a lot!

I do it because I can,
I can do it because I want to do it,
I want to do it because you said I couldn't!

Coach Aaron

Coach Aaron founded Commando Boxing in 2003. When he's not boxing, he's running ultramarathons or using data science/blockchains to create mixed reality HoloLens applications.

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