After almost a decade staying in championship shape for boxing’s most ferociously competitive weight division, you’d forgive Carl Froch for easing off on the early-morning runs, being less fastidious in the kitchen, maybe even indulging in the odd Double Decker – and yes, Froch has done all those things. But, although the number on the scale might have gone up, this isn’t the usual post-career slide into a comfy pundit’s seat. Not by a long way.
“I’d like to do an Ironman triathlon,” says the former super middleweight world champ, who’s been hitting the pool semi-seriously ever since his retirement in July, using earplugs to protect the eardrum he perforated sparring for his 2008 title fight against Jean Pascal. “There are quite a few going on in 2016 and I’m seriously thinking about it. I used to find swimming quite monotonous, but I’m enjoying it more now – there’s no impact on my knees, and I get in the zone. It’s not good enough to do 2½ miles at a great pace [the Ironman swim is 2.4 miles (3.86km)], but I’d get it done.”
The other legs? Already taken care of. “I’ve got my running up already, I could do a half or a full marathon at a decent pace, and I could do the cycling,” Froch says. “Before I’m 40 I’d like to try that. It’d be hard work, but to achieve one, to get that in the bank… as long as I’ve got something in my head to work towards, that’ll keep me in shape.” And, of course, there’s the aesthetic angle to consider. “If you look at long-distance runners they’re quite skinny, but if you look at swimmers, they all look quite well-bulked and well-balanced, decent shoulders, slim waists. I look at what I want to look like and take my cues from that.”
If this seems surprising, it probably shouldn’t. The athlete known to his many fans as the Cobra has crafted one of British boxing’s all-time great careers using hard work and tenacity, coming through in some of his biggest matches by keeping up the pressure while opponents wilt in the later rounds. In title-winning bouts against Andre Dirrell and Mikael Kessler, he grabbed the initiative in the final stages to take a pair of close decisions, while against Jermain Taylor he battered the favourite to a stoppage with 14 seconds left in the fight… and, of course, in both of his bouts against fellow Englishman George Groves, he shut down the younger fighter (11 years his junior) in the dying rounds. He’s a man who’s used to accelerating over the finish line, and he’s not finished yet.
“I’m training because it’s something I’ve always done,” he says. “I’m not naming any fighters, but I don’t want to be one of these guys who retires from boxing and gets fat and out of shape and old-looking. I want to always look like I’ve been a world champion. It’s for myself and my kids [Froch has a son and two daughters – the youngest only weeks old – with model Rachael Cordingly] because I want to be able to still do stuff with them. And it’s not hard to do. I’m never going to be able to fight for 12 three-minute boxing rounds at a high pace unless I’m specifically training for it, but I can always stay in shape.”
He’s also started hitting the bar. “I’ve never lifted weights in my whole life,” says Froch, who relied on nothing but press-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and traditional roadwork for almost his entire pro boxing career – all 12 years of it. “But now I’m deadlifting, bench pressing, curling dumbbells, doing some weight-gaining exercises. I’m trying to bulk up a bit. You look better, you feel more confident, you look better in clothes… when I’m wearing my designer stuff or just a shirt with a pair of jeans, it helps.” Nottingham born, raised and resident, he’s a big fan of local brand Paul Smith.
Froch does his training with an old friend, keeping the reps low and the moves big, mixing in farmer’s walks and power cleans – “It gets you breathing, gets you exhausted physically. It’s geared to my engine” – and he’s still using some of the moves he learned filming BBC gymnastics show Tumble – “handstand press-ups, the planche, all that”.
He’s getting up to speed fast, with a 160kg deadlift (for reps) and a 120kg bench press already under his belt. But he’s in no rush. “I’m still under 10% body fat, but now I’m about 13 and a half stone [86kg], about 8kg over the super middleweight limit,” he says, in between posing for the shirt-off shots that prove it. “I’m trying to get to 14 stone [89kg] but keep the body fat down, put on about a pound of quality muscle a month. I don’t want to get too big, too fast. I don’t want to get big and strong and still, like my stepdad – he’s 20 stone. He’s a weightlifter, but he wouldn’t last 30 seconds in a fight.”
“To win a fight, you need to be strong and explosive with good stamina so you can throw hard punches in every round,” Froch says. ‘Because boxing is weight-governed, it’s important to do strengthening exercises that don’t add bulk, so I don’t use fancy equipment or weights.
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“When I fought I’d do classic moves such as press-ups, crunches and dips – as many as 300 of each in a session because volume equals strength. I include variations so my body never gets used to my workouts because shocking your muscles keeps forcing them to get stronger.”
But boxing isn’t only about strength. “Most training days include some cardio, such as skipping, hill climbs, six-mile runs – which I do in 35 minutes – and track sprints,” Froch says. “As well as improving lower-body strength, these drills increase my anaerobic capacity so I can work intensely for 12 three-minute rounds.”
Over the next pages you’ll find one of the boxing training routines Froch used while in his prime. Get down the gym and start doing it today.