Boxing with Bad Shoulder

Boxing After 40 With a Bad Shoulder

I took 6 weeks off of boxing lately, mostly just to rest, focus on work, and give myself a break after my last fight.

I’m not crazy, though — I kept up my runs and weights at home. I just didn’t do any boxing-specific work. No heavy bag, no sparring, no punching drills. I didn’t even show my nose at the gym.

When I went back for the first time this week I carefully stayed out of the classes that were training in the gym and did my own slow and careful workout: warm-up, shadowboxing, 10 rounds on the heavy bag.

The next two days showed me the muscles I had not been training while out of boxing: forearms, lats (although I swear I did lats!!), and some obliques. Also my neck was sore from carrying all the tension of the first workout back.

But amazingly, my shoulders were good.

I’ve had chronic bursitis in my hips and shoulders for as long as I can remember.

You gotta have shoulders to box.

You gotta have everything, I guess, but I never would have guessed that I could actually find work-arounds for the issues I have to deal with in my body’s performance, and still box well.

I was over 40 when I started this sport, and I was astonished that I could box well even though my hip joint issues meant I couldn’t run distance (for me, that means more than 4 miles).

Now I’m learning that I don’t have to punish my shoulder joints, either, in order to compete in the ring.

At first I sweated hard to learn to do dozens of standard push-ups, along with burpees, pull-ups, and the other shoulder-intense exercises. For several years I dealt with a level of everyday pain that I thought I would have to live with, if I was going to box.

Then I tore the rotator cuff in my right shoulder (doing unassisted pull-ups), requiring 3 months of physical therapy and a lot of time out of the ring.  That shoulder became — and still is — the single body part I most have to favor.

My physical therapist — a pro fighter a few years older than me — told me to cut back on the heavy shoulder work. “You’ll still box just fine,” she assured me. And I decided to test it out.

So I stopped obsessing about building the number of push ups I could do, and I started re-working my personal training workouts.

And my pain levels started to recede…

But the real challenge is in what to do when the whole team is working out together.

I began by thinking up a few alternate exercises.

For example, when the team is doing entire rounds of toe-taps on the medicine ball, I do steps instead, which hurt my hips less. When the team is doing burpees, I do deep lunges instead. If the command is for 50 standard push ups, I’ll do knee push ups.

It’s extremely difficult to be doing something different from everyone else on the team, but I try to tell myself that I’m 46 and they are 20, and I’m allowed. I can still meet them with a nasty-ass right when the bell rings.

This one single thing — not doing what everyone else is doing — is the absolute hardest part of my sport. I must have a big pride thing going on, because I absolutely *hate* having to do my own thing. But I’ve finally decided to do it anyway.

And I’ve found that my results in the ring are just as good, which is why I am sticking with it.

The second thing I’ve changed is to lower the weights, reps, and impact.

If the call is for 50 arm lifts with weights, I’ll do 30, or lighten the weight. I don’t shadow box with 5-pound weights, I use 1-pounders instead. Believe me, I could do all this stuff full-bore before, but I paid a heavy price in pain levels and injuries.

And there was simply no need to do that.

The third thing I’ve done is test the time limits.

By testing, I’ve found that I can do as many 1 minute (not 3 minute) sets of toe-taps as everyone else and still be relatively pain-free.

I’ve been working actively on that particular exercise, so I haven’t yet tested 2 minute rounds, but the 1 minute rounds are solid.

I can’t change all my time limits, but I change the ones that hit my hips and shoulders the worst. Amazingly, sparring is not affected at all. Which is probably further proof — if I needed it — that just because I’m not starting every workout with 100 push-ups doesn’t mean I am going to suck in the ring.

When I was back in the gym this week for the first time in 6 weeks, I was struck by how many shoulder-intense exercises both training groups were doing.

One coach had the team doing literally hundreds of dips, followed by alternating-hand push-ups on a medicine ball. (If you start with your left hand on the ball and your right hand on the floor, you do a push-up, then shift quickly so that your right hand is now on the ball and your left is on the floor. Repeat. It takes balance, speed, and lots of shoulder strength.) Anyone who fell behind was assigned 50 more push-ups.

That session would have been a total loss for me.

As it was, I did my own workout, which involved exactly zero dips or push-ups. I’ll put some of those in there as I get going again, but it will be far less than those guys are doing.

In the end, my lesson has been — once again — that I have to know my own body and look out for myself. Even in the face of pressure from a coach or the team.

So I’m passing it along to you. Boxing is an incredible, joy-giving, empowering sport and with a basic level of fitness, you can do it. Even if you’re over 40. Even if you have cranky hips and shoulders. You can do it!

And so can I.

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28 Responses to Boxing After 40 With a Bad Shoulder

  1. DaveG December 15, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    Aaah, the pleasures of sports injuries 🙂
    I blew out my rotator cuff while bench pressing, Couldn’t properly bench press after that so I had to find a workaround as well. Switched to a dumbbell and pulley routine. Same thing with my shoulders so switched to other exercises.
    You are absolutely right in determining your own limits.
    I do prefer a boxing routine over power training, it is more focused on strength and endurance than building muscle. In the end the goal is not who has the biggest biceps, but who performs best in the ring.
    And if that means holding back on ridiculous push-up routines or following your own routine, then so be it.
    I also train with people half my age, but because I did power training ever since I was 15, I can keep up with most of the exercises.
    In the end, however, it means nothing in the ring.
    Better to save up some energy and let it all rip when the time is right!
    See who’s laughing then 🙂

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 16, 2011 at 9:34 am #

      Dave, you are making me feel so much better. Some days I feel like I’m the only one out here, over 40 and still throwing jabs. It’s so good to hear from others who are doing it, and finding ways to make it work. Thanks a million for commenting!

      • DaveG December 16, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

        Yes, I don’t know anyone my age that is still boxing or recently took up boxing. But hey, I’m sure you’ve heard of white collar boxing, where people well into their 50s and even 60s are mixing it up.
        There’s hundreds of videos on YouTube.
        And don’t forget that there are still professional fighters competing well into their 40s, and with success!

  2. Jeffry Hogberg December 15, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    We got the bad end of the stick. 2 shoulder surg. on both shoulders.2 Knee surg on both knees. They keep telling me next time they are going to turn me into the bionic man.YEA YEA YEA.It was your grandmother,yea blame it on her.I do. LOL
    Sorry sweetheart join the club.Know just how you feel.. Been my down fall in every sport i have tried to do well in.
    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 16, 2011 at 9:36 am #

      Woah, Uncle Jeffry — how did you manage to get that many surgeries and still be running around all over the world like you do? You’re my new hero. I expect to be a tough chick forever now; it’s in my genes.

  3. judith December 21, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    Shoulder pain is very painful! If it gets worse, she needs an MRI. Most doctors do an Xray first. However, the MRI will tell if she has anything torn.
    If it’s a torn rotator cuff, that surgery is painful, but will help in the long run. Wish her luck!

  4. Lance Bledsoe December 22, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    The thing I like about this post is that it highlights the lame excuses that so many of us use to justify why we don’t do things. “I’m too old, I’m not smart enough, I’m not athletic enough, I have ADHD, I’m too fat, I don’t have enough time,” the list is endless. But the fact is, we CAN do things we want to do, even if we are over 40, or have a bad shoulder, or [insert your favorite excuse here]; we just have to be willing to stop making excuses and get to work.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 22, 2011 at 11:12 am #

      Thanks for adding your comment, Lance. You are a big part of the reason I’ve (finally) learned to approach things methodically from different angles rather than my standard bull-in-a-china-shop style.

      Watch out. I might take up higher math. Who knows what will happen then.

    • K8 August 13, 2019 at 8:21 pm #

      im over 50, and still training, with 3 major shoulder repairs, and 3 total ACL reconstructions. It sure does hurt now, most days. Double shoulder replacement is next on the cards, but im holding out on that one. Boxing is great for my head, and without it, everything suffers.

  5. Diana Grant December 27, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    Wow great! Actually my friend is asking me to join her in her boxing class… I always refuse but I think I should try it now. Thanks, you motivated me to do this.

  6. Laura Brown December 27, 2011 at 11:13 pm #

    I don’t know nuthin’ about boxing but DAMN if that’s not one sexy-ass shoulder.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

      ‘Tis indeed. It’s not mine, but mine look just as good if I do say so myself. The best part is that when I started losing weight and getting toned up, I lost the “flaps” underneath. They weren’t awful, but they were there. And now they’re not!

      You or your man run any fun races lately, Laura B? I miss ya.

  7. niamh December 30, 2011 at 8:05 am #

    Ah the joys of not being 21 anymore! Great that you’re finding ways to work around things though, so sad when people just give up and attach the Old label to themselves. Look forward to reading about more fights in 2012!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 5, 2012 at 8:39 am #

      No “old” label here, girlfriend. (And I’ve already heard one nibble about a fight this year, woot!)

  8. Hillari January 5, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    I turned 50 years old last month. I’ve had to make adjustments in movements due to having arthritis in both of my knees (the arthritis was found back in 2007). One knee may hurt less than the other at times, but both hurt every day. Bobbing and weaving to avoid punches is problematic, depending on how bad my knees hurt that day. If someone keeps dancing away from me around the ring, I can’t chase them easily. I often have to wait for them to come to me. It’s forcing me to be a better inside fighter.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 5, 2012 at 8:38 am #

      I’m glad to hear you say that it’s making you learn to be a better inside fighter. I always feel good when I hear that there are benefits to all these different little issues we face once we pass certain age milestones.

      And 50 years old!! That’s fantastic. I’m 46, and right behind you. Thanks for setting the bar high, and letting us all know that there’s joy in the sport for years to come.

      • DaveG January 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

        Boxing ladies, you got to love them 🙂
        Just came home from sparring with a fat lip. Did alternating rounds against a competitive fighter (hence the fat lip) and then 5 rounds against a woman, Guess which I enjoyed more…
        I am training with young men who can’t really restrain themselves half of the time, so somehow it all ends in a brawl.
        When fighting the girl, I could finally think about trying out some new moves, honing my technique, bob and weave. You ladies really make the best sparring partners!

        • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 6, 2012 at 8:28 am #

          Many thanks for the compliment. I like to think age (which you also mentioned) has something to do with it, too — that once we’re past 30, our brains kick into gear and we realize there’s more to fighting sports than brawling…

          Best analogy I ever came up with for boxing: it’s like playing chess underwater in a pool full of sharks. Hah!

  9. joyce January 5, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    Thanks you for sharing your inspiring stories…I like reading it..

  10. DaveG January 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Hi Lisa,
    what is the damage you sustain after an average sparring session?.
    I sustained a bloody nose and again a bruised lip this week.
    Since a lot of the fighters matching my skill don’t show up anymore, it’s slim pickings. People tend to drop out a lot in martial arts I noticed 🙂
    Anyway, if I want to spar I have no choice but to fight against the competitive fighter who is always around. I outweigh him about 30 pounds, but he sure is fast.
    I am aware that you seldom get out unscathed from a session, maybe I should switch to headgear with a nose guard but those seem way too bulky.
    I’d love to hear your take on this!

  11. Tana January 25, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    Personally, I prefer to watch MMA more simply because of the versatility. Boxing is just too one dimensional since it strictly involves punching, nothing else. In mixed martial arts, there are a wide array of fighting styles. There are wrestling holds, kicking, punching, grappling, throwing, and submissions, hence the term MIXED martial arts.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 25, 2012 at 7:46 am #

      You certainly aren’t the only one to prefer MMA over boxing. I love MMA too, although the fact that I box gives me a preference for that particular sport.

  12. Gil February 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm #


    I love your blog and better yet, your drive and determination.

    MMA is definitely exciting and I admire those guys for the hard work they put in. BUT, for me training wise, I prefer the sweet science. I did BJJ and dabbled in MMA for a while. It was a great workout, but the little injuries were beginning to pile on. A twisted finger here, cauliflower ear, etc. Plus, move wise, you have to be fast. One day you are working on your ground game, the next standup, then a combination of the two. If I had to pick a similar sport, it would be Muy thai. At least I won’t be thrown on the ground, lol.

    With boxing, it’s a simple, yet complex sport. I simply love the classic feel and smell of a boxing gym along with the sound of the bags, ropes, etc. I can also train on my own at home. Maybe I’m also bitten by the nostalgia. I grew up admiring Ali, Frazier and the like.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe February 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

      Thanks, Gil, for the kind words.

      It’s good to hear from another person who loves the sweet science. I’m like you — I’ve enjoyed dabbling in BJJ and little bit of other things, but in the end, the sheer simplicity and classic nature of boxing does it for me every time.

      MMA is just too hard on the body for me to pursue it with any dedication. And I also understand that to be any good in the cage, you really need years of experience in a variety of martial arts, and at 46, that’s not really of enough interest for me.

      I’m curious — have you done any sparring or competing in boxing? What do you love most about your training?

  13. Gil July 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    Sorry for the late response, Lisa. I have sparred in the past and if one hasn’t prepared for it, those 3 min rounds are an eternity. I would like to find a gym eventually and get back into it. As for competing, who knows?

    Right now, I am training at home, but I have a heavy bag and also a speed and double end bag as well.

    What do I love the most? Knowing that each day is different and there is always something to learn. There is just something about a boxers training that leaves you “spent” at the end, but in a great way.

  14. Gil August 10, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    Lisa..I also wanted to add that boxing is a sport I can practice and keep in shape for anywhere.

  15. Elisabetta Bruno June 27, 2018 at 7:50 am #

    This is such a great article. I have been contending with shoulder impingement for the last 8 months. It seems to improve when I rest it and do the strengthening exercises, and yes I was able to finally lift pain free after 6 months.

    Then I started Kickboxing and there it is again. This is greatly frustrating. And like you, I have to do knee push ups when everyone else cranks up full on push ups in half the time. I think what is worse in a way, is that I look younger than I am – some people have told me I look something like 10 years younger at times. Which is nice in a way, but in the gym it kinda makes me look like a slacker :p

    When it comes to actually punching and kicking power (when the shoulder doesn’t act up) and technique quality, I am very much on point, and anyone who partners up with me for the lesson comments on that.

    But maybe I should talk to my instructor and ask them if I can modify the conditioning to fit me on the day. Sometimes I really can’t do the knee push ups because the shoulder really prevents it. Maybe I should ask to do planks in those days where it’s not appreciating the work. That could give it time to heal and I don’t have to stop all together.

    Maybe I should talk to whoever partners up with me and tell them that sometimes I really can’t drive those crosses as much, because I need the rest.

    But the ego is strong and needing to tone it down is often frustrating 😉

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