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Evander Holyfield: Daily Routine

On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.

Years before they faced each other in the boxing ring, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson were young amateur boxers with Olympic dreams working together at the National Training Center in Colorado Springs. 

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The 17-year old Tyson had earned his invite by winning the 1984 Golden Gloves championships, while Holyfield earned his spot by winning a silver medal at the 1984 Pan Am Games. The group, which also included future gold medallist, Henry Tillman and defensive maestro Pernell Whitaker, spent six weeks training at Colorado Springs, before making their way to Fort Worth, Texas for the Olympic trials.

Tyson didn’t make the team, losing a 4-1 decision to Tillman. Holyfield went on to represent America at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, winning a bronze medal.

A few years later, both in their professional career, Tyson was moving through the heavyweight division like a wrecking ball at the same time Holyfield was working his way through the lighter, cruiserweight division. But it was only a matter of time before they were headed on a crash course; Holyfield made his debut in 1988 with plans to eventually face down Tyson, who was the undisputed champion of the world.

The only thing I ever knew about my father was that he never let anybody outwork him. Even as a kid I loved working hard, chasing people down, being dirty, getting ahead. Loved it. Boxing training was one of the things that I loved. I didn’t like the boxing part, but I loved the training. People would always ask, ‘when you gonna stop?’ But I have always liked being able to do what nobody else could do. 

Evander Holyfield exclusive interview: I’m not a fighter anymore | Boxing News

Evander Holyfield’s training routine & diet

After unifying the WBA, WBC, and IBF titles to become the undisputed cruiserweight champion, Holyfield moved up to heavyweight to sought out a title fight with Tyson. For his preparations, Holyfield enlisted Tim Hallmark, a fitness specialist based in Houston, to put on the muscle mass and strength required for the heavier division.

“Three times a week Evander has a two-hour morning strength session, working with free weights and weight machines,” Hallmark said in a New York Times interview about Holyfield’s heavyweight training sessions.

“When he was a cruiserweight it was more a circuit type of exercise, with emphasis on cardiovascular conditioning. He’d do a weight exercise, then run. A weight exercise, and run. Now he’s using more free weights and heavier weights and he’s sitting and resting in between each set.”

After the weight training session, Holyfield did a boxing session at midday, followed by a conditioning session in the late afternoon three times a week. For his conditioning workouts, Holyfield focused on explosive movements — “Bounding exercises. Jumping exercises against resistance. If I can get his legs to where they contract hard and fast, then the power movements will carry over into his punches,” explained Hallmark.

Holyfield also did a lot of training sessions, a good way to achieve high intensity, without stressing the joints. “In the water, Evander wears a wet vest, which keeps his body balance,” said Hallmark. “He does leg and arm exercises for certain intervals. With all this he doesn’t run as much as he did when he was a cruiserweight. Maybe twice a week. And it’s more interval training at 100, 220, 440 yards.”

For Holyfield, the best part about moving from cruiserweight to heavyweight was the new diet. He was now eating four to five times a day, compared to his cruiserweight stage when he was only eating twice a day. He described a typical daily meal plan to The New York Times:

I have breakfast before the morning workout. Four eggs, grits, toast, orange juice and milk. After the workout, another breakfast, pretty much the same thing. After the boxing workout, I have lunch. Green beans, macaroni and cheese, chopped steak, corn bread and tossed salad, cold tea and/ or water. After the evening workout it’s usually fish, black-eyed peas, string beans, cabbage, corn bread, cold tea and/or water. Back in the apartment, while watching films on the v.c.r., I’ll have peanut butter and grape jelly on wheat bread, with milk.

Holyfield Is Aiming to Take a Shot at Tyson | The New York Times

Strength & conditioning routine for Buster Douglas

For Holyfield’s bout against Buster Douglas in 1990, he worked with Dr. Fred Hatfield to help prepare him for a title unification fight against the man who had just knocked out Mike Tyson in one of the greatest upsets in sporting history.

In the first step of Hatfield’s training program, he stopped Holyfield from doing anymore roadwork — a timeless, almost sacred tradition that had boxers lacing up their runners and going for a run early in the morning. Instead, Hatfield’s conditioning routine had Holyfield training six days a week, three times a day, with a focus on various plyometric exercises and 3-minute drills designed to push Holyfield “to the absolute limits of his anaerobic tolerance.”

The program also included a weight training program that had Holyfield lifting five days a week, Monday through Friday, designed to increase strength and muscle hypertrophy. Each day was focused on a different body part, with core exercises sprinkled throughout the week. Hatfield outlined the program in a 1997 Sportscience News article:

  • Chest – bench press, dumbbell bench press, incline dumbbell bench press
  • Shoulders – seated dumbbell presses, front dumbbell raises, lateral raises
  • Back – bent rows, back extensions, modified pull-ups, pull downs
  • Arms – EZ curls, push downs, dumbbell curls, dips
  • Legs – safety squats, keystone deadlifts, walking lunges, glute-ham raises, twisting squats, leg curls
  • Core – Russian twists, crunches, sidebends

When fight night arrived Holyfield came into the ring at a lean 208 pounds, against an out-of-shape Douglas who pushed the scales past 240 pounds. The fitter, quicker Holyfield dominated Douglas over the course of the fight and knocked him out in the third round to capture the undisputed heavyweight championship.

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