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It’s unfortunate that Michael Spinks’ boxing career is mostly relegated to the footnotes of sweet science history. Even the most hardcore of fans only have one image in their mind when his name comes up — Spinks flat on his back staring up at the ceiling as if pondering what the hell just hit him.
It was Mike Tyson. The 22-year old tornado who swept through the heavyweight division and knocked Spinks out in 91 seconds to become the undisputed champion of the world. Following that spectacular win, Tyson went on to become the famous boxer in the world since Ali, while Spinks quietly retired.
It’s a shame that Spinks’ boxing career is tied so closely with Tyson’s history; but dig a little deeper, and fight fans will find out there’s a lot more to the story. They’ll discover one of the greatest light heavyweight boxers in history.
After winning a gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, Spinks went on to rack up an undefeated professional record against the likes of Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Marvin Johnson and Eddie Davis, before becoming the undisputed light heavyweight champion.
In 1985, after moving up to heavyweight and knocking out David Sears and Jim McDonald, Spinks challenged Larry Holmes for the IBF and lineal belts. In a close bout, Spinks edged Holmes to win an unanimous decision and become the first light heavyweight champion in history to win the world heavyweight title.
I stand alone as the only one to do it. I didn’t lose any speed; I was just as fast as I was as a light heavyweight.BLH Classic Fights Series: On the cusp of Marciano’s record, Larry Holmes is dethroned by Michael Spinks | Bad Left Hook
Michael Spinks’ training routine & diet
For his move from light heavyweight to heavyweight, Spinks and his strength & conditioning coach, Mackie Shilstone, decided to throw away the playbook full of boxing training traditions and devise their own methods. Moving forward, instead of having to train for weight loss and cut down to the 175 pound light heavyweight limit, the focus was now on Spinks eating his way up to 200 pounds, without sacrificing any speed, reflexes or cardio.
Shilstone’s heavyweight training routine, which also included an updated nutrition plan, prioritised exercises that increase Spinks’ flexibility, strength and endurance. The new program revolved around weight training, explosive calisthenics, like squat jumps, box jumps and elevated push-ups, and sprint work.
Gone were the days of early morning roadwork — a staple in the training schedules of most boxers. According to Shilstone, long distance jogging works for a boxer “if you are trying to burn calories, to make weight,” but since there isn’t a weight limit at heavyweight, “after a certain point in the run, he isn’t getting any benefit.”
“To build him up, he had to change his running program,” Shilstone told The Los Angeles Times. “He couldn’t allow his running program to cause him to lose muscle tissue and weight”. Instead, they shifted the emphasis to a training system that “would not break him down and make him lose weight, yet would condition him for the rigors of a fight.”
Shilstone also challenged the traditional notion that weightlifting would make a boxer become inflexible — “If anyone knows anything about weightlifters, they know that they are some of the most flexible guys if they do the full range of motion, which we did.”
In a Sports Illustrated article published shortly after Spinks beat Holmes, Shilstone described a weekly strength & conditioning schedule:
- Monday – Early morning walking and jogging, followed by sprint work, then explosive calisthenics.
- Tuesday – Running work then weight training with 30-to 50-pound dumbbells.
- Wednesday – Rest day.
- Thursday – Running then weight training.
- Friday – Running then explosive calisthenics.
- Saturday – Running then weight training.
- Sunday – Rest day.
For Spinks’s diet, Shilstone created a nutrition plan which aimed at providing the champion with 4,500 calories a day, made up of 65% complex carbohydrates (from the fruits, vegetables and whole grains), 20% protein (mostly from the meat and fish) and 15% fats.
For breakfast Sprinks had three poached eggs, shredded wheat, wheat toast, tea and fruits, or oatmeal, wheat pancakes, tea and fruits. For lunch he had broiled fish, green vegetables, baked potato, wheat toast, salad with lemon juice and vinegar, fruit and hot tea. At 4:30 p.m. he did his regular boxing training at the gym. At 7:30, he had dinner, which was the same as lunch except that broiled chicken or turkey was substituted for the fish.A CHAMP WITH STRANGE IDEAS | Sports Illustrated
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