How to train like an Olympic boxer

Mikaela Mayer
Mikaela Mayer abandoned her modeling career when she realized her passion for fighting. Photo by David Daigle

Not many aspiring models are willing put their faces on the wrong end of a boxing glove.

So it’s a good thing Mikaela Mayer, 24, lost all interest in posing for the camera once she stepped in the boxing ring for the first time. Ever since the former model traded in gowns for gloves, Mayer has found herself on a quick rise to the top of the boxing empire.

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“When I first started people definitely underestimated me,” the Los Angeles native laughs. “But they know me now.”

Currently ranked No. 2 in the U.S. for her weight class, the champion boxer started late for a sport that starts priming its winners circle players when they’re in their tweens. Mayer was already 17 when she signed up for Muay Thai fighting classes, but it only took her six months to win her first fight. Another six months and she had transitioned to boxing, winning her first national title. Now, she’s a four-time National Golden Glove Champion and a top-runner to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Mikaela Mayer and Queen Underwood
Mikaela Mayer will have another shot at making the Olympic team in two weeks. Photo courtesy of Mayer

But she’s been here before. While competing for a spot at the London Olympic games, Mayer lost in the finals of the U.S. Olympic trials in 2012 to Seattle’s Queen Underwood.

“Going into my first Olympic year, making it to the finals and then losing, and then losing by only two points … that was rough,” she remembers. “But I knew I had so much more to learn. I hadn’t hit my peak yet, and the dream was still alive. When you have a dream, you have a dream.”

A year later, Mayer beat Underwood at one of their national tournaments. Then, she lost to her at the U.S. National Championships. Their two-year tango will come to a head when the boxers will likely face off at the U.S. National Championships in Spokane, Washington, starting January 17. The top two boxers at the event will qualify for the Olympic trials, which will take place at the end of the year.

Mikaela Mayer
Mikaela Mayer says her coach—and a great playlist—keeps her motivated through tough workouts. Photo courtesy of Mayer

“I’m definitely feeling confident. I’m the better boxer,” she says of her impending matches. “I have the skills; now I just need to put it all together. It isn’t like 12 of us are making it through. It’s boxing—one person per weight class gets that Olympic spot.”

With her eyes set fervently on qualifying, Mayer knows a thing or two about pushing herself toward a goal—even if it involves a whole lot of suffering to do so.

“Yeah, sometimes I wake up sore, tired, and I don’t feel like sparring with a 175-pound dude who’s going to hit me,” she says. “But I really need to make sure I’m pushing myself, that I’m going to be able to push through four rounds straight. One of my favorite quotes is that practice doesn’t make perfect—perfect practice makes perfect. It’s better to hit the bag perfectly for five rounds than to hit it for 20 rounds.”

Want to train like a champion? Here, Mayer shares her weekly workout schedule and the things that keep her motivated.

Mikaela Mayer
Recovery, stretching, and swimming help balance a rigorous training schedule. Photo courtesy of Mayer

Monday: Every morning I’m up at 8 a.m. for a run. Three times a week it’s for distance, usually four to five miles.

Tuesday: Three times a week I do interval runs. This usually consists of eight 400-meter sprints with a 400-meter cool down jog in between each sprint for a total of four miles.

Wednesday: My gym workout is every day at 3 p.m. Three times a week, we do speed drills on the heavy bag followed by sparring.

Thursday: When I’m not doing speed drills, I do ball work, mitt work, shadow boxing, speed bag, and jump rope. On these days we finish up in the gym with plyometrics and other fast-twitch conditioning drills.

Friday: Two to three times a week I’ll go back for a third workout that usually consists of some strength training in the weight room or a swim. When I don’t have a fight coming up, I’ll work on lifting somewhat heavy to really build muscle and gain strength. However, when it’s time to start camp for a fight, all my strength training is quick and explosive, developing only my fast-twitch muscles.

Saturday: I also do fast-twitch muscle training in the pool instead of just swimming laps. When you get out you feel like you just did a full-on weight training workout.  I was taught these pool workouts by my strength coach in Los Angeles, Nick Curson. He’s a genius at training the fast twitch muscles, which are really important in a sport like boxing.

Sunday: This is usually my rest day—in the gym at least! I take full advantage of my Sundays to catch up on all other things going on in life like laundry and errands.

Mikaela Mayer
Mikaela Mayer moved to Michigan to train full-time with her coach. Photo by Frances Iacuzzi Photography

Mikaela Mayer’s Power List

All that training requires calling on some serious motivation. Here are the power players that keep Mayer in the zone.

Song: Sometimes I’ll put on some rap or hip hop while I’m running to pump me up, or sometimes I’ll play Britney Spears—depends on what I’m in the mood for.

Lucky charm: My coach, Al Mitchell. When he’s in my corner, I feel invincible.

Quote: “The definition of luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” I trust my training and my opportunities are coming—I just have to be fully ready to capitalize on them.

Role model: I’m a big MMA and Ronda Rousey fan! She’s done so much for women in combat sports.

Goal: Making that 2016 Olympic team and going to represent my country in Rio. I lost the finals of Olympic trials back in 2012 and I refuse to let that happen this time around.

Workout: I always feel my best after a hard, educational day of sparring, where you leave feeling like you really challenged yourself and learned something new.

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