Rex Tso is WBO Asia Pacific Super-flyweight Champion (52kg). I have been his Strength and Conditioning Coach since May 2015 and this post is about my experience coaching him over the past year.
The first thing I will say about Rex is that he is a super humble guy. Rex is also very intelligent (although he is often quoted as not doing well in school), he has a street smart, problem solving intelligence as opposed to so called scholastic “earn a piece of paper” intelligence you get from rote-learning scrolls of, well, stuff that won’t help you in a boxing ring!
The second thing I will say is that Rex is eminently coachable. I have coached New Zealand Cricket captain Stephen Fleming and Commonwealth Games Gymnast Mark Holyoake, who are both very coachable, and I also have coached athletes that have gone on and won world titles but have been an effort to coach because of a prima donna attitude. So I have experienced coaching on both ends of the spectrum and everything in between. Rex is a joy and pleasure to coach.
What do I mean by “being coachable”? Being coachable is first and foremost listening, doing and discussing. Next is having faith in the methods and angle the coach is taking or focusing on in order to progress. It takes time to build a coach-athlete relationship- time spent in the gym, reps and sets, teaching new exercises and explaining the purpose of each, and it takes time time for the coach to understand the sport and the athlete. I have to also co-ordinate with a team of coaches in other areas.
My introduction to boxing
Barry Hoy (38-0 Welterweight, Golden Gloves Champion) had watched me coach a team of u-11 rugby players for a season and asked me if I would approach training him as he liked my innovation towards warm-up and movement.
Barry also asked me if I knew a boxer called Rex Tso, I replied I had only known him as my son (who Barry coaches to box) had a photo with him during a visit to DEF Boxing gym one day. My son was quite excited by this photo so I knew Rex must be a big deal. To cut a long story short, Barry introduced me to Jay Larvis, Rex’s head trainer and owner of DEF Boxing gym with a view to training Rex to improve his rotational power.
Before I agreed to training Rex I wanted to see what I was getting myself into and asked to attend a boxing and conditioning session to see how he moved. Barry kindly came along with me to provide some “boxing eyes” for my questions and to corroborate my observations.
Below are my top 3 observations from this initial session-
(1) Rex is very fit. (2) Rex is not very flexible. (3) His technique in the gym needs precision.
My biggest concern was that with the volume of training that Rex was doing that he would burn-out from overtraining.
Rest is the most important component of a training programme and that is set first. Sleep is the most important aspect of recovery.
Developing a Boxing-specific training and conditioning programme
I met with Jay a week later with a view to training Rex twice a week to improve his rotation and was happily surprised that Jay wanted me to take responsibility for all of Rex’s conditioning and cardio fitness and to train him four days per week.
This extra responsibility took me back to the drawing board and I spent about 50 hours working out from an exercise physiology and movement perspective what type of fitness and movements a boxing-specific programme requires.
A world title fight consists of 12 3-minute rounds separated by 1 minute of rest. The action inside a round is intermittent high, low and moderate intensity as the boxer flows between attack, defence and gauging his opponent. Range of active movement for boxing is twisting and lunging. The dominant movement patterns for throwing a punch is lunge, twist, push. My programmes for Rex reflect this emphasis in-season. Out of season, the emphasis is expanding his range of active movement with general physical preparation.
I use, amongst other methods, my “ROAM” cycle to select both specific and general training programmes for Rex. Of course we are selective about what exercises and acute variables we let “out of the bag” for public consumption. We do not want to give all our training secrets away to our opposition! Rex has a variety of exercise programmes that change daily.
ROAM Cycle for selection of specific and general physical preparation movements
ROAM- “Range Of Active Movement” is a method I have developed over many years.
My book, ROAM Part 1, will be published in June 2016 with an emphasis on bodyweight and restoration stretching and posture exercises. Rex has graduated from all of these during his off-season.
ROAM Cycle- click to enlarge
The photo below is the match-day team from Fight #17. Jay is the Head Trainer, Promoter and owner of DEF Boxing gym in Hong Kong.
Jay Larvis, Jake Verano, Rex Tso, Miguel, Ross Eathorne- at the Venetian Macau victory in Fight #17. (Missing from the photo is Allan Ho who is Rex’s Massage Therapist.)
Jay gave me boxing lessons to help me understand the nuances in the different punches and boxing strategy. This helped direct our conditioning emphasis and invent some new exercises specifically for Rex.
Jake Verano is a big part of Team Rex as he is the full-time Boxing trainer. Jake moulds Rex the Boxer, while I mould Rex the Athlete. I aim to complement and enhance what Jake does with Rex in the ring.
Rex is the boxer, it is his job to train, eat, sleep boxing- full-time. Rex is Hong Kong’s only professional boxer and as I gradually found out, he is now the most famous athlete (behind Bruce Lee) among people in Hong Kong- in the 7 million-strong Chinese community, he is a hero.
Miguel Diaz (who once worked with Floyd Mayweather) is the “Cut-man” for this fight, who puts the bandages and the 10oz boxing gloves on and attends to any wounds incurred during a round. Miguel is super famous and has assisted over 37 world champions and resides in Las Vegas.
There is of course a much bigger “Team Rex” and over the course of the last 12 months I conclude it is more of a family- such is the camaraderie and value amongst the coaches and staff at DEF. Like any organisation you must earn your stripes before being accepted into the community and with every fight and obvious improvement in fitness, power and physique that Rex gets, I slowly gain acceptance.
Rex- Macau, July 2015
When I first saw the skinny physique with virtually zero body fat, I asked what weight he fought at. “52kg” was the answer and he was at the time 60kg. I was shocked and blown away by where Rex would lose the weight (8kg!) from his skin-and-bones physique! “No problem” was the reply.
Rex starts cutting food and water 10 days before the fight, stops sparring and weight training and increases low intensity cardio duration to sweat out the mostly water to make weight. I have little part in this crazy strategy as it contradicts the advice I give in my book “The Bottom Line Of Fat Loss”!
Rex- Hong Kong, May 2016
What I will say to readers is that there is a significant difference between sports specific nutrition and healthy eating. Rex makes the weight with no problems. The weigh-in is part of the sport and the show of boxing. The press are there, all the fighters meet up and show their physiques and in showing their physiques show the preparation they have undertaken. It is a big deal. It is also a bit of fun, posing with the Ring Girls.
The first time I went to a Boxing match was as the official Water-boy with a ringside seat. By the time “fight night” comes along, my job is well and truly over as we stop training 7-10 days before the fight.
I had about seven tasks to do and was a bit like a deer in spotlights making sure I did not stuff up. Miguel put rights to that and I said “you’re the boss, tell me what to do!”.
I have now been ringside for three fights. Each time has been an amazing experience, and I enjoy every moment.
The procession going into the Ring is an experience for sure. Rex transforms during the walkout to a man who is focused on the task at hand. Rex’s entourage assembles, I pick up the water bucket filled with ice and grab a towel to wipe him down and take my place to walk into the arena. Smoke effects, pumping music and a partisan crowd erupt when Rex enters the arena.
Rex is one of the calmest guys I have seen before a competition and I admire that because I confide in Jake that I am super excited- he concurs!
As we walk out, Team Rex hoists his championship belts high to show the vocal Hong Kong crowd what’s on the line, and what looks back at us is a sea of thousands of cell phones recording the march past. It is a surreal moment and quite fun really.
My son is in the audience and calls out to me. I am proud that he is proud of me in front of his buddies. We climb into the ring to be presented to the audience and then we take our seats ringside as the fight begins. After the first fight I tell Jay and Barry that “you have to have big cajones to get into a ring to fight, and even bigger one to get in the ring without a headguard”- the main difference between amateur and professional fights. I mean, it is a hell-of-a-thing to get into the ring with someone who is trying to knock you out, and of course you are aiming to do it to him before he does it to you.
Fortunately for me Rex has won all his fights when I have been involved and Jake says we will take him to a World Title.
Victory pose for Rex after stopping Young Gil-Bae in the 4th round in the “Clash of Champions” bout on Saturday 14 May. Jake watching over Rex, and me entering the ring. A very cool feeling to be part of.
For the three fights I have been with Rex, he has shown superior fitness over his opponents and many of his closest supporters and even the media have commented on the improvements and speed and physique he has developed since training with me.
The photo above shows an exhausted Rex lying besides a puddle of sweat. Whilst this is the reality of where Rex gets his fitness from (and what I consider my victory pose), these types of high volume and intense workouts occur only once out of 6 conditioning sessions per week and are carefully monitored according to how well he recovers from his boxing and cardio training sessions the previous days.
I have been quoted in the SCMP (South China Morning Post) newspaper in Hong Kong several times. The last time was saying that, in the 12 months training with me, Rex “has gone from a Boxer to an Athlete”. I mean this with the utmost respect to the improvements Rex has made in his conditioning.
I discussed this with Rex recently when he returned from a training camp in Cebu with an undercard younger boxer who followed our dynamic warmup routine (available as an iPhone app) and stretching routine. Rex said it was like watching a mirror of himself a year ago when he used to struggle with the stretches and non-boxing exercises, and he realised how far he has come under my tutelage, and how fluid his movements were.
My comment to Rex was simply that in the Ring, he is a Boxer and out of it, he is now an Athlete.