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Professional boxers are widely considered some of the best conditioned athletes in the world, but on the surface it may be hard to see the direct benefit for a current NBA player to train like a fighter. Chattin Hill, the Strength & Conditioning Coordinator for the Hawks, introduced Atlanta big man Al Horford to the idea of using boxing as off-season cross training a year ago, and after Horford responded by being named to the first All-Star team of his career it was only a matter of time before other players were interested in pulling on the gloves.

Zaza Pachulia (see video above) is one of the most recent players to add boxing workouts to his summer routine, joining Al Horford, Mario West and Randolph Morris. While relatively new to the Hawks, there have been players using boxing to stay in shape for more than a decade. Al Harrington has been boxing in the off-season throughout his 10-year career and was the subject of a video feature produced by Dime Magazine back in 2008. (Click Here to view the video.) More recently the Grizzlies’ Rudy Gay picked up the routine, and credited players such as David West, Cuttino Mobley and Manu Ginobili for convincing him of the benefits.

Former NBA player Jamie Feick is now the head coach at Lexington High School in Mansfield, Ohio. He used boxing as training tool starting around 1990 and found it so effective that he puts his entire team through three workouts each week over the summer. (Read the full story)

With Pachulia and Horford leading the Hawks charge into the ring, it is important to note that the benefits of boxing are even greater for big men. Skills that big men commonly lack such as quickness, hand-eye coordination and balance are all areas that improve during workouts. Those are in addition to the purely conditioning aspects that burn calories and increase the anaerobic threshold for the athletes. The intense intervals that make up the boxing workouts (or rounds if the boxer is actually competing) translates very well to the stop-and-go pattern of a basketball game. NBA players have to use intense bursts of energy, but they are quickly followed by dead balls and timeouts.

For a Hawks team that will enter the 2010-11 season with a main goal of making it in to the deeper rounds, it seems appropriate that two of their big men have entered the ring to start the fight in the summer.