Jul 15, 2008, 10:47AM

A Warm-Up Exercise Everyone Loves

Despite Mickey's famous words in the movie Rocky, recent studies have shown that women in fact, do not "weaken the legs." Sports medicine experts have conducted several experiments and found that having sex the night before an athletic competition or event could actually be helpful in one's performance. 

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The original "Rocky" movie is 32 years old now, but one scene still provides a small window into the mindset of sex and the athlete: Rocky Balboa hacks away on a punching bag inside a tiny, dingy boxing gym. Sweat runs down his face and seeps through his grey T-shirt as trainer Mickey taps Balboa on the shoulder. Upset with Balboa's newfound love interest and laziness leading up to a big fight, Mickey informs him, "Women weaken legs." No less than five seconds later, Mickey has Balboa convinced not to fool around anymore.

The notion of pre-game abstinence from sex to enhance athletic performance is a longstanding one. But is that notion as fictional as Balboa's character?

KU sports team physician Sean Cupp sure thinks so. Cupp, a sports medicine specialist, said no true scientific studies proved night-before sex impedes performance in any way. In fact, Cupp said if sex was part of an athlete's typical nighttime routine, the person shouldn't suddenly abandon lovemaking.

Last year, the cable television show "Sports Science" set out to prove or disprove the theory. Former heavyweight boxing champion Chris Byrd was put through a series of the same tests. One set occurred before sex, where Byrd abstained for one week leading up to the tests. The other tests occurred the day after Byrd had sex with his wife. The tests measured leg strength, heart rate and punching power, as well as testosterone levels.

Byrd's leg strength on a squat machine was 909 pounds afterward compared to 908 pounds before. His heart rate remained at 180 beats per minute in both tests. His punching power, measured on a punching bag containing impact censors, was actually higher after sex (1,304 pounds compared to 1,128 pounds). And his testosterone levels were also higher after sex (462 nanograms-per-liter compared to 325 ng/l).

While the test by no means definitely answers this question, it does raise an interesting point. Can sex the night before competition actually increase performance?

  • Looks like they'll have to rewrite the The Marquis of Queensberry rules. The myth about sex before a boxing match comes from Professor Michael J. Donovan's "How to Train for a Fight." No cornerman in the last century has gone without it. Donovan was the third middleweight champion, and the first to really capture the public's imagination. Later he became the boxing instructor at the New York Athletic Club, and his essay on fight preparation is pretty much considered the gold standard. Here's one of his gems..."Before beginning real work, every man should take mild doses of physic to work on the bowels." Here's some more fun..."When you return to your quarters, strip in a room free of drafts. Let two men rub you gently with soft Turkish towels. Then they should rub you with coarser towels to quicken the circulation and harden the skin." What don't I know about boxing?!

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