I have no doubt that online training can be useful for some boxers looking to learn the fundamentals on their own, and I've previously written about learning to box online using online boxing programs such as Commando Boxing's online boxing club. So it may surprise you when I now say that you need to go out and find other people to train with...
Not having access to a trainer or club doesn't mean you should lock yourself away and learn boxing all by yourself.
In this post I'm going to cover why you should be training with a partner, how a partner can help you improve as a boxer (whether the partner wants to learn to box or not) and give you a tool you can use to find sparring or training partners near where you live.
You Should Want Help
“You are never strong enough that you don't need help.” ― César Chávez
You might think of boxing as an individual sport and that is true to some extent. A lot of what you will go through to be a great boxer is individual effort.
You aim to better every aspect of your physical and mental conditioning so when you climb up those three or four steps to the ring, bend over and squeeze through the ropes and stand staring at an opponent across the ring who is there to hurt you - you have the confidence and skill to fight and win.
When that bell rings - there is no team. There is no backup. There is nowhere to hide. You fight or you don't and the results of any preparation or lack thereof are quickly apparent.
Even though everything you're going to go through as a boxer leads to an individual effort in the ring - boxing is not just an individual sport.
A boxing team may not have the same team dynamic as say a football or basketball team, but boxers don't get to the top of their sport by themselves. I know of no boxers that are self-taught and trained alone in a garage somewhere before emerging from obscurity fighting for a championship in a big pay per view event in Vegas.
No matter how much training you do by yourself, how much you visualize and react to those visualizations, practice punching and blocking and moving against an invisible opponent - you will never become a high level competition boxer on your own.
You have to train with real, unpredictable, thinking people who will adapt to your actions and fight back in order to seriously prepare to do it for real in or out of the ring.
“Every person that you meet knows something you don't; learn from them.”
― H. Jackson Brown Jr.
The next time you are training alone, remember that the heavy bag hanging in front of you is the perfect opponent. You can do no wrong in front of it. It's your admirer quietly reinforcing that you are the best. It is never critical of your form or technique. Every punch you throw lands. It never capitalizes on the moment you drop your hands or are slow to slip.
That's great for confidence but quickly leads to over-confidence or put another way - the "I'm the biggest bad ass on the planet" syndrome.
Especially in the beginning, the techniques you pick up will make you believe you're invincible and compared to what the normal population knows - you'll be miles ahead.
As your level of conditioning and skill starts to surpass those of the non-boxers around you - it's easy to lose perspective and start believing that you are superior in some way. Left unchecked it's a dangerous condition that breeds unsportsmanlike behavior and will generally just turn you into a major ass. Sometimes it's helpful to literally have someone knock some sense into you.
Don't get me wrong - confidence is good. It is absolutely necessary in the ring and it makes for a more fulfilling life - but there is a line that shouldn't be crossed. Most people can not see that line by themselves and even though they've never stood toe to toe across the ring from someone they believe that what they've learned and trained on their own has prepared them for that moment. That's a dangerous state of mind.
Before you turn into that major ass - you need to start training with other people. While you may not have access to a trainer or coach, you most certainly have access to someone - a friend or family member - that you can train with. Find someone, anyone, that is willing. At some point - you must stop being a hermit boxer.
You Need to be Pushed
“No matter our talent, we all know in the midnight of our souls that 90 percent of what we do is less than our best.”
― Robert McKee
We all have the instinctual mechanism for self-preservation. It keeps us alive - but it also keeps us from reaching our true potential.
It requires an immense level of self discipline to commit to boxing or any fitness program and consistently train yourself at or beyond your limits for any length of time. With nobody but yourself to be accountable to, you simply will not make the sacrifices or experience the hardship and sometimes short-term pain necessary to bring out higher levels of performance.
Even if you believe you are special and can push yourself harder than anyone you know, a point will come that you will consider your training good-enough and you may not even consciously make that decision. You'll just plateau - reach equilibrium - and train to that level because there is no stimulus to push harder. There is no obstacle to overcome or reason to reach further into yourself to see where your limits actually are.
You may think that that doesn't apply to you - that you can push yourself harder than other people. I thought that too. In fact I knew it to be true but I still had no idea that I wasn't training even close to my limits until I was pushed so hard that I nearly died.
In one instance - the environmental conditions, conditions in my body, and extreme effort combined and resulted in me laying in a hospital having my clothes cut off me with doctors and nurses furiously working to pump fluids back into my body. While I do not recommend you ever push yourself anywhere close to that hard, it made me keenly aware of what my limits actually are and not just what I thought they were.
But I did not push myself to that limit on my own. I, and 99% of the population, would have stopped long before my body began shutting down like it did had I been alone.
Why You Need Someone to Learn Boxing With
A partner is absolutely essential if you want to learn boxing for anything more than fitness and here are the reasons why:
Accountability - We all have good and bad days. On the good days - training and getting to the gym is effortless. On the bad days - the last thing you want to do is go get punched in the head. That's when a friend or training partner is worth their weight in gold.
The biggest battle to reaching peak performance is maintaining consistency. A good training partner will hold you accountable and make sure you show up to train even when you don't want to and he or she will make sure your training is as effective as it can be.
A word of warning though - find a training partner who shares your goals and work ethic. The wrong training partner could be more of a hindrance than a help and actually sabotage your efforts. Sometimes it's better to pick a training partner that you are not too close to. If they care about you too much they may hold back.
Introduces Chaos - There is a randomness and chaos to boxing that cannot be replicated in front of a heavy bag or by yourself in a front of a mirror shadowboxing. A sparring or training partner introduces that bit of randomness into the training session.
You can pretend to slip punches all you want, but the reality is that you know when you are going to throw them at yourself Only another human being can help you perfect your timing, improve your reflexes and fine tune your ability to pick out the subtle cues that precede an onslaught.
A training partner will give you a much better idea of how good your defensive and offensive techniques are when it really matters.
Opens up new ways to train - A partner allows you to do focus mitt drills, technical sparring, and work out techniques and combinations in real time so you truly understand the mechanics involved in a situation. All of these things only require a willing participant - your partner does not need to be a world-class trainer or boxer if they are simply willing to go through the motions to help you train. Teach them the absolute basics - jab, straight right, hook, uppercuts and they will know everything they need to to help you train.
Where one partner is good - many are better - That way you pit yourself against different styles and introduce more variables of randomness into your training.
You also benefit from belonging to a group and experience a sense of competition. The social aspect of the group is going to help you stick to your training and push you to excel.
Boxing naturally attracts competitive people so a group of boxers intent on learning and improving will naturally push each other harder than you ever could alone.
It's also more fun - you can only talk to a heavy bag for so long no matter what kind of relationship you develop with it.
Now that you're convinced you need a training partner...how do you use them?
Ideally you want to find a training partner that wants to learn how to box as well (or already knows). In that way you can both be teachers which helps to reinforce things you learn. But even if they do not want to learn how to box, there are five areas where a partner can really help a boxer excel. Use these techniques with your training partner and your skills, reflexes, and level of conditioning are going to improve dramatically.
Focus Pads (Mitts)
Focus pad drills are extremely useful for developing accuracy, speed, and instinctive movements. Focus pads are basically targets that a partner presents to the boxer along with some type of instruction. For instance, you can call out jab, present the target and the boxer will jab. You then hide the target or move it to a new location in preparation for the next set of instructions.
Focus pads are held in one of three basic ways (relative to who is holding them):
- Target to the Front (facing the boxer) - for jabs and straights;
- Target at 90 degrees - for hooks; and
- Target flat (facing the floor) - for uppercuts.
Focus pad progression (pay attention to the positions of the pads and which punches are hitting them)
Focus pad drills can be instinctive or planned. With instinctive focus pad training, the boxer doesn't know what he is going to be doing before the target is thrown. Your partner will call out the instruction as he or she presents the target.
Planned focus pad training is when the boxer and trainer are working a certain combination. The video above is an example of planned focus pad combination training. Both boxer and trainer knows the drill. There is no need for an audible.
As a training partner, when presenting the targets, it is not enough to just limply hold them out there to be hit. You should present them crisply and move slightly into the punch - kind of like you are swatting at it, but only a very little bit. That provides some resistance to the boxer which is necessary to prevent injury to both the boxer and trainer (but more the boxer). If the targets are limp the boxer will just knock your arm backwards and can potentially hyperextend the punching arm. They need that bit of resistance and the training partner will maintain better control of the focus pads.
The following video shows focus pad drills as they apply to some MMA techniques but it's useful to get an idea of what can be accomplished between boxer and trainer with the focus pads. Notice how both boxer and trainer know what is happening (or rather just instinctually know) - no thinking - just reaction.
One last tip - if you are the training partner - when showing the target - don't hold it directly in front of your own head. A good hit will send your own hand into your own face and that is never a good thing.
Partner Flow Drills (aka Chain Drills)
Boxing chain drills or boxing flow drills resemble sparring but are highly controlled. Both training partner and the boxer are going to respond in a very choreographed fashion. They are used much like focus pads to drill responses to certain situations. The key to these is to start very slowly and make the boxer understand why he is blocking something or slipping a certain way. Eventually these flow drills will look really awesome and develop instinctual responses to some type of stimulus. Here's an example (can be done with focus pads as well):
The Elbow Block - 6-3-2
- Both boxer and training partner are in boxing stances facing each other.
- Trainer throws left hook to body (orthodox fighters).
- Boxer elbow blocks the body shot and immediately brings up a right uppercut (6) followed by a left hook (3) and straight right (2) to finish the combination.
- Trainer catches the uppercut, ducks the left hook and slips (or catches) the straight right
- Then boxer initiates and sequence repeats.
The initial block is the trigger for the combination.
Technical Sparring (aka Situational Sparring)
There are different types of boxing sparring. Technical sparring is similar to flow drills but introduces some randomness into the equation. With flow drills, trainer and boxer both know what the other is going to do, but with technical sparring, the boxer is in the dark. Not completely though. You both know which drill you are going to work on, but you initiate the drill without warning. Once it is complete, you pause and then do it again. The randomness occurs with the boxer not knowing when you are going to start the drill. It's useful for perfecting timing and recognition of initiation sequences.
Start with one drill and increase the intensity and challenge by combining different flow drills. Trainer doesn't tell the boxer which one is coming so he/she has to recognize the drill and react accordingly. Technical sparring is the perfect lead up to full out sparring.
Boxing sparring seems like it is all out boxing, but in reality, both people sparring are there to learn. If the training partner has no interest in boxing the boxer should now go out and find a sparring partner.
Sparring is not an all out boxing match, but rather it can be done at half speed or three quarter speed, or even full speed, but the goal is not to knock each other out. You just want to train as if you were in a boxing match and try to prevent any injuries from occurring in the process.
Obviously it's important to use all the right protective equipment including headgear, mouth guard, and groin protector (and chest protector for the women out there).
In addition to all the skill development a training partner can be tremendously beneficial in the gym. In the boxing gym or weight room itself the partner can:
- offer motivation and encouragement;
- hold the heavy bag, especially for punch out drills;
- time the rounds in the absence of a round timer;
- be a waterboy;
- assist with gloves on and off for various drills;
- select appropriate training music;
- coordinate equipment for circuit training;
- act as spotter; and
- prepare weights and monitor intensity and form.
Although it looks a lot like the training partner is the boxer's slave - ideally the trainer is training as well, in which case everything is reciprocated.
A symbiotic relationship develops and both trainer/boxer share the same goals - trying to become as conditioned as possible, as fast as possible, as powerful as possible, and as skilled as possible.
You may find that you get more enjoyment out of teaching and training other boxers than you will in training yourself.
How to Find Sparring and Training Partners
Those of you training away in your home gyms and garages may not have easy access to sparring partners and training partners. That's one area where boxing clubs are far superior to learning on your own - everyone is right there training together. You have a steady supply of sparring partners when you're ready to work against a real-life opponent.