Boxing doesn’t always work like you might think.
Last night I was training at Second Round, my home gym. The afterschool crew was working through their paces with Sinclair, so I did my jump rope rounds, stretching, and shadowboxing alone. Mostly I thought hard about very specific moves I was working on, particularly my (nearly non-existant) left hook.
Over and over again I stopped, moved through the motions, and tried again at speed. Shadow rounds, then heavy bag rounds. It wasn’t coming together. I slipped left, hooked, feh. No power. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was.
Then it all changed in a way I never expected.
And I realized there are secrets to advancement in boxing that generally no one ever tells you about. Here’s what I learned…
1. Don’t Expect Training
Don’t expect your training to progress just because you managed to get your ass to the gym. In this game, you have to earn it.
I spent an hour last night in the gym, failing to secure a left hook. I must have stopped 30 times in the course of six 3-minute rounds of shadowboxing, plus multiple rounds on the heavy bag, trying to slowmo my way into that hook. Nothing.
But my trainer, Coach Willie “One Bad Jab” Massey, standing quietly by the ring at the outer edge of the gym, saw what I was doing.
He saw the sweat running in rivers down my neck and shoulders and dripping off my nose. He saw me stop repeatedly to work the one specific combo. He knew I couldn’t find the left hook.
Four rounds into my heavy bag work he came over.
“I see you working really hard to land that hook. Let me show you why you’re not getting it,” he said, in his low-key way.
Gratefully I stepped back from the bag and watched him slowly show me the move, first in his natural southpaw stance, then in the orthodox position. There are many subtleties.
I was keeping my guard glove too high during the slip (couldn’t see my opponent), and not getting my shoulder behind the shot. Not keeping a solid 90 degree angle.
In a regular boxing gym, you go and train on your own most of the time. Nobody is going to hold your hand and tell you every little thing to do. If you decide to slack through, you will be allowed. If you prefer to spend your time jacking around rather than sweating, you can. You’ll get little or no attention, and your form will suck. Practice doesn’t make perfect form. Good coaching plus practice is what solidifies your technique.
A good coach will gravitate to the boxers working hard.
Nobody will give you your training in boxing. You earn it.
2. Miss the Bag
This is what finally clinched the hook in my workout. I watched Coach Massey, then slipped and fired a few. Still no go. I pulled my guard hand down, put my shoulder behind the hook, but it didn’t feel consistent.
Massey stopped me, and held up his hand opposite me, near the heavy bag.
“Stop working the slip as the lead-in,” he told me. “Go ahead and fire your two past the bag to my hand, then throw the left hook.”
“Past the bag?”
“Yeah. That’s gonna put you in just the right position for the hook. You’ll see.”
And I did. The leading right popped smartly into his palm, and I was in perfect hook-loaded position, so I was able to turn that nicely into the bag. Pop-bam, two-hook, sweet as you please.
Working on a heavy bag is nothing like working with a sparring partner, but it’s great for practicing technique. And it’s very counterintuitive, but you can use the spaces around the bag to work as well as the spaces on the bag.
After Massey left, I continued to work that hook by shooting my two past the bag, then throwing the left. And it worked very nicely.
And that brings me to my third boxing secret, which isn’t as counterintuitive as the first two, but follows nicely from those points.
3. Finish the Equation
Like I said before, working the heavy bag is nothing like working in the ring. The bag does’t slip and dodge, duck and pivot, or otherwise respond smartly to your offense. It’s always in range, and it always takes your shots — so you don’t have to maintain your balance, keep your feet moving, or avoid an opponent.
In order to really advance in your boxing training, you need to take what you learn on the mats and at the heavy bag and translate it into working in the ring with a sparring partner.
Even if you just box for fitness, finding a trustworthy partner who will let you work lightly through some rounds in the ring will completely revolutionize your training sessions. You’ll be forced to move more, work harder, and you’ll get an incredible calorie-eating workout.
So finish your boxing equation and get in the ring to try your freshly-minted (or solid bread-and-butter) skills, because everything is different in the ring.
Got counterintuitive training tips and secrets of your own? Share ‘em in the comments, and gimme goods to post about next!
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