I recently got a fantastic new boxing training partner. Any time you find someone reliable and skilled in your sport, you’re bound to learn new things right away.
Yvonne is a former world champion and pro fighter in her 40s, and she just moved to my town a couple of months ago. We started working together in the gym, and after a few training sessions outside the ring she told me she was ready to do some light sparring.
What was different about our sparring was that we decided not to wear headgear. Our intent was to get good work in, but not to hit hard.
Training without headgear
For Yvonne, a seasoned pro, boxing without headgear was nothing new. For me, it was something I’d thought about, but I’ve never had a training partner I trusted enough to do it with on a regular basis.
Could she get hurt by me? Of course. I weigh 20 pounds more than she does, and love to stand and slug. But as a long-time pro fighter who is light and quick on the inside, she could lay some pain on me as well.
Sparring without headgear means you both agree to work on solid hits that don’t punch through, even throwing many shots that only touch to score.
Controlling your power
The urge to use power in boxing is incredibly seductive. It’s normal, of course, to hit hard; everyone expects that. But there’s a fine line when you’re training in the ring. You don’t always know what your sparring partner is going to do. Will they try to get work, or are they trying to prove something? Will they be letting emotions, baggage, or a loud corner, parent, or coach drive them to try to hurt you?
Sometimes it’s a question of being new to the sport. The newer you are, the less control you have. This is why it’s best for a newbie to be in the ring with an experienced boxer.
But once you are reasonably good at your sport and can control your shots, are you willing to? There are people watching and judging. Do they doubt your power? Do you doubt your own power? What are you risking by pulling your punches?It’s a vulnerable feeling, hitting without hurting.
But if you’re able and willing to do it, there are tremendous benefits.
Sparring without headgear makes me pay close attention to my work. I have to focus more and be less sloppy, because if I quit thinking, I can hurt someone.
I try to balance my head and body shots now because I tend to be a headhunter, and now I’m aware that my partner is unprotected.
I’ve become bolder — I know I’m not going to get hurt — so I can take time to focus intensively on new things — particularly inside work, which is not where I like to keep my game.
Easing the punishment to your joints
But more than anything else, I’ve realized how much less joint pain I’ve had.
When you spend two or three of your training days piling up rounds of heavy bag work and/or sparring, your body takes some damage. Up until now I’d been spending most of my gym time working with power.
And the heavy bag (especially) doesn’t give much; every time you use power on a heavy bag, that resistance takes a toll on your hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder joints.
Doubling and tripling your training
Because of the heavy damage to my body in boxing, I had restricted high-impact boxing work (heavy bag and/or sparring) to no more than one day a week. The other training days I did weights, cardio, and so on.
Once Yvonne and I started sparring 6-8 rounds once a week with no headgear, I suddenly experienced a complete elimination of day-after joint pain. I no longer needed recovery time, I no longer had trouble sleeping on my side.
Now we spar 6-8 rounds twice a week, and still I have no difficulties, and am ready to add a third day of boxing-specific work on the heavy bag.
I’ve been amazed at the difference, and incredibly pleased with how my body is performing.
Still hitting hard
Can I still hit hard? You bet your ass I can. Do I still lay into the heavy bag? Sure. And I tackle padwork now and then, and expect to do harder sparring periodically as well.
But for now, I’m very happy to have doubled my training time and completely eliminated my joint pain.
What about you? Have you found ways to fight well and still care for your body? Leave me a comment below!
Top image credit: Martial Arts Nomad on Flickr