You’ve done your heavy bag work, your partner drills, pads, and roadwork. Now you’re getting your chance in the boxing ring. It’s going to be your first time sparring and when you’re not thinking about puking, you’re stoked.
And a thousand questions are running through your head. How hard should you hit? How many rounds can you go? Will you suck? Will you embarrass yourself? Will all your hard training pay off? Will you be able to take a hit and keep going?
Congrats on a huge milestone in your training. Sparring is the holy grail of boxing; it’s even better than a fight, since you get to do so much more of it. Here are a couple of articles I’ve already written that may be useful to you:
So. Last minute words of advice? You bet.
1. It’s not about how hard you punch.
Remember, if you hurt your sparring partner, you don’t have a sparring partner any more. First time boxers tend to let their fear power their shots; do what you can to calm yourself before ringtime so that you don’t drain your energy with nerves and so that you don’t throw hard and wild.
2. Gloves up, chin down, elbows in. Keep a jab going.
If you can do nothing else, do these four things. The first three keep you from getting hurt, and the jab should keep you working on some kind of offense. Jabs and straight rights are enough for your first time sparring. Don’t sweat it if that’s all you can remember to do.
If you can remember all this and still have room to think and work, then keep your head and feet moving so you don’t eat every punch that’s thrown. (But that’s advanced.)
3. Tell your partner it’s your first time sparring.
Your trainer should let you go in with someone much more experienced than you, so that your partner can evade your wild stuff and bring the game to your level so you can get good work.
Unfortunately, not all gyms are so careful. In that case, here’s what you do…
4. Set the bar — go in punching with about half your power.
That should elicit a response that is at about the same level.
If your partner ignores your “bar” — i.e., the level of power you’ve set — then you can either tell them to turn down their heat OR you simply return the power. Careful here, this is how inexperienced people get hurt.
5. Decide how many rounds you’ll go in advance.
If you regularly train on the heavy bag and have no problem making it through six rounds in a row, you can most likely make 3 decent rounds in the ring.
If you’ve been doing Tabata workouts (I like mine with 40 seconds of ultra-intense exercise — like a sprint — with 20 seconds of rest, 4 times in a row) three times a week, you’ll have the sprint capacity you’ll need for 3 rounds.
Some people say if you can run a 5k in less than 30 minutes you’ll be able to go 3 rounds — NOT the case at all!
What you need is anaerobic conditioning, not aerobic conditioning. This means your body has to perform without enough oxygen. So measure yourself with sprints or hard 3 minute rounds of any exercise where you go all out, then recover 30 seconds, then go all out again.
For your first time sparring, don’t go over your round limit because you’ll be boxing exhausted and you are more likely to get injured.
6. Be willing to roll out after one or two rounds, if needed.
Be friendly, thank your opponent, but avoid injury! Injuries suck, because they keep you out of the ring. Ring time is the holy grail! And you can always wait out a few rounds and roll back in.
7. Pace yourself.
If you come out guns blazing, you aren’t going to make it to the end of your first round. If you throw several flurries in a row, you’re gonna get gassed.
Throw singles, doubles, flurries (if you can), and intersperse them with some defense and good footwork. This is really important because you don’t yet have a sense of how much energy sparring will suck out of you.
Later (not your first time sparring!) when you’re practicing, include 30 second sprints at the end of every round. My current sparring partner and I go toe-to-toe for inside fighting at the 30-second bell at the end of every round. This helps us build capacity for 30 seconds worth of flurry work. You can also do it in shadow boxing or bag work by using the last 30 seconds of every round for one-two punching as fast as you can until the bell rings. Killer.
8. Fight till the bell rings.
This is crucial. You really do want to try and make it to the bell, no matter what. Train that way, think that way, fight that way. This is the sport we’re in, and finishing the round is a major indicator of your ability to make it in the sport. Unless you have an injury, fight till the bell rings.
9. Final word: It’s normal to be afraid. Fight anyway.
Everybody’s scared. I’ve been doing this for years and I still get gut churn when I’m sparring with someone new. It doesn’t take a hero to fight when you’re not scared; the real champion is somebody who will be terrified but roll under those ropes and get to work anyway.
Congrats on your first time sparring! I hope you’ll report back here (or email me at Lisa [at] The Glowing Edge [dot] com) and let me know how it goes for you, whether any of this advice was useful, and what lessons and advice you have to share as well.
And a huge thanks goes out to Michael Smith, a new boxer who emailed me to let me know he was about to have his first sparring session and got me started thinking about this again. Be sure to check out his boxing blog over at The Road to Pugilism. Kick ass, Michael!
Creative Commons image by Fabio Macòr on Flickr