hit hard in sparring

What to Do When You Get Hit HARD in Sparring

Most of the time in boxing sparring, you’re not working with your full power, because if you were, you’d have a pretty short shelf life. Save that shit for the fight, you know?

But because nearly everyone spars with people waaay outside their weight category, you’re likely to get hit really hard now and then. The kind of hit that makes your head buzz and your ears ring. I’m not talking about a knockout punch, but close.

 

When nearly all my sparring partners were heavyweights, I used to get my bell rung about once a month. Lately it’s a fairly rare occurrence, mostly because I’m in with people closer to my weight, and also because I’m less slow on defense than I used to be. If you’re new, you’re just gonna get tagged on a regular basis; there’s no getting around it. (Don’t worry, you don’t stay new forever.)

Recently I was working with one of my favorite sparring partners; we’re within 5 pounds of each other and very comfortable in the ring together. Our strength is well-matched, and we know how to draw out each other’s best work. We tear shit up, man, and it is awesome. When you’re in there with someone you know you’re safe to work your ass of with, sometimes your power builds and builds and you feel good letting loose some badass shots.

We were there.

Unfortunately, I was also consistently dropping my right. Which meant she was amping up her left hook in order to take smart advantage of my lapse. She scored several hits that I should never have allowed, then BANG. I got rocked, pure and simple. Not a knockout shot, but a clean, clear, hard power shot to the chin that put a sweet stop to my game for a moment.

“I need a second,” I told her immediately, and we both dropped gloves and I walked it off. And you can bet your sweet ass that my coach didn’t even have toΒ mention that sloppy guard of mine because I knew. (He mentioned it anyway. I deserved it.)

Anyway, every boxer experiences it, and you need a few tricks in your toolbox to deal effectively with it. So here you go.

1. DON’T shake your head.

It’s a natural impulse, but it doesn’t help to shake your head to try and clear it. That just sloshes your brains around even more than they already are.

2. Let someone know.

Don’t just stand there and take more hard shots on top of the one you just got. It’s totally, completely, absolutely ordinary in everyday sparring to say, Hang on, I need to recover. It doesn’t mean you’re pussy, it doesn’t mean you are quitting, it just means you’re not a dumbass.

If you got tagged because someone’s going off on you, then you make double sure you tell them to pull the heat. The unwritten rule in sparring is that you match the power of the person you’re working with, unless you agree differently.

3. Be calm.

You box; this is normal. It’s not something you want to have happen all the time, but there’s no need to get excited — or angry and upset. I see guys (especially) get incidentally rocked and then fire off a series of punishing bombs, which just escalates the situation and often turns an otherwise normal sparring match into an ugly, messy, pointless brawl. There’s not much to be learned from that kind of slop, but some coaches (including mine) do allow it so that “the boys” can burn off some stupid.

I’m pretty sure it’s a guy thing, hah.

4. Keep moving.

For the most part, you want to walk it off. Keep everything moving, operating, and in motion until your neurons start firing normally again.

5. Take a drink of water.

When this happened to me recently my coach had me roll out and hang out ringside (it was somewhat a punishment for the sloppy guard, I think) while my sparring parter finished the round with someone else. My coach instructed me to get a drink and cool off for a round. It’s annoying to have to do this, but finding your water bottle and getting some liquid in you gives you something else to focus on. Dammit.

6. Fix what went wrong.

In this particular case, I knew what I’d done, and I was already pissed at myself for letting my right drop like that. If you don’t know exactly why your bell got rung, your coach will clarify, and you should immediately start thinking about patching up the hole in your form. Which leads me to…

7. Get back in. ASAP.

You don’t want to end your sparring session on a rough note like that if you can help it. Get back in with someone you trust and concentrate on fixing the problem you had in the first place. In my case, my sparring partner and I laughed a little at how few rights I was throwing when I got back in. My right was practically duct-taped high and tight to my headgear. I wasn’t letting that hand down for ANYthing, not so soon after getting rocked.

If all you do is work on protecting yourself, good for you. Everyone needs to work some defense-only rounds now and then. If you feel up to raising the power again, let your sparring partner know and go for it. But no matter what, get back in.

8. Know when to stop.

I just did one more sparring round after my bell-ringer. I’d already had a good workout and that was all I needed to finish on a positive note. But sometimes you get hit really hard and need to roll out and not spar at all for a day or three. (I don’t recommend hard sparring more than once or twice a week, anyway.)

Pay attention to your body and do what it tells you. Get rest and take aspirin when you need to, because if you don’t pay attention, you run the risk of getting injured and really taking yourself out of the game you love.

9. A note on “faking it.”

For me, none of the above applies if you’re talking about an actual fight. I mean, except being calm and fixing the problem.

My first trainer Bonnie is famous for her incredibly tight guard. NObody gets through that guard, boys and girls. She’s never been knocked out, or even stopped. But she came close, once…

She used to tell me the story of how she got tagged so hard during one of her fights that her vision blacked out. She stayed on her feet, though, and worked like a fiend to not give ANY indication of her status. She was flat not going to a) allow a ref to step in and possibly stop the fight, or b) give her opponent any reason to come barreling in for the kill.

And she pulled it off. And every time I got seriously rocked during our sparring sessions, she would remind me to not show it in a fight if at all possible. To keep boxing, to keep working to the very best of my ability. To fake it, hard, until I was back in the swing.

Ever been rocked?

Got a story to share? Leave me a comment and let me know how you handled a hard-ass punch. Tell us your pointers for taking a bad one, and not letting it hold you down.

Stay strong, fighter.

CC Image by kizette on Flickr

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30 Responses to What to Do When You Get Hit HARD in Sparring

  1. Heather S. January 11, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    Hiya! THANKS for this one. you are speaking to me today!! πŸ™‚

    I had a *great* sparring session on Wednesday eve … and it left my nose bruised. My first “war wound”.

    I learned *so much*, felt totally safe sparring with her, and it was a killer experience. -And yes, I got my bell rung. It was because, well, she is amazing … and my defense is still building. I’m still learning. The good news: my defense was WAY BETTER this sparring session than my last. Progress! that’s what I try to watch for.

    My poor trainer was more concerned on some level than I was but then again, after that he and I had such great fodder and very specific defensive things to work on that it was AWESOME!

    I know this: Getting hit a bit more now and learning my defense *now* means I get hit less later and enjoy boxing even more as time goes by.

    Thanks for this “uplifter”.
    πŸ™‚

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 11, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

      Hi, Heather — so glad to hear your defense is improving. And you bring up yet another great benefit of sparring sessions: you come out with lots more stuff to work on. You never get THAT from a boring-ass heavy bag workout. Rock on.

  2. Erin January 11, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    Yes, oh man. I remember sparring with this girl – we’d sparred before and I guess I was hitting pretty hard so this time she asked me to take it easy on the punches. So I pulled it back and then she went and kicked me in the head. I was pretty pissed. I don’t spar with her anymore.

    Or the time I got an unexpected kick in the ribs. Phew. I had to stop and force myself not to cry. It wasn’t the pain so much as the surprise. I was like, “Deep breathes. Man up. Do NOT cry.”

  3. Laura January 11, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    Great advice! #3 especially (for me). Ain’t ‘cha glad that didn’t happen during your fight?!
    As my sainted Antone would say to any whimpering, “This isn’t flower picking class”. (I managed to keep a straight face for that one.)

    Wow, if my vision blacked out I don’t think I’d have the fortitude to act like everything is hunky dory. That’s tough.

    • Nat January 15, 2013 at 2:12 am #

      Hey Laura! Mine said “This ain’t tennis!” They really got a way with words those boxing coaches…

  4. Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 12, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    @ Erin — It sucks to be taken advantage of, no lie. (Is kicking in the head allowed in your fight sport? I’m such a weenie.) I’ve been “shocked” by a punch a few times — for me that’s usually those shots to the diaphram where all the oxygen has suddenly been magically extracted from the room. Ugh!

    @ Laura — “This isn’t flower picking class.” PRICELESS!

    For me I think the hardest one is #1; for some reason I am *convinced* that shaking my head is going to solve the problem. Wrong, every time. (Clearly I’m a slow learner.)

    • Erin January 14, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

      Lisa, I do Muay Thai, and kicking the head is allowed in fights. But generally in sparring you don’t kick the head or use elbows.

      • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 14, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

        Oh! Well, that clears up one of the many mysteries of Muay Thai for me, thanks for that, Erin. (Also, I enjoyed your “warm” post… πŸ™‚ )

  5. Zoe January 12, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    Thanks for this post, Lisa, especially the ‘don’t shake your head’ part! I’m with you, it seems like a natural reaction. I would also add that if you think you may have a serious injury, you should stop. I took a shot to the body which turned out to have cracked a rib, and I’m glad that I didn’t try to “get back on the horse” right away. I think you can usually tell when that’s the case though!

  6. Nat January 15, 2013 at 2:10 am #

    Lisa, thank you so so much for this! It was such a relief to hear you say that if you’re new, which as you know I am, you’re just going to take some hard hits sometimes as I did last week from a much more advanced sparring partner. It just really helps to know that that’s normal, and that it doesn’t mean it will be like that forever. And now, thanks to your numbers 2, 5, and 6, I definitely know that I have the wrong coach. I already had my suspicions… What did I do when MY bell got rung twice in one round? I shook my head (!!) and just kept going, which is bad, I know, but my coach told me to (This ain’t tennis, he said). However, there is a silver lining, now I know I can take a hard punch and survive and keep fighting, and if I can do that, I can do a hell of a lot! Also, even though, my partner was SO much more advance and well, definitely better than me, I stayed in with her for 3 rounds. Silver linings all over the place. Thanks, woman! You’re my hero, as usual.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 15, 2013 at 8:48 am #

      Yay for silver linings!

      And a couple of notes: First, it’s *sometimes* hard for a coach who is watching to know the difference between you getting hit normally, and you getting your bell rung. The boxer has to make sure she can communicate it not only to her sparring partner, but also to her coach. That said, you want a coach who can support you in the best possible way. That’s worth a private conversation sometime (so that you can explain exactly what you need from him), if you want to try and salvage the relationship. It’s even worth a private relationship with your sparring partner (so that you can ask her to meet you where you are).

      Boxing can be freaking hard, but there really are paths forward for anyone who is willing to find them.

      Keep rolling Nat, you badass!

      • Nat January 15, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

        Oh, he knew, Lisa. He knew by the way I stopped for a split second and shook my head and the expression on my face and because the others that were watching suddenly paid really close attention and everyone fell silent for a second. You know that thing that hangs in the air when people are seriously going at it in a boxing gym? Yeah, that was happening. It was only my second time sparring. He shoulda known better than to put me in with her. In fact, he told her to let up in the second round. I knew in my gut I shouldn’t have gone in with her, and I wanted to say something before we started, but I didn’t because you know, I thought: he’s my coach, I can trust him. But, like I said, I learned some shit. For this and other serious reasons, he’s no longer my coach. Long story. Ugh. Time to find a new coach.

        • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 16, 2013 at 9:36 am #

          Ugh, sorry, Nat. Sounds like there’s more to it than just this incident. Hang in there. Getting up the curve in boxing is worth it, and the lessons in self-care are part of that. I’m glad you’re not letting anyone stop you.

  7. Jackie February 12, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    I had my first real ‘moment of pain’ a few days ago. I was sparring one of the guys at my gym who is about 5’8 and probably has 70 lbs on me. I was coming in with an overhand right and pretty much slammed myself into his jab that landed right on my solar plexus. Needless to say I couldn’t breath for a minute and I think made an audible gasp of ‘oh sh*t!’. We did finish the round though, but I will say it was hard to keep calm after and not try to furiously get back at him.

    By the way… I have my first match coming up next month!! Well, it’s actually more of an exhibition and won’t go on my amateur record, but it’s a start!!

    Thank you again for the awesome posts! πŸ™‚

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe February 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

      JACKIE! — Your first match!!!! It’s gonna be awesome. Can’t wait to hear Every. Last. Detail.

      Email me, if you’re willing: lisa@theglowingedge.com

      Oh, and sorry about your recent oxygen shortage, heh. Happens to all of us at one time or another, esp when we’re in with those heavier peeps.

  8. Gabby April 7, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    Lisa, I just had my 3rd sparring session today and man did it rock me. We introduced the right hand in and I sparred with a different girl today too (shorter and more heavy set than me). I think I was doing fine but I got backed into the corner for the first time and it freaked me out to no end. I looked away for a but and she gave a mean right hook, I immediately started to tear up. I couldn’t help it, from shock and anger mostly. SO embarrassing but my trainer and everyone at the gym was super supportive and told me what to do next time if I’m in that situation. I went another round after that though which helped calm me down a bit. I definitely still feel it though!

    Love your blog by the way!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe April 8, 2013 at 8:06 am #

      Hi, Gabby — Big congrats on making it past that hook. You never want to let that shit stop you; gotta get back in and finish on a better note. And it sounds like you did exactly that, so you ROCK. Btw, if she was heavier than you, that’s part of why the shot hurt more. The more weight someone has to put behind a punch, the more power it has. So you took a hard one and kept going — that’s something to be proud of. And now you know how to pivot out of the corner, I’m guessing. So you learned stuff all the way around. Good for you!

      Thanks for the blog love; I love writing it, so I’m glad you’re getting something out of it! πŸ™‚

    • Sonnny Barch January 13, 2017 at 11:44 pm #

      Must have been in Philly! Lol Hang in there, as a amateur I was in Florida, Arizona, Arkansas, Vegas to name a few and until I was in Vegas, Roger M. Floyds uncle, Bruce Curry, Anthony Davisnot to mention some of the most uncontrollable (my favorites) As I was saying, it took the third round after Jessie Reid ran us seven up the mountain to realize that we were not given the cash and cars along with the condo to get back in condition even after surgery. I have no doubt that I would have still had all the cash I needed or more because B.B. Told me to take a month or two off as just has screw put in. I have only stupid pride I can fault. If I had of went to war early in life it would have been easy. But it only took a week of getting tired because he would push me hard two then he came out the third and fourth throwing down but I had to get back in the game. I have to say that I am from a small town and school but was an athlete, big used to hard work had div one offers for 3 sports. I’m texting hoping to learn the real reasons our hvwt and our team in general already thinks they are all that. We could have no sponsor but our rooms were covered. Hell if sarge Johnson would be alive, I would like to believe he had to be there even though I would have to say that I don’t care about sponsor money, as an athlete I think, wrong, if he or Henry Harris even my small HS FB or BB had been the only guy that had the balls to run us fine miles and 20 50’s , count on it. Baby girl, Gabby, I have to say that the only thing that got me boxing is being bigger and taller than most at the age ten up. I’m not even sure that I have any right to say anything but I got my ass kicked at least once daily and not only once if I didn’t want to fight back. I talked to Chief and Wally Pointer but for Chief especially I think that fear of being embarrassed is a problem that I would still face but as I soon was taught, an ass whipping isn’t a problem, My problem was facing the fear no matter what. Most ya read of me is true, SI ,60 min but I have no reason to think that the things that I have done is another’s fault. I’m sure that I would be able to stand proud if I could blame it on another but I’m not even going to say that this is hard. I’m sure that I will either open an old fashion gym. I’m in college and may transfer. I’m not even sure that I’m going to go up north but I’m not gonna quit trying to raise money for needy kids and I’m letting them use my boxing ring even though I am not sure if I can afford this semester. I love the city but I’m not sure that the new version of the school is Where I and especially younger kids have a chance. I’m not even sure that I can give it help. A town, athlete,HS, college and especially a person need to learn to be one force of a working class and if needed help lend a hand to your neighbor.

  9. robert mills June 29, 2013 at 4:39 am #

    I got jumped I’m 14 yrs old and I’m a male i got jumped this kid knocked out my tooth by superman punching me really hard but i got right back up after 1 second i hit my head on a metal pole and i got right back up but this wasn’t a sparring match this was a legit street fight

  10. Michael January 24, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    So I did my first sparing in Muay Thai. I got owned and felt pretty crappy. My face feels like it still is getting hit. I got hit with like 3 big punches and went completely defensive. The entire match. Felt pretty crappy never being able to counter. It was fun I suppose learning where I stand. I landed 1 kick. They landed 10 punches… Half of them I could not even block lol. It feels like ill never get better since they just end up gaining experience along with me too. These fighters all have like 2years experience over me. I feel like its bullying class lmao.

  11. Katy J. August 14, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    Well Today Was My first Sparring Im 14 The Girls 12 I Been Training Hard For 3 Months & She Been In Boxing For 4 Yrs. I Didnt Get Much Hits In As I Expected To She Got Alot Alot Hard Jabs On My Face Laving Brusies But I Didnt Give Up . I Was So Tired but I Didn’t Give Up & Still Went For An Extra Round Where She Really Got Me . She’s Orthodox Im Southpaw We Went For 4 Roynds Eaxh 3 Mins I Felt Good After It I Really Liked It Even Thoe I Was Tired For Not Getting Much Sleep The Sparring Was Unexpected But I Think Alot Rest For My Futher Sparring Will Help.?

  12. Chompa October 17, 2014 at 11:37 pm #

    So I got rocked in my 6th round I sparring yesterday. Annoying becuase I was going at him relaxed at like 60% then , Bam over hand right hey maker to the face. I stepped back let him no I needed a sec. Some of the other guys saw it and screamed out stuff like “60% ” and “fuck it knock him out then.” When we started up agian, I stepped back fixed that left had guard to my head and charged in till he turtle and unloaded a flurry. He kept ducking I kept going to the body and upper cutting . Caught him good a few times but I tried to keep it classy and technical. Though at one point I did hold his head with my left for a sec then thought about teeing off on him but I restrained the erge. Then I heard my coach say to jab don’t hold his head. Admittedly i was thinking about it today hence reading this article. Thanks for this was very helpful.

  13. Glassjaw March 31, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

    So my first sparring session was last week. We had no head gear and 12 oz gloves. I sparred with 10 different guys. Some went quite easy and some were hitting with 80 or 90% of their strength. They thought they were Mike Tyson. I got sloppy with my guard and tried to duck under a couple of jabs next thing i know, 1-2! Got rocked and punched in the eye and mid-section all the time and even got dizzy when a fucked douchbag who everyone tries to ignore hit me with a good 1-2 comb. I got long legs so instinctively i wanted to head kick people, thankfully i didn’t. Damn.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe April 1, 2015 at 7:09 am #

      Honestly, Glassjaw, no respectable, careful gym would ever let a beginner in the ring with no headgear and 12 ounce gloves, then allow 10 other guys to go all out with him. Even if *some* of those guys were being careful. That’s just irresponsible of the coaches and/or owners. Our FIRST responsibility as officials and coaches is to keep people safe. I hope you’re okay, and if you decided to stick with that gym, you definitely need to look out for yourself — ONLY spar with the guys you trust and can learn from WITHOUT getting hurt. Wear headgear and heavier gloves and ask your sparring partners to do the same. Go easy, or else you risk injury, not to mention a short shelf life in boxing. Protect yourself — this is a great sport, but not every gym and trainer knows what they’re doing.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope you’ll check back around and let me know how it’s going for you.

  14. Nick November 24, 2015 at 11:55 am #

    Tonight I got rocked for the first time. I was sparring with one of my favorite sparring partners and, at one point, we were in close trading punches. I hit him with a solid uppercut to the body and I was so confident that I caught him with a good shot that I let my guard down but he came back with a solid hook that hit right me in the temple. I didn’t know what the hell was going until I was halfway down on the ground. That hook put me up on my ass. I rested for a couple of minutes and felt okay but two sparring partners later I got hit with a light blow to the ear and all of a sudden I felt like I was going to pass out. I think the shot to the ear messed up my equilibrium. After that I was done for the night. Lesson learned – keep your hands up! πŸ™‚

  15. allie December 30, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    At my gym (mma) I get so nervous for sparring that I exhaust myself in the early rounds. I spar with guys most of the time and I trust them. They don’t throw 100 percent at me but whenever I get hit with a good shot i forget to breathe and that’s when my asthma starts acting up. When that happens I get emotional and start tearing up but I keep fighting but I still hate how that happens. Any advice for that?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 31, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

      Hi, allie, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. And the truth is that there are two things that can help you. The first is just doing it, over and over and over again. The more you spar, the easier this gets. It’s awesome that you trust your sparring partners, too. That’s huge. If you could add one more thing to the mix, it would probably be helpful if you could get some sparring work with a trusted partner in a situation which isn’t terribly public. This is hard in some gyms. But if you can stop feeling like “everyone is watching me” it helps a bit. I know it’s all easier said than done! But well worth the energy and effort you will put into it. Hang in there! You have so much to gain from sticking with it! πŸ™‚

  16. Alice October 22, 2016 at 2:00 pm #

    I sparred with my coach using the tire drill. It is one where one foot is in a tire at all times, so the boxers stay within 1 foot of each other. I thought he would light on me, i have been doing this for 4 years but in no way at fight level. But he didnt go light…. i got flaming pissed, let cuss words fly out and blitzed him. I let my anger get to me and didnt box smart. Got clocked about 50 times and only landed a couple good upper cuts. It was a messy embarassing brawl but he caught all clean shots, hooks straights, all of them. Afterward, i suffered a minor concussion for a week. I tried to take it with bravado, choked back tears, but i havent spoken to him since. He is a young 24 year old man who i think may not have the maturity to handle a discussion or even start one. I am at really big odds whether a) to continue with him as my coach and b) whether to continue boxing, which i have loved for 4 years…. Thanks for this forum, I feel consoled that others have felt the same. But any advice is so welcome.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe October 24, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

      Hi, Alice. Sorry you had a sucky sparring session. He should never have lit you up like that, and you should never have lost your temper or stayed in the drill if you were getting injured. I hope that rather than ditch boxing, you will decide to take better care of yourself, because there is a LOT to learn in this sport, and that’s one of the biggest things. Sometimes things go like this. Grow from it. Get bigger and better and smarter. Take care of YOU. You got this.

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