3 counterintuitive boxing secrets

3 Completely Counterintuitive Boxing Secrets

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!

Stay strong!

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22 Responses to 3 Completely Counterintuitive Boxing Secrets

  1. Hillari May 9, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    Excellent post, Lisa! I’ve noticed a lot of people who show up to the gym, standing around, waiting to be taught. That happens despite the coach having shown them the basics and having told them, “You get into the workout what you put into it.” Those who don’t put an effort into being proactive about learning and training are often the first ones who drop out. Some of them have the nerve to complain that they were bored.

    About the heavy bags: Often people will make a big show of beating those bags down, making a big show of what they are doing. That is when the coach reminds them, “The bags don’t hit back. People do.”

    Another training tip I use is to take instruction from others in the gym when it is offered. Of course, there are people in the gym who are always talking and giving advice — a lot of bad advice, at that. But there are those in the gym other than the coach who are helpful and want others to improve. I’ve learned how to improve some techniques and movements because of what I’ve learned from others who were also training in the gym.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

      Hi, Hillari — It’s always good to have you drop in. I’m like you, I watch for really good boxers in the gym because you can definitely learn a lot from them. But you’re absolutely right in that boxers (and non-boxers) can talk a lot of smack, or just give bad advice, so you have to pick and choose who you’re listening to and learning from. I think the best trainers are also experienced fighters, but not all fighters are cut out to teach, are they?

      • Hillari May 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

        I’ve come across many fighters whom I think will make excellent coaches someday. But it’s true that not everybody can teach. I’m always running into former fighters at various boxing events who insist on giving advice to anybody they can corner. While I want to give a lot of them their respect, sometimes I have to let the talk go into one ear and out of the other.

  2. Amy May 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    I agree with point number one, and yet it’s got to be said that showing up is half of it. And keeping up the showing up. Unless you’re doing nothing at all, the hours will add up.

    And point 3: yes, the more I spar I realize that all the hitting of bags and mitts teaches you some stuff, it’s really no substitute for the ring. There is none. It’s really a whole different game there.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 11, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

      What’s insane to me is how many people will show up to the gym and spend most of their time not really working. This is mostly kids, in my experience, but when I was at LA Boxing, those parents were paying a premium for their kid to be there! Do you see that at the YMCA or at your gym, Amy? And if so, do people pay to work out there? Just curious…

      Re: Point 3 — Yes, yes, yes! And it’s incredibly invigorating to take up that challenge, isn’t it? Don’t you wish more people (women, in particular) would just try it a few times to see how empowering it feels?!

      • Rev. James "JamTone" Toney November 15, 2016 at 12:37 am #

        I went to the gym and there was less then 10 minutes on the clock when I quit. Sometimes you have to let your body decide. Maybe your coach will let you spar. Do it every chance you get, but keep your gloves up and your chin down.

        • Boxing Reverend JamTone November 15, 2016 at 12:41 am #

          I hate to run, it sucks, but I do it several times a week. Running for a few miles a day and drinking lots of Spring Water will make you feel awesome.

  3. Amy May 11, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

    The day after the first time I sparred, I was sure I could rule the world. “Empowering” doesn’t even touch it!

    There are plenty of girls who show up for social hour at the boxing gym, but now we’re finally starting to see a few dedicated females, as well. I’ve never seen a male at the gym who doesn’t train while there. Maybe not all out, but that’s usually because they’re there every night of the week.

  4. DaveG May 14, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    Hi Lisa,
    nice piece on the importance of sparring.
    To be honest, I’m still dreading sparring sessions but at the same time I do realize that they are key to making any kind of progress. You are also right in saying that you don’t have to expect training. You can stay a full 2 hours, punching bags, rope skipping, bobbing and weaving under the rope or just slack off and most of the time you will be on your own. Does that teach you how to box? Not really. You will not learn anything unless you are willing to bring that knowledge to the ring and try it out on a trial-and-error basis.
    I am convinced that you can spend several years perfecting technique on the heavy bag, have endless pad drills and you will end up with good theoretical knowledge and no fighting skills. As much as I dread sparring time, I try to push myself as much as possible and build up as many rounds as possible. Since I don’t get a lot of sparring work done at the gym (only 1 ring and lots of fighters), I am meeting with a friend on a weekly basis to up the sparring, we usually crash a local gym on Sunday afternoon. They have excellent fighting facilities that are usually empty around that time.
    So we warm up, do some pad work to and then spar a round or 10, simple as that. And each time I notice that all of the good intentions and strategic plans go out of the window once you are in the heat of the fight. And that is when the learning begins ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 14, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

      “I am convinced that you can spend several years perfecting technique on the heavy bag, have endless pad drills and you will end up with good theoretical knowledge and no fighting skills.”

      Amazing, right? And I totally agree. I heard someone speculating not too long ago about whether a black belt in karate (or tae kwon do, etc.) could hold their own in a fist fight. I thought “Most of them have never sparred; they’ve only done forms. They’d be sunk.” But then I also thought, “Ditto for all the boxers who have never stepped into the ring.”

      Not that any of us are looking for (or have been in) a fist fight…

      But still, it makes a massive difference.

      Btw, I’m *totally* impressed that you’re going the extra mile to get rounds on Sundays with your friend. Excellent strategy; you’ll definitely benefit.

      I’ve also found that you can get decent sparring without a ring, if you have a good partner and a space that will let you do it… Just mark your space and work. You can also do some interesting sparring drills — each of you put your lead foot inside a tire and work all inside shots, etc.

      People who want it find ways to make it work, and it sounds like you’re doing that. Way to go.

      • Amy May 14, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

        Just a quick note on sparring without a ring.

        I did it, and I decided not to do it again. The gym floor is smooth and often sleek with sweat, and what I found is I compromised my form in order to not slip and fall. If you don’t feel secure, even on an unconscious level, you won’t take some necessary risks to spar well. (It goes without saying that the gym floor is not meant to pad you when you fall, and no ropes means no catching you, either.) Even if you and your partner say you’re taking things easy, these factors still come into play.

        That’s my experience, and just on one floor, but I would assume the same principles apply to other non-ring areas, as well.

        • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 14, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

          Excellent tip, Amy.

          In my gym we have those black rubber mats (over cement floors) and those work okay for sparring without a ring. They aren’t springy like a ring is, and it’s certainly not as nice for moving on as a canvas is, but it works. And it’s never slippery.

          Speaking of slippery, one of the gyms I spar in periodically has — get this — VINYL in the ring. Crazy, right? A few drops of sweat and it’s hazardous. The only reason it’s manageable is that it’s also padded, and that seems to take the edge of the slickness.

          And I think you’re smart to offer a word of all-around caution. Non-ring sparring needs to be bit more careful in general. Thanks for calling attention to that.

    • Vihanga October 22, 2020 at 11:33 pm #

      Thanks man. I googled this after getting beat up last night practice in the gym. Iโ€™m not a pro boxer. But thatโ€™s where I want to go. I find so hardly to coordinate with my footwork and punches with both hands. Also Iโ€™m backing up feel bad. But your article gives hope. Cheers.

  5. niamh May 18, 2012 at 6:46 am #

    Great post – had to be read for the photo alone! Sounds like you’re lucky with your coach, takes a good eye to spot someone working alone like that on such a specific point.

  6. Michael May 20, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Hi Lisa, really, really like this post and all the detailed comments ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’m still really new to all of this and I guess everything still feels a bit counter-intuitive. One thing though I’d like to ask is how you can learn to keep looking at the punches that are being thrown at you? Every time someone swings the pad or a glove at my face I can’t help but close my eyes and/or flinch, which I guess is the natural thing to do if someone goes to hit you! That said, I know it’s something I need to conquer if I want to improve. Have you experienced this with yourself or with someone else and what can you do to overcome it?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 21, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

      Hi again Michael. Good to have you back again.

      The flinch or “look away” reflex is a pretty strong one, and it took me a long time to break it. And as far as I know, the best way to get past it is to keep sparring and working drills with a partner who will throw punches for you to evade. Try a partner drill where you keep your feet planted and slip right or left, but don’t move your feet. Keep your eyes open as best you can. And don’t worry, it will come.

      Btw, don’t feel too overwhelmed by trying to do everything at once. Pick a few goals to work on, and concentrate on just those for a while. That way you can see your progress more easily! Here’s a post that might help:


      Meanwhile, stay strong and keep working. And keep me posted!

  7. Michael May 24, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    Thanks Lisa, it definitely makes things a bit easier just concentrating on certain areas, hopefully until they become second nature! Will be in touch again soon with more questions no doubt! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Cora June 10, 2015 at 6:39 pm #

    I know this post is from a few years ago, but I just now stumbled upon it. I’ve been working with a private coach for over a year now and have progressed to the point where he feels I’m ready to go up against another female boxer in the ring. I’ve only sparred in the ring with him (about 4 times) and I’m a little nervous about going up against someone who I don’t know. Will it be awkward? Is the first time usually just a bunch of dancing around? Going up against someone very experienced must be VERY different than someone else who is at my level, and female. A few friends really want to watch, but I have to admit that I’m a little nervous about completely embarrassing myself. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe June 11, 2015 at 7:13 am #

      Hi, Cora! How exciting that you have a sparring date set up! My hope is that your coach will actually be present at this sparring date, and that you’re in the ring with someone who is either very experienced or also brand new like you are. A very experienced woman will usually help you get good work in. Another newbie might be a little fearful and somewhat wild. And no, you won’t be “just dancing around”, you’ll most likely be working hard. This is pretty early in your boxing to be sparring a complete stranger, but if you have a good coach AND you speak up for yourself, you’ll be fine. There are several posts that will help you on this site; try starting here:


      And definitely take a look at this one as well:


      Hope you have a GREAT time! Report back if you get a chance!

  9. Andie Fraser December 10, 2015 at 9:34 pm #

    Hi Lisa,
    I have to admit, I only discovered your website last week… but I’ve read so many things on here! I love it! Back to boxing after a 4 years hiatus… it’s absolutely awesome reading you (because you answer SOOOOO many questions I have!) I am going to start sparring again soon and have a KILLER sparring partner…

    You are awesome. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, and experiences the way you do… SO glad I found your little home on the web!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 10, 2015 at 9:40 pm #

      Yo Andie! It’s so good to be BACK in the RING, no? It always calls, no matter how long I’ve been away. All the pain, all the sweat, all the glory — either you love it or you don’t, but there’s very little in between. Here’s to your journey! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Fist bumps to ya.

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