My sparring partner Yvonne in action

Boxing Over 40: How to Instantly Double Your Gym Time and Eliminate Your Joint Stress

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

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9 Responses to Boxing Over 40: How to Instantly Double Your Gym Time and Eliminate Your Joint Stress

  1. Eric Platz August 10, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    Thinking about getting a pro bout?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe August 11, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      Me? Nah. Not sure what the point would be. I’m enjoying the training and the periodic amateur matches I can find. And of course, I enjoy sparring a lot too. What about you?

  2. jill August 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Hey LIsa,

    Glad you found a way to train that feels good. Since my fights are so sporadic, I only train hard for those four or five weeks before my fight. I do light sparring about four to five times a week and try to increase the number of rounds each time. I might do one or two days of hard sparring, but the rest is really for my movement, precision, muscle memory and my nerves.

    I am not doing much bag work this time. The bag doesn’t hit back! But, I guess it does build strength and it feels good to lay into it with good combos. Also, I know I’ll be fighting a forward moving fighter so I want a body moving towards me to practice counters, bumps and getting to the side.

    I do find that on some days I am exhausted so I just rest. I used to make myself do the cardio along with the hard training, but if I am tired and burnt out, I listen to my body. One of the good things about getting older is learning from your past mistakes!

    This will most likely be my last fight since I can feel how much this takes out of me and I need to focus on other things. I will keep training and helping other people get ready for their fights, but I think I can move forward knowing that I got my time under the lights in and want to see others do their thing. Thanks for the blog!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe August 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

      I’m with you; the actual fights “cost” a lot. Time, energy, focus. Money, if you have to travel.

      But the ring still commands my attention, and the game sucks me in every time. I think that’s why I love training for boxing — sparring in particular — the most. And working with other people in the ring, seeing them get into the power and revelation of the sport, is a big part of that too.

      I’m really glad to hear you say you don’t make bag work the central training practice for you, either. I don’t know why it took me so long to figure out that I could cut back on this. It just seems so “standard” in every gym I’ve been in to pile up loads of rounds on the heavy bag… Note to self: just because it’s “standard” doesn’t mean it’s “best practice.”

      I can’t wait to see your newest film. And I’ll be interested to see how your upcoming match goes. Thanks, as always, for dropping in!

  3. Yvonne Caples August 16, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    Great post Lisa…and I’m not saying that just because I’m in it! I have really enjoyed doing light sparring with you as well. It was hard to come back to the gym after being away for 5 years, but I feel like I am starting to get back in the groove of training and it feels fantastic! Thanks for your support. As we get older or maybe always, it really is about training smarter and I think that is exactly what we are doing!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe August 16, 2012 at 9:26 am #

      Thanks for weighing in on TGE, Yvonne. And I want to be sure and tell you that another one of the things you’ve inspired in me is a fresh desire to teach, to pass on some of the things I’ve learned in my (relatively) short time in boxing. There’s much here to be learned, and the things that happen in boxing have a tremendous crossover power in life, don’t they?

      SO good to have you join me on this journey. Looking forward to seeing where it takes us!

  4. Hillari Hunter August 30, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    I think the key to cutting down on the toll to the hands and joints is to balance out the workouts. I’ve been noticing my arms and hands have been taking a lot of abuse lately due to me always being on the heavy bags, while not equally doing other parts of the workout. When I concentrate on doing a lot of shadow boxing, which forces me to slow down and think about the punches, the wear and tear is not as glaring when I return home from the gym.

    Sparring every time I go into the gym adds to some of the damage, I believe. But I’ve become so used to it that I feel like I’ve missed a big portion of training when I don’t.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe August 30, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

      Right on the money, Hillari. Shadow boxing is easy to blow off, and I’m sure spectators think it’s entirely useless, but it’s incredibly important. The key for me is to do exactly what you said, and SLOW it down in order to work on style and form.

      And like you, sparring is just too central to me to let any of it go. I’m really, really glad to have run across Yvonne, and start sparring no-headgear so that we can really do it every single time we’re at the gym.

      Can you get one of your regulars to agree to lighter sparring?

      • Hillari September 2, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

        Sarah and I often agree to go light while sparring. She will usually take it easy anyway unless the other person decides to throw hard punches. Then she will respond in kind!

        The coach and I sparred once where he wasn’t wearing head gear, but I was. I would love to try sparring with someone where we both weren’t wearing it.

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