ring rust

How Many Rounds Does it Take to Shake Off Ring Rust?

I lost my most consistent sparring partner to 6 months of overseas travel this year, and while I got rounds here and there when I could, there’s nothing like sparring two days a week, every week, to keep you in boxing shape. NO amount of conditioning (running, weights, etc.) can make up for straight-up ring time.

So I was looking pretty sorry when she finally got back to the States, and was thankful (in a sick and twisted way) that Yvonne had not been sparring every week while she was gone, keeping in ring shape while I wasted away.

A tiny bit of good news, if you’ve been out of the ring…

Minor segue: I’m pretty sure boxing is at leastย a little bit like riding a bike. If you’ve been doing it a while, then you are out for a few years, it’s not nearly as difficult getting back in the ring as it would be if you were stepping into the sport for the very first time. Some stuff sticks with you. This is pure speculation on my part, but it’s 100% true, hah.

Anyway, when Yvonne and I got back to the gym together after half a year, we were eager to test out our sparring.

How sparring looks, after several months out

One word: ragged.

Okay, more words: rusty, sloppy, wild, uncontrolled, messy.

Since I have weight on Yvonne, it’s particularly important for me to control my punches during our sessions, although having been a pro fighter for more than a decade, she can certainly take a punch. But if I’m doing good work, she shouldn’t have to feel all of it.

Sigh. It was ugly.ย I couldn’t control my shots, wasn’t relaxed, and felt cardboard-y and frustrated. Intensely happy to be back to regular sparring, but annoyed at how ugly my work was.

We slogged through the rounds anyway, knowing that the only way through the slop was… through the slop.

Set your round goal and start low

My goal was to get five rounds of good sparring every time I got in the ring, no matter what. So on our first day back the two of us set the round timer to 2-minute rounds with 30-second rests.

We wheezed and groaned our way through and were damned happy to quit. Who knew two minutes could be so excruciatingly long?

Well, we did. And we had suspected as much.

Other things that help

Other than having an experienced, trustworthy sparring partner, there’s not a damn thing that truly helps, that first time back sparring. Maybe not the first two times. But I found that one thing that did start helping was moving back to some basics.

After getting in the first time, I decided I needed to work in three places:

  • Keeping my feet moving
  • Punching in combinations (rather than one or two shots at a time)
  • Slipping

Sounds basic, no?

Keeping your feet moving has to do with conditioning, and this kind only comes with training with sprints, agility dots and ladder drills, and, well…sparring. So I started doing some dot exercises when I could, and adding intervals on the bike during non-boxing days.

For me, punching in combos comes back in when I practice in slow motion. Which NO ONE wants to do in the gym, because you feel like an utter ass when you’re doing it. But I tried to slow down during shadowboxing and think/move my way through combos, rather than delivering one or two punches at a time.

This actually helps with slipping, too, because if you throw a one (jab), followed by a power two, you’re in position and weighted to throw a hook. You’re already shifted to the side. Voila, slip.

In fact many of your shots go from one side of your body to the other in a rocking rhythm, and the boxing becomes ย a kind of (in my case, sort of ungainly) dancing.

The problem for me with slipping is simply that Yvonne’s shots are very (very) fast. She punches faster than I can see or anticipate. BUT, when you have this situation, you slip anyway, and sometimes you deflect the blow slightly, which is still a positive outcome.

The magic moment

After our first time sparring, we moved back to three-minute rounds (holy shit that was grueling). We sweated and struggled our way through a total of 20 solid (and by “solid” I mean we worked our asses off) rounds.

And on our fifth time back — round 21 was suddenly golden. We floated through our five that day like dandelion seeds on the wind. Violentย and mean-ass dandelion seeds, dammit!

We both marveled at the difference. For me, it was primarily about feeling relaxed. I was relaxed, loose, and comfortable in the ring. It was awesome.

20 rounds, Jack. It took us 20 to get back.

That’s just four sparring days, y’all. That is do-able. So next time you’re feeling all “there’s no way I can get back in the ring,” remember that it may only take you about 20 rounds to get to golden.


After our golden-rounds-with-badass-mermaids-singing session, we were sparring for the first time with our team again, in front of our coach.

It was a mix of clunky and golden. I was more tense, trying harder to please, and working more rounds, too. So it wasn’t all roses, but I was intensely thankful that Coach Massey hadn’t seen me for the first 20 rounds.

Now you

Everybody has seasons out of their sport. Leave me a comment below and tell me how long it took you to shake off the rust and get back in the golden groove. What tricks did you use? Were there any shortcuts? Did you have any “ah-ha” or “oh-fuck-no” moments? Spill.

Photo Credit: Marco Crupi Visual Artist via Compfight cc

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13 Responses to How Many Rounds Does it Take to Shake Off Ring Rust?

  1. Emily May 1, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    Welp! I don’t have any advice since I’ve only just started boxing and haven’t sparred yet but…just gotta say I love your posts! I am the one who commented a few months back about how I was starting a jumproping shame line in my own gym and it turned out that there were a lot of jumpropers at my gym already.

    So I’ve been in boxing class for about 6 months now and I just have to say that I absolutely love it…it is so addicting and other workouts just pale in comparison. Also, the trainers are my gym are all super awesome, nice, push us really hard, and really get on us about technique. Also, I was kind of unsure whether I would ever spar, but they are really great, safe, and controlled about it…putting beginners with more experienced, etc.

    Anywayyy, just wanted to check in and let you know that I still enjoy reading your stuff!


  2. Shelby May 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Oh thank goodness.When I first read this I thought you were saying that you did 20 rounds at one time.I already know you’re a bad ass, but that would put you in an entirely different category that I don’t think has a name.

    I think you hit on the biggest magic trick for me for dusting off the ring rust – esp after a hiatus: remember you have feet and use them to get out of the way or change the angles. Seems my brain always wants me to figure out the fight by standing there and punching through and then it will occur to me, “Oh yeah! I can MOVE!” That and patting myself on the back when those unconditioned responses just come out of nowhere, and I realize, “Hey, I really do know what I’m doing! My brain didn’t even have to tell me to do that.” ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 1, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    Hi again, Emily! So glad to hear things continue to go well for you, you jump roping badass boxer chick. (Can you do crossovers yet? Double unders? They will kick your ass for you. KEEP ROPING.)

    And girlfriend, I can just hear it in your virtual voice: I think you’re gonna get in the ring. You see it, you are evaluating it appropriately, it’s caaaaaallllling you… ๐Ÿ™‚

    I can’t wait to hear whether or not you decide to venture in. You MUST keep me updated!

    And Shelby, darlin’. I was JUST thinking about it myself — there’s a huge difference between me and those tough-ass pro fighters who routinely do outstanding, powerful work for 10 and 12 rounds in a row when they compete. Don’t you just wonder how many they have to do in sparring? A crap-ton, I bet.

    And you know as well as I do they have their golden + garbage days. Kind of like healthy cereal you’re eating that at least has marshmallow bits.

    Yep, feet. Took me for-fucking-ever to learn to move my damn feet. And I believe you’ve nailed it: those of us who are thinkers forget to just move our feet! Heh.

    But here’s to all of us: We’re kinda getting it! Another round, on the house!

  4. Emily May 1, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    I can do crossovers but not double-unders yet! High knees also gets my heart really going. Seriously, jumproping makes kicking my own ass so much easier! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hehe you are probably right. I had my first almost-sparring experience with a more experienced lady boxer the other day and I’ll admit that it was kind of terrifying! And it wasn’t even real sparring! But it reminded me of one of the reasons I really love boxing. I’m analytical person and tend to be all in my head, and boxing has taught me that the only way to learn certain things is by experience and time…I can’t learn it any way else! So I feel that, the same way it took me just weeks of jumproping and throwing punches to begin to feel comfortable with it, it’s probably similar with sparring…just gotta do it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks again for the encouragement…always appreciated. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 1, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

      Boxing is a great *balancer* — and what works in the ring works in life. xoxo

  5. Emily May 1, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    Oh and my favorite trainer is always jealous that I can do crossovers and he can’t, even though he’s been boxing for years! I think it’s because his arms are too swoll though…haha. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Not a horrible problem to have, I guess!

  6. Laura May 1, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    So glad you’re recovered and back! I’m loving the writing books BTW, nice!
    I had a couple of rounds of virus this winter, and was so glad to be back on the mat that every thing seemed easy…first day back that is. I do everything I can to stay out of my head, and “in my feet” staying relaxed and moving. It’s a money-back guarantee that it’s all going to fall apart as soon as my coach walks over to observe…no matter how marvelously I’d been doing moments before.
    I’ve started Jiu Jitsu after the Muay Thai training, it’s taken me awhile to get the diet adjusted to accommodate the training but am OK now. I’m loving it, it’s like Aggressively Advanced Twister!

  7. Emily May 1, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    I just had a quick question because I’m curious…what’s your workout layout for the week? Like how many days a week do you box, do other training, etc.?

    Also, I loved what you said about how throwing can work *with* slipping. It wasn’t until recently that I had this epiphany that how well you throw a punch is determined a lot by your position before you threw it. Or even stepping a little wider when throwing a jab, in anticipation of throwing a right, then a left hook, giving you more leverage on the hook. Or making sure to really twist when throwing a right, giving you much more leverage to throw something with your left, whether it be a body, hook, whatever. My trainer pointed this out to me and it totally makes sense! And plus, you can feel it when you’re really getting the leverage.

  8. Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 1, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    Good question, Emily.

    I have a “mental medal” system, don’t laugh:

    Bronze medal: I get my ass to the gym three times. Eh. Bare minimum.
    Silver medal: I’m training four times a week. Okay. Trying.
    Gold medal: I am working out five times in the week. Very nice!

    Best setup:
    Sparring twice, non-sparring boxing-specific training once, weights/sprints/other once or more.

    Does that make sense?

    • Emily May 1, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

      Yup, sounds good! Thanks for the tips.

  9. Yvonne Caples May 3, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    You captured our sparring sessions to a tee! Glad we worked through the sludge and can get back to a rhythm! Missed you on Thursday…but got good work with Kayam, Sam and a couple of other kids. Hope your writing/video creation frenzy is going well and so excited for your success!

  10. Ali Karimi May 28, 2024 at 9:51 am #

    Great write-up still smiling at it.

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