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How to Spar When You’re Dead-Ass Tired

I’m deep in training for my next fight, and recently had the opportunity to travel to a nearby gym to get sparring rounds with a group of people whose fighting habits I wasn’t already accustomed to.

Amazingly (and for the first time in my entire boxing experience), these 5 sparring partners were all women, and they had a range of ability from brand new to experienced competitor.

My coach was there because he trains people at that gym, and if I had ANY idea that I’d get off easy because it wasn’t my gym, I dismissed that pretty quickly, because he knows I have a match coming up and he was pushing me hard.

The best way to spar, period

Here’s my favorite way to spar: I get in for opening rounds with someone who will let me warm up. Ideally, this is a beginner or a less-experienced boxer.

That allows me to operate at a lower speed, working on evasions and defense, slipping punches and keeping my feet active. I throw a few easy punches — not trying to hurt my opponent, just making touches, finding my distance, and keeping them from thinking they only have to play an offensive game.

It’s always ideal if you can do your first two or three rounds with someone less experienced than you are, then roll out for two rounds to recover.

Next comes the good part, and the heart of the workout. Your next three to five rounds should be with someone who can seriously challenge you. This is your chance to work your skills, throw some power, and push yourself.

Your final two or three rounds should be drill work with a sparring partner in the ring. Go over the specific moves you haven’t been getting right. Work them until they start to sink in.

Warm up rounds, work hard rounds, drill rounds — best sparring sequence ever.

But what I got recently at another gym was warm up, work hard, then work hard while exhausted. Then do a few more.

My coach gets a perverse pleasure from having us fight through the 30-second recoveries between rounds during the last million rounds, which forces us to keep pushing without the breather we’re used to. Sometimes he will keep me in and roll in a fresh boxer, and I’ll start to feel my guard slipping, my feet slowing, and my punches becoming predictable. (Also the pain from getting tagged, derrr! Although mostly that’s felt later…)

Yes, it’s heinous. But it’s incredibly important to experience this and know what you’re going to do in the situation.

Because you WILL have this situation. You will find yourself in the ring when you are dead-ass tired. Utterly exhausted. And you’ll have to figure out what to do.

What tired beginners do wrong

First of all, you should never quit in the middle of the round just because you’re tired. It’s a bad practice, and shows your lack of discipline and fortitude. If you give up during a competition mid-round, you automatically hand the win to your opponent whether or not they were actually winning the fight.

In other words, you might win the fight simply by NOT quitting.

In addition, I see tired beginners hunch over and put their gloves on their knees. This opens you up for a serious knockout uppercut if the ref doesn’t stop the match immediately.

Several other errors boxers make when they are tired are looking away from their opponent, running from their opponent, and failing to defend themselves.

So what’s a safer, better way to fight exhausted? You’ll be surprised at how many options you have in your toolbox.

9 tactics for fighting when you’re totally exhausted

Only a select few boxers — and by “select few” I mean absolutely NOBODY — gets out of having to box when they are dragging-ass tired. And if everyone else has to do it, you will, too. It’s far more discouraging to be unprepared and end up doing something stupid (see above) than it is to make it, sloppy or not, through those final, difficult rounds.

1. Mentally prep yourself, Grasshopper

Much of the sparring at this point is mental, believe it or not. You need to prep yourself in advance to know you are going to find yourself in the ring with a superior boxer when you are utterly spent. Zen the hell up, dude.

Think about it when you’re at the end of your regular workouts. Watch other exhausted boxers during their sparring. Imagine yourself in their place. Expect it. Being prepared is 80% of the battle.

2. Build up your meat grinder support system

If you are there at the edge of the ring calling out support and encouragement for others when they are getting killed, you can damn well bet that they’ll be helping you out when it’s your turn for the meat grinder.

Oh, and be sure to thank the people who are there for you. Let them know that their voice, their offer of a water bottle, their understanding makes all the difference for you.

Also, listen to your coach. Your brain isn’t working any more, but theirs is.

3. Keep your eyes on your freakin’ opponent

It’s easy — and hell, you’re hardwired! — to look away from someone still slinging shots at you when you got nothing and want to run. Don’t do it. Stare down your opponent. Maybe none of your other body parts are still working, but you can damn well use your eyeballs! And who knows, you might just get lucky and evade a killer shot, simply because you were watching.

4. Don’t run from your sparring partner

If you’ve ever been to an amateur fight you’ve seen exhausted boxers “running” in the ring. If there is one thing worse than being dead-ass tired in the ring, it’s being dead-ass tired and trying to run!

Keep your feet moving. You don’t have the gas to bounce, shuffle, pivot, or move quickly, but you can damn well walk. So do it.

Don’t give your sparring partner a standing target, either. That’s shooting fish in a barrel. Put one foot in front of the other and walk. The more you walk, the less chance you have of taking a hard one, and the more time you have to recover your breath.

5. Keep your damn guard up

Even if you can’t throw ANYthing, keep your guard up! Move into a defensive game. If you get cornered (because you’re not walking, see above) and are taking a heavy rain of shots, keep covered up. Gloves up, elbows tight to your ribs.

6. Close with your opponent

I know it feels counter-intuitive, but stepping INSIDE your opponent’s range cuts off their power. Their shots are abbreviated, and won’t be as strong or hard. If you can, clench with them. LEAN on them. Do what you can with your weight and body to tire them out.

7. Fight dirty

Did you scroll through the others and stop here? You did, you cheater. Well, this one is perfect for you, then.

What counter-intuitive moves or slightly non-legal tactics do you know? Long clinches (above) are not allowed, but we do it all the time. ALWAYS punch out of the clinch, if you can do it before the ref calls break. (If the ref calls break, you’re required to take a step out before throwing another shot.)

Posting (holding a stiff arm against your opponent to keep them from moving in) works if you have to use it in a pinch. I don’t recommend shots below the waist, but what about a nice little kidney shot while you’re in tight? Some of those even get counted as legal. Hard shoulder bumps followed by a roll are good, and don’t always get called.

And stop looking at me like that. A little bit of sneakiness is part of the game.

8. Interrupt their game

There’s no power left to fuel your shots, but if you can get your jab out there, even a crappy jab, you’ll be interrupting your sparring partner’s offense and slowing them down. Also if you have a blanket handy that you can throw over their head, that helps. (Hah.)

9. Hold onto your sense of humor, monkey poop

Above all, remember to keep a sense of humor about your training. Yes, you look like monkey poop. But better to look (and smell) like that in training than in an actual match. And anyway, you’ll be so damn proud of yourself for surviving it — later, after you’ve showered and eaten enough dinner for three people — that you’ll be putting yourself back in again in no time.

Been there? Got tactics to share? Leave me a comment, superstar.

 CC image by beasticus on Flickr

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23 Responses to How to Spar When You’re Dead-Ass Tired

  1. Laura December 13, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    Brilliant! Hoping I can remember at least one of these when I’m wheezing and wheeling. Good luck with training.

    • Allison November 17, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

      Love the article. Thanks for the good advice. I’ll try to remember it when my brain shuts off and I want to lay down, catch my breath and spit out my mouthguard. ” Be strong like bull !”

  2. Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    Only one? Then keep your guard up, chica! And thanks for being part of my meat grinder support system. 🙂

    • Laura December 13, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

      Following your posts on prep for your fight; training, diet, the works. I’m getting jazzed for your match lady! Thanks for sharing all this, it’s invaluable.

      He-he! Yeah, keeping my guard up is usually all I can remember by the end of the session. I’ll work on the other 8.

  3. Connor Caple December 13, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    Been there, done most of that. Since I fight Muay Thai most of the time, getting in close and clinching is not always a good idea 🙂

    All of the above ideas work well when we just box, or if I hit up a boxing gym to get some sparring with people I don’t know.

    Great advice, Lisa!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 13, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

      Yikes. Clinching with someone who is throwing knees (while yanking down on my head) is just damn scary. I keep telling y’all that the reason I box is ’cause I’m too chicken to fight for REALZ.

      Kudos to you, Connor, for being one of the crazies.

      And I’m curious. What are some dirty fight tactics that Muay Thai people use?

      • Connor Caple December 13, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

        Dirty muay thai tricks, in the clinch for example, include striking with the shoulder or biceps to the face. A particularly dirty move is to strike with a knee at the same time you pull both hands into the back of their neck, thus striking them with the unpadded bases of the thumbs. That can concuss your opponent and the referee never notices as he’s watching the knee. You can also hammer punch, with the outside edge of the fist, for a similarly unpadded blow to the temple. If you do it right, you can make it look like a cross which landed badly.

        Kicks below the knee are usually illegal too, but you can get away with them as unsettling taps, as long as you don’t completely sweep the leg out from under them. 🙂

        • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

          Ooooo, dirty, dirty, dirty. There’s a local guy here I’ve trained with a time or two (Hello, Spawn) who does that nasty hammer thing. He likes an elbow to the neck.

          I had NO IDEA kicks below the knee were illegal. I’m (ha ha) floored. Srsly.

          • Connor Caple December 14, 2012 at 4:38 am #

            The general rule in Muay Thai is that kicks TO the knee are illegal, so many rulesets ban kicks to the knee or below to make it easier to referee the fight and take care of the safety of the fighters.

            That way there are no arguments about what the target area was when someone’s knee gets hit.

            In a street fight, we aim FOR the knees – buckles opponents very quickly and you immediately understand why it’s banned in competition 😛

  4. niamh December 18, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    Things I loved about this post – heinous, grasshopper, zen up, blanket-throwing and use your eyeballs! Unorthodox advice but somehow it all makes sense.
    (and yes, I am working on that thing for you! honest)

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 18, 2012 at 9:24 am #

      Oh, come on, what about “monkey poop”? I worked really hard for that one. 🙂

      Okay, no, I threw that in at the end because I was tired and couldn’t think of anything else. Feces as the last resort of the uncreative brain.

      Thanks for stopping by, Niamh, sister! Really looking forward to your interview with Sylvie, too…!

  5. Hillari January 1, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    Excellent advice. Most times when I’m tired, it’s the inner dialogue that keeps me from throwing my hands up and giving up. It’s also the coach’s dialogue from outside the ropes too, admonishing me.

  6. Hillari January 3, 2013 at 1:54 am #

    Thanks for the comment on my blog, Lisa!

    Sarah has been out for awhile due to work, but her sister Amy said she’ll be back when the winter session starts next week. I’m looking forward to sparring with her again. Brandy, who was the gym’s only entry in the Golden Gloves earlier this year, is returning as well. Her fight got a standing ovation at the Gloves, even though she didn’t win. The coach would like to see her spar again, and perhaps compete, but Brandy wants to ease back into it by just doing the workout for awhile.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 3, 2013 at 10:15 am #

      So glad to hear everyone’s getting back into gear up your way, Hillari. Thanks for keeping me posted!!

  7. Steve March 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    Lol, read this article (and it’s great) and I was assuming it was written by a guy and the impression I got was something like “wow, this guy is pretty cool. Obviously tough and knowledgeable but humble, funny, kind…no raging ego….I like this guy!” And of course it’s not a guy. Maybe I should just hang around women more! Anyway, great article.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe March 29, 2014 at 9:52 am #

      Hey, Steve — I take that as the highest compliment! You’ve totally made my day. So are you a boxer, too? Or just interested in boxing? Thanks for taking the time to read and comment — drop in any time.

  8. Steve March 31, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Hi, I definitely meant it as a compliment! I have been boxing since I was a teenager but just got back into it (35) and some of the damage I’ve done to my body and my age certainly have me feeling winded in the ring. But I took a fight for April 12th so I’m training hard and just need to push through, and I will.

  9. Leanne June 12, 2017 at 10:35 pm #

    I’m currently training for a charity boxing event and been reading so many posts over the past 24 hours. I keep feeling frustrated at training that they seem to tire us out then get us sparring. By the time we do my arms are tired, shoulders aching, abs weak from all the pushups, burpees etc and just keeping my guard up is sometimes too much for me. I did have a moment questioning this since we’ll only be doing three two minute rounds and be fresher for it. This post answered that and reassured me. If I can get through 15 minutes of sparring at the end of what would have been an intimidating full workout not that long ago then I should have the endurance for the real thing. Thanks for all the info, I’ve been so inspired reading through these posts.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe June 13, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

      I feel your pain, Leanne. Back when I was on my very first gym’s fight team we were not allowed to spar unless we had been through an entire workout already. And it worked exactly like you noted: if you can do it dead-ass tired, you’re going to be equipped for the hardest kinds of situations.

      I also found that a lot of my natural energy was sucked away on actual boxing competition days because of nerves. So end-of-workout sparring training helps, because you know how to function in that situation.

      We also sparred fresh, and during those days you can really improve your form. (Also you feel like a superhero, lol.) But most of the time sparring at the end of the workout was the norm.

      Have fun at your boxing event! And feel free to check back in and report how it goes. 🙂

  10. Amy February 8, 2019 at 7:36 am #

    Great article!
    I´m so glad I stumbled upon this today. Later this afternoon I have sparring session at my normal gym, and then I¨m going to visit a different gym to get some extra sparring in, so I´m going double whammy and I¨m already feeling so tired from training hard all week. However I fight in 2 weeks and I can´t miss a single opportunity to spar with different people.
    So this is exactly what I needed to read today. Good reminders, and great to remember everybody gets tired. No exceptions!
    Really enjoyed your writing and break-downs. Good job!

  11. N.D April 28, 2021 at 3:25 am #

    Pretty much. Be mentally prepared for the aftermath: you may feel a big dip in confidence if you end up not being up to scratch in the ring.

    Just know that when you are dead tired, you are not really you. Your legs aren’t yours, your hands, your movement. You’re just surviving.
    It’s not reflective of your skill as a boxer in many ways.
    In other ways, your inherent flaws will be amplified, so that sort of feedback can be useful. (as long as you are not just taking a beating)

    Judge yourself on your best performance, and use that as the standard.

    I personally would recommend to never spar tired, but do work drills.

    I used to make this mistake a lot, to get into the ring with fresh opponents while I just had a big training session.
    It’s bad enough if you are both tired, but him being fresh and you being knackered is the worst.

    If you are going to spar, best to schedule your sessions with other gym members, or keep your training really light if you are waiting for a partner to show up.
    Be fresh, be at your best.

    • N.D April 28, 2021 at 3:26 am #

      See the youtube channel “Punch Professor” and what he has to say about sparring.
      If you don’t feel like it. Don’t.
      CONFIDENCE is a valuable currency in boxing. Don’t unnecessarily spend it.

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