Warming up for Sparring

What to Expect the First Time You Spar in Boxing

Whether you started boxing for fitness or because you want to compete, one of the most scary and exciting things you’ll ever do is step into the ring for your very first sparring session.

Depending on how long you’ve been training, who you’re stepping into the ring with, and how trustworthy your trainer is, your first experience in sparring may be vastly different than someone else’s, but there are several common factors that you are likely to encounter.

First of all, your conditioning sucks.

I have had to say this about myself at many stages of boxing, not just when I started sparring. It seems like every time I take things up a notch (going a lot of rounds in a row for the first time, sparring with a pro boxer, having my first real fight, shifting to a more competitive gym) I quickly find myself panting and heaving, wondering why on earth my conditioning is so bad when I thought it was so good.

But nearly everyone who gets into the ring for their first time sparring finds — very quickly — that they simply aren’t in the kind of anaerobic sprint condition that a short little 3 minute round of boxing calls for. I promise this gets better as you spar more, and as you begin to do more sprints and intervals in your training.

The urge for “flight” is really, really strong.

The whole “fight or flight” system in your body is pretty serious, and when someone is throwing punches at you this will become very apparent in short order. Some of your biggest mistakes, which will be overcome with practice, will be that you tend to look away or shut your eyes when a shot comes straight for your face, you have an overwhelming tendency to flinch, and you may even turn your back on your sparring partner in the ring (that last one is a massive no-no, by the way; your trainer should stop the sparring session to tell you this if she or he sees you doing it).

Your shots will be wild, and you may hurt someone.

Brand new boxers are the absolute worst at controlling themselves in the ring. Typically a trainer will put very experienced boxers in with a newbie, because there’s a pretty good chance that the new person is scared, hasn’t had a chance to learn how to manage the adrenaline pumping through their body, and simply can’t know the difference yet between getting and giving good boxing practice versus surviving in the ring.

All the nice footwork, pretty shots, and well-practiced combinations that you were able to do while working on the heavy bag just fly out the door when you step into the ring, leaving you swinging wildly and without much thought. Learning to think and plan under this kind of pressure takes time. It’ll come.

Ideally, you want to get in the ring for the first time with your trainer, or another very good boxer who can evade your wild shots and help you find some calm in the storm as you learn.

You’ll start thinking seriously about your gear.

You never really need to put a lot of thought into your boxing gear until you start sparring. But this is where it becomes important. With a little preparation, you can avoid some of the newbie problems.

Gloves: Any old gloves from the gym’s common supply will do for a beginner’s work on the heavy bag, but in the ring you should be wearing big, puffy 16oz gloves so that no one gets hurt. That’s what you’ll use in amateur competition, anyway. I used the gym gloves only once or twice before buying my own. I started with cheap gloves and moved up after those wore out about a year later.

Wraps: You’ve probably figured out what works by the time you start sparring, but if you are over the age of 30, you may want extra protection, because your hands ache after boxing. I used to cut up a beer cozy and tape the foam strips across my knuckles under my wraps. Now I just wear gel gloves (like the MMA fighters use) rather than wraps. Wraps and gels can both be washed, too.

Mouth guard: Fortunately, my trainer had been having our team train with mouth guards in for weeks prior to my first time in the ring, which meant I got over my gag reflex and also learned how to breathe comfortably with one in.

Mouth guards are made for men, so unless you’re a guy your first mouth guard may not fit well. If the regular size is too big, try a youth size. I’ve bought and tossed several, and always go back to the Shock Doctor gel guards. I don’t like the double (upper and lower) guards, but I find the regular guard that covers just your top teeth is perfectly adequate.

Get it in advance because it has to be boiled and formed to your teeth before sparring.

Sparring HeadgearHeadgear: Common headgear problems have to do with fit: either it obscures your vision or slips around under fire. My first headgear was common gear from the gym’s pit, and it had a metal or plastic bar through the chin pad which gave me a monster bruise the first (and last) time I wore it. I bought a cheap $29 headgear from Dick’s Sporting Goods after that, and it served for a while even though it was very thin definitely not competition grade.

If you can, buy only USA Boxing approved headgear. Be willing to send it back over and over again until you have a perfect fit. It should be tight when you’re cold, because once you start to sweat it has to stay in place.

I’ve found the best kind of headgear has an adjustable lace top, velcro or lace-up back, and NO “Master’s” padding on the cheekbones.

Shoes: I boxed for a year or so before investing in shoes. I bought wrestling shoes since they’re pretty much the same as boxing shoes. The advantage that boxing or wrestling shoes gives you is that they fit tighter and don’t cling to the canvas like running shoes. They help you make tiny, quick footwork moves. You can feel the canvas, pivot easily, and bounce lightly on your toes.

Boxing or wrestling shoes have almost no padding or arch support, no matter what they advertise. They can’t be loaded down with it and still be light and flexible. So don’t wear them all the time, just for working in the ring.

You may be ridiculously self-conscious.

I was terribly nervous about my first time, and really wished I could suck in private, rather than embarrassing myself publicly for all the world to see. I didn’t blog about it, I didn’t allow photos of it, I tried not to let people know exactly when I was going to do it. But the day came and I had to get in and be every bit as terrible a boxer as I expected.

Listen. Everybody starts here. And yes, people are going to watch and see and think what they think. The truth is that everyone who has boxed before will understand, and everyone who hasn’t boxed before will be so glad it’s you and not them, hah.

You’ll come out feeling like a superhero.

If you have the right kind of trainer and gym (and not one of those crappy places where they beat you up in order to feel like they are bad ass and way cooler than you’ll ever be), you will be so grateful to have survived without weeping, puking, or dying! Your brain will be firing all kinds of crazy messages like

  • “Did I really just do that??”
  • “Damn, I rock!”
  • “Wow, my conditioning sucks.”
  • “Damn, I rock!”
  • “I am so glad I didn’t puke!”
  • “I really did do it, didn’t I??”

In fact it was a post by a friend of mine (and regular TGE commentor) Amy, who got me thinking about this again. You definitely need to read her thoughts on her first time sparring.

The next day, say hello to your sparring hangover!

It’s not unusual to be pretty worn out and have a headache the day after you spar. I typically don’t do serious sparring more than once a week because it’s fairly hard on the body, especially if you are working 8 or 10 hard rounds (which you can work up to, but shouldn’t be doing right off the bat). Ibuprofen should take care of most of your head and body aches.

You may have other, more specific pains. The first time I sparred I threw a slew of hard rights that didn’t land, hyper-extending my right elbow pretty painfully. For that I needed a big, flexible icepack, which for me was a bag of frozen peas. I later invested in two good icepacks, so I could use one while the other re-froze.

In my opinion, regular hard training hurts more than sparring.

You rock. You really do rock! Now go do it again.

You’ve done something most people would never dare try. Once you’ve cleared that first monster hurdle, you need to do it again. It was terrifying, but you didn’t let that stop you. Now don’t let the long road to getting good in the boxing ring intimidate you. Most new boxers bail out of sparring sessions now and then, especially after a particularly bad sparring session; the fear factor is pretty high for quite a while, and maybe it never goes away entirely. I’ve been boxing for several years and I still get serious jitters.

Don’t let that stop you. You have accomplished a pretty incredible thing. Keep building on your success!

Superhero image by Gomez-C on Flickr; the rest are (of me on a sparring night) by Ken Hall Photography

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53 Responses to What to Expect the First Time You Spar in Boxing

  1. Jill Morely July 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    Hi Lisa, Totally related to the beginnings of sparring! The first few times I got in the ring is actually in my film and yes, I sucked terribly and embarrassed myself wholly. I’m not sure people realize the kind of dedication it takes to keep sucking until you don’t suck anymore….and that you need to suck wind for quite some time while you are sucking! Just getting back into training again and am reminded of all my newbie mistakes, not conditioned yet, but at least have a few years of experience now to fall back on. Great piece!

    • Charmaine August 31, 2015 at 5:46 pm #

      Hi Lisa, I am new to boxing. I have lost 10kg since 26/6 and wanted a focus to firm as I go and shed another 20kg so signed up for training and a bout! I had my second sparring session today. Last one was body only and I was really relieved to find I still had a strong core so blows to body didn’t hurt. I took blows to my head today and I really didn’t like it!! Your words gave me encouragement though and I am training 4 nights a week with expert trainers so I will need to push through the fear…..thank you.

  2. Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 9, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Thanks for the comment, Jill.

    I can’t believe you actually filmed your first times sparring in the ring!! You are either brave or crazy, or very possibly both! 🙂 However, you’ll be in a great position to give a huge gift to other new boxers, who will see it and know that they will be okay. That they don’t have to look like Christy Martin or Chevelle Hallback or Ana Julaton (who undoubtedly ALSO sucked when they started) on their first times under the ropes. Or frankly, for their first year or two.

    I took a look over on your FIght For It site (http://jillmorley.blogspot.com/) and was thrilled to see that you are headed to London for the Master’s tourney, AND that your film (http://www.girlinthering.com/) is nearly ready! I’d love to post a piece about the film here, if you’re interested.

    Let me know what you think! Lisa@TheGlowingEdge.com

  3. Amy Scheer July 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    “All the nice footwork, pretty shots, and well-practiced combinations that you were able to do while working on the heavy bag just fly out the door when you step into the ring, leaving you swinging wildly and without much thought. ”


    “Learning to think and plan under this kind of pressure takes time. It’ll come.”

    I’m going to trust you on this one.

    How tight is tight when it comes to headgear? I’m starting to think that my next day headache was mostly due to that constant pressure. Heck, I get a headache wearing a headband. For real.

    The gel wraps sound like a great idea. But…is this breaking some basic boxing gym protocol? I’m serious about this question. But at the same time, I’ve been having problems with my hand that travel up to my elbow, and I hear it’s common with women who are thin, muscular, and punching a lot. So I’d like to take care of this early.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 9, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

      Regarding headgear and headaches: Your headgear needs to stay in place without slipping during your sparring, even if you’re sweating up a storm and taking hard shots. It does take some getting used to, and a little while to form it to your head. If it’s gym gear, you just have to put up with it, but if it’s your own, keep adjusting and give it time and eventually you won’t even know it’s there.

      The headaches could be due to being unaccustomed to the headgear, headgear that really is too tight, being punched in the head, the stress of your first night sparring, or a combination of all of the above.

      Make sure the headgear fits; everything else (your defense, your frightened sparring partners, your stress level, etc.) you can keep working on over time.

      Regarding gels: Lol! Of course you can use them to train with. During an actual competition, we have special (gauze) wraps that are done by our trainers and signed by an official, but in training we protect ourselves however works best. Beer cozy foam strips, extra long wraps, gel, everyone does what works.

      And let me say again: You really do rock. Based on your email description, you were doing what we call “Round Robin” sparring, which is quite demanding. And it didn’t sound like you were working with experienced team boxing team members, but rather a mix of new people. That can make things a bit harder sometimes.

      In my experience, once you get comfortable on a boxing team, everyone adjusts to each other; no one is there every single week with a chip on their shoulder or feeling pissed off and wanting to take it out on someone. That’s often just immaturity, newness, or a sign of another inner issue, which we all do have, I know, but experienced boxers try to keep the kids from screwing up, all of us try to keep our inner issues in check, and trainers do their best to help. And as the old Southern ladies would add, “Bless our hearts.”

      Congrats on sailing through so beautifully.

      • Amy Scheer July 10, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

        I will take your advice and praise to heart. Thank you!

  4. Hillari July 12, 2011 at 2:30 am #

    I remember feeling trepidation at sparring for the first time, but the trainer I had at the time didn’t have to do a lot to talk me into it. I always look at boxing as an extension of the fights I was constantly in as a kid, so sparring was just another fight, although one with rules (smile).

  5. niamh July 12, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    great post! very brave to put it all out there. I don’t remember my very first spar but will always remember my first real adventure in the ring. man o man, talk about a steep learning curve but they let me back in so must have tricked ’em 🙂

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

      Tricked ’em, nothing. They knew if they didn’t let you back in you’d kick all their asses! Would love to hear the story of your first real adventure in the ring. Write! Post! Send link! xoxo

  6. Girlboxing July 13, 2011 at 5:59 pm #

    There’s also that moment of panic when you realize you have no where to go an your partner is all over you and there is *nothing* you can do! Thanks for putting it out there Lisa!

  7. David July 20, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    OK, I realize the goal of this piece was to de-mystify the whole experience, but as someone who fantasizes about moving from boxing-as-aerobics to real boxing, this had the unintended consequence of scaring the sh** out of me. Not your fault of course……

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

      Woops, sorry, David! Honestly, it’s totally worth the risk, or at least it was for me. The real secret is to get in the ring for the first time with someone you really trust. And believe me, you will be stunned at the revelation that you really can take a hit! And give some, too. I hope you will get the chance to try it and discover for yourself. Take your time; you’ll know when you’re ready. Be sure and report back when you get a chance to try it out!

  8. JULIE POWERS-CANDELMO July 23, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    I am 40 years old and am 5’3″, 145lbs. I learned to box about 12 years ago, but took several years off because my family felt like my health and well-being were at risk. I am back at the gym now and wondering who if anyone I would be able to compete against at this point. I suppose that right now I should just focus on training and conditioning, but I like to think ahead. I live in Maine and have 3 children, a partner, 3 dogs, 5 cats, a chinchilla and a full time supervisory job, but I want to box too! What do you guys think about that?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 23, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

      Hi, Julie! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I think it’s great that you’re boxing again. I bet you’ll have a great time getting in shape again — and your kids will probably think it’s pretty cool that their mom is boxing; my three boys do. (I don’t know what my cats think, however.)

      Yes, you will be able to find official matches (I had my first fight at age 45), but the problem is that you will have to travel to get them. That means you’ll have to find money for the expenses, like gas/airfare, hotel, food. The best areas for women’s Masters boxing are New York, DC, and Florida. I’ve had good luck in Atlanta as well. I imagine there are also places on the west coast of the US, I’m just not as aware of those.

      Let me know how your training progresses!

  9. Amy Scheer July 27, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Any recommendations on bag gloves? I’d like to buy some new ones–my current ones smell, plus I feel like I need new padding.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 27, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

      I don’t use the thin bag gloves (the ones that look like big leather mittens, with no padding at all); I use my regular boxing gloves for all bag work.

      My first real pair of gloves was Everlast ($30) and they were crap. Good for beginners, though, who haven’t decided to commit yet. Padding crushed down pretty fast.

      I’m currently boxing in 14 ounce (many gyms will require 16 ounce) Pro Main Event gloves by FightGear ($70). I bought them from LA Boxing because I couldn’t get the gloves I really wanted at the time. These have held up much better than the Everlasts.

      The gloves I really want are the Ringside Gel Shock Safety Sparring Gloves: http://www.ringside.com/All/productinfo/GELRP ($70), but last time I tried to order they were backordered so far that I never received them after waiting for months. Which is why I gave up and bought my Main Events. But I’m pretty sure those will be my next pair.

      • Amy Scheer July 27, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

        The Pro Main Event gloves are up to $85! Guess I’ll be using the smelly gym gloves instead of my own smelly thin ones. I realized too late that the lack of padding has killed my arm.

        And I’d just like to say that the people on LA Boxing’s site have crappy form.

        Thanks for the advice!

  10. Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 27, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    I’m posting this on behalf of GirlBoxing — I think she tried to post on here from her phone and it didn’t come through, but it came to me via email instead.

    I use the everlast 12 oz amateur competition gloves. (USA boxing sanctioned) as my basic glove and am very successful with it. (lasts well over a year before it starts to breakdown a bit, but still very usable for a year or so after that. Ringside has them on line and they are in the $65 range on sale. On a google I just found them fir 39.99 on ecrater.

    ALSO: This is such a good subject that I am writing a comprehensive blog post about it, and will publish it tomorrow. Check back, everyone. I’ll try to remember to post the link on this thread as well. — Lisa

    • Amy Scheer July 27, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

      Lisa: when are you going to start paying me for giving you post ideas? 😉

      • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 27, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

        Girlfriend, I owe you big. 🙂 Would you consider taking your pay in margaritas? Consider it part of the NYC trip we are absolutely going to make sometime soon.

        • Girlboxing July 27, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

          Yes!!! Please!!! And a round on me! Thanks Lisa for posting for me!

        • Amy Scheer July 27, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

          I’m in.

  11. Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    Here ’tis! Delivered as promised. And Amy gets a margarita.


  12. Ron August 10, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Expect it that after the sparing, you will get really really tired and you want to take a rest. First time of sparing is very tiring but you will learn to defend yourself and be able to do proper boxing techniques.

  13. Robin July 8, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    BTW I’m a bloke, but your account is bang on, I’ve done all of four boxing sessions involving sparring, and found I get frustrated when I’m hit, panic when am overwhelmed, am knackered after 1 minute, everything I think I know disappears, and prime, well-practised shots miss and my strategy becomes wild swings, last week I got so boxed in and bewildered by this other geez (he knowing what he was doing) that after being systematically battered (well that’s what it felt like) I had to just say ‘stop’. Which was … horrible. (however he wasn’t a thug, and the round ended there, and I have no bruises).
    Still, a lot to review.
    Not so much a learning curve as a series of walls.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe July 9, 2012 at 8:36 am #

      Hi, Robin, thanks for stopping in and leaving a comment. Sounds like you’ve had a fairly normal start to your sparring… 🙂

      However, it would be better if your sparring partner could adjust somewhat to your newness, and allow you some space and time to run a little bit of offense. See if he is willing to do defense only for a round; that should give you a bit of a chance.

      It’s common in most gyms for the better sparring partner to take on a “handicap” in order to allow the new person to work. The coach will say “jabs only” or “defense only” to the more experienced person, and that allows the new person a shot.

      And work on getting your cardio up. Train in 3 minute intervals with 30 second recoveries in everything, from running, jump rope and stairs to push-ups. Once you get into that rhythm, you’ll fare much better in the ring.

      Hang in there! And check back in and let me know how it goes.

  14. Derek August 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    Hey thanks for sharing all this info. I’m just getting into boxing and it helped me understand more about what I’m getting into. And oh my goodness… What have I gotten myself into?! Haha I appreciate your honesty concerning the beginning stages, and the encouragement that followed it.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe August 20, 2012 at 10:23 am #

      Welcome to the crowd, Derek. It’s always good to have another new boxer in the mix! Feel free to drop by and share your own experiences of sparring, training, and other boxing stuff. Best of luck in your training!

  15. Dean April 10, 2013 at 4:19 am #

    Hi Lisa, your description of sparring is bang on! I am a few weeks in and learn everytime I get in the ring. It is addictive despite the fear though. I haven’t quite got used to being hit yet and getting in and out of range has been my biggest difficulty, nothing like working the bag. Thanks very much for your thoughts on others watching as you spar, that has helped me deal with this (I have had people smiling and shaking their heads but they don’t spar, funny that). All the best!

  16. Mark Chang March 2, 2014 at 9:13 pm #

    Hi Lisa,
    I was wondering is it normal to feel a slight headache after getting punched for a few seconds and then it goes?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe March 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

      Possibly, especially if you’re not used to it, Mark. But once you get to sparring regularly, you should NOT be getting a headache with every punch. If you are, either your sparring partner is working too heavy, or you could have a problem that you need to check with your doctor about… Stay safe!

      • Mark Chang March 4, 2014 at 12:44 am #

        What i meant to say if it was a shot to the chin not the top of the head or the sides… is that normal?
        btw this is a great article…

        • Lisa Creech Bledsoe March 4, 2014 at 11:07 am #

          Sometimes a shot to the chin puts stress on your jaw hinge, Mark.

          I had this happen just a couple of weeks ago (I wrote about that here: http://www.theglowingedge.com/two-things-you-want-in-a-sparring-partner/) and it definitely gave me a headache. Just happened to catch me right. That’s why boxers put so much effort into keeping a tight guard — gloves up, elbows in, chin tucked. But sometimes one gets in and it can be a pain in the… well, jaw and head.

          Still, it shouldn’t be the norm; never spar with someone who is going to hurt you a lot. I used to spar all the time without headgear, just going really, really lightly — working for speed and touches, building control and technique. IMO, power should be saved for the heavy bag (even then, make sure your hands are well-protected) and official matches.

  17. jc June 23, 2014 at 2:05 am #

    Hi lisa,

    Great boxing article! Thanks for a lot of info.. I just had my first 3 rounds amateur boxing competetion 2 days ago (wasn’t able to get the win though! =p,came little short and ran out of air in the last round due to lack of training.. I didn’t train before the fight, i meant no any kind of training for the past 3 months,. I just joined the competetion only for fun and for experience.. The only question that i have in mind is, is it normal to experienced neck pain? I mean, pain at the back of my neck? Like the feeling of having a stiff neck, What do you think that cause this?,is it like some sort of adrenaline rush? I already took medicine for body/muscle pain and also try the cold compress as you mentioned above yet the pain is still there, just to add, i was accidentally hit at the back of my head twice (not sure if because of that) ..i just like to know if this is something that i should be taking seriously..

    Your response is highly appreciated.. More powe to you. Lisa!


    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe June 23, 2014 at 10:58 am #

      Hi, jc — I’m really surprised that your coach let you compete with no training; I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that before.

      And yeah, I would *definitely* expect some neck pain in your case. After all, you weren’t training for this and it’s fairly strenuous, as you discovered in that third round. (Any good gym or trainer would never have let you do this — consider finding a new one for sure!)

      And neck pain is very common when you first start boxing, less because of getting hit toward the back of the head or any adrenaline rush, but more because you’re pretty tense when you start. Eventually you do it enough that you learn to relax.

      It’s very much like the difference between an unexpected fall and a practiced fall — people who know how to tumble and do stunts, etc, know how to relax into a fall and not get hurt. Same with boxing. With experience and practice, you learn to relax into it.

      And you also may have taken some shots to the head that made your pain worse. If you’re tense, any head shot will have a higher price in pain if you don’t know how to “slip” the blows or let them glance off you…

      I would definitely consider seeing a doctor, and also getting in the gym to train with a reputable coach before trying again… Stay safe!! Because boxing is an incredible amount of fun and challenge, but you don’t have to get hurt to enjoy it. 🙂

  18. Danny HayField Jr May 7, 2015 at 8:50 am #

    Hey lisa, I really want to box so much. Where im from I get bullied and in the ghetto and I see a new obstacle every day. I am to the point where i know i can fight and prove mysef. Im a gift and i just havent been unwrapped yet. I really want to box. I just fear the medical concerns because 1.i do not want to die or suffer memory loss. 2.i dont want to kill or make other people suffer memory loss. I just wanna tear shit up yet stay healthy and able minded. Is this possible or does boxing make you slow and forgetful or perhaps dead. How do i conquer the fear of death to h ha ve un and compete. People tell me stories..

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 7, 2015 at 8:59 am #

      Hi, Danny, thanks for commenting.

      Yes, you could get injured in boxing; you can get injured in any sport, and even if you don’t do sports at all. In boxing we wear plenty of protective gear, even during actual matches. It’s only the pros who go without headgear for every fight; and most of their time in training they are very careful to wear protective gear and stay healthy.

      There are plenty of people at every gym who want to learn to box, but don’t necessarily want to spar or get in the ring. They hit the heavy bag, but don’t want to actually hit other people (or be hit). They still get good training and lots of benefits from boxing. Of course, they still sometimes get injured. A twisted knee, a torn rotator cuff in the shoulder, etc.

      If you’re interested, you might try finding a gym near you and trying it out if you can. Boxing takes many years to learn, and you’ll find lots of other side benefits — not just strength and skill, but also confidence and self-assuredness.

      Good luck!

  19. Adrian November 22, 2015 at 7:09 pm #

    Hi Lisa great blog,

    I’ve been boxing for about 6 months now and I’m keen to give sparring ago this may sound stupid but could you actually get knocked out during sparring even with head gear on, the reason I ask is that most likely if i do spar it will be with a bigger, taller and stronger partner as I’m only a little weedy guy (5ft 7 135 pounds) there isn’t any guys my size at the gym I go to unless I spar with a child which would probably constitute to child abuse as I’m 29. When you spar do you go all out as if you were in a proper fight?

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe November 22, 2015 at 8:09 pm #

      Hi, Adrian. Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment.

      Yes, technically you could get knocked out during sparring. This is boxing, after all. But NO, that should absolutely NOT happen to you, especially not if you have a trainer/coach who is worth a damn and a good gym. I have never in my life seen it happen, and I’ve been in lots of gyms over the years, both as a boxer and as a coach.

      NO, you should not go all out, and neither should any sparring partner who is helping you learn the sport. Definitely do some more reading before you get in there, particularly these two posts:


      (Or just click the “Boxing” tab above, then the “Sparring” option in the dropdown menu.)

      You almost always save your “all out” for an actual match; boxing is as much about controlling your power as it is about building your power. Besides, if you hurt your sparring partner, you don’t have anyone to spar with any more.

      And yes, you’re nearly always in with people who are not your same weight or size or age. It’s just the nature of your average gym, and it’s actually a good thing: it’s how you learn — by working with all different sizes and shapes and ability levels of boxers. Working with people in your actual competition category is a luxury, and something you mostly only get in an actual match or bout.

      And in most of the gyms I’ve worked in there have been people boxing as young as 9 years old. And believe me, there are plenty of them that could teach you a thing or two. In boxing, size ain’t everything. Skill and experience are.

      Hang in there and keep learning and working! It’s a great sport with a LOT to teach — All of us here are still learning, even if we’ve been in the game a while. Enjoy it, and check back in when you get a chance and tell us how it’s going. 🙂

      • Adrian November 23, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

        Thanks for the advice Lisa I shall bear them points in mind,after reading one of your other articles i think i need to work on my defence as I’ve been told by my trainer I tend to drop my left arm and adopt the shoulder roll stance you mentioned that a tight guard is important.I shall check in once I’ve got the dreaded first sparring session out the way. Need to invest in a head guard first thinking of getting the face saver style ones.

  20. Jason Rodríguez February 9, 2016 at 12:16 am #

    Maaaan you just made me feel so good that I had to leave a replyt to your post. My first sparring session was yesterday and I wish i had read this the day before. When I finished sparring I went to my car feeling good, but while driving I started to think about how many stupid moves I had made and how many blows I had taken to my head and I got a lil bit depressed and in a kind of bad mood. I slept the whole afternoon and woke up feeling better, but today I had a headache the whole day and I was kind of worried about it so that’s why I looked for info about this matter.

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience. Let’s see what happens next sunday when I fight the same guy again. I won’t try to knock him out, but I’m sure going to protect myself much better.

  21. MARLON April 9, 2016 at 11:09 am #

    hi im preparing for my first amature fight and am 48 I love reading all this info. boxing has changed my life and gave me more confidence.

  22. Ryan May 19, 2017 at 7:16 pm #

    Hello lisa what sort of Headgear and mouthguard do you recommend for a person who has braces?
    I really want to learn boxing for self defence.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 19, 2017 at 7:28 pm #

      Hi Ryan.

      Boxing isn’t really a sport that people think of when it comes to self defense, but it will definitely give you confidence, speed, and power. If you really want a self defense sport, you could look for a gym that offers krav maga, jujitsu, muy thai, jeet kun do, or wing chun… I think even kickboxing would serve you better (and definitely MMA, which combines so many of the martial arts). But I LOVE boxing, and think everyone should try it. 🙂

      As far as braces go, you must have a special mouthguard made at your dentist before you can box. As for headgear, that’s a really personal (and important) choice. You can read what I’ve written about it here: http://www.theglowingedge.com/choosing-headgear-for-boxing/

      Best of luck to you!

  23. Anica December 5, 2017 at 3:27 pm #

    Hey Lisa,

    I just sparred for the first time last night, and holy cow, I wish I would’ve found your blog before I did it. I was able to control my adrenaline in the ring, but the moment I stepped out, I started involuntarily crying. It was SO embarrassing! I wasn’t even that upset; I could tell it was just my body’s reaction to all the adrenaline flowing through my system. Is this something you’ve experienced? I’ve tried asking around, but pretty much every resource I could find was written by men, for men, so being like “hey, y’all ever cry?” didn’t go over super well. I trust that this response will go away after a while, but in the mean time, any tips on how to handle something like that?

    Thank you!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe December 5, 2017 at 3:45 pm #

      Hey Anica, sorry to hear you had a rough start. The secret to a better start is to have a trusted girlfriend (or guy friend) introduce you slowly, a bit at a time. And NOT when the whole team or gym is watching.

      Start by just doing some simple partner drills in the ring. Work on some combos, etc. The goal is to simply get comfortable in there, let it be very familiar territory, not some “big deal” kinda place that you are anxious about. Then gradually get to where you are sparring full rounds. The teams I’ve been a part of all did lots of warm-ups and exercises in the ring; it needs to be just another space in the gym where you work.

      I also do just as much sparring OUTSIDE of the ring as inside. My partner and I mark off an available space in the gym, and we work. The less attention and pressure you can put on yourself, the better. I’ve done plenty of sparring in the park, in driveways, in yards, and so on. The ring is just another place to get some work done.

      And yes, I’ve cried in the ring before. One time, early on, when I got my ass kicked by an annoyed sparring partner who was having a bad day. And I never got in the ring with him again, because he proved that he couldn’t keep his shit under control and had to take it out on someone who was far less skilled than he was. Lesson learned. It happens.

      Sucks, but don’t let it stop you! Hang in there and keep making it work for you. 🙂

  24. kyle November 19, 2018 at 10:22 am #

    “I’ve found the best kind of headgear has an adjustable lace top, velcro or lace-up back, and NO “Master’s” padding on the cheekbones”

    So would you suggest NO cheekbones padding? I’m confused by that statement lol

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe November 19, 2018 at 1:42 pm #

      Right. The Master’s headgear just has WAY too much padding. Normal headgear, with normal cheekbone padding, obscures your vision less. Just my preference; you’ll figure out what you like best as you go.

  25. Joe Monzon November 18, 2021 at 8:32 am #

    Hi Lisa,
    Great post ! Thank you for sharing it. It would really helpful for those who are beginning sparring.

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