T Nation

How to Improve Without Sparring


#1

id love to spar, but i cant make it to a boxing club atm.

i have to train late at night, and am limited to heavy bag work and other individual based exercises.

a few days ago, i had the rare opportunity to get in the ring with a friend for half an hour, and i was just lost. its like i couldnt work out what punches to throw and when, what feints to use, how to get in range etc.

so, my question is, what can i do to prepare myself for sparring when i eventually can (hopefully 6 months or so)?

on the heavy bag, shadow boxing etc. i think my technique is pretty solid, but my ring iq/knowledge is seriously lacking. i understand theres nothing like sparring, but is there any tips, videos etc people could recommend to atleast prepare me better?

all help greatly appreciated.


#2

To be honest without at least 1 good training partner or coach to at least hold mitts for you and do interaction drills with you it’s going to be very difficult for you to learn things like how to control distance and set-point, rhythm, defensive and offensive timing, judgement, implication of different strategies to deal with different types of opponents, and a whole bunch of other skills and attributes that pretty much depend on interacting with another thinking breathing opponent.

Now, once you had enough experience and had already built those attributes and skills it is possible to refine them and work on them with supplementary drills, but learning them in the first place is going to be tough. It’d be like trying to design drills to teach you how to swim without having access to a pool or body of water.

So for now I would really just try to work on your fundamentals:

  1. Solid fundamental fighting position and maintaining it as much as possible at all times (there are of course instances or circumstances where you would alter it, but don’t worry about those yet)

  2. Footwork- learn to move forward, backward, sideways, angularly, circularly, pivot, and switch step in any order while maintaining your effective fighting position as much as possible at all times

  3. Striking mechanics- really work on the mechanics of throwing your basic strikes (whether that just be punches, or also kicks, knees, elbows, headbutts, forearm strikes, etc…since you didn’t specify what type of sparring you were doing) so that you maximize efficiency, maintain a good defensive position while striking, maintain your balance at all times, return to your fighting position upon completing a punch/combination and don’t drop your hands or leave your hands out away from your head, and can throw strikes in combination

  4. Practice all of your combinations (whether hitting a bag or shadow boxing) with entering/penetration footwork and techniques (like a jab), and finish all of them with clearing footwork and techniques (like a bump or cut kick). This will build good habits that will eventually translate to sparring when you get the chance to do so

  5. Practice all of your bag work and shadow fighting with constant and varied rhythm; in other words you should always seek to be moving your head, feet, body, faking/feinting strikes, or throwing strikes and changing the order and speed at which you do so

None of these can replace sparring, interaction drills, or good mitt work, but as far as solo drills they will go a long way to helping you build a good foundation. Good luck


#3

great post.

thanks for the advice.

the swimming analogy is bang on lol. it felt like id been practising front crawl and then got in the water and it was nothing like i imagined.

again thanks, much appreciated.

fyi its boxing.


#4

Not much to add to what Sento said. If you already had sparring experience, I’d say you could improve a lot with focused shadow boxing. Without that experience, there is a vacuum of knowledge that can’t be overcome. You could find someone (anyone) to throw punches at you, and work on your defenses etc. It won’t be perfect, and over time it would teach you to defend without being aggressive in return, but even a wife or girlfriend could help you achieve a basic degree of proficiency and comfort with punches being thrown at you.


#5

[quote]LondonBoxer123 wrote:
Not much to add to what Sento said. If you already had sparring experience, I’d say you could improve a lot with focused shadow boxing. Without that experience, there is a vacuum of knowledge that can’t be overcome. You could find someone (anyone) to throw punches at you, and work on your defenses etc. It won’t be perfect, and over time it would teach you to defend without being aggressive in return, but even a wife or girlfriend could help you achieve a basic degree of proficiency and comfort with punches being thrown at you. [/quote]

Good advice. The only thing I would warn is there is a difference between getting hit and getting hurt and that a lot of times untrained people will throw “artless” strikes at you (in other words they may not follow any kind of discernible path to you and come from all kinds of crazy angles unlike anything resembling a “jab”, “hook”, “straight rear hand”, or anything you’re likely to encounter in a boxing ring) in an attempt to get to you/touch you and thwart your defenses. So, you may find that traditional boxing precision defenses (like slips, parries, weaves, etc…which are based on and designed for precision offensive techniques) won’t work and you may have to focus more on using distance, shielding/covering your head and somewhat sacrificing defense to your body, or tying them up to stop them. But also keep in mind that most of these “artless” strikes won’t have the same degree of mass transfer and velocity that more “traditional/precision” strikes will have, so as long as you don’t get caught with anything that would actually “hurt” you on a vital target, then you did ok defensively.


#6

Good topic.
As stated earlier, it will be difficult without a partner.
But there are things you can do.

  1. Movement
    When eventually you do spar this will be critical for you. Too many trainees can hit the bag and pads masterfully, but when they spar they take shots and just freeze. Practice loose, effortless movement that will allow you to get where you need to go quickly and efficiently.
    Have the capability of remaining on your bike for every second of the round if necessary.

  2. Offense
    As alteady mentioned you must rehearse all the principle strikes ad nauseam.
    Set a programme for yourself i.e. this week I will master the jab, next week the straight or the hook.
    I find video recording these sessions highly beneficial.
    Once you identify the level technique that you want to reach, (by watching fight vids etc.) you can easily compare and contrast with your own video… (Am I throwing correctly, am I rotating correctly, am i retracting immediatly…)

  3. Defense and countering.
    As demonstrated in the wonderful recent article “the Lock” by Badlefthook, all boxing is a system.
    A good fighter will have a calculated reaction to each of his opponents actions.

In boxing your opponent has 12 principle punches
The Jab, The straight, The Hook, The Right Hook, The Left Uppercut and the Right Uppercut
(x2) for head and body.

These are your stimulus.
For each of these initial attacks you must have;
a) a defense
and
b) a counter
Everyone has their own system… One of the most basic systems I use - and one that can be practised as a flow drill is attached in the spreadsheet.
This is very basic and I’m not sure that I wouldn’t change the counters and defenses if I were using it right now… but you get the drift, it can be trained alone using visualisation and it can be elaborated and tailored to suit your style.


#7

Also…
In the absence of sparring you could always just go out and pick on weaker people?


#8

[quote]donnydarkoirl wrote:
Also…
In the absence of sparring you could always just go out and pick on weaker people?[/quote]

This x 2. Made me laugh.

Seriously though, Donny’s first post was a great breakdown. I’m stealing that chart. Expect to see it pop up here with a tedious predictability from now on.


#9

Great advise above,I would add that some practice / visualize catching jabs before throwing yours would be helpful, also some shoulder rolls with a step left throw right or a slide in left upper liver shot, help tremendously on timing those shots. Also extend your rounds to ten-fifteen minutes on the bag , so your forced to relax.


#10

guys, been a little busy.

really really appreciate the knowledge, effort and time taken.

that chart looks golden.

i sparred today for a Huge 5 minutes with a friend lol. i can already see the improvements.

my offence in particular is improving. defence, not so much. that seems to be the hardest without a partner. but like i say, that table looks very interesting.

again thanks for all the input.


#11

forgot to say, my knuckles are sore as hell for tonnes of bag work. its the big one for lack of a better description. middle right on both hands.

im probably being a little soft, but has anyone experienced this? i think i go too hard on the bag so will look at that and focus more on rhythm, constant flow of punches, head movement, feints etc.

ive bought a couple of ice packs today, and plan on using them.

at the risk of asking a stupid question…does anyone do this? if so, how long do i use the ice pack for? thinking maybe half an hour after every session…


#12

[quote]donnydarkoirl wrote:
Also…
In the absence of sparring you could always just go out and pick on weaker people?[/quote]

tried it, but someone bigger always comes along and spoils it :wink:


#13

Sorry to interrupt, I don’t know much about boxing, but I love to learn about all sorts of training.

I love the Rocky movies, and remember seeing a couple drills in the training scenes. One is ducking under a rope, side to side while stepping forward and punching(for head movement?). Another is hitting the heavy bag, shuffling around with a string around the ankles(to practice precise footwork?) Are these complete B.S.?


#14

[quote]FlatsFarmer wrote:
Sorry to interrupt, I don’t know much about boxing, but I love to learn about all sorts of training.

I love the Rocky movies, and remember seeing a couple drills in the training scenes. One is ducking under a rope, side to side while stepping forward and punching(for head movement?). Another is hitting the heavy bag, shuffling around with a string around the ankles(to practice precise footwork?) Are these complete B.S.?

[/quote]

The ducking under the rope thing is called a slip line. It is for practising bobbing and weaving. It’s critical that this motion initiates from the knees (not the waist) with the upper body remaining upright in good fighting posture. As such you do not “duck” under the rope so much as dip under it. This should be a small movement that just allows you to clear the line and get back into a striking position ASAP. A deeper dip just wastes time and energy and makes an effective counter far less likely.

The string between the ankles is to keep you from spreading your feet to wide, a common beginner mistake. A wider base can increase power and stability, but sacrifices mobility and is tiring to maintain. The idea is that, throwing, advancing or retreating the relationship between the lead and rear foot remains roughly the same. This allows you to move quickly in any direction without shifting weight or position first. A stretch band is better for this than a string as it will allow a little flex while moving, but will still generally bring your feet back to where they oughta be.

Any of the more senior boxing guys, please feel free to set me straight.


#15

[quote]CarltonJ wrote:
forgot to say, my knuckles are sore as hell for tonnes of bag work. its the big one for lack of a better description. middle right on both hands.

im probably being a little soft, but has anyone experienced this? i think i go too hard on the bag so will look at that and focus more on rhythm, constant flow of punches, head movement, feints etc.
[/quote]

I’ve had this problem severely in both hands. Four things fixed it (in order of importance):

  1. Wrapping my hands differently. I used to go in between each knuckle, but very suddenly a couple years ago, that stopped working and I was getting intense pain. Now I just wrap around the hand - it lets me make a tight fist much better.

  2. Stop trying to hit with the first two knuckles - that’s some karate bullshit. Aim with the last three - not only does it give you a better power line out the arm when you strike, but it also distributes the impact over three knuckles instead of one. Dempsey wrote this in his book, and I’m a huge believer: when you aim with the first two knuckles, you really end up hitting with only the middle one because it’s simply SO much more prominent. And that’s too much stress for that one knuckle to handle.

  3. Do grip work, and make a TIGHT fist when you punch. Too many boxers get into the habit of keeping a loose or slightly open fist when they shadowbox or do bagwork, and that’s why they bust their hands in the street. It’s also why your hand starts to hurt. Keep it hard - pretend like you’re not wearing a glove or wraps, and hit like that.

  4. Get better gloves. I had a really hard time finding gloves that offered enough protection for me, but I finally found the Boon Sport 16 oz. Thai gloves, and they’re simply the best out there (not counting the ridiculously overpriced Winnings or some shit). Don’t buy a puncher’s glove like Reyes, either, because their 16 oz. is way different than Boons or Title.

[quote]
ive bought a couple of ice packs today, and plan on using them.

at the risk of asking a stupid question…does anyone do this? if so, how long do i use the ice pack for? thinking maybe half an hour after every session…[/quote]

I’ve done it when I was in pain afterwards. No harm, and if you’re sore it’s a good option. Ideally you won’t have to though … my hands are only sore if I’m hitting like the 300 lber. or something.

Alternating heat and ice works very well for your hands, I’ve found.


#16

[quote]batman730 wrote:

[quote]FlatsFarmer wrote:
Sorry to interrupt, I don’t know much about boxing, but I love to learn about all sorts of training.

I love the Rocky movies, and remember seeing a couple drills in the training scenes. One is ducking under a rope, side to side while stepping forward and punching(for head movement?). Another is hitting the heavy bag, shuffling around with a string around the ankles(to practice precise footwork?) Are these complete B.S.?

[/quote]

The ducking under the rope thing is called a slip line. It is for practising bobbing and weaving. It’s critical that this motion initiates from the knees (not the waist) with the upper body remaining upright in good fighting posture. As such you do not “duck” under the rope so much as dip under it. This should be a small movement that just allows you to clear the line and get back into a striking position ASAP. A deeper dip just wastes time and energy and makes an effective counter far less likely.

The string between the ankles is to keep you from spreading your feet to wide, a common beginner mistake. A wider base can increase power and stability, but sacrifices mobility and is tiring to maintain. The idea is that, throwing, advancing or retreating the relationship between the lead and rear foot remains roughly the same. This allows you to move quickly in any direction without shifting weight or position first. A stretch band is better for this than a string as it will allow a little flex while moving, but will still generally bring your feet back to where they oughta be.

Any of the more senior boxing guys, please feel free to set me straight.[/quote]

I’ve tried to post this like 5 times now but have lost it before posting it, so here is the Cliff Notes version:

Bobbing is a type of slipping where you rotate your shoulders; weaving is a semi-circular ducking movement. Sometimes people will do the two in combination, but they aren’t one in the same. Slip lines are tools for practicing weaving, not bobbing. Even then though I don’t really like them because they prevent proper weight shifting on your counter strikes and teach inefficient movement.

I also don’t like tying the feet together in most cases. I prefer just drilling proper footwork first solo (in all directions and in all combinations of directions), then doing that and punching once you have reached your new position, and finally in combination with offensive and defensive techniques. If someone were having a very hard time with leaving their back foot “in the bucket”/ending their footwork movements with their feet too wide I might consider it, but only as a last resort. That’s just my preference though.


#17

[quote]Sentoguy wrote:

[quote]batman730 wrote:

[quote]FlatsFarmer wrote:
Sorry to interrupt, I don’t know much about boxing, but I love to learn about all sorts of training.

I love the Rocky movies, and remember seeing a couple drills in the training scenes. One is ducking under a rope, side to side while stepping forward and punching(for head movement?). Another is hitting the heavy bag, shuffling around with a string around the ankles(to practice precise footwork?) Are these complete B.S.?

[/quote]

The ducking under the rope thing is called a slip line. It is for practising bobbing and weaving. It’s critical that this motion initiates from the knees (not the waist) with the upper body remaining upright in good fighting posture. As such you do not “duck” under the rope so much as dip under it. This should be a small movement that just allows you to clear the line and get back into a striking position ASAP. A deeper dip just wastes time and energy and makes an effective counter far less likely.

The string between the ankles is to keep you from spreading your feet to wide, a common beginner mistake. A wider base can increase power and stability, but sacrifices mobility and is tiring to maintain. The idea is that, throwing, advancing or retreating the relationship between the lead and rear foot remains roughly the same. This allows you to move quickly in any direction without shifting weight or position first. A stretch band is better for this than a string as it will allow a little flex while moving, but will still generally bring your feet back to where they oughta be.

Any of the more senior boxing guys, please feel free to set me straight.[/quote]

I’ve tried to post this like 5 times now but have lost it before posting it, so here is the Cliff Notes version:

Bobbing is a type of slipping where you rotate your shoulders; weaving is a semi-circular ducking movement. Sometimes people will do the two in combination, but they aren’t one in the same. Slip lines are tools for practicing weaving, not bobbing. Even then though I don’t really like them because they prevent proper weight shifting on your counter strikes and teach inefficient movement.

I also don’t like tying the feet together in most cases. I prefer just drilling proper footwork first solo (in all directions and in all combinations of directions), then doing that and punching once you have reached your new position, and finally in combination with offensive and defensive techniques. If someone were having a very hard time with leaving their back foot “in the bucket”/ending their footwork movements with their feet too wide I might consider it, but only as a last resort. That’s just my preference though.
[/quote]

Thanks for clarifying that Sento. Important distinction.

FTR I have never done the feet tied together thing, but I agree that simply drilling proper footwork is probably preferable. However without a coach to monitor how you’re actually moving this seems like it could be problematic. What you think you’re doing and what you’re actually doing are usually two very different things, as you are no doubt well aware.

At my old RMA school a good portion of each class for the first six months was spent punishing people for less desireable footwork (or more accurately punishing the rest of the class for each person’s less desireable footwork while the offender looked on in shame, but I digress).


#18

Thanks for the info! So the slip-line won’t teach me to move my head like James Toney?

Irish-
You mentioned grip work. Do boxers just do regular stuff like wrist roller, or have you got some more exotic stuff. I’m pretty tired of squeezing grippers.


#19

Unless the wrist roller you are using has a very thick diameter handle, it probably isn’t actually working your grip all that hard if you are using it in the traditional fashion as usually either the shoulders or wrist extensors/Flexors give out before the grip really gets taxed. You can make wrist rolling more taxing on the grip though by:

  1. using a thick diameter handle (4+ Inch diameter)
  2. stand on an elevated surface (the steps on a Roman Chair/Dip station work well) and let your arms hang down to the floor (holding the roller handle), then roll the weight up from this position. This allows substantially more weight to be used as the shoulders are no longer in a weak position. You can of course also use a thick handle to add even more stress on the grip itself
  3. get a long rope (10mm climbing rope will work well) and attach a roller handle at both ends; next have you and a buddy sit on the floor and each grab a roller handle; now the game is that you are each trying to “row” each other to you ala a Tug Of War (you can place some sort of market half way between you and if you can pull the other person across it you win) however you cannot move backwards (only hold your ground or be pulled forwards), so any amount that you are able to pull your training partner forward you must then wrist roll to take up the slack in the rope before again trying to pull them forward. Try for 1 minute rounds at first.

These are just a few examples.

Regarding general grip strength, first keep in mind that there are lots of types of hand/grip strength and the stronger your hands are in general the tighter and harder of a fist you’ll be able to make. The general categories are:
-Support grip (heavy lockouts, hanging from a bar, etc…)
-Crushing grip (Captains of Crush grippers are IMO the best tool for this)
-Pinch Grip (holding two weight plates together, smooth side out if possible, and lifting/carrying them; anvil horn lifts, etc…)
-Finger tip strength (finger tip push-ups, pushing your finger tips through objects like apples or potatoes, etc…)
-Extensor strength (opening your fingers wide, this is very important to avoid imbalances or overuse injuries)

To those you can also add wrist strength (flexion, extension, supination, pronation, lateral Flexion, and lateral extension)

For punching (making a tight “brawling fist”) though I’d say that crushing grip strength and pinch grip strength are the most important. Hope this helps.


#20

would tape help? potentially stupid question…

what is the purpose of it? i see pros putting it on top of wraps and wondered if thatd help.