In this article we would like to talk about boxing sparring tips that you can use straight away as a beginner.
Boxing sparring is by far one of the greatest way to improve your boxing as it simulates an actual boxing bout. Depending on your skill level, one fights 2 or 3 minutes per round with 1 minute rest inbetween. During this, you’re free to do and throw whatever you have trained during your other trainings, such as the boxing pads or heavy bag.
Many people are intimidated when sparring for the first few times and so today, we’d like to share with you 25 practical tips to keep in mind before and during your sparring session.
#1: Wear proper equipment
Arguably one of the most important boxing sparring tips. Sparring is inherently dangerous, so safety must always come first.
When you are getting ready for sparring, remember to have the necessary equipment for it.
Mouth guard, head guard, hand wraps, and (minimum) 16 Oz gloves are must-haves.
Groin guard is preferable, as punches in that area will not only seriously hurt, but also cause a serious injury considering how delicate the groin is.
Remember to always have the above-mentioned before sparring, and always demand your opponent to have it. Sometimes you meet people who claim they can spar without mouth guard/head guard. In that case, tell them to spar someone else.
Remember what sort of sport boxing is. The fact that you can get injured is only one side of the coin. The other side is that you can cause serious damage to the other person—bear that in mind.
#2: Choose a proper opponent
It is a must to have a suitable opponent.
There is no point in fighting a guy who you can easily overwhelm, as neither of you will learn anything out of it.
Similarly, there is no point in fighting someone who’s completely above your level and whoop you for breakfast. That will only lower your confidence and actually negatively impact your future performance in the ring.
Your sparring partner must have:
If even one of those conditions are not met, then you should reconsider sparring that person.
Most importantly, many injuries happen when your sparring partner is a mismatch! Remember that!
#3: Do not eat at least three hours before!
One of the more neglected boxing sparring tips.
However simple this sounds, surprisingly many people don’t follow this great advice.
We’ll say this again—do NOT eat few hours before sparring, even if you’re starving.
Having a full stomach makes you slower and heavier, as well as it doesn’t put you in the right state to spar.
The reason why people defecate under extreme stress comes from our survival instinct, which truly understands that fighting the danger or running from danger will be most effective with an empty stomach.
Also, full stomach not only makes you perform worse.
In fact, taking a body shot might end up being really bad. We’ve seen students puke in the ring after a body shot—not only will you embarrass yourself from it, but you’ll be causing trouble to the gym staff who’ll have to clean it up.
So do a great service to yourself and the people around you by not eating hours before sparring!
#4: Decide on or plan the sparring beforehand
A very common mistake that people commit while sparring is taking too much of a competitive approach.
Yes, it’s boxing and you’re fighting, but the ultimate goal is to learn. There are too many people who just try to compete and don’t talk/plan the sparring.
So, that’s why you should always plan or consult your coach beforehand!
Speak to your sparring partner or your coach who’s planning the sparring session and ask: how should the sparring be like today?
You must decide and convey whether you’re going for a heavy sparring, light and fast sparring, body sparring, or distance sparring.
By doing so, you’ll be able to focus on certain aspects of sparring and greatly accelerate your learning. Going in there and throwing your hands is nothing to be proud of. However, setting a goal and executing it—that’s something really worth pursuing.
#5: Remember that you are sparring, not fighting!
We can say that’s one of the most classic boxing sparring tips and really an important one!
There’s genuinely a correlation between having lower level of skill and expressing higher level of aggression. The less you know about boxing, the bigger the chance you’re going to try knocking somebody out during a sparring session.
You must always be mindful about the fact that you’re sparring and not fighting, even if you’re completely gassed out during it.
The good rule of thumb during your boxing sparring is to hit 60% – 70% of your maximum power.
We’ve noticed with great concern that many online pages give the tip to “hit as hard as you get hit.” That’s actually a terrible advice—you shouldn’t fight fire with fire!
Because you’ll just be adding oil to the fire and inflame all the conflicts at the gym.
Of course, don’t let anyone beat you. But if you know truly know your worth and believe in your boxing skills, then you should say to your sparring partner, “mate, if you want to do heavy sparring, let’s take heavier gloves and go for it” rather than come in and fight instead of sparring.
Remember that while having a scrap, you don’t learn anything about boxing. It’s when you’re having calculated rounds is when you do.
#6: Plan the sparring’s length
Something you should do at the same time as tip #4.
Here, you must always ask your coach or your sparring partner about how many rounds to do and how long for each.
If you don’t ask, you end up with zero energy after the first round.
Sparring should imitate the fight. So, while in a competition you must conserve energy to have enough cardio to fight in the next rounds. Do the same while sparring, so ask immediately.
Knowing the length allows you to adjust the tempo, pace, and the style of fighting. It’s an advantage, so use it.
#7: Touch gloves
It’s a sign of sportsmanship, respect, and a good thing to do.
It notifies your opponent that you are ready and also makes you mentally ready to spar.
Sparring must always remain respectful, as the aim is not to learn and not to batter each other to pulp. In an actual bout, you might not touch your opponent’s gloves, but ahead of sparring, it’s a must do.
No exception, even if you’re in bad terms with your sparring partner. Or else, you end up not taking the next and other boxing sparring tips to heart.
#8: Don’t fight dirty
A crucial advice that’s unfortunately quite common among beginners.
Again, remember that the main goal is to learn boxing, not to win. Save winning in your boxing competitions.
Fight clean, respect the rules, don’t hit after the bell, and don’t hit below the belt—the standard things. That’s it.
If you want to show your superiority, do it with your boxing skills and accordingly to boxing rules.
By fighting dirty, not only are you likely going to get kicked out of your boxing gym, but also potentially cause serious damage to yourself or your sparring partner. You might really cause serious injuries to someone by a stupid below-the-belt shot, headbutt, or an elbow.
Keep it clean between you and your sparring partner. Last thing you don’t want to see is a stack of medical bills from you or your sparring partner caused by fighting dirty.
So, keep it clean at all costs.
#9: Keep your hands up!
Yes, we know you heard it thousands of times and it’s certainly easier said than done especially when you’re completely gassed out in those later rounds.
But there is nothing more important than being protected. Remember, the goal of the sweet science of boxing is to hit and not get hit. No matter how tired you are—keep your hands up.
Keep your hands up while you clinch, keep your hands up even after the bell rings, keep your hands up before you touch gloves with your mate. Make a habit out of it so you do it without actively being mindful about it.
Protect yourself at all times. You just never know when somebody will hit you with a devastating punch.
#10: Keep your eyes at your opponent
One of most neglected boxing sparring tips by begineers.
Don’t let your opponent ever get out of your sight.
While sparring, there might be a small crowd cheering, or many guys giving you advice. Sometimes, it’s natural reaction to look in their way or look at your coach screaming.
Don’t do it. Have your eyes always at your opponent and never close them.
Many beginners close their eyes when they see punches coming because of the flinch reflex. You’ll stop doing it once you become experienced with boxing, but nevertheless a bad habit. If you have that problem with this it might help to speak to your coach.
#11: Do NOT apologize
Nothing more annoying than a guy who keeps apologizing.
If you want to apologize, go play badminton or football, not boxing. Sometimes, it might happen that you hit someone too hard, hit him in the back of the head, or elbow him. But do keep in mind that when your opponent entered the ring to spar, he realizes that things like these might happen. So, let it be and keep sparring.
The worse are the guys who stop, say sorry, and ask if everything is okay. Yes, it’s good to be nice, but you have two or three minutes in the round and your sparring partner came here to train, not to hear you apologize.
Of course, if you hit somebody in the groin or do a serious foul, you can touch your opponent’s gloves on check on him, but don’t make apologizing a habit during your sparring sessions.
#12: Don’t make excuses
Nobody is interested in you being injured, overweight, not having good cardio, or having a bad day.
Don’t speak about it.
If you constantly complain that you were beaten up during sparring because of your weight or lack of good sleep, then don’t come to the gym and do boxing. Get yourself to training or stop talking. For example, when you land a shot on someone during sparring and the opponent say, “you hit me, because my stomach hurt” would not only be doing a disservice to you, but also to the opponent himself.
Making excuses is a sign of weakness and in a mental sport like boxing, it will only weaken you.
So come in, spar, and take it like a man if you lose. Learn from this opportunity rather than trying to justify with excuses on why you lost.
#13: Accept you’re going to get hit
This is perhaps one of the more important boxing sparring tips a beginner should take to heart.
Too many people fear being punched or feel like it is in some way humiliating. But no matter how good your boxing skills are, you’re always going to take some damage—that’s part of boxing.
So, accept this and relax to have a good sparring session. Focus on enjoying your sparring session because unless you’re a professional boxer preparing to win for your next bout, your main goal should be to enjoy it.
Landing a clean punch to the head on your opponent is not the greatest achievement, nor getting hit by someone in the head is not the biggest failure. Everybody gets hit—remember that.
#14: Hit first and hit last
There is a saying, “never start a fight, but always finish it.”
This can apply in your daily life, but not in the ring. An important tip: hit first and always hit last.
Start the round with a punch to take away comfort from your opponent. You should come in and hit straight away—you don’t have to land a clean shot, but show him you mean business and show that you know what you’re doing.
Hitting last is also very important. It’s a way to assert dominance and show your opponent that even at the end of the round, you have enough energy to throw a punch.
#15: Remember about clinching
Clinching is as inherent to boxing as throwing punches.
You’d be surprised that many people forget about it. Clinching is a very important part of boxing that’s often underutilized, especially by beginners. Boxers like Mayweather or Tyson Fury clinched successfully throughout their whole careers. So, be ready to use this weapon from your boxing arsenal!
When you have a strong guy who just jumps in with big hooks, you should grab him. If you fight someone and you have him in the corner, clinch him there to pin him at that corner.
It’s relatively easy to do, so use it!
#16: Remember to breathe
When it comes to conditioning, boxing is very demanding.
You can train on pads, do hill sprints, or train on the heavy bag, but sparring is arguably the toughest part of a good boxing training. One important tip on how to conserve energy is to breathe a lot. The more you breathe, the more you oxygenize your system and as a result, the more energy you have.
So, try to exhale after every punch.
Also, many guys tense up while fighting, especially when getting hit. Consequently, while tensed up, they forget to breathe and lose a lot of energy.
Floyd Mayweather was a boxer who mastered breathing to perfection. Below, you’ll see what Andre Berto (Mayweather’s 49th opponent) have to say about fighting Mayweather. He said that every time they clinched, Floyd would take a massive gulp of air.
This point is similar to tip #16 in this article on boxing sparring tips and in some ways overlaps with it.
Be loose and stay relaxed, so avoid tensing up. There are two purpose for this: one is to conserve energy and the other is to allow you to be more aware of what’s going on.
Also, while being loose, the punches from your opponent don’t hurt as much. Many people mistakenly believe that when they’re tensed up, the body will protect them from the pain. In reality, it’s quite the opposite: imagine you hitting a pillow versus you hitting a wall. If you are loose, you roll with the punch, but if you’re tense, you absorb the full power of the punch and get hurt.
#18: Change your punches and tempo
Don’t only throw power shots or speed punches.
Mix it up. Throw few jabs, few 1,2’s, and then proceed to throw power shots. You can start slowly and then change the pace and be aggressive, or the opposite. Don’t do the same thing over and over. Switch things around and make your sparring partner think and work, rather than get him used to your pace and punching.
Being more random and unpredictable won’t allow your opponent to adjust and adapt.
#19: Try slipping, bobbing, and rowing
Punches that don’t land expend a lot more energy than those that do land.
You don’t always have to be aggressive and punching to win. Make your opponent miss, slip his punches, and then make him pay. Slipping, bobbing, and rowing is really underrated. Not only do these make your opponent tired, but it allows you to counter him and outbox him.
#20: Go for the body
Contrary to popular belief, body shots are a lot more threatening than shots to the head, as a good shot at the right spot means game over.
Use a lot of those in sparring!
This goes hand-in-hand as tip #18, as it allows you vary those shots for unpredictability. Also, a well-placed body shot will not only knock out your opponent, but it also allows you to drain the opponent’s cardio and slow him down. Very useful if you’re fighting against an opponent who uses a lot of footwork or fighting at a distance.
So, aim at the liver, kidneys, or chest. Make use of the deadly weapon known as body punches.
#21: Use faints
Very underrated and effective boxing technique. Fainting affects your opponent in many ways.
Firstly, when used effectively, it allows you to freeze and tense up your opponent—excellent if you want to pin down your opponent to land those big shots.
Secondly, constant, effective faints make your opponent unable to relax. This is because your opponent won’t know when you’re going to land a punch. As a result, your opponent will try to brace for the impact of a non-coming shot that will prevent your opponent from breathing normally and consequently gas out your opponent.
Thirdly, they’re great for masking your entry point when going for the offensive. This will allow you to act unpredictably and setup knockout combinations.
Similar to one of the previous boxing sparring tips on body shots, you must learn them first in order to know how to use faints properly—that’s why we highly recommend trying it out in your sparring sessions.
#22: Try to use your body to your advantage
While there is no “ideal” body type in boxing, there are certain body types that are better for certain situations in boxing.
For example, if you’re a tall, lanky type of built, we would recommend to use it against your opponent by out jabbing and fighting at range. This will allow you keep the shorter opponent at bay all while dealing serious damage to your opponent.
Likewise, if you’re rather a shorter, bulky build, we would recommend fighting on the inside to deal as much damage as possible. Against a lankier opponent, you would have the upper hand during a scrap.
In short, what your genetics gave you can be your greatest asset. If you’re naturally fast—use it! Likewise, if you’ve got killer reflexes, try slipping and countering. Ask yourself, “what kind of natural traits do I have?” Whatever you came up with, use it to your full advantage in your next sparring session!
#23: Don’t drink too much water between rounds
During an intense sparring session, everybody’s thirsty and exhausted and so you might think that drinking water at that time might seem like a good idea. However, it should be avoided in general.
Too much water might make you feel heavy, sick, and/or off the track. Next time you look at intervals between rounds in a professional bout, look closely at the boxers—they literally take just a sip while they’re resting at the corners.
Do the same! You really don’t need to chug a 0.5L water bottle every time you’re at the corner!
#24: Control your aggression
If somebody tells you not to be aggressive while fighting—don’t listen! It’s inherently an aggressive sport, so you must be aggressive. Although as mentioned in our previous article, not all types of aggression are good and the one you need to have is controlled aggression.
There are too many people who come for sparring and act in a way that makes you confuse if they come in to fight you or hug you. They say sorry all the time and touch gloves 200 times in a round—their actions don’t match what they’re supposed to be doing. You are going there to spar—it doesn’t mean you have to come and take your sparring partner’s head off, but give your opponent a challenge and aim for a solid sparring session.
Your aggression should be controlled and tamed and at the same time, it must be there in order for you to perform well and get your opponent’s respect. Remember, sparring is a way to prepare for a boxing fight. If you spar without aggression, you’ll fight in an actual bout without aggression.
#25: Never show you’re tired
One of the harder boxing sparring tips to implement, especially after few rounds of a good sparring session.
Boxing is 90% mental.
When your opponent sees you hurt/tired/fatigued/in pain after a body shot, he gets a boost of energy. Never show you’re tired, never sigh loudly between rounds, and never lay on the ropes during the round in order to rest. It’s a mental game, and a really tough one.
A good rule of thumb is as follows: regardless how you feel, be the first one to get up from the stool and go back into the fight.
It makes your opponent weaker and takes his confidence away. That’s because no matter how many rounds are ahead of you, you’re standing up, showing you’re not tired, and imposing your willingness to fight.
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