Why start boxing? What are the benefits?
It’s an incredibly fun way to stay fit. Boxing training, or boxercise, is a full cardio workout that keeps your muscles toned and your body in shape.
Each training session is geared towards improving your strength and stamina, whilst perfecting technique.
Boxing can be practiced alone at home, with a training partner, or in groups at your local gym.
What kit do you need to start boxing?
There’s definitely a number of must-haves when it comes to boxing, those accessories that you should never walk into a session without if you want to keep everything in working order. The good thing is these little pieces of kit are cheap, affordable, and really easy to get hold of. So what are they?
Although there are a few things that might be provided for you in the early stages of joining a boxing gym or boxercise class, a mouthguard is not one of them, and you should never practice boxing without one.
Made to protect your gums, teeth and reduce the risk of mouth lacerations, mouthguards must be tailored to the shape of an individual’s teeth to maximise protection.
If you're buying a standard mouthpiece, you will need to boil up some water and let the mouthguard soak for the time noted on the instructions provided. When the time is up, remove the mouthguard and run it under cold water for two seconds then place it into your mouth. You must then bite down lightly and press the mouthpiece around your gums with your fingers. Once complete you have your mouthguard, tailored for your training needs.
If there is one area of the body that is more prone to injury than any other in boxing, it's your hands and wrists. Whether you're punching a bag, pads, or an opponent, your hands are constantly impacted, so it's important to have something in place to eliminate the risk of bone fractures. This is where hand wraps come in.
Hand wraps are similar to a thin bandage and wrap around your wrists and knuckles to support weight at the point of impact. They come in various lengths depending on the size of your hands and are worn under your gloves during any session that involves punching.
In general, most boxers will apply hand wraps prior to any session, whether they're skipping, doing circuits, or simply shadow boxing, just to stay in good habits. There is, however, a specific way to apply wraps, which is easy to learn and important to get to grips with from the get-go.
A good pair of gloves is essential if you want to box, and with so many different weights, constructions, and price points, it can be easy to get a little lost when starting out, and you can end up lumbered with a pair of gloves that aren't right for you. Boxing gloves are there to further protect your hands from impact whilst also lessening the damage to your opponent at fight level.
When choosing a pair you need to consider two things:
- Whether or not you will be sparring (full contact training)
- Your weight
To make things a little easier, we've put together a boxing glove comparison chart (below), so that you get the right type of gloves for your size and weight. In general, the heavier you are, the bigger gloves you will need to protect your hands from a more intense impact. Boxing gloves are generally weighed in ounces.
Choosing the correct boxing glove weight:
- 40-50kg = 8oz
- 50-59kg = 10oz
- 60-74kg = 12oz
- 75-86kg = 14oz
- 86-plus kg = 16oz
What extra kit might you need?
As well as the three essentials to get you started, there are also a couple of other items that will help out at the beginning depending on the type of training that you're going for. So whether you're looking to train from home or eventually get into full contact sparring, these items could help you on the way.
If you're going to spar on a regular basis then investing in your own head guard is wise. Yes, boxing clubs up and down the country provide this type of kit, but it can get overused and leave you exposed, so buying your own that fits your head perfectly is a step in the right direction.
Headguards are there to cushion the impact when involved in a full-contact situation with an adversary. It's imperative that your head guard doesn't impede your vision (for oncoming headshots) and fits snuggly on your head. A loose head guard risks causing injury and losing sight of your opponent. An overly tight head guard can restrict blood flow and ultimately affect your alertness and overall performance.
Boxing shoes or footwear
Now, a lot of people starting out in boxing can definitely get away with a pair of normal trainers or runners, so long as you can remain nimble on your feet. If you do catch the boxing bug after a while and want to start working out at the next level, and train more effectively at home or in the gym, grab a pair of boxing shoes.
Attack and defence in boxing pretty much starts and ends with your feet as you move in and out of striking distance. Directional changes and balance are a huge part of the sport, and the risk of rolling your ankle is an ever-present danger.
Boxing boots are not only light with a good grip for both hard and soft surfaces, but they also lace up to the lower part of your leg, helping keep your ankles supported and in the right position. Like hand wraps, many boxers will put on their boots as soon as they enter the gym doors, although proper trainers should be used for any long-distance runs pre-workout.
A big step for any aspiring boxer is to get a punching bag hung up in the garage or a spare room so that you can get some rounds in at home. This is a highly practical way to train for those who work odd hours and can't always make it to classes.
Before grabbing the first bag you come across you'll want to keep in mind a few things so that you get the best out of your purchase. Will you be using the bag solely for western boxing (hands only) or would you like to eventually practice kickboxing, muay Thai or MMA that involve using your legs and knees to strike.
If it is just straight-up western boxing then you will be better off with something like a PB 850 Punching Bag or PB 1000 Punch Bag, bags with a bit of weight that represent the upper torso of an opponent. If you want to eventually start using your legs, then a longer bag like the PB 1500 Leather Bag, or a Tilting Bag will keep you right. Like this, you can practice your punches, along with knees in both the low and high range.
Walk into any boxing gym up and down the country and most training sessions will start with either a light run before skipping or vice versa. An adjustable skipping rope is super cheap, great to get your heart rate up before any type of session, easy to store, and best of all, you can use it anywhere.
It's also a great way to get your wrist and ankle muscles in shape and build those all-important calf muscles, as good boxers spend a lot of time on their toes. Having your rope that you become accustomed to, adjusting the length to suit your height, will result in longer, more sustained skipping and better overall fitness.
If the chord is too long or too short a skipping experience can quickly turn into a frustrating one. They come in both rope and leash form, the latter being more prevalently used by the boxing community thanks to durability over time.
What different types of boxing can you practise?
Boxing / Western Boxing
This is the most common form of boxing in the UK. It’s even a fully-fledged Olympic Sport.
Western boxing is practiced using your fists to punch your opponent anywhere above the beltline, excluding the back of the head. Boxers practice on pads and bags to hone their skills.
Boxing training is largely based on footwork, counter-attack and timing. It can be practiced by people of all ages.
It’s also about being elusive, which is great for people who want to improve self-defence.
Muay Thai / Thai Boxing
Thai Boxing is a discipline practiced using your hands, elbows, knees, and legs, which is why it’s referred to as “the art of eight limbs”. To practice Muay Thai you need to be flexible and agile. Whilst Thai Boxing you’ll learn a lot about fighting at different distances, as there is a lot of close-up grappling involved, as well as high kicks.
Muay Thai is steeped in tradition, with fighters performing a “ram muay” dance ritual in front of their opponent before bouts. The dance is aimed at intimidating your adversary, whilst exercising negative spirits.
Savate Boxing / Kickboxing
Savate Boxing is a discipline where you compete using only your hands and feet. To practice effectively you need to perfect your balance to power ratio. All kicks must be above the belt, so you’ll need to be flexible in your legs.
The origins of kickboxing come from France, but It’s now practiced in gyms around the world. Fighters are required to wear gloves on their hands and protective pads on their feet.
Mixed Martial Arts
Mixed Martial Arts, also known as MMA, has become very popular in the UK over the past few years thanks to the UFC. In MMA training you’ll learn several different disciplines, including Muay Thai, Wrestling and Jujitsu.
MMA is generally practiced by people looking to take part in full-contact training.
Safety tips for beginner boxers
Boxing as a sport is renowned for its risks, but practising it regularly needn't cause injury if you take the right precautions.
What are the most common injuries in boxing?
Sprains are painful. They can put you out of training for a while, and even affect your day job depending on what you do. The three main areas susceptible to sprains are your ankles, wrists and thumbs.
As boxing involves a lot of directional changes, rolling your ankle can easily cause a sprain. This can be avoided with a good pair of boxing boots that add support to your ankles. Your thumbs and wrists are exposed when you’re on the punch bags, so hand wraps and closed thumb boxing gloves will go some way to help avoid injury.
Any sport that involves head impact will have an element of concussion risk. A concussion is very serious, and repeated concussions can lead to permanent brain damage. Avoiding it when practising boxing is simple. You either wear a head guard, which offers added padding during sparring, or just avoid sparring altogether.
Cuts and bruises
As boxing is a full-contact sport, you can expect plenty of cuts and bruises, even more so in disciplines such as Muay Thai where you use your legs to block, along with knees and elbows to strike. Choosing the correct safety equipment such as leg pads, head guards and gloves will go some way to help you avoid any major cuts and heavy bruising.
Hand and nose fractures are the most common in any type of boxing. The nose is a sensitive part of the body and an opponent will always aim for it. There is very little protection other than just ducking and moving out of the way so working on your defence is key to avoiding nose strikes.
Hand fractures come from high impact punching. In most cases when you are working out at your local gym or home, hand wraps (applied correctly) and boxing gloves keep you free from breaks. It is often more intense real-fight situations that cause serious fractures.
If you have fragile hands due to an old injury, take advice from your doctor before boxing.
Best ways to avoid injuries in boxing
Performing a good warm-up
Like any physical activity, boxing requires a thorough warm-up. In general, before any session, your coach or trainer will have you skipping. Skipping requires movement on your toes, much like a boxer in the ring, and rotation of the wrists, which are the foundations of any good punch.
Once you have done 5-10 minutes of skipping, it's wise to go for a short run to get your heart rate up whilst working your lungs. A run doesn't have to be over a huge distance, between 2-3 km is fine. Just make sure it's not a doddle and put in some real effort.
Using basic protection
After you have warmed up chances are some point you will get onto the pads. Before undertaking any pad work, bag work or sparring you will need a few essential pieces of kit that you will find in this article here.
Full contact and sparring safely
The biggest chance of injury in boxing comes when you go head to head with an opponent, whether it is someone at your gym or an adversary in a full-contact contest. There are a few parts of the body that need extra protection so you will need to consider the following.
Also known as a box, groin protection is made to keep your lower regions free from stray hooks. They can also add padding to your lower stomach, and it is boxing law that any amateur or professional fighter, in an official contest, must wear one.
If you are practising Muay Thai or kickboxing, your groin protection will be a lot smaller to free up leg movement for kicks and blocking so be sure to buy the right one for your respective discipline.
Face protection jelly
When you see a boxer or MMA fighter on the TV, they seem to shine under the lights. But this is not to make them look better, it's actually to cause their opponent's shots to slide off their face and body. Petroleum jelly or vaseline is generally used and applied before a contest and between rounds. Be mindful that if too much is put onto your face or body in an official contest, a referee will point you back to the corner to remove the excess.
As there is a lot of stretching when kicking and blocking in both kickboxing and Muay Thai, a well-applied heat liniment to the legs can really help avoid muscle strains. In a full combat situation, fighters will also apply this to their arms and torso.
Where to practise boxing
Even though there are lots of opportunities when it comes to practising boxing, you will need an introduction to the sport’s fundamentals.
Always the best place to start boxing, the boxing gym is full of people passionate about the sport who will be happy to show you the basics. As footwork, power and hand speed are key to progressing within the discipline, a good trainer will have you moving like a pro after a few sessions.
Boxing gyms are also full of seasoned boxers and even the odd professional, so you can get tips just by watching others work the pads and bags. In general, a gym is cheaper than studio classes such as boxercise, and the training is similar to that of a fighter preparing for a full contact bout
Sparring is optional and usually takes place on set days so that participants don’t feel pressured to fight one-on-one. A standard session at a boxing gym lasts around 2 hours and is a mix of cardio training and boxing technique.
Boxercise is very much about fitness and stamina, a great cardio workout based on boxing without any actual one-on-one combat. It’s easy to pick up and is a lot less skills-focused than a boxing gym workout. It’s also a great way to participate in a class with a friend, a partner, or just on your own.
There is generally a lot of pad work involved with intense 2-3 minute circuits with short 30 second intervals just like boxing rounds. Boxercise classes are generally available at leisure centres, local gyms, and sports halls, with some even offering boxercise classes that involve kickboxing and Muay Thai techniques for the more nimble and adventurous.
Boxing training tips
Boxing requires peak mental and physical conditioning in order to perform at the highest level.
But even if you’re not planning on taking up the sport to start fighting, the training techniques involved are still an excellent way to stay in shape.
How often should you train per week?
Pro Boxers will train 5-6 days a week when preparing for a fight, reaching peak condition just hours before walking to the ring. But, if you’re taking up boxing as a regular way to keep fit without taking part in fights, then 2-3 sessions a week should be your goal.
One session a week should be dedicated to strength and conditioning, whilst the other two will ideally focus on technique and conditioning. Remember, when training, giving your body the correct recovery period is just as important as training, so try to leave around 48 hours between sessions when possible.
How do boxers train?
Given the range of different types of fitness and skills you need, boxing training is like no other.
1. Warm up
It goes without saying that before any physical activity a good warm-up is required. For boxers, this simply involves a skipping rope and a pair of comfortable running shoes.
Skipping for 5-10 minutes loosens up your wrists and legs whilst strengthening the muscles around the balls of your feet, an important area for attack and defence in boxing.
After you have spent some time skipping, head out for a short 3-5 km run at a good medium pace without burning out. This again just prepares the body well for training and gets your heartbeat up.
2. Shadow boxing
Once you’ve got a sweat on jump into a few rounds of shadowboxing. This allows you to practice your movement, balance, defence and attack on your own with an imaginary opponent in front of you.
Make sure you do at least 3 rounds of between 2-3 minutes and remember to up rounds if all gets a little too easy.. As well as being a great way to perfect your technique in a non-combat situation, shadow boxing also conditions all the key muscles you would use in a real fight situation, particularly in your shoulders and arms.
3. Punch bag workouts
Whether you’re in a boxing gym or training at home, at some point you’re going to want to open up on a punching bag. There is no doubt that it is a fun, somewhat therapeutic practice, but when used properly there are many more benefits.
As well as building punch strength and timing, moving around a punch bag also strengthens your legs whilst helping you master the use of your feet. It will also help you with your boxing brain in terms of attack and defence, and when practised over a number of rounds (3-5) rapidly increases your overall stamina.
4. Medicine ball training
As well as the punch bag, a medicine ball is a shrewd buy for any home boxer. It’s an incredibly diverse training accessory that has been used in boxing gyms around the world for decades.
A good effective workout with a medicine ball can be achieved in 10-20 minutes, but it’s key that you choose the right weight for your size and training needs, to avoid under or overtraining.
Some of the more typical exercises with a medicine ball are sit-ups, twists and the vertical toss. These are better off being performed in reps as opposed to rounds to avoid injury and maximise your power output.
5. Punch and pull
Boxers require both power and hand speed when punching to get in and out of their opponent’s range without being hit. Most people who start boxing are more capable in one than the other, so this exercise is designed to make fighters more rounded in both:
- Simply take a pair of dumbbells, start with a lightweight then move up slightly if needs be, then throw plenty of 2-3 punch combinations.
- Start with 2x2 minute rounds then, again, increase as things start to get easier, or use it as a transition between shadowboxing and punch bag training.
Be sure to extend your arms and turn into your shots just as you would when hitting a standing target. The idea is, as well as building the muscles you use to throw punches for power, your punching will become much quicker and more accurate.
If you’re getting into boxing to compete or go head-to-head with your gym partner, then there needs to be an element of mental preparation, tuning your brain into fight mode. We all react differently under pressure when the punches are raining in, and the only way to get familiar with it, and properly practice your attack and defence techniques, is during sparring.
Everything changes when you’re faced with the risk of being hit. Your heart rate goes up, you become tenser and throwing punches uses up a lot more energy than in standard training. So, sparring is a great way to discover how effective your training has been and what areas you may need to focus on more going forward, such as endurance, movement or even your diet.
Who to learn boxing with
It is quite normal these days for people to practise boxing at home alone or with a training partner. But to get to that point you’re going to need to learn a few basics.
Why learn to Box with a pro trainer?
Like a lot of combat sports, boxing comes with a few risks. The basics, such as which parts of your hand you use to punch with, and applying wraps, are essential if you want to avoid broken fingers and wrist sprains.
Weight distribution and footwork are also key factors that are better explained by a professional than a vlogger. However, once you have had a couple of sessions and you feel comfortable with your grasp of the noble art, you can consider boxing at home.
Boxing is also practised in various forms such as Western Boxing (standard boxing using only your hands), Kickboxing (hand and feet) and Thai Boxing (hands, feet, knees and elbows). Each of these disciplines is different and will require a knowledgeable, fully qualified coach or trainer to show you the most effective techniques.
Learning to Box at a boxing club
Boxing clubs up and down the country have been teaching people how to box for decades, so they are an ideal place to start. They are very inclusive environments with people of all ages and levels turning up, to either fight or just stay fit.
Most boxing clubs will have a few trainers and coaches that will guide you through the basics, including power punching, footwork, attack and defence. In general, you will be part of a larger group within all activities at a boxing club, whether it’s a warm-up run, circuits, pad work or sparring sessions. Boxing clubs are also more price-competitive than alternative options.
If your long term goal is to take part in full contact sparring, then you should frequently attend a club and ask which days they spar, which is usually one day a week. Coaches will put you against fighters of your level, and just as importantly, a similar weight, to make contests as even as possible.
If you would like to practice kickboxing or Muay Thai, you will have to identify a club that specialises in these disciplines. It is rare to find a good club that covers all three.
Learning to Box at a Boxercise Class
If you would like to learn how to box purely as a form of fitness with zero full contact sparring, in a studio-class environment, then boxercise could be the better choice for you. Like in boxing clubs, Boxercise is generally practised in large groups and is a great way of getting to grips with the basics.
Classes generally consist of intense circuits to work on cardio, before several rounds of pad work with a partner. Boxercise classes are often included in gym memberships at health clubs and leisure centres, with sessions performed by a fully qualified trainer. You can generally find boxercise courses that specialise in western boxing and kickboxing.
Learning to Box with a Personal Trainer
If you require a little more flexibility or don’t like the idea of being part of a larger class, then learning to box with a personal trainer offers several benefits. You have the freedom to train as and when you like - and also where you like - as long as the trainer agrees, of course.
The one-on-one element of your sessions means that you will inevitably learn techniques quicker, and get through those tough sessions with the right type of motivation.
A personal trainer will also be handy with the pads, and make sure your sessions and geared towards your individual progress.
There are two downsides to having a personal trainer:
- The first being if you want to spar, you will be unevenly matched, which will limit progress.
- The second is that a personal trainer will generally cost more than both boxing gym and boxercise classes.
Practising boxing at home
Once you have spent a period understanding the basics of boxing you can consider practising at home. If you like the idea of more flexible sessions in a familiar environment, that’s understandable. But it is still good to go back to your club or class from time to time to stay on top of your technique.
In an ideal world, you should attend a course or training session at least once a week, and get a home training programme from your coach so that when you are working out at home there is still progress.
When working out at home there are a few pieces of kit that will come in handy:
- Punch bag
- Boxing pads
- Skipping rope
Nutritional tips for boxing. What should you be eating?
Boxing is a great way to stay trim and healthy and if you eat the right things before and after exercise, you will improve your overall performance no end. Here we are going to show you how to eat like a boxer so that your diet becomes a real training aid.
Why is nutrition important?
Like with many sports diets, what we eat and when is very important. Boxing is about being light without losing power, so you’ll need lots of nutrients to keep those energy levels up. Professional fighters go to great lengths to make weight, striking that fine balance between body weight and muscle mass. Here we look at the best ways to achieve both.
How often should a Boxer eat?
In order to peak during your training session, you should forget the average of three meals a day that you normally eat. To maintain good levels of energy in time for an early evening training sessions, you should consider five to six reasonably sized meals a day, and avoid starving yourself as the drop in energy will affect performance.
Here is a breakdown of meal sizes and meal times:
- Breakfast (7-8am) - A large breakfast is important to kickstart the day (ideally after a short morning run)
- Mid Morning (11am) - A snack to keep you ticking over until lunch
- Afternoon (1-2pm) - This is your pre-workout meal and your biggest of the day, filled with a balance of key nutrients.
- -Training (5-6pm) A bit of fruit and plenty of regular sips of water pre-workout will increase energy and hydration during sessions.
- Dinner (8-9pm) This is your recovery meal which shouldn’t be too big.
What foods should I eat for a balanced boxing diet?
Eating the right types of carbs, proteins and fats is key to progressive training. Eating the wrong foods can make you lose energy and in some cases gain too much weight. So it’s essential you have a balanced diet made up of only the good stuff.
Carbohydrates, often referred to as carbs, are essential for boosting and maintaining your energy levels during fights or workouts, helping maximise your stamina. If you have tried diets or taken plenty of fitness classes in the past, carbs might be seen as a negative, but this is not the case for boxers.
Carbs can be broken down into two types, good and bad, each affecting your blood sugar levels differently.
Bad or simple carbs
These are the types of carbs that will give you a food coma, releasing excessive amounts of sugar into the body. They should be avoided at all times.
- Anything with white/wheat flour base
- White bread
- Pastries (including pizza!)
Good or complex carbs
Good carbs have less of an impact on glucose and insulin levels and they take much longer to absorb, meaning more long-lasting energy.
- Sweet Potatoes
- Whole Grain Bread
- Oats and Rice
- Fruits and Veggies
When it comes to taking care of your muscles, protein is number one. It is the very foundation on which your muscles are based and essential to their construction. Proteins also help reduce muscle injury and promote quicker overall recovery after sessions.
If you are choosing meat as a way to get your protein intake, try to avoid frying or bread coating as this can have a negative impact on your performance. Here are the proteins you should consider -
- Lean Beef
- Peanut / almond butter
- Protein supplements
Good fats are very important to a boxer’s diet. They help energy levels and assist in mineral and vitamin absorption. They also stimulate brain health, which is key in a sport where frequent head impacts can be of concern. Here are some great ideas for good fats.
- Flax Seed
- Fish Oil
- Coconut Oil
People don’t often think of water as a dietary requirement but it can help with everything from losing weight to recovery. Staying hydrated is essential if you want to perform at any level. How much water you drink will depend on your size and how frequently you train.