One of the most hypnotic sounds in a boxing gym is the rhythmic "tap tap tap" of a boxer working with a trainer wearing hand pads. Also called focus mitts or focus pads, they are designed to improve the punching accuracy, speed and combinations of a fighter. Don't be intimidated by the speed at which seasoned boxers hit the pads; even you can perform simple exercises to boost your skill.
If you're learning to box and have hit the heavy bag until the exercise is beginning to lose its appeal, working with a trainer or fellow boxer wearing focus pads breathes new life into your workout. Don't worry about perfecting a multi-punch combination just yet. Have your partner hold her left glove up for you to work on your jab. When you're able to snap the jab quickly, introduce a straight right hand immediately after the jab. Although individual coaches prefer different styles, many ask you to hit the left mitt with your left hand, and vice-versa, to reinforce the proper movement and rotation in your lower body.
In addition to helping your precision, working with someone wearing pads can improve your defense. When you're ready for some light contact, have your partner slap at your body and head with the pads after you throw a punch. The slaps make a loud noise that might take a period of adjustment, but they don't hurt. Instead, these drills serve as a reminder to keep your guard tight. You should be able to block body shots with your elbows and head shots with your gloves. If not, tighten your guard.
As you get more familiar with working with the pads, work with your partner to add more punches to help simulate sparring. Throw combinations, such as a double jab, right hand, left hook and right uppercut, but keep your guard tight and avoid overextending yourself. The person wearing the pads is responsible for setting the pace and also suggesting the combinations. Don't stand stationary while hitting the pads; the pad holder should move around to provide a realistic boxing experience. Work in three-minute intervals to simulate a boxing round, and endeavor to keep your heart rate up throughout the entire round.
A skilled partner does more than just hold the mitts; she must angle them to meet your punches. When you throw an uppercut, for example, your partner must tilt the face of the mitt down so that you can meet it. The person wearing the mitts should provide a slight bit of resistance upon impact, but not push back excessively hard, as it will hurt your wrists. The mitt wearer should also keep her pads close to her head and body, rather than out at arm's length -- there's no point practicing hitting a target a couple feet from someone's body.
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