Boxing Focus Mitt Training
Training on the focus mitts is one the best ways to develop your fighting reflexes, punching technique, defence technique, and fighting strategy. Hitting the focus mitts is not only a great workout but also intellectually stimulating, and FUN! Mittwork is also the most realistic fight training simulation next to sparring.
The focus mitts are an incredibly versatile tool for boxing training and yet many boxers are only doing one thing on the mitts—which is hitting as hard and fast as possible. Focus mitt training is not only about speed and power. There’s also rhythm, timing, accuracy, strategy, style, etc, etc. There are so many different ways you could be developing yourself on the mitts. And by only thinking about power on the mitts, you cheat yourself out of developing the more refined slick "sweet boxing" skills.
Let’s go over some important concepts and methods of boxing mittwork training.
The Use of Focus Mitts in Boxing
From what I’ve heard, focus mitts are a fairly recent invention. “Hitting the pads” didn’t happen back in the days. Old school trainers didn’t use them with their fighters and many of them became champions without ever doing mitt drills. “Mittwork” was just something the new school guys invented. I never actually checked the dates and details of when the mitts became popular but that’s what I heard.
Benefits of focus mitt drills
As I’ve mentioned earlier, focus mitts are one of the best boxing drills you can do as a fighter. It allows you to practice more realistic fighting manoeuvres without you having to actually fight a live person. I would say it’s the next closest thing to fighting or sparring.
Focus mitt training can help you:
- improve punching skills (technique, power, speed, endurance, accuracy, timing)
- improve offensive skills (angles, combinations)
- improve defensive skills (blocking, parrying, slipping, rolling)
- practice moving against a live person (footwork, strategy, mimicking styles, counter-punching)
Advantages of mittwork training over other boxing drills:
- drill realistic fighting movements
- work on offence and defence simultaneously
- get used to moving around a live person
- get helpful feedback from your trainer
- mimic and practice for certain styles
- great flexibility to practice many different moves
- fun and challenging
Hitting the mitts can be such a fun and challenging workout, especially when done with an experienced padman (mitt holder). The drills can be changed to develop whatever skill you want, offence, defence, counter-punching. The pad holder can mimic styles of different opponents to get you used to different kinds of attacks. The intensity can go up and down. It’s just all-around a great and fun workout. And requires lots of energy and coordination. Whereas you can be lazy on the heavy bag, this won’t be the case when you have an active trainer holding the mitts and testing your defence.
Boxing Mittwork Theory
The top 3 benefits of mittwork training:
- Developing natural fighting reflexes.
- Developing simultaneous offensive and defensive skills.
- Developing rhythm, timing, and accuracy.
The number #1 benefit of mittwork training:
is developing your FIGHTING REFLEXES.
It’s important that people understand what skills the mitts are most important for developing. I would say far too many people focus on the power aspect—which is to hit the pads as hard as possible. And unfortunately, that’s the biggest problem and the biggest reason for why the old school trainers think the new school fighters waste too much time on the mitts. When you waste time focusing on the wrong thing, not only are you not improving yourself but you might also be developing bad habits or “bad reflexes”.
I personally think fighters doing mittwork should work on developing their fighting reflexes. Hit at a controlled pace that allows them to see not only offensive opportunities but also DEFENSIVE opportunities. Hitting the mitts is not the same as hitting a heavy bag where you just punch non-stop with no regard for defence.
When done properly, focus mitt training should also test your defence. You should be practising your defensive reflexes. And by reflexes, I don’t mean practising MEMORIZED or CHOREOGRAPHED defensive movements but to actually use your reflexes. Which means your trainer throws a few punches at you without telling you beforehand, and you have to actually use your NATURAL reflexes to evade.
Mittwork training should test your offensive and defensive fighting skills simultaneously.
Or else it’s no different from hitting a punching bag.
Last but not least, there has to be a focus on rhythm, timing, and accuracy. It’s not a race to hit as hard and fast as possible. It’s about being able to read the punches coming in, and to move in rhythm, hitting and slipping at the same time. Generating power through timing and accuracy and not so much muscle effort. Sure…there are times when it’s good to hit the mitts as hard as possible but that shouldn’t be the goal of the workout…you have plenty of other boxing equipment for that.
Developing natural fighting reflexes on the focus mitts
The biggest difference I’ve seen between the best mitt-holders from the average mitt-holders is how they teach you to hit the mitts. The average mitt-holders will typically yell out a combination at you and have you punch the mitts as hard as possible. After a while, they tell you what defensive moves to make and then have you throw a few punches and then slip after, and then maybe also come back with a counter. The whole time, they’re yelling at you. They’ll have you punch here, slip there, make this adjustment, make that adjustment. “KEEP YOUR HANDS UP!” they’ll yell.
And the biggest problem of all is that the whole time, all you’re doing is learning how to remember more and more details…instead of developing your eyes to see punches coming at you and making split-second reactions based on your reflexes. Sure, you move faster, more powerfully and more impressively…but your reflexes are still the same. And you’ll get beat up in a real fight all the same.
The best mitt-holders will talk as little as possible.
The best mitt-holders I’ve seen will talk as little as possible. They don’t tell you to keep your hands up, they’ll hit you and you’ll learn next time to roll under the punch or block. They do tell you what punches to throw but they know how to build their way into long combinations. Instead of always telling you to throw a 1-2, they’ll only tell you to “jab” but they’ll flash the mitt for your right hand afterwards. After a while, you learn that you’re supposed to hit that follow-up punch. It doesn’t take long before you get into a 14-punch combination and yet the coach only had to all out one or two punches. They repeat this over and over and develop your fighting REFLEXES rather than fighting CHOREOGRAPHY. Both will improve your fighting coordination but I imagine having true reflexes is far better than having perfectly memorized movement sequences.
Ultimately the goal is to develop the fighter’s reflexes and instincts so that he can act without you having to tell him to do everything. He should instinctively know to attack, defend, move and look for more counters. He should be automatically trained to hit all the common combinations as well as avoiding the common counters.
Tips for Holding the Mitts for Someone
Aim to develop natural movement in a fighter. You have to stand naturally, move naturally, and relax, and breathe if you want your fighter to do the same. This means you have to understand and utilize good body mechanics yourself. If you’re awkward, the fighter will be awkward, too. The worst thing you can do is to have tension in your own body, which then causes the fighter to be tenser.
Whatever the padman does,
the fighter will do as well.
Work on developing a steady flowing rhythm. Flow smoothly from offence to defence, one combination to another, punching to footwork. Work on developing a nice calm fighting rhythm in your fighter. Holding the mitts is not about suddenly yelling out combinations and having the fighter throw as fast and hard as possible. Work on having the boxer find a fighting rhythm. He will be faster, more power, more energy-efficient this way.
3. “Punch back” at the punches
Don’t just hold the mitts up with a dead arm, or a stiff arm. Relax and then at the moment of impact, exhale, turn, and punch back into your fighter’s punch with the mitts. This way it’s like you’re both punching at the same time. This will allow you to absorb the punches better, while staying relaxed, and help maintain a nice fighting rhythm.
4. Learn lots of drills
Don’t just do the same boring drills over and over. Learn new combinations, new patterns, new drills. Watch other trainers. Invent some of your own. See what areas your fighter is lacking in and develop new drills to help him address that. There are nearly unlimited pad drills out there. The offence, defence, counter-punching, footwork, outside fighting, inside fighting, etc. Stand southpaw if you want to help him get used to a southpaw style.
5. Give feedback (takes time and experience)
Give him technical and strategic feedback. Let him know what you see and make suggestions for what he can do differently. Obviously, this part takes time and experience if you want to give truly helpful feedback. It’s not enough to say, “Oh, your hands dropped right here.” You need to know more about body mechanics and boxing strategy.
6. SLOW DOWN
This is a big one. If the fighter is having difficulty or failing at a particular skill or movement, simply slow the drill down. Slow it down to the point where it’s perfect. Still have a rhythm, and still do everything the same. But maybe with less speed and intensity. Make sure he really gets it before you move on to a faster pace or a more advanced skill. Don’t just force him to make movements without thinking. Give him time to SEE, PROCESS, and REACT to the movements you’re giving him.
The best way to develop fighting reflexes is to teach the eyes how to see new things. Instead of throwing a jab and making him slip the counter immediately. Throw your counter slower so he learns how to see the incoming counter. Otherwise, he’ll just slip by habit and that doesn’t help his reflexes at all.
Tips for Hitting the Focus Mitt
Yes, make sure you’re hitting with rhythm. You should have a natural flow to your movements. PUNCH-PUNCH-PUNCH-SLIP-SLIP. Not…punchpunchpunchslipslip! It’s not a race. The best way to know if you’re in rhythm is by your breathing and your endurance levels. If you’re winded as heck and find yourself trying to exert as much force as possible, you’re probably focusing more on power than on rhythm. Use timing! It’s timing that does the most damage. You inflict the most damage when you’re landing a punch right as the mitt is pressing into your punch.
Focus on being accurate. Take a little off the power if that’s what it means for you to improve your control. Don’t just swing wildly at the mitts and make the padman catch all your punches. Aim a bit and work on your technique. Make sure your elbows and all your other joints are in place so that you’re landing with good support on your wrists.
It’s not so much that I have to remind you to work on power but I listed power here as last on this list so that you can see that power comes AFTER rhythm and accuracy. If maximum power is really what you want to develop, you might as well go hit the heavy bag. In a skilled setting such as in a fight or on the mitts, you need timing and accuracy to deliver maximum power.
It’s not about using maximum power,
but rather how to maximize power.