Sparring is an essential part of training in any combat sport, including boxing, and it involves actual fighting. While sparring, you can expect to get hit, and it will probably happen more than once. So you might wonder if you can avoid sparring and still become a good boxer.
You can’t get good at boxing or become a great boxer if you train without sparring. While you can improve many boxing skills without sparring, including footwork and using combos, sparring can prepare you for actual fights, increase situational awareness, and improve combat skills.
In this article, I will explain precisely why you must spar to become a good boxer. I will also talk about the dangers of sparring and how you can lower the risk of injuries.
You Need Sparring To Become a Great Boxer
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” This quote by the great Mike Tyson perfectly explains why sparring is necessary to develop good fighting skills.
Sure, you can get better and learn many things without sparring, especially if you’re boxing recreationally or learning self-defense. However, if your goal is to compete against other boxers, not sparring will put you at a severe disadvantage.
Here is how sparring makes you a better boxer:
Sparring Simulates a Real Fight
There is nothing that can simulate a real fight better than sparring. This is why it can be intimidating at first.
Once you get comfortable with sparring, you’ll feel much better about venturing out into the ring against an actual opponent. You will also probably get punched a few times, and that’s a good thing.
It Improves Focus
By simulating a real fight, sparring forces your brain to multitask. You will have to do offense and defense and be wary of your opponent’s movement all at the same time.
In the meantime, you also need to remember to breathe. If you lose your focus for just a moment, you can easily get punched in the face.
Sparing Improves Reaction Time
In a real fight, everything happens so quickly. If you aren’t ready to handle that and aren’t quick with your decision-making, you’ll be in for a rough time. Sparring will help you sharpen your reflexes and be ready to react quickly no matter what happens around you.
It Helps You Learn Your Weaknesses
When training by yourself, you can feel like you are the best boxer in history. However, once you get inside the ring, the opponent will expose all your weaknesses in a matter of seconds.
While sparring, you will learn about your strengths and weaknesses. Once you know your flaws, you will improve on them and become a better boxer.
Is Sparring Dangerous?
One of the greatest concerns that beginners have with sparring is that it may cause injuries. It comes from the misconception that sparring is akin to a real fight, where fighters attempt to hurt each other.
Any good trainer will tell you that the only goal of sparring is to keep your skills sharp and honed. Sparring isn’t fighting, and it certainly isn’t a competition to see who lands more punches.
If your gym or trainer treats sparring as anything more than an essential part of training, you should leave immediately.
Sparring can be dangerous, even if one approaches it correctly. A study by the University of Stirling found that sparring causes more brain injuries than actual fights. If done consistently over an extended period, even light sparring can have long-term adverse effects on the brain.
Tips on Staying Safe While Sparring
Here are some things you can do to make sparring safer and minimize the risk of injuries:
Always Wear Protective Gear
Wearing a head guard and a mouth guard should be mandatory for any sparring session.
Head guards are great for preventing cuts and bruises and reducing the force of the hit.
Keep in mind that head guards can’t prevent concussions or brain injuries due to brutal hits. Make sure that your sparring partner knows this and saves his best punches for an actual fight.
For great head and mouth protection, I recommend the RDX Headgear from Amazon.com. Its outer material uses Maya hide leather to ensure the headgear is resistant to split, fray, and tear.
Spar Within Your Weight Class
Weight divisions exist in combat sports for a reason. It is to keep fighters from competing against guys much larger and stronger than them. Make sure that your sparring partner is the same or one division higher or lower than you.
Keep Sessions Light and Short
While a hard and intense session that simulates a real fight can be beneficial, you should only do it occasionally. Most sparring sessions should be light and kept relatively short.
How Often Should You Spar?
Since we now know about the potential dangers of sparring, limiting the amount of sparring you do would be wise.
You should spar no more than twice a week. Sparring once a week is preferable. This will ensure you maintain a good balance between sparring benefits and avoiding long-term damage.
Most trainers will wait a few months before introducing new fighters to sparring. After that, they will usually have only one sparring session per week.
How To Improve Boxing Skills Without Sparring
Sparring is important but not a must for everyone. You can still learn a lot about boxing and self-defense by doing certain exercises instead.
Shadowboxing is a good way to improve your boxing skills without sparring. Mitts and punching bags are also great alternatives to training without sparring. I’ll discuss these options further in the following sections.
Try Shadowboxing To Improve Speed and Balance
Many trainers recommend shadow boxing to improve muscle memory, speed, and balance. It is often done shortly before a fight or at the start of a training session.
The best thing about shadowboxing is that you can practice anywhere and anything you want. Doing it in front of a mirror will help you with developing good form.
Get a Sparring Buddy With Mitts
Using mitts is similar to sparring in many ways. Mitts will help you work on both your offense and defense.
They also require a partner who will be wearing them, practicing with you, and hopefully giving you feedback. If possible, you should be doing mitts with your trainer.
Use a Punching Bag To Improve Boxing Techniques
Punching bags have been used for centuries and can be incredibly useful when developing boxing skills. They improve technique, body movement, performance and allow you to feel the force of your punches.
You have to spar to become a great boxer because it is the best way to simulate a real fight. However, sparring can also be dangerous and should only be done once or twice per week. Taking preventive measures is also essential to avoid injuries.
If you don’t feel ready or comfortable with sparring, you could try out some other exercises instead.