5 Tips For Using Focus Mitts Correctly In Boxing, Muay Thai and MMA
All around the world there are personal trainers massacring the fine art of pad holding as they offer 'boxercise' or 'boxfit' classes which, to give them their due, will at least work up a sweat on unsuspecting housewives. Whilst there are a few PTs skilled in feeding pads, they're the exception rather than the rule. Worse still, there are martial arts gyms with technique just as bad and potentially even worse, with charlatan coaches signing people up to hefty contracts whilst massively over-inflating their ability to teach effective combat skills. Anybody with even of modicum of an eye for fighting can spot these from a mile off.
However, that isn't to say the art of padwork is easy. Most coaches have spent years refining their skills - firstly on the punching end, and then translating that into the feeding. The nuances that people miss can not only lead to bad technique, but also to injury. The spectacular Mayweather-esque focus mitt workouts can be exciting to anybody; combat sports enthusiast, competitive pugilist, or layman. They have their role as a small percentage of functional work, but they're not to be mistaken as the pad holding 101. I'm not claiming to be Freddie Roach and nor am I saying you'll be an instantly better padman for reading this, but I do think it's important to stress a few things when it comes to holding the focus mitts for a student, training partner or client. To be effective in progressing somebody's skills, fitness and attributes, you must first have a good grasp on the hows, whys and whats of using these extremely beneficial yet simple training tools.
How to use focus mitts correctly
Of course this all derives from the goal you are trying to reach from the workouts, and the good thing about focus mitts is that they're so versatile in delivering many different results. Speed, power, combinations, head movement, footwork, reactions and counter punching; you name it and there's a way to train it with padwork. This can only be achieved by having the right fundamentals, so let's get into it.
1. Resist, don't reach When you see Mayweather doing his open workouts and the speed with which the combinations are put together, it's likely you'll extrapolate that he trains the same way in the gym. Whilst he will utilise these drills to some degree for defence and countering, the vast majority of his training that gave him the basis of his boxing prowess will not have been with slappy pads and short punches. It's an advanced adaptation for an extremely advanced athlete.
The padman taking the mitt to the punch every time to increase speed and (for the audience at least) power on impact is showy but not realistic. You have to put some resistance back into the punch to save the joints of both parties and to make a solid impact. Keeping the arms held static and giving no push back will give repetitive strain to your shoulders and elbows, and the elbows of the puncher. The harder they're hitting, the more you must push back to absorb the force, but you shouldn't be doing it to the detriment of the shot. Reaching out 12 inches with the pad subtracts that from the true distance it would take for the punch to extend to a person.
The puncher will likely be working without extending his punches properly and that's a bad habit when working the fundamentals. A few inches of movement to absorb the shock should be the most that's ever needed. Be firm on impact. If you feel you're reaching out too far for the shot, then that's no good for either of you from a technical perspective. Inside the pad you should have slightly curved hands, as opposed to flat palms, to catch the shots. It might seem counterproductive to this point but you must relax. Jerky movements and too much tension won't help either. Be fluid and loose, and then resist when it's needed. It all comes with practice.
2. Focus mitts should be focused Another fault you will commonly see is a person holding the pads about three feet apart, arm stretched and with needless gaps. Unless you're going to be fighting somebody with a head that's three feet wide - and if you are then let me know because I'm still a Pride 'freakshow' fight fan at heart - then it is not realistic to be hitting targets that are so far removed. They should be held as close to the real width as possible whilst being able top maintain a line of sight. Holding them together and then being blind to the shots is clearly stupid so there is a concession to be made, but that's not a gap you could drive your car through. Keep them tight and then the puncher can actually focus his shots in on the areas he needs to hit.
Again, three-feet wide noggin isn't likely to be their next opponent so getting into the habit of throwing punches like that will build in incorrect technique. Angle the pads for the particular shot, turning them in for hooks and down for uppercuts for example, but always try and make it as close to the real thing as you can. Keeping the hands and elbows closer to the body also gives more control and results in less jarring on the shoulders and elbows and you can put some body weight behind them.
3. Repetition is your friend This comes into play more if you're holding pads for someone outside of a class scenario. In a class you'll likely be given a certain combination to drill over and over again. If you're doing a more freeform workout then you need to be more experienced, but it doesn't mean you have to throw out crazy twenty-punch combos every time. Just reworking the basics is also beneficial. For example, don't be afraid of making the puncher work the jab again and again. And again. Don't be afraid of breaking down the jab, making sure they're focusing on footwork and body mechanics. Don't think that someone will only want to to work on 'show pads' as we discussed above.
People who are starting out need to make their fundamentals better, and if that's solely jabs and crosses for a few rounds until they've got it right then so be it. There is a time for more exploratory pad regimes and incorporating a wider shot selection, more angles, different ways of evading and countering. The bread and butter of mitt work is the basics though, and doing the basics right.
4. Move and fire The previous point leads us on to the role of the padman. Again, in a class setting you do as the coach tells you and use the combinations laid out. Don't be that guy who thinks he knows better and tries to introduce random techniques into the mix. Everyone thinks that guy is an idiot. If you're a beginner stick to just holding strictly for the combos. If you're more experienced then you can use your movement to make the other person follow you, and you can fire back shots to remind them to keep their hands up and elbows in. In open pad rounds, you can add more into the mix but don't go beyond what is comfortable. You can pressure forwards, move backwards, change angles and fire off shots. Making it live and reactive is all part of improving real skills in motion and dynamically.
You should mix up the techniques so you don't get into routines and choreographed sequences - live is ever changing, ever moving and often unpredictable. This will pay off in fights if that's where you're heading. Rather than rehearsed twenty hit routines, using your movement, pressure and shots as an opponent would in real time will help to engrain the correct reactions.
5. Use good equipment It might sound obvious and it's something we drill into people all the time here, but buying whatever comes the cheapest doesn't necessarily reap economic rewards in the long run. We've all heard 'buy cheap, buy twice'. It can also be of detriment to the coach and student as pads can lack in protection and support. For longevity it's worthwhile investing in better equipment from the off, just as it is on the other side with boxing gloves. Of course we can help with that.
You can take a look at our great selection of FOCUS MITTS, including Fairtex, Rival, Revgear, Twins and Pro Box. Our experienced staff are more than happy to help you with your queries. You can contact us, and find us on Facebook and Twitter. Before we let you go, enjoy Mike Tyson hitting some pads really hard. Good fun!
- Alex Wright