Training on the focus mitts is one the best ways to develop your fighting reflexes, punching technique, defense 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 about 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.
Watch the video for a visual demonstration of how I hold mitts for boxers.
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 maneuvers 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 offense and defense 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, offense, defense, counter-punching. The padholder 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 defense.
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 defense.
When done properly, focus mitt training should also test your defense. You should be practicing your defensive reflexes. And by reflexes, I don’t mean practicing 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 more tense.
Whatever the padman does,
the fighter will do as well.
Work on developing a steady flowing rhythm. Flow smoothly from offense to defense, one combination to another, punching to footwork. Work on develop 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. Offense, defense, 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 the power.
Boxing Mittwork Drills
1. Punching Drills
Give the fighters combinations and have them hit the pads. Adjust their technique and give feedback on their habits as needed. You can use my punching combinations list for some ideas.
2. Defense & Counter-Punching Drills
Start by testing his defense after a combo. Call out 1-2-3, or whatever combo you want, and then throw a test punch at him to make sure he’s being defensively responsible. After a while, you can start to test his counter-punching ability. Make him return fire…no more running away after throwing a combination, he has to stay in range and look for counter-offensive opportunities instead of only relying on a tight defense.
3. Style drills
Get accustomed to different boxing styles and fighting situations. Work with him on throwing specific punches such as the left hook to the body. Also work with him on defending against specific punches such as the right cross. Put him in the corner. Make him back-up after every combination, or make him go forward after every combination. Or put him on the ropes and make him hit the mitts from a close-range position and then use footwork to escape. Or stand southpaw and get him used to firing against an opponent in the southpaw stance.
Different styles of mittwork
Traits of a Great Padman
1. Natural movement
The best padmen are all about natural movement. They know how to hold mitts and move around you in a way that makes you throw and defend punches in such a natural way. They don’t have to say anything, it’s just the way that they move that makes you move instinctively. If you’ve ever worked the mitts with a great padman, then you know what I’m talking about.
The way they hold the mitts, makes you throw with good technique. They way they aim punches at you makes you slip naturally. The way they move, teaches you how to pivot and step around with good footwork. People watching from the outside might think you’ve been taught before what to do but actually you’re only doing what you feel is natural.
2. Lots of challenging drills
They’ve got tons of fun drills for you. It’s never boring and it’s never the same stuff again and again. Always fresh drills to keep you on your toes. Great mitt-holders know tons of great mitt drills.
3. Great feedback
I would have to say that great feedback comes from having experience, knowledge, and also good chemistry. A good padman can make great improvements to your skills simply by giving you small adjustments. Instead of the same’old “keep your hands up”, he can say something more specific such as “don’t drop your right hand when you throw the left hook”. Or he can say, “don’t look at the body when you throw the left hook to the body”. Or “slide out after the right hand, don’t jerk”.
A padman that has good chemistry with you understands your habits well and knows exactly what to say to make you aware of your habits. He can point out your flaws and help you fix them easily with small adjustments. You never feel like it’s a million things that you have to remember but rather a few little tweaks here and there.
Different methods of mittwork
Here I showcase some of my favorite boxing mitt routines I’ve seen on Youtube. You can see how different boxing trainers use different mittwork drills to develop their fighters. I should clarify that each trainer knows a wide variety of mitt drills and just because they’re famous for one style doesn’t mean that they can’t or don’t do other mitt drills.
1. Power drills
*** Hard to find a video of this since just about everyone works offense & defense at the same time. ***
Here goes your typical mittwork routine. Maximum power, maximum speed, maximum intensity. RAH-RAH-RAH!!! POW-POW-POW!! Nothing but non-stop power punching. It can look impressive but it doesn’t do much for the fighter in terms of skill development. At best, it’s an exhilarating workout. Training on the focus mitts can definitely be much more than this.
2. Offense & defense drills
Some punching and some slipping. Lots of simultaneous offense and defense moves going on. These are one of my favorite mitt drills for developing fighters. You should be careful that the defensive moves are randomly tested rather than choreographed.
3. Rhythm drills
Here is the typical Mayweather slick-style pad routine. It wasn’t invented by the Mayweather family but it certainly looks impressive to some people and a waste of time to others. For the record, I love this routine. The detractors who claim this is unrealistic soft-hitting using bad punching technique and bad slipping technique are totally missing the point of this drill (HINT: it’s not about power). There’s also a good chance they’ve never boxed before and have no idea what they’re talking about.
The point of this drill is to build rapid coordination and fighting reflexes. It’s not so much about having perfect punching technique or perfect defense technique but rather to get the fighter accustomed to making split-second decisions. Sure…the combos and defensive movements can be a bit choreographed beforehand but the sequences are changed and switched around the fly and the fighter has to adjust for constantly changing targets and counters. While this drill isn’t necessarily effective for developing power or punching technique, it’s incredibly effective for developing fighting reflexes and fluid fighting movements (rhythm). With good rhythm, comes better timing, which allows you to do more damage using your opponent’s momentum instead of just only yours.
4. Pure defense drills
(Skip the video to 2:04 to see the specific drill I’m talking about.) Here is one example of a pure defense drill to help you get accustomed to avoiding punches. Great as a warm-up or warm-down or when you need to practice your defense a bit. Of course, I say pure defense is actually easier than to have defense while punching. Nonetheless this is still a great drill. I was also looking for footage of the more slippery fighters. I would say Tyson’s slipping in this video is a bit robotic and athletic whereas other guys will have a more slicker and creative type of movement. If only I could find footage of Pernell Whitaker’s defense training!
5. Accuracy drills
*** I’m still searching for a good video example of this.
Another example of fun creative drills you can do on the mitts. Here, they practice randomized accuracy training where the padman doesn’t tell the fighter where or when to hit.
6. Situational drills
The mitts are a great way to introduce new fighting angles to expand your offense and defense capabilities. Here the trainer is mimicking different situations in a fight such as in close-range or from different angles that might occur often in a fight.Or you could also have the trainer do what I call a “style drill” where the trainer will mimic a bit of the opponent’s style. You could have him mimicking a southpaw or have him mimic many other stances or styles. Perhaps a more aggressive one, or a more evasive one. The possibilities are endless and with a little bit of ingenuity you could prepare for any style of opponent that you want using the focus mitts. Of course, it’s still not as good as fighting against the real thing.
7. Alternative drills
More creative “mittwork” routines to test a wide variety skills. In this case, I’ve shared a few examples that aren’t actually using mitts. It’s still the same principle of hitting a moving target and using your evasive skills. In this case, the drill is much less about power and moreso about accuracy and defensive quickness.
Up above you can see examples of guys hitting the pool noodles instead of mitts. Or also the Australian boxing coach using tae kwon do kick pads instead of focus pads. There’s another great video of him mimicing the Mayweather mitt routine using the TKD kick pads.
Mayweather style great for learning to let your hands go and staying loose I personally think is the hardest style, He makes it look easy plus it’s exhausting!
What are the disadvantages of mitts ?
Maybe that they’re not a replacement for sparring?
where can I buy size 14 boxing shoes
Probably from a boxing gear store?
Stephen B. Collins
Thank you Johnny! I will read this article a little later but I already know it’s going to be filled with incredible information…
When are you going to hold another workshop near L.A??
Probably not for some time. Or well…I guess I could put one together really quickly. What techniques are you interested in?
Stephen B. Collins
I love the techniques like implosive punching, two legged punching, snapping punches, having the right mindset for punching faster, relaxing to move relaxing to punch (releasing tension & not loading), also I’d like to learn how to take a break from punching (while sparring/fighting to pool energy for a bit while being extremely defensive and resting at the same time (I guess you could call it a counter stance). etc!
Thanks for the reply Johnny!
It does work but my accuracy is terrible .How do I improve it?
Keep doing it.
Stephen B. Collins
Double end bag, shadowboxing, focus mitts, speedbag. EVERYDAY!
I’m going on 67 and use boxing as my workout. I have a speed bag and a self standing MMA type body bag, the kind you find in martial arts studios – Bobby I call him. I have mitts but don’t have a partner I can work with. What drills would you suggest that I can use on Bobby that might work my reflexes and movement and combinations. Thanks, Tom
Get a friend to hold the mitts for you. There really is no replacement.
i often though the reflex bag was a good replacement… help me out here because im trynna look for a replacement for using mitts… i ain’t sure if the holder of the mitts don’t know what he doing, or my aiming is off….. or BOTH… but this causes my wrist to roll too often. What’s a brotha to do???
P.s i have no wrist problems with heavy bags cz i know where nd how my punches are gonna land.
Please can you help me jonny please. Please. I told one of my trainers whilst tranning that my left shoulder was hurting and had been for the past 2 weeks he then told me to punch my arm against a wall to smash it to pieces. Obviously I did not do this and just carried on training what should I do please help I feel very upset by this please help
if after 2 weeks it is still hurting – get it checked out. Could be rotor cuffs, maybe AC joint but that usually happens from impact injury. But it could likely be rotor cuffs. This will require time, some physio and some light weight exercises to heal and strengthen them. Could be a myriad of things too but there is a difference between “a sore shoulder” that you can work through and people might tease you about to having “an injured shoulder”. Injuries are bad and a good coach will know when you have a genuine injury and not make you do things you should not do. You have to listen to your body sometimes. It might not mean you stop training, it might just mean you focus on what you can do for a while and not what you can do. I did my rotor cuffs so bad I needed surgery. I could not use my right for a while. But I worked on my left jab, I did a lot of running, squats and other things. Plus I just hung around the gym and encouraged others until I was completely healed.
Get a new trainer.
Thank you for your helpp johhny sorry for the late reply sir
Thank you very much for your advice falken. You have made my day.
Try searching for Ricky Hatton working the pads alongside the body belt with Billy Graham. Great for power punching, situational, defensive, accuracy… Brilliant
Thank you Johnny, it is filled with incredible information.
It is true that the defensive moves are randomly tested rather than choreographed.
whats your advice these mittwork drills, What drills would you suggest.
Some drills have been shared in the article.
Why is it that you often see boxing trainers keeping the mitts really high when working the jab? Like higher than the fighters actual height. I can’t see the advantage of doing that. Often the fighter don’t even extend the arm fully, they stop the punch in a kind of arm-wrestle position (if you guys can imagine how I mean)
I’ve searched alot for an answer on this, so I really hope you guys can help me 🙂
I imagine it’s for several reasons:
– Because it’s more anatomically comfortable for the pad holder (when absorbing the impact into the hand and arm).
– Because it makes the puncher use more shoulder muscle in making the punch go higher.
I have see two different styles for holding the mitts. One in which the punches cross over to the other mitt (ie the puncher’s right hand goes to the holder’s right mitt and the puncher’s left hand goes to the holder’s left mitt), and the other keeps straight punches to the rear mitt (Left jab and Right cross would go to the holder’s right mitt)
What is the difference? And is it worth working both styles?
I Wanna Try This Sooner Are Later
Bag gloves or sparring/training gloves for Mitt Work?
Will the additional weight of a training glove be detrimental?
Great site by the way! I’m a beginner and have picked up a lot of technique just from reading your material and watching your videos. My trainer can see my improvement exponentially since visiting your site! Thanks!
As a practicioner of JKD and a 3rd generation student of the concept, I was told Bruce Lee invented the focus mitts for his personal training. I dont know if they were used before this pic was taken but its dated some time in the 60’s.
Any advise on a good source to learn how to be a mitt trainer/coach. My son is training and always wants me to do mitts with him at home. Guess it’s time for me to learn the proper way and do some work with him.
Focus mitts, in my opinion, are the most universal training tool out there.
As always, I love your post! And as always, I have my 2 cents. My very favorite routine is as in the following phases:
1. Jabs- throw all 10 types of jabs (stationery, step in, power, pivot, back, circle, southpaw, vertical, body, & double)
2. Build Up (1-2, 1-2-1, 1-2-2…1-3-2, 1-3-3…through 1-6-…)
4. All punches & back (1-2-3-4b-5b-6-5-4b-3-2-1)
5. Slips (1-2-Rt-Lt-1-2-Rt-2-3-Lt-3-2-3)
6. Blocks (1-2-3-Rt-Lt-2-3-Rt-3-2-3)
7. Dips (1-2-Dip-Dip-5-6-3-2-3b)
8. Arm/Side Body Blks (1-2-Dip-RtArm-6-3-2-Dip-LtArm-5-2-3
9. Bob & Weave (1-2-RtBW-2-3-LtBW-3-2-RtBW-2-5-LtBW-5b-2-3-8)
10. Overall w/o stopping (1-2-RtSlip-LtSlip-1-2-RtSlip-2-3-LtSlip-3-2-3-RtBlk-LtBlk-2-3-RtBlk-3-2-Dip-Dip-5-6-3-2-Dip-RtArm-6-3-2-Dip-LtArm-5-2-3-2-RtBW-2-3-LtBW-3-2-RtBW-2-5-LtBW-5b-2-3-RtBlk-ShRoll-2-5-6-3-2-1-BkSlip-Dip-5-2-3-4b-6-3-Dip-2b-5-2-7)
These are some great combos, Jonathan! Thank you for sharing! (I’m trying them now by the computer, haha.)
My do’s and don’t of mitt training:
1) always punch as if you are making the punches count in a fight, if you throw a set up jab, throw the set up jab, but never get lazy.
Mitt training is a form of soft sparring. You must use “life fire” technique only.
Timing drills etc, are something entirely different, even though you may use mitts as tools to train these things.
2) most important: THE MITTS ARE TARGETS. DO NOT SLAP OR REACH AT THE PUNCHES (at least do so very little). Slapping punches messes with a fighter’s ability to judge distance and ingrains bad reflexes – such as not reacting adequately to things moving towards you.
Slapping the punches is the number one deadly sin of the pad holder (and that seems to be 80% of pad holders today).
3) ties in with 2 – hold the mitts in a way that emulate the real targets on a human body. That includes a couple of rules of thumb: Do not hold the mitts to the side of your head, either hold them on your centerline or close to it, or hold them on an imaginary centerline to the side of your position. Do not stand square with your fighter having to punch across on each punch.
Hold the the pads close to yourself, to not give your fighter a false distance in relation to your body position.
You should be in a stance that is as close as possible to a fighting stance.
4) use footwork, and encourage your fighter to use footwork by allowing him to cut angles. Don’t just train him to fight squared-up, head-on, in and out.
5) don’t use rythm. get your fighter conditioned to fire or defend at random moments, when the opportunity and need arises, just like in a real fight. if he falls into a pattern, make him notice you “got him” to follow you and count it as a fault.
6) use realistic “return fire”; your body mechanics must closely match those of real punches so the eyes can be trained to spot the signs of attacks.
7) don’t impose your rythm on your fighter; let him find his rythm and then mess with it. The idea is to drill the fighter to get back to his rythm and not put him in the habit of matching his opponent’s rythm. Work on disrupting his favorite rythm and seeing how he deals with it.
This is the true meaning of rythm, it is about avoiding the predictable patterns.
8) ties in with 7 – let the fighter put a little pressure back on you. Don’t monopolize the rythm just because he’s cooperating. Let him feint you and throw unexpected attacks. If he can check your counter or shove you back, let him.
9) clinch your fighter sometimes.
The point of mitt training is drilling life fire reflexes.
Just like the speed bag, which is now just a fitness tool or a show-off gadget, the art of using the mitts has been lost as its use has drifted further and further away from sparring substitution.
So helpful and informative! Thanks!
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