What to Expect when Joining a Boxing Gym
Does it make you anxious when you think about walking into or joining a boxing gym or club?
I get emails all the time from people who want to learn to box but are terrified of walking into a gym or talking to a trainer - and I get it - not only do you have to deal with the unknown and being the new guy or gal in class, but with boxing all that fear is magnified when you think that someone is going to want to punch you in the face.
Most of us aren't bred for combat.
I want you to be comfortable walking into a boxing gym and talking to a trainer because I want to get more emails like this one from Alexandra:
"Thanks for all the interesting boxing articles you've written over the years! I started reading your page just over four years ago and learning the basics gave me that tiny boost of confidence I needed to go to a boxing gym and start training. Four years later I've had six Muay Thai fights in Canada and the U.S. as well as spending a month in Thailand for training. I'm up for the BC ISKA Women's Welterweight title hopefully within the next year. Thanks again for giving me that nudge I needed to get started!"
So, to try and boost your confidence - I'm going to give you a good idea of what you can expect when you walk into a boxing gym for the first time and then give you some tips for making it an enjoyable experience rather than a traumatic one.
THE KIND OF BOXING CLUB OR GYM MATTERS
There are basically three kinds of boxing clubs.
- The hardcore fight club. This is the kind of gym you join if you want to learn how to fight and compete. If becoming a boxing champion is your goal then you need a place like this. These gyms are also the most intimidating kinds of gyms to walk into. Competition among club members can be fierce and all are vying for the trainer's attention with the hopes of showing enough potential to become the club's golden child.
- The fitness club. These kinds of clubs don't breed fighters. They use boxing as a means to help you get in shape. The trainers/coaches are far less concerned with technique and more concerned with keeping you moving to burn calories. Highly doubtful you'd ever actually spar with anyone in a place like this.
- The hybrid club. This is usually the kind of club you'll actually join. Whether they want to or not - the coach runs fitness classes and trains fighters. It's a matter of profits and viability. There are far more people interested in getting shape than there are in learning how to box and compete. Often the fitness classes fund the fighters (travel, hotel, food, tournament fees) when they have to travel for a fight.
Walking into a fitness club with the intent of just using boxing to get in shape is straight forward. There is nothing to be anxious about there. They see lots of new people all the time and will integrate you into the classes. You'll get an orientation session - first class is usually free - and you'll probably feel welcome pretty quickly. If that's all you want out of boxing, then don't think about it for another second - there is nothing to worry about joining a fitness type club - other than the outrageous fees you'll pay... 🙂
Walking into a club where they train fighters - either hardcore or as a hybrid is a bit of a different story...
WALKING INTO THE BOXING CLUB FOR THE FIRST TIME
You will likely walk in and down some steps into the basement of some building. If I surveyed all the gyms out there - I bet at least 50-60% go for the hardcore, dark, dirty, warehouse type look. These buildings are probably the cheapest to lease or buy and exposed beams make it easier to hang heavybags and that sort of thing. Anyways, it's not all clubs - but chances are you'll enter this kind of atmosphere.
Nobody will greet you at the door. You'll see a boxing ring and people will be hitting bags, skipping, and generally looking all mean and nasty. At this point, a lot of people turn around leave - don't. Never mind what is going on. Just go find whoever is the coach or trainer that day and introduce yourself. Like fitness clubs - your first class will usually be free so you can try it out. That's important because not every club or trainer is going to be a good fit for you. There are definitely some things to look for in a good trainer.
Once you find someone willing to talk to you (and some coaches are much better than others) they will likely get you (or your parent) to sign in and sign a waiver releasing them of liability in the case that you get hurt. The coach will usually ask if you want to fight. If you say yes (and you should if you're in a place like this), they will give you some more paperwork to take home with you including a medical release form that a doctor will have to fill out and an application to join the boxing association in whatever state/province/country you are in. Paperwork will vary by location - but you need to join the amateur boxing association in your location to compete.
Next, the class will get going. Typically the classes will consist of three minute rounds of work followed by a minute of rest. A typical class might resemble:
- 3 rounds of skipping (jump rope)
- Wrap up (put on your handwraps)
- 3 rounds of shadowboxing
- Glove up (put on your bag gloves)
- 6-12 rounds of heavybag work (some people will be pulled into the ring to work with the coach on target mitts or to spar)
- 2-3 rounds of bodyweight exercises
- Cooldown (including some ab work)
You'll quickly find out how people in the club interact - but generally:
- nobody is going to talk while working. The minutes of rest will give you a little time to socialize while you catch your breath.
- there will typically be a head coach who will be in the ring and pull in certain people to work certain skills while another coach supervises the conditioning work everyone else is doing
- coaches will walk around and correct faults or teach some skills as they deem necessary
If you're new and know nothing - you might get pulled off to the side to be quickly shown some basics. More than likely, you'll be expected to flounder around with everyone for awhile and pick up what you can on your own. The amount of help you'll get from other people will vary. Ask questions but remember that people are there to train. Some may have fights coming up and will be completely focused on that. Some may be helpful but some will also ignore you completely.
It may seem all unorganized and disjointed, but if you stick with it you'll start to see how it really works.
10 TIPS TO MAKE THE EXPERIENCE ENJOYABLE AND LESS TRAUMATIC
If I can offer any advice - don't walk into a boxing club or gym until you are ready. To help you get ready, consider the following 10 tips:
- Understand that you're not going to fight on day one. It will usually take a few weeks or even months before the coach will put you in the ring to spar or fight. The coach will watch you develop and won't put you in that situation until you can actually defend yourself. If a coach or trainer puts you in the ring your first day - you should walk out of the club and never go back. So stop worrying that you'll get beat up on your first day.
- Learn how to wrap your hands. As a coach/trainer it is totally frustrating to teach new boxers how to wrap their hands at the beginning of every session. It's easy to learn this at home. Buy some handwraps and learn how to put them on so you don't have to waste someone's time at the gym asking how to do it or worse - making them do it for you.
- Learn some of the basics at home. Use this site and at least get an idea of how to stand, guard, move, punch, and defend. You don't have to be perfect at it, but a coach or trainer will have more time for you if you show them you've done some research ahead of time. Note: some coaches/trainers would rather you not know anything so they can teach you their way and not have to deal with bad habits you might have picked up. I prefer that people have a base of knowledge to fine tune. Either way, learning the basics will give you a lot more confidence to walk into a gym with. Just don't go in pretending like you know everything no matter how confident you are. You're there to learn.
- Do something about your fitness level. Boxing training is hard work. It's intense. If you are fat and lazy - you are going to get your ass handed to you on your first day and you'll make a terrible impression on everyone there. Before walking into a place where you will train to fight - walk into a place where you will do something about your level of fitness/health first (or try my online Commando Boxing Body Transformation (CBBT) Program for Men or Women).
- Learn to jump rope/skip. Not totally necessary - but if you've never jumped rope before - you'll spend what seems like an eternity whipping yourself and tripping over the rope. Take some time alone to figure out how to skip - even at a basic level so you aren't a total freak show at the gym.
- Buy your own equipment. You can use equipment that has been sweated in and maybe washed or you could show the coaches that you are serious enough about learning boxing that you've gone out and purchased some equipment. All you need is a skipping rope ($3), handwraps ($4-$8), and bag gloves ($20-$50), and water bottle ($1). Shorts, T-Shirt and running shoes work fine. Put it all in a gym bag and show up looking the part (fake it till you make it...). Check out the Commando Boxing Store for your boxing equipment.
- Take a friend. It does help if you go with someone else who is in the same boat as you are. At least you'll have someone to talk to in-between rounds. Try not to pair up with them though when it comes time to do partner skill training. You'll learn more from someone who knows something.
- Go with the right attitude. Don't walk into the club until you know you want to fight someday. Get yourself mentally prepared for how challenging and intense the training will be. If you go in thinking that you'll just try it and see how it works out - then there is a good chance you will never go back. The first day in the gym is rarely a super positive experience. You'll feel somewhat ignored and inadequate. Push through that though and there are rewards on the other side.
- Be consistent. If you're going to join - commit and join. Show up no matter what. Never miss a class. The trainer will have zero time for you if you are sporadic. Boxing skills take time and repetition to become second nature. If you aren't consistent it's a sure sign to a trainer that you aren't really committed to becoming great in the sport.
- Ease into fighting. If you are joining a hybrid club - it is not a bad idea to join the fitness classes first. They are often taught by the same coaches who train the fighters so you'll learn the techniques correctly, develop some rapport, and it will give you some time to adjust to how the club works and get yourself into fighting shape. Then - when you are ready - you can ease into the hardcore fight training.
IT'S ALL ABOUT POTENTIAL
On a final note - remember that the coaches and trainers in the fight clubs are looking for boxers who have the potential to win fights.
The harder you work, the more dedicated you are, the quicker you learn, and the more heart you show - the more time the coaches/trainers are going to have for you.
You have to prove yourself worthy in a boxing club - no coach or trainer is going to waste their time with someone who doesn't put in 100% effort at every training session. If you prove to them you are willing to do the work and show them you have the potential to learn the skills necessary to be successful in the ring, they will focus their efforts on you.
They are always on the lookout for the next champ - so prove to them you have what it takes. Boxon.