13 Ways to Improve Your Fighting Reflexes

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In the boxing world, your reflexes are everything. Offense and defense similar to every other move are dependent on reflexes.

Your ability to develop an instinctive quality to react in a split second is what will lead you to the journey of becoming a successful professional boxer. 

Over the years, boxing has seen many legends, coming in with their incredible reaction time – fascinating boxing fans and the world with their impeccable defense and counter striking skill. It’s like seeing an action movie where a boxer evades a swarm of punches as if they were thrown at 0.5x.

Legends like Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones Jr, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Floyd Mayweather Jr highlighted the importance of reflexes throughout their respective careers.

Their unbelievable success in the ring can be accredited to their incredible reaction time.

If you’ve studied this subject before, you’d already know that reflexes are not natural. However, with rigorous training and hard work, you can develop and improve your skillset.

Every professional boxer does have a considerably quick reflex. That’s like the standard of being a decent fighter.

More so in boxing, where a swarm of punches is thrown within a few seconds.

No doubt, there’s a lot of skill along with strength and strategy that goes into refining the reflex, but unless you learn how to use these abilities to its fullest, you’d hardly be able to survive a round.

Being fast at throwing punches doesn’t necessarily mean that you have trained reflexes.

A perfect analogy to point out the difference would be the simple jerking of the head as a reaction to incoming punch vs a trained movement such as slipping or ducking with the intention to counter.

Every professional boxer learns to not only develop sharp reflexes but also knockout counters as their second nature. For now, let’s understand fighting reflexes.

Note that practicing on a reflex bag is necessary for improving reflexes.

If you don’t know where to begin, there is a great guide on how to choose the best reflex bag, take a look at it here.

The science behind reflexes in boxing

Generally speaking, reflex in boxing is a physical response to a fighting stimulus. 

In simple words any response to an incoming threat which makes you reflect in a certain way. So, what’s a fighting stimulus?

It can be

  • an opponent’s incoming punch
  • ability to sense an opening in your opponent’s guard
  • small and minute movements made by your opponent
  • telegraphing of punches or sudden opportunities

Now when you sense all of it, you can come up with a physical response which is

  • Slip the incoming punch and throw a counter
  • Defend the punch
  • Move away
  • Duck underneath the punch

A fighter with quick reflexes might be able to respond to a stimulus in a quick fashion.

However, a fighter with good reflexes will be the one who isn’t quick but quite effective in responding to a stimulus. For instance, you can be quickly trying to slip and counter and end up missing the cue which may render the fast reflex ineffective.

However, if you’re good, you’d be slightly slower but ensure that you connect with your opponent.

Can reflexes in boxing improve?

There are many questions that arise pertaining to the improvement of reflexes.

Trainers, upcoming boxers and boxing enthusiasts have numerous questions in regard to reflexes.

These range from ‘What if I’m naturally slow, can I improve it?’ to ‘What if I can’t even see the incoming punches?’.

And that’s the reason why we decided to come up with the blog with an intention of not only answering the physical side but the mental side as well.

Many trainers believe that reflexes have everything to do with genetics.

It’s not just sport but even in terms of your body shape, hormones and overall growth, these parameters are all linked to your genesis. What about reflexes? They’re the same. But not entirely. While your reflexes might be poor at first, we as humans are sensory beings.

We have beautifully designed bones, muscles, and nervous systems all of which aid in the physical and mental movement.

These elements combined help shape up our reactive movement. Unlike plants, we aren’t stationary, we have our six senses and our body over the years responds to stimuli in a certain way.

And genetics, in general, has very little to do with trained reflexes as compared to our exposure to sense stimulation since our childhood.

Let me give you an example: A child forced to evaluate things and think critically may end up being smarter.

Similarly, a child that has played sport his whole life will generally be more athletic as compared to a child that has played indoor games like Gaming, Board Games, etc.

I’m not saying that genetics don’t make a difference, they do, but only to a certain extent.

The major role is played by your response to stimulus in all those years of growing up. Lastly, as long as you do the instinctive ability to react, there’s always room for training your boxing reflexes.

I apologize for diving too deep into the whole development subject but there are many people who blame genetics without putting in the work.

So, I just wanted to clear the misconception so people don’t get discouraged thinking they don’t possess the ability.

Now that we’re through the understanding and the chances of improving the reflexes, let’s learn how to develop trained reflexes.

How to developed trained reflexes?

  • A reflex can be a flinch, a punch, a duck or a panic movement
  • A trained reflex can be a defensive move or a counter punch

What’s the difference you may ask? The first one is any reaction, it’s not trained, it’s impromptu whilst the second is an effective reaction i.e. trained over the years.

Here’s where you could care less about genetics and worry about skill. Even the fastest person in the room will not be effective if he doesn’t pull everything together.

So, if you pit a fast boxer with untrained reflexes against an experienced boxer, you’d see the experienced boxer finish the boxer with untrained reflexes within a few punches.

What makes up a trained reflex?

A trained reflex is an effective reaction that is most appropriate to the stimuli. It may not be the quickest but will still be effective. There are two factors involved in developing a trained reflex:

  • Sensing the threat
  • Reacting to the threat

There are many ways in which you can improve your trained reflexes by learning to sense the threat and ways in which you react to it.

Today, I’ll be sharing 13 ways in which you can train your reflexes and become a better boxer.

13 Ways to Train your reflexes in Boxing

Slow Sparring

When I say slow sparring that doesn’t mean you always spar slow. By slow sparring, I mean that you should integrate it more often than not.

It’s an incredible tool to understand ways in which your stimulus reaction works. Once you learn about your natural response, you can train it in a certain way.

A major difference between fast and slow sparring is that the latter allows you to feel your movements, relax and think about creative responses as opposed to general ones.

Slow sparring allows you the freedom to gather the sensory information from the movement of your opponent. These can help you find an answer to questions such as:

  • How does your opponent move?
  • Where is he/she originating his/her power from?
  • How can you track his/her left hook?
  • What’s the jabbing pattern?
  • What’s his/her foot movement like?

In fast sparring, there’s a do or die attitude where you either finish your opponent or end up on the mat.

Since you don’t actually study the movements, you’re not able to sense the movements. Even after such a detailed explanation, I’m sure that the majority of the readers won’t slow spar. Reasons?

  • They are comfortable with fighting and don’t feel need to go slow
  • They care less about the strategic and technical side of boxing and just focus on execution

But trust me, your ability to sense the movement and then act on it will define how better you are from others. Real fighters just follow their conscience, respond intelligently, all of which is made possible due to their ability to see, sense and thwart and incoming threat.

Focus Mitts

If you don’t have a sparring partner with whom you can practice slow and fast spar, you can work with focus mitts.

Practicing slow-motion punching on focus mitts is really helpful. Don’t launch yourself in full blast mitt punching, mindlessly. Instead focus on where you’re exerting the force and how’s the bag responding. 

You should do controlled focus mitt drills which allows you to attack and defend as well.

Initially, you might find it really hard to understand the direction. But with practice, you’ll eventually be able to train your senses.

A good trainer will emphasize on teaching you to box without making anything feel forced or unnatural. All you need to do is to keep flowing, stay focused and respond like a pro boxer.

Shadowbox Sparring

To do a shadowbox sparring, simply stand in front of your partner and shadowboxing.

Obviously, without making any contact. This drill though it sounds silly is extremely effective as you can focus on the nuances of punches.

It’s a very effective drill that helps you look at the real punches and sets you up for response against these movements.

This training method helps me a lot overworking the bits because having a partner in front of you gives you that realistic boxing vibe.

Since you’re exposed to realistic fighting stimuli instead of a stationary mitt, you’ll be able to challenge your eyes much more.

In fact, not just your eyes, but your mind and body as well. You’re no longer punching as a robot and the session becomes much livelier.

Double-End Bag

Using the double-end bag to train your reflexes helps you to sharpen your skills. Since the bag is a moving target, you have to attack and defend at the same time.

Thus, you’re able to adapt and respond to the bag. This is the primary reason why elite fighters don’t necessarily practice with a heavy bag a lot.

The technique they have is brilliant and thus they focus on keeping their senses alert and eyes sharp.

Dynamic Punch Paddle

A dynamic punch paddle is one of the most underrate drills for improving your reflexes in boxing.

Punch paddles put less strain on the holder’s shoulders and waist. That allows them to carry it for longer and move easily which allows you to attack from varied angles.

Due to its extra reach, a boxer can work with more space as he/she defends and moves.

When using the dynamic punch paddle, it’s similar to that of reaction/action mitt.

Start by asking a mitt holder to attack whenever they want with combination or perhaps a single strike. When they do so, try to react to their strikes in different ways.

You can deploy slips, blocks, pulls, parries or simply stepping back so to avoid attacks and restart simultaneously.

Technical sparring

It’s quite similar to the slow sparring. A practical way to develop your reaction time and overall In-Ring IQ.

Due to its slow pace and motion, your mind and body get used to the reactions and movements necessary in real situations when you’re in the ring.

At the same time, since you’re not going hard, you can draw off interesting and creative responses.

To technical spar with a partner, start slow whilst allowing your partner to attack. At this moment, you just focus on defense.

These include using your footwork to evade punches and getting in good positions.

This will help you study movements and enhance your ability to react or defend. Once you’re through with defend and would like to spice it up, start adding counters to the mix along with custom combinations and pace.

Using Elastic Head Ball

This soft and bouncy ball attached to gear with an elastic cord works wonders.

Though there’s no ready-made equipment such as this available in the market, you can make one for yourself within half an hour.

When making this, remember that the weaker the cord, the lesser it will last. The one I made lasted for about a week.

The drill you must do is try to hit with straight punches simultaneously.

Since the speed of the ball’s movement will increase with each punch, your reflexes will need to be very sharp to catch it after the first punch.

Thus, it’s a great drill to improve your overall hand to eye co-ordination. Though it’s not a common drill, many boxers and MMA fighters do use it to sharpen the co-ordination and land super effective and crispier punches.

Pad work

Pad work is where the hardest work is done. Proper pad work improves your boxing tremendously.

A great pad work session will not just improve your hand-eye coordination but will also improve co-ordination, body positioning and overall balance along with execution.

Once you’re able to add a defensive element to your pad, it becomes equivalent to mimicking your defensive and offensive movement in the ring.

Pad work is well known for improving the inside boxing as we learned from Floyd Mayweather Jr and his uncle.

In pad work, all movements, whether slipping, blocking or hitting and super short and accurate thus they make up for better reactive movements.

Boxers often try and work in a mid-long range, however, most of them don’t have a clear idea of how to work them, thus you can watch a Mayweather pad session below.

Pure Reflex Drills to Aid your Boxing Skills

Coin Catching Drill

A light exercise as compared to what we learned above involves a coin catch. There’s a great chance that you might have done this drill already. If you haven’t then here’s how it goes.

By putting one of your arms out with your palms facing the floor, you can please your arms between the height from your chest to your stomach.

Now, place a coin on top of your hand just before the knuckles and throw the coin upwards (Not more than 10-15 cms).

As soon as you throw it, try to catch the coin with the same hand. If a single coin isn’t making you drop a sweat then to make things challenge you can line two or three coins in a row and repeat the process.

Coin Drop

Yet another DIY coin drill which doesn’t require an extensive amount of space. For this drill though, you’ll need a partner. So, once you have a partner, do the following:

  • Stand at about two arm’s length from your partner
  • Let your partner hold and drop the coin from a chest height
  • Your aim is to follow your instinct and catch the coin with a single hand before it reaches the ground

I’m sure this sounds super basic and vague but it’s great to improvise your movement at the waist and create openings.

Using a Reaction Ball

A reaction ball is generally a 6-sided ball that bounces in unpredictable directions for obvious reasons.

Using this ball allows you to improve the hand-to-eye coordination, reflexes, reaction and overall movement of hands and feet.

There are many exercises which you can do using this handy equipment. However, it will require a decent amount of space as the bounce is unpredictable. You can use this reaction ball to do the following drills:

Drop and Catch: Simply drop the ball from waist height and as soon as it bounces, catch it. Once you get comfortable with height, try improving it slightly.

Tossing Ball: From a split stance, try throwing the ball up within 2-3 meters. Let the ball bounce once and then you try and catch it.

Wall Toss: Standing 8-10 away from a solid wall, throw the ball onto the wall (underhand) and let it bounce on the floor before you catch it using one hand.

Using an athletic stance for doing these drills is a great start. Stand with both your legs apart, hips back, feet inline and knees bent.

Foam sticks

Many trainers use foam sticks in similar fashion to pads. Not necessarily as a replacement but as an addition. Foam sticks are lighter, faster with a much better reach.

What makes foam sticks one of the best equipment you can train with is that they help improve your peripheral vision tremendously. You can punch from all angles.

To work with foam sticks, make a partner stand in front and try to perform a defense and an offensive pad work drill.

You must remain in the same position and your partner should stand at a 45-degree angle when doing a defensive pad drill.

Repeat the same at a 90-degree angle and then switch to the other side. Throughout the 360-degree turn, your face must be facing forward and you should only use your peripheral vision to dodge the stick.

Tennis ball drill

I’ve covered this one before after getting inspired by a Shane Fazen drill on YouTube. This is one of the simplest drills you can do just with the help of a tennis ball.

Simply throw and evade. Adopt a boxing stance with your back towards the wall and the heel of your back foot touching the wall slightly.

Get a partner to throw a tennis ball in your direction. (Probably towards your head).

What you need to do is to keep your hands close to the chin while you bob and weave in your efforts to try and evade the incoming ball.

If you’re successful at evading the incoming ball, you should hit the wall that is behind you and bounce it to your partner.

Similar to most of the drills we learned above, try to start out slow at first and then turn your hips.

Make sure that you bob and weave with little to no head or body movement.

Remember that the ball should pass to the side of your head right above your shoulders.

Once you get used to it, you’ll be able to throw a combination of punches and set up counterattacks simply with your reactions.

Conclusion

I do know that this guide has been technically challenging as compared to our other guides and that’s because of the science and the psychological side of reflexes. 

I hope this guide helped you drive home with some valuable points about reflexes in boxing which can help improve your boxing considerably. 

Share this with a friend who feels that his/her reflexes are not up to the mark.