To the outsider, boxing might look like a competition for who can throw the best punches. But it’s not that simple. Your ability to throw a punch is quickly outmatched if you’re unable to avoid a punch. And it doesn’t matter how great your punches are if you’re never able to land one.
Boxing is all about quickly and effectively responding to the movement of your opponent. That’s why reaction training is just as important as all other aspects of boxing training.
Not only is reaction time critical to your defense—meaning the difference between a quick slip and an on-the-ground knockout—but it also improves your ability to react offensively. You can’t land an effective punch if you’re unable to quickly spot and react to a brief breakpoint in your opponent’s defense.
The success of boxing legends like Muhammad Ali, for example, is often credited to their quick reflexes. Even one of the best heavyweights of all time, Sonny Liston, was outmatched by Ali’s speed in the ring.
Even if you never find yourself in the ring with an opponent trying to take you out, having quick reflexes is still useful in everyday life:
- A car suddenly swerves into your lane as you’re driving, and your reflexes kick in to steer yourself to safety.
- Your toddler’s wobbly legs start to give out and you’re able to quickly catch them before they hit their head on the table.
- As you’re going for a run you suddenly notice a giant hole in the ground and mid-stride navigate out of harm’s way.
These and so many other life examples prove just how important your reaction time could be to your safety and quality of life. Training quick reflexes also strengthens your mind-body connection, creating better alignment between you, your body, and your environment.
So, your reflexes are important whether you’re a boxer or not. But is it possible to train your reflexes and reaction time? Absolutely.
These are the tried and true reaction training techniques of some of the best professional boxers out there—whose reflexes could mean the difference between victory and knockout. Try adding one or a few of these to your workout routine:
1. Pad or focus mitt training
Pad work or pad training is an incredibly common method of training in any boxing gym. It involves training with a partner who wears mitts and changes position every few seconds, simulating different attacks to trigger your response.
This helps train your reaction time on a moving target, while also giving you the chance to practice both offensive and defensive moves in rapid succession. For this method of training to be effective you’ll need to find a partner who has experience with these kinds of drills.
Don’t have mitts? Grab a set of pool noodles instead. With this technique, have a partner hold onto two different pool noodles, one in each hand. Try to block, punch, and defend yourself from their attempts to whack you from all angles. Believe it or not, this is a real training technique that boxers use.
2. Slow sparring
As the name suggests, this training method involves sparring in slow motion. It might look and feel silly to simulate a fight in slow motion, but it gives you the chance to really pay attention to every single movement you and your partner are making.
Unlike a fight at normal speed, this enables you to pick up on the subtle movement indicators of your opponent, like the tiny indicators that tell you when a punch is about to be thrown. It also gives you time to think about what move to make next. This improves your reflexes in a real fight because now you’ve got a much better understanding of how the body moves, what each movement means, and how to respond accordingly.
3. Reaction balls
Reaction balls are like tennis balls with odd knobs sticking out. These round knobs make the movement of these balls unpredictable. Bounce them up against a wall or on the ground and you have no idea which direction they’re going to take—and that’s the point. Athletes from a variety of sports use these balls to train their reaction time and hand-eye coordination.
There are several ways to train with a reaction ball:
Don’t have a reaction ball? Throwing a tennis ball up against a wall or dropping it down to the ground and trying to catch it before it lands is a great substitute.
4. Double-end bag
The double-end bag is a basketball-sized ball attached to both the ground and the ceiling. The rebound of this double-ended bag means it bounces back at you, giving you the feeling of boxing with an opponent. This movement helps simulate a real fight, offering the chance to practice both attacking and defending against a moving target, without needing a partner.
5. Coin catch
Even without boxing equipment, you can still train your reflexes—all you need is a coin. Place the coin on top of your hand and fling it up into the air. Then, try and catch the coin in your palm before it falls to the floor.
If you have a partner, you can also try what’s called the coin drop. This is when your partner extends their arm with a coin in their palm. Without warning, they drop the coin and you have to grab it before it hits the ground. Both of these drills can train your reaction time without the need for any extra equipment.
Try and match pro boxer Vasyl Lomachenko catching four coins in one go:
6. Reflex Ball
Like pool noodles and slow sparring, using a reflex ball also goes into the whacky but effective category for reaction training. The reflex ball is a soft ball attached to your head by an elastic cord. The goal is to keep punching the ball away so it doesn't hit you in the head.
Like the double-end bag or reaction ball, you have to pay close attention to the ball’s movement so you can react effectively so you don't get whacked in the face. This creates quicker reflexes and builds hand-eye coordination.
7. Light Training
Many professional boxers, like Vasyl Lomachenko and Amir Khan, use lights to improve their reaction time. This training involves reacting as quickly as possible to a light flashing. It’s a newer trend in boxing training, but it’s incredibly effective for generating faster reflexes.
Here’s Amir Khan in light training action:
And check out Loma doing reaction light training:
We get asked all the time, “how does Liteboxer train you to become a better boxer?” The answer is not just about boxing to the beat of your favorite music or spending time in the ring with our best-in-class Trainers.
Liteboxer is also an effective reaction light training tool. Our Liteshield contains six targets with force sensors and over 200 LED lights to detect and track your every move.
You have to pay close attention as the LED runway lights originate from the Liteshield’s center and travel towards one of the six targets. When the lights reach the center of the target, that’s your cue to punch. Punch too early or too late and it’s not an accurate hit.
As you can see with Khan and Lomachenko, there’s incredible value to this kind of light training. It’s unpredictable, like the reaction or reflex ball, which hones your reaction time and speeds up your reflexes. And when you add in top-charting music and motivating Trainer instruction through Liteboxer, it’s also an incredibly fun way to train.
8. Video games and virtual reality (VR)
You probably didn’t expect to see this on the list. But, research shows that playing video games can speed up your reaction time in real life. When you’re playing a video game you have to be aware of your surroundings and react quickly to the action occurring on your screen. This builds faster reflexes that translate to real-world situations.
With virtual reality, you can step into a simulated environment that makes you feel as if you’re really there, translating a game into a full-body experience. With fitness VR technology like Liteboxer VR, you can take your workout to a whole new level with maximal engagement and minimal distraction. This opens up a world of possibilities for boxing training.
Let us know which boxing reaction training techniques you try—or ones you already use that aren’t included in this list! Join our Liteboxer Facebook community to share your thoughts.