In my last entry, I stressed how important it is for an aspiring boxer to train at a real boxing gym. As mentioned previously, you cannot teach yourself how to box at a high level. It is essential that you learn from a knowledgeable trainer and spar with experienced fighters. The natural question therefore is how do you know if you have found a good boxing gym?
Observe The End Product
Perhaps most importantly, the best way to determine the quality of a boxing gym is by observing the end product. Take a ride down to the gym and see who is there. What fighters train at the gym? What fighters have been developed there? Does the gym have amateur fighters who compete locally and nationally? Are there any active professional boxers who currently train there?
Ultimately, the end product will always give you a good idea of what you can expect from the gym. The most knowledgeable trainer in the world will be limited if he does not have any other fighters at his gym. And if he doesn’t have any fighters there, you’d have to wonder why. What has kept other fighters from choosing the gym?
A gym without fighters will always be limited. As I have said many times before, sparring is essential for any competitive fighter. If you don’t have anyone to spar, there is only so much that you can learn. In all my years, I’ve yet to see a heavy bag throw a punch a back.
Equipment Is Secondary
Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you should not judge a boxing gym by its equipment. Some of the best boxing gyms in the world operate on minimal budgets with minimal equipment. The flashiest exercise machine in the world cannot teach you how to jab.
In the picture above, you will see an old photo of me sparring back in the 1990s. The image was taken in the basement of a housing project. We didn’t even have a ring, but it was one of the best gyms I ever trained at as a young fighter.
I still vividly remember my very first day there. We began training in that basement after our community center gym was forced to shut down. My trainer at the time did not want to lose his boxing program so he decided to move the gym to the projects. When we first set up shop, it was nothing but a dark and dreary basement. Fortunately, like most boxing gyms, we operated like one large family so everyone helped out to get our new home ready for action. After the initial clean up, we brought in a few lights, hung a few bags, and got back to training.
What I loved about that gym was that it was so crude that only a highly motivated fighter would journey down those basement steps. In other words, if you were in that gym, you were there because you wanted to fight. We may not have had a ring, but we had some fierce sparring sessions in that basement. Everyone who was there could fight. The best equipment in the gym were the fighters. You had good sparring available whether you were big or small.
If you have a few bags, an area for exercise, and a place to spar, all that you are missing is a knowledgeable trainer. Some gyms have one trainer while others have several. Ultimately, quality is more important than quantity. You need to find someone who knows the sport. Observing the trainer’s end product (his fighters) will certainly give you a good idea.
It is also useful to observe the trainer working with his fighters. Does everyone get his attention or does he only focus on one or two fighters? How does he interact with the fighters? Plenty can be learned by simply noting the overall atmosphere of the gym. A good gym will be filled with hard working fighters who push each other and consider themselves part of a team. The team looks out for each other.
It’s also important that you feel comfortable working with the trainer. Everyone has different ways of communicating. The personalities and temperaments of the fighter and trainer must jive with each other. If you are constantly butting heads, it is not going to work. Remember, as a fighter, you will be spending a lot of time with your trainer. You’ll be in the gym with him every day and often traveling together to fights. If you can’t stand being around each other, you’d better look elsewhere.
Rocky Gym vs. Cardio Class
In recent years, boxing classes have become much more common. I don’t have anything against these gyms, but it is important to realize that you won’t become a fighter by taking a cardio class. If you are only looking to get in shape, a class setting could be worthwhile. Just don’t expect to learn too much in a group setting where fitness is the primary objective. The best boxing gyms typically look more like what you would see in an old Rocky movie. The closest thing you will find to a cardio class in one of these gyms is a trainer telling his fighter to run at 5AM.
If you can’t find one of these old school gyms, make sure that the cardio boxing gym has a more serious area for competitive fighters. I recognize that times are tough so cardio classes are often needed to pay the bills. Some gyms now have boxing classes on one end and real boxing training on the other. The classes fund the gym by helping the fitness oriented clients, while the higher level boxers train separately.
Lastly, don’t assume that a higher price tag equates to higher level instruction. As a young fighter, the best gyms that I ever trained at were in bad neighborhoods where nobody had the money to pay high monthly fees. More expensive gyms often advertise themselves as boxing gyms but are catered towards white-collar professionals who are not interested in actually fighting. Once again, I don’t have anything against these gyms, but if you really want to fight, you need to find a gym that specializes in developing competitive fighters.
It just so happens that many of these gyms operate on low-budgets and have many fighters training at a minimal cost. Boxing is not a rich man’s sport. If all gyms charged top dollar for training, you wouldn’t see so many high level boxers who fought their way out of poverty.
In summary, the best boxing gym in the world could be an empty barn if you had good fighters available for sparring and a knowledgeable trainer to teach the sport. A good trainer can make the most out of almost any space. Therefore, if you come across a trainer who can give you good pad work, find you good sparring, and look out for you as a fighter, you have found the right gym. Everything else is secondary.
As for finding a gym, a search of the web will get you started in the right direction.
For example: https://www.google.com/#q=boxing+gym+directory
Best of luck on your boxing journey!