The Eyes Have It

Training your body to throw punches, your feet to move around the ring and your head to slip and duck are obvious aspects you have to train in order to perform at your best.  Another area you should be focusing on, isn’t right in front of your eyes…it IS your eyes.

Your eyes play a crucial role in the ring, on both offense and defense.  They see the openings and are your first line of defense against incoming punches.  This is not about your vision or eyesight, but your ability to make rapid adjustments with your eyes to improve your process and response time.  There are tiny muscles that control your eyes and their rapid movement, so your eyes can be trained like any other muscle in your body.  You can develop your eyes and improve on these reflexes in a variety of ways.

One way, you might already be doing, is by practicing infighting.  Standing close to your opponent forces you to use your peripheral vision in order to see the punches that are not coming straight at you.  Because you are working at close range, your opponents punches will also be traveling a shorter distance so you are forced to see the punches more quickly and react, defend against them faster.  So, stand close to your training partner and, at half power, but full speed, exchange combinations of punches.  You will see relatively quickly that it increases your need to focus and stay sharp.

You can also enhance your focus by placing small targets on your heavy bag.  They can be in the form of small, one inch squares of various colored tape or you can use round stickers, like those you see people using for pricing their items at garage sales.  Give each colored sticker a different punch assignment.  Make the red dots “jabs”, the green dots “right crosses”, and the blue dots “left hooks” and so on.   As the heavy bag naturally moves and spins, you are forced to quickly see, process and react to find the dots.  This is especially beneficial because it forces action and reaction on a piece of equipment that many fighters become to methodical and complacent on.  Instead of waiting and punching when it is convenient, the fighter is forced to punch when the opening presents itself.  The colored markers can help improve focus and help develop the ability to time moving objects, plus dictate a higher demand for consistent punch output.

Another tool you can use to develop your visual acuity is the speed bag.  Yes, it has some critics, but the speed bag serves a distinct purpose and can also help in this area.  You just have to watch the bag, focus on its movement and be engaged in the exercise.  Speed bags don’t help when you’re just going through the motions, but they absolutely DO improve eye-hand coordination when you work the speed bag properly.

Another exercise that will specifically help with eye development is to stand about five feet away from a wall and toss a tennis ball against it with one hand and catch it with the other.  This will make you focus on a small, moving object that is somewhat unpredictable and will also help your muscle coordination at the same time.  It may seem like it has nothing to do with boxing, but it does have everything to do with developing your eye movement, gauging range, distance and speed.

Your vision reflexes are vital to your advancement in boxing.  The old expression that “you can’t hit what you can’t see” wasn’t intended to be about your actual visual ability, but it totally applies.  Training your visual senses and acuity, along with all of the other physical attributes you have, will allow you to see and respond so you can react like a world class athlete.   While your opponent is packing his gym bag up to go home, you should be working on taking the visual part of your game to the next level.  He won’t even see it coming.

Doug Ward is the President and Trainer for the Underground Boxing Company.