The demands of boxing are very unique and specific, so it stands to reason that the equipment or tools used to perform specifically for the sport were designed with that in mind. Just like a carpenter who uses the right kind of hammer to build a house, a golfer knows what club he needs to hit a specific drive and a boxer needs to know and use the type of equipment that best suits the needs of his activity. There are several "tools of the trade" that are vital to a fighters' success...his hands and his feet are two of the most crucial.
Jumping in feet-first, so to speak, you have to start with good boxing shoes that are specifically designed for movement in the ring. Boxing shoes, as opposed to tennis shoes or running shoes, are lighter and provide more flexibility. The minimal amount of padding they provide actually enhances lateral, forward and backward movement. Can they make you a better fighter? No, but they can make your movements more efficient and effective and, as a result, provide less restrictions from your natural movements..
A fighter should never run in boxing shoes nor should he ever box in running shoes. Boxing shoes provide little or no support on harsh running surfaces and running shoes are too bulky to allow the fighter to really move, change angles and dig into the canvas like he or she should. Most running shoes are also constructed to encourage heel-to-toe stepping, which doesn't support good boxing form. A boxer should never find himself on his heels. The uniform cushioning and flatter sole of a boxing shoe is better suited to staying on your toes. The water may be cold sometimes, but you'll never see Michael Phelps swimming in a parka. There's a reason for that and it's the same for not wearing running shoes when you're boxing.
The single most important tool of any fighter is his or her hands. They should be protected at all costs. If a fighter is going to make an investment in his future, he should without question, make it here. To do it right, a fighter should have two pair of well-padded gloves. The primary pair should be used for bag work and only used for bag work. These should be heavily padded to guard against injury and supportive to provide a custom fit. With a hand wrap on beneath, they should be snug, but not tight, comfortable, but not loose. These gloves should not be used for sparring for several reasons. First of all, using them on a bag will scuff the leather and create a rough knuckle surface. You will also pick up dirt, oils and debris from the surface of the bag that you don't want to unfairly be punching your sparring partner in the face with. The number of rounds you do against the harder surface of the bag will also compact the inner foam down and make your gloves harder. Maybe not something you're worried about, but not very courteous or sportsmanlike from your sparring partners’ perspective. By splitting up the duties of your two gloves between bag work and sparring, this will also make each style of glove last longer because each was designed, from padding type to shape, with their specific purpose in mind.
Sparring gloves, on the other hand, are generally constructed with softer, open-cell foam padding to provide better protection on inconsistent surfaces. A heavy bag is one uniform shape so the bag glove has less variation to conform to, whereas a sparring glove forms better to bumpy surfaces, like noses, elbows, shoulders, etc. Aside from the obvious safety benefits, that's another reason that sparring gloves are typically softer. Using them strictly for sparring will keep them pliable for a longer period of time and not using them on a heavy bag will help keep the foam from being compacted down against the harder surfaces of equipment.
Although it may require a greater investment up front to buy two different pair/styles of shoes and two different types of boxing gloves, considering that it will make both pieces of equipment last longer, it will all come out the same in the long run. By using a specific piece of equipment for its’ intended purpose, you are not only maximizing your gears’ longevity, but you're also making yourself, as a fighter, more effective. Wearing the right shoes will not magically transform you from contender to world champion overnight, but it can enhance what you're doing in the gym, in the ring and with how you spend your money. And when it comes to training, fighting and making the most of your hard-earned dollar, every little bit counts.
Doug Ward is the President and Trainer for the Underground Boxing Company.