Physical Training June 2002

14 Ways to Safer Boxing

By Joe Svinth
Copyright © Joseph Svinth 2002. All rights reserved.

Boxing is an excellent striking art and its drills can get you into shape very quickly. But getting hit in the head is NOT good for you (cognitive skills deteriorate with each successive concussion), and beginners are at greater risk of being hit than are more experienced fighters. So some advice:

  1. Join your national boxing organization and keep your membership current, as this provides medical insurance if you get injured during training or competition. (You do have medical, dental, and life insurance, don’t you?) The USA Boxing website is
  2. Check out your coaches, trainers, and cornermen carefully: you want handlers who honestly care about you as a person, and won’t mismatch you just to fill a card or make a buck. (For a really tragic tale of what happens when you have trainers more interested in giving the fans a show than in their fighters’ health, see On the other hand, for a description of how the fight world ought to be, follow the links at
  3. Safety is your responsibility, not the coach’s or the gym owner’s. (This may sound bizarre, but the courts have ruled this way a number of times.) So before sparring or competing, make sure that turnbuckles are padded, ropes are tight, and that ring floors (and the floors outside the ring) are both padded and free of tables, chairs, and the like. After all, many serious injuries have been the result of relatively uninjured boxers striking their heads against ropes, the floor, etc.
  4. Make sure that first aid is available, and that the phone works.
  5. If you are functionally one-eyed (e.g., your corrected vision is worse than 20/50 in one eye), then don’t spar or compete, as there is significant risk of ocular injury in boxing.
  6. During serious training and before any competition, avoid alcoholic beverages and drugs (legal or otherwise), anticoagulants (aspirin included), and major dehydration (to include sweating off weight), as all of these have been shown to increase risk of serious brain injuries in boxers.
  7. Make sure your hands are properly wrapped, otherwise you risk breaking your knuckles. Some suggestions for wrapping appear at However, don’t get carried away, as improper wraps may not protect your hands, or become unintentional clubs.
  8. Before sparring, smear petroleum jelly on your face, as this helps prevent cuts.
  9. When sparring, always wear properly fitted headgear.
  10. When sparring, always wear a professionally fitted (or at least a new) mouthguard, as improperly fitted mouthguards don’t provide much protection. For some background, see Note that the boxer’s mouthguard should not be one of the cheap plastic ones used by football players, as these don’t provide a lot of protection from jaw injuries. The best mouthguards are those designed by dentists, but there are also some relatively cheap commercial mouthguards designed specifically for boxing. See, for example,
  11. When sparring, wear a cup. You might want to consider a professional groin protector rather than one of those cheap little plastic jobs.
  12. When sparring, use 16-ounce gloves. While lighter gloves protect your hands, they do nothing to protect the brains of either you or your sparring partner.
  13. When sparring, protect yourself at all times. Some opponents hit late, others hit early, and there are even a few who lace, headbutt, gouge, strike low, and otherwise cheat. This may not be nice to mention, but it is a fact.
  14. Most importantly, if you are knocked out or suffer a concussion, have toothaches or impacted teeth, start seeing double, have ringing in your ears, or have severe headaches, stop sparring and see a neurosurgeon immediately! For how long one should take off from training/competition following a brain injury, see,, and

Such a long list of warnings! Really, they’re nothing more than common sense, and if you take the precautions, then your risk of serious injury is significantly reduced.

Physical Training June 2002