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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Leave This To The Professionals

Today's rant is brought to you by two kids at Brandeis, and the letter P for Pad Work.

I have no idea who started this phenomenon, but somewhere along the line, people seem to have developed the idea that pad work is a tool for developing physical fitness. Worse, they seem to have developed the idea that it is the sort of tool that is open to everyone, like running or bike riding or weightlifting.

If you don't know what I mean by pad work, here's some footage of my instructor, Kru Mark Dellagrotte, working pads (focus mitts, specifically) with former professional boxer and active professional MMA fighter Marcus Davis.



Pretty cool, huh? It is cool, actually. It should be...both men are professionals, and highly regarded ones at that. It is easy to see why people get inspired or fascinated by pad work.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, people got the idea that just anyone can hold pads, and that pad work was something that you could just add to an exercise routine. I blame shows like the Biggest Loser, though for no real good reason other than having briefly glimpsed a shot of Jillian Whatever Her Name Is holding pads in a commercial or a shot while my wife was watching the show. I suppose it is possible that someone else started this trend. Whoever started it, I would like it to stop.

First of all: Pad work is not for developing cardiovascular fitness. Sorry. It's just not. I realize that some of you are reading this thinking "but Jake, that looked really hard," or "Jake, you ass, you've made me work pads until I thought I would vomit, and now you're telling me it's not for cardiovascular health? What the hell man?"

Yes, pad work can be very hard, and yes, it can get your heart-rate up, but that is not the point of it. The point of pad work is to develop skill. Pads can be used to develop flow, timing, practice putting together combinations...ultimately, pad work can help a fighter bridge the gap between bag work and sparring. It is a complex and evolving dynamic that depends very much on the skills of the fighter and the pad holder.

Here's another example: this is me holding pads for a student from a few years ago. You'll notice that the flow isn't as fast. There are pauses where we're discussing, clarifying, and correcting things. That's natural...the dynamic between fighter and trainer is less evolved here.



Nevertheless, there is skill involved, on both ends, in even the most rudimentary pad work. Which is what is really at the heart of this rant.

Just as punching and kicking are skills that can be taught and developed, so too is holding pads properly. You can have a fantastic fighter with a lousy pad holder, and the fighter will look awful because he doesn't have anything to work with. You can have a great pad holder and a lousy fighter, and  the pad holder will either have to keep things very basic, or risk taking a punch in the mouth at the wrong time.

When you have a person who doesn't know how to hold pads trying to hold for a person who doesn't know how to punch, what you have is a recipe for disaster. Pad work is hard on the body. Seriously. I don't know why this eludes people...you are putting some stuff over parts of your body, and letting another human being hit you. It isn't a healthy activity, and if you don't know how to compensate for the forces involved, you can develop some serious shoulder, elbow, and wrist problems (or get punched in the teeth).

There's a secondary problem too: because pad work is a skill, it is ultimately about becoming more efficient. Of course, the more efficient you are at something, the less well it work as a form of exercise. Dan John talks about this more eloquently than I can, but let me offer a personal anecdote as proof.



An uncomfortably long time ago (can you tell I'm feeling my age this week), I was training at Siyodtong three to four days a week. My training consisted primarily of sparring and pad work. And, at 204 pounds, I was the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I was fat. And I could still spar for several rounds, crank out rounds on the pads, because I was efficient. Sure, I could get winded if I worked long enough (here's another secret...you can make ANYONE tired if you work them hard or long enough), but bottom line, I was fat. Guess how I stopped being fat? Didn't have anything to do with pad work. I lifted weights, sprinted, and cleaned my diet up. That's it.

Here's another dirty secret: that's how fighters stay in shape. It isn't through pad work. It's through strength and conditioning. That's why professional fighters have separate strength and conditioning coaches. That's why professional fighters leave the boxing gym and go run, or hit the weights, or whatever. Because just doing the skill work isn't enough.

Pads are a tool for developing skill, not fitness. If you have a reason and desire to develop the skill at hitting them or holding them, then more power to you. Seek out some professional instruction and learn how to do it right. If you want to try and get in shape while fantasizing about how bad-ass you are, pick up one of those ridiculous Navy Seal workouts or something. But leave the pad work to the professionals.

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