Why I don’t like boxercise

Please note that this article is not intended to criticise individual instructors, but rather a comment against the current system of education and qualifications in pad work.  I love training and teaching pad work routines.  Using pads is an integral part of martial arts training and brings great benefits.  It is a great way to improve fitness, coordination, strength and self-confidence.  My issue with Boxercise and other similar systems is the time it takes to become a qualified instructor.  Being able to hold pads and being able to punch pads are two sets of skills and to become skilful in anything takes time.  To be able to effectively teach these skills requires experience as well as knowledge of teaching in either a 1-2-1 or group situations.

012In browsing through social media I have noticed a surge of instructors offering pad work.  From the images and videos I have seen it appears as though they have very little experience of how to hold pads safely.  Seeing the way that they hold these pads raises the question in my mind why are they teaching?  It turns out that in order to qualify as a pad work instructor typically only requires a one day course – that is why they are teaching.  However, being able to obtain an instructing qualification quickly extends beyond the realm of pad work.  When I did my PT qualification we received 4 hours of kettlebell training.  After this we were assessed on what we had learnt and having passed this assessment all of the participants on my course were qualified in kettlebell instruction. I found this slightly surprising and so I spoke with my classmates about their confidence in teaching kettlebells.  Most of them said that they did not wish to teach kettlebells because they had no prior experience and did not feel that the training they had received was enough for them to feel confident in teaching others correctly.

In my opinion this system of having just a 4-8 hour course to train instructors will sooner or later result in injury.  Recent studies suggest that the shortest time it takes to learn a new skill 20 hours (for example: with more traditional views suggesting it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.  Certainly in the case of martial arts I think 10,000 hours is more realistic – I am not aware of anyone who has been able to proficiently learn a martial art in 20 hours!  Even the fast learning systems implemented in organisations such as the Army to fast track soldiers to be combat ready takes 140 hours.

As an example of the types of areas covered by these 1 day instructors courses please find below an extract from the Boxercise website of the topics covered in 1 day:

“Punches – learn and practise the eight fundamental punches ensuring correct & safe technique. Learn the importance of good footwork and stance.

Group Work Section including instructing skills & Boxercise Aerobics       

Boxing Equipment Discussion and good practise recommendations. Class format and design.

Padwork – Learn all the relevant safety and coaching points for using the focus pads. Also learn how to coach every punching fault so you are prepared for when it occurs in a real world situation.

Assessment – Working in pairs you will be assessed on your ability to coach, teach and instruct a novice puncher and demonstrate all punches safely and effectively. Pass mark 70%.

Class Examples of four different styles of Boxercise class, including bootcamp style.       

The Boxercise Instructor Course includes footwork drills 1-17 for the Boxercise Footwork Training System.”

This is a lot to learn in one day, especially when you consider that you then have to be able to teach someone else.  I have been practicing martial arts for nearly 20 years and have been on both sides, as the puncher and as the pad holder.  Based on my experience I would definitely say that to be proficient at either takes more than a day.

Instructors often post pictures from their training sessions and from these you can notice basic mistakes such as holding the pads too high or too wide.  From this you can deduce that the holder does not have sufficient tension in their arms to prevent injury.  It is also not very realistic for the person who punches – unless they are fighting with a very tall person with two heads.  Another common mistake I have noticed is the pad holder doing all of the work, smashing the gloves of their client.  This may sound and feel stronger for the client, but it does nothing for his/her fitness.

Here are some points to avoid when holding pads:

  • Pads at the wrong height

    too high

Holding the pads very high causes a lot of stress on the shoulders as muscles are not able to provide support to the arm when receiving a punch in this position.  This is also bad for the person punching as they do not learn realistic targeting.  The pad holder should keep the pads at an appropriate height for the target such as the head or body in relation to their build.


  • Pads at the wrong width 

    too wide

Holding the pads in an unrealistic position where the pads are too wide apart can cause the person who is punching to overstretch and slows down their technique.  In the same way that holding the pads too high causes stress on the shoulders, holding them too wide does as well.  The pads should be held within your own shoulder width at the appropriate target position (head or body).


  • Relaxed arms 


Keeping your arms relaxed is dangerous for both the pad holder and puncher.  The puncher does not get any feedback about their technique and risks hyper extension whilst executing a punch due to lack of resistance.  Conversely, without tension in their arms the pad holder does not have much control over their muscles in order to protect their joints when receiving a punch, which might easily lead to injury.



  • Hitting oncoming punches     

01 - CopyMany instructors hit the punch of their client with the pad in order to make it sound and feel more powerful.  By doing this we create a false distance for the target and cause unnecessary impact on the joints of both the holder and puncher.  This behaviour teaches the puncher to shorten their technique and therefore they cannot develop full power.  There should be a very slight movement towards the punch just before contact so that your joints can prepare for receiving the impact, but this movement should be minimal.

  • Lack of instruction

It is not enough to just ask the client to punch with a particular combination.  You have to actively monitor and correct his/her technique throughout the workout.  For example giving tips on footwork, striking technique and body mechanics.  The instructor should be looking to spot errors at all times, but in order to do this he/she needs experience in punching and body mechanics.

In summary good pad holding helps to:

  1. Prevent injury to the pad holder and puncher
  2. Establish the correct distance for each technique
  3. Enforce the use of proper body mechanics
  4. Improve punching skill
  5. Support a smooth transition between punches

All of this takes time and practice.  As with other manual skills, our brain and muscles need time to develop neuromuscular patterns.  In my opinion a few hours on a course does not provide enough time to attain these skills and in this article I have only touched on the basics.  There is a lot more to consider in pad work such as punching technique, structure, moving, progression and use of different types of pads.  It is such a vast topic that it is not surprising that great pad holders are paid top money for their instruction.   They spend years developing their approaches.

If you want to learn how to hold pads correctly I would recommend visiting a boxing gym or martial arts club where the use of pads is embedded in their system of training.  Alternatively find a pad work instructor with demonstrable experience.


About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate.  Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing. Our club provides classes in Guildford area. Contact via email 

Categories: general, How to

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11 replies »

  1. Interesting… and I agree, to a point. Remember though, anyone that has had PT instructor training uses pads and quite often they will call it Boxercise which it ain’t, ‘cos that’s a registered trademark.

    Being a qualified Boxercise instructor I can tell you that the tuition involves a lot of ‘this is the correct way to do things’ it’s what sets it apart from all the Boxer-clone-cise that’s out there.

    Are there poor Boxercise pad holders out there, of course there are just as there are crap martial arts coaches, maths teachers, plumbers etc. It’s up to the individual to research what it is they they think want and try a few out.

    • Hi David sure not everyone, like in all walks of life you have good and bad. I’m fully qualified PT and non of my qualification or training was done on pads. So it depends from course provider. I don’t agree with boxercise methodology and quick courses.

  2. You say you don’t like Boxercise but you haven’t attended the training course. Then you have as much credibility as a wine critic who drinks only beer.

    • Anthony, I have friends who did and I can see how they teach. Also I can see videos from boxercise classes and I can see possibility of injuries. Like I said within 4 to 8 hours you are not able to learn proper form, not to mention teaching others. This is my opinion you don’t have to agree.

  3. With all due respect you claim to ‘know’ all these things but clearly have not done the training courses yourself. You have about as much credibility in that respect as a wine critic who drinks only beer.

    The Boxercise courses have many levels- you have taken the first level ( the beginners level) and criticised why it doesn’t create high level coaches. The basic level is designed to teach the basics and nothing more, the higher levels progress to higher skill sets.

    Posting ‘blogs’ without research show you in a poor light.

    I asked Boxercise their injury stats and in 23,000 people who have gone through their course only 2 have been injured- both were twisted ankles, an accident that can occur at any time. Had you done your research rather than cutting and pasting off a website then commenting without checking the facts- you should hang your head in shame!

    • Tony, I have 20 years of martial arts experience with daily use of pads. Fair point that I did not check stats from boxercise. I have several clients with elbow pains after “boxercise” I stick to that. In fitness industry clients don’t report injuries often, mentality is that “no pain no gain” so I’m not sure how reliable are statistics.

  4. Well their stats must be accurate as incidents and accidents must be reported- it’s good practice and in the case of serious incidents RIDDOR reporting is the law. Again you are assuming without checking. I think you should take this post down

    • Why should I it’s my opinion. Problem is that you talking about big injuries on the course I’m talking about small accumulating injuries. Anyway yup have your view I got mine.

  5. Yours is an opinion based on supposition and guessing. Mine is based on fact and research. I do hope others who read your ‘blog’ take the time to read the comments to see how stupid you are making yourself look. You’re little more than a ‘hater’ or keyboard warrior to coin a phrase.

  6. Hi Les, I just wanted to say hi, and cheers for the article. I think it touches on some very valid points. I’ve been training martial arts for 12 or so years, and I think there is a very big difference in focus mitt training between MA and boxercise or PT boxing exercises. It’s always going to be reliant to some extent on how vigilant the instructor is, but also on how well they understand the fundamentals of each strike or combination that is being trained – timing, distance, balance, angle and flow.
    I’ve seen a lot of PT/boxercise style instructors with very poor technique – both demonstrating the technique, and holding pads for it – and it is almost always followed by unnecessary tension or injury for the client.

    10,000 hours seems about right.

    • Thank you Jamil, for me average time for basic instructor course should be around 80 hours. I based this time on Polish national instructor courses for martial arts and sports. It seems to me that it is a enough time to learn basics. Kind regards Les

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