With the fitness industry now flooding with Personal Trainers throughout the country, many coaches are trying to expand their horizons to include every type of training modality known to man.

The main reason for this panic? The age-old question: “What if my next client wants to learn this?”

This concern is completely understandable. For most self-employed trainers, the loss of a client to a rival PT could mean missing out on £100 a month - minimum! However, the consequence of this race to learn everything is the creation of “Jack of all trades” PTs; coaches who know small amounts of everything, dabble in many training types and buy into most fitness fads, but fail to master any one specific area of expertise.

Now, while expanding your knowledge is never a bad thing, it is vital to ensure you are competent in a new skill before offering it to paying customers. Although your intention may have been to avoid losing the client by having to refer them to an expert - providing them with a poor standard of coaching will not help them to achieve their goals and could even cause them injury. They’re also likely to leave you anyway when they realise you don’t know what you’re doing.

Boxing and pad work are used in most gyms by most PTs and can be an excellent tool for fat loss and conditioning. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see trainers coaching these techniques with very little experience of the skills required.

As a Kickboxing specialist there are a number of issues I commonly see with people’s pad holding methods in gyms, whether it’s a PT and their client or just a couple of mates doing some boxing work in the ring.

Although there are probably hundreds of issues (I’m not joking) that I could highlight here, I am going to limit myself to the top 3 basic pad work mistakes that will affect your client the most and how to fix them...

1. Don’t Punch Their Punch

This is when the pad holder moves the pads into the strikes their client is throwing. It’s the most common issue I see, but it can also have the most detrimental effect on your client’s wellbeing.

First of all let me clarify; you do need to have some strength behind the pads and you should move the pads into your client’s punch, the key is how much.

Part of the problem here is where the PT holds the pads at the start of the combo. If a pad holder says ‘right uppercut’ and holds their right pad above their head, they will have no choice but to bring the pad down into the rising uppercut to meet it half way as the puncher will still be aiming for their chin height.

Although this car crash of a high speed pad movement into a high speed glove movement will create a massive bang and let the striker feel like they’ve just thrown a punch with the power of Thor’s hammer, what will actually be happening is:

  • A gradual lack of power development - as they cannot tell how hard they are punching.
  • Reduced striking accuracy - keep putting the pads in the wrong place and they start to aim for the wrong place.
  • Lack of learning - beginners and professionals alike develop technique through external and internal feedback, if their strike always feels powerful because of bad pad holding they will have no internal feedback from which to learn.
  • Unnecessary shock going back into their arm leading to wrist, thumb, elbow and shoulder injuries, and a massively drained nervous system leaving them weak and shaking for the rest of the day.

The solution…

As a rule of thumb the pads should held in front of you, at an appropriate height for the client, with a comfortable bend in your elbows. The pads should be held in relation to a human, so aim to have your client striking a mirror image of themselves. Put enough strength into the pads so that your arms don’t go flying around everywhere but they still have a solid target to hit.

2. Monkey See Monkey Do

This is mainly a problem for beginners - those who are still learning the basics of moving around, how to sit into their stance and where to keep their hands. During this learning phase there are so many things to think about that any cue to remind them will help and they will copy what is in front of them.

For example, if you are holding pads and walking around in between combos, your clients may start to mimic your footwork and walk around instead of using the basic step, slide and pivot movements. They are focusing on something else (maybe keeping their hands up or pushing off the back foot during a cross) so they forget to move their feet properly as it isn’t second nature to them yet.

The solution…

Providing a visual cue of something to copy is an excellent and simple resource for your client. It may be that they don’t copy you and forget about their movement anyway, but the point it that they should have something to copy, and more importantly they’re not subconsciously learning bad habits from their coach, who isn’t paying attention.

3. Practice Your Pad Work

Quite simply - don’t coach something you don’t practice yourself.

I mentioned “internal feedback” earlier, and how it is key to technical development. Those little things like knowing the difference in power when you turn your back foot compared to when you don’t, or the difference in speed when you throw a hook that starts by your face compared to when it starts down by your hip. Understanding and experiencing these subtleties for yourself is key to coaching. Without them it will be difficult to truly guide your clients in the right direction when they struggle to learn a new technique or perfect a combination of strikes.

Not only does practice make your technical coaching better, it also gives you the chance to practice different combos, learn which flow well, which are appropriate for different ability levels and which are better for developing power, speed, or conditioning. You will find that some combinations or pad work drills sound great in your head, but in practice they’re awkward and involve having three left hands.

Knowing the difference between these things is not something you will pick up over a weekend course, but is something that you must practice often and for a long time until you don’t even have to think about it anymore.

The solution…

If you genuinely want to develop your arsenal of personal training methods, do it properly. If you are interested in boxing or using pad work training with your clients, find a course that can teach you how to coach it, but don’t stop there…

Join a boxing club, find yourself a pad work partner or if you can afford it, get yourself a boxing coach. Don’t just settle for the bare minimum of knowledge before you try to coach it, and remember that a good coach never stops learning.