Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Benefits Of Focus Pad Training

In my years as a self-defense instructor, I have tried and tested many training methods to find out the fastest, most effective way to produce the best results in the shortest time possible.

I don't run a self-defense club or ongoing long-term classes. My "specialty" is short-term courses and seminars. I need to share knowledge and teach physical skills in the shortest time possible. And that training has to "stick."

I don't "train" people. I teach them how to train themselves. I encourage my clients to take full responsibility for their own learning process and the results that they produce. There are many excellent resources out there, but that's all they are…

Information is inert until you apply it to accomplish something. Its up to you, study and apply them.

One of the most powerful methods I've found to teach proper punching and striking skills in the fastest, most efficient way is FOCUS PAD training.


Focus pads (also called focus mitts, coaching pads, punch mitts and target pads) are flat, hand-held pads that are about 12 inches in diameter.

They are made of dense foam covered in leather or vinyl. They have been used in boxing, kickboxing and martial arts training for ages.


The pads are held by a coach or training partner at different ranges, positions and levels. The puncher and pad holder work together to build offensive and defensive skills, sharpen reflexes and condition the body.


Focus pads are cheap, portable and easy to find. They are an excellent training investment that allow you to conduct a wide variety of drills for the development of several combative qualities.

If you're still undecided about whether or not focus pad training is right for you, here are some of the benefits.


Focus pad training is a blast. Partner training with focus pads allows you to perform a wide variety of drills and "fighting games."

Because there are so many ways to use focus pads, it's easy to keep your training fun and interesting. And most importantly… if you enjoy doing something, you'll do it more often.


You can pick up a pair of focus pads at a good sporting goods or martial art supply store. A decent pair will set you back about 50 to 70 bucks.

You'll also need a good pair of bag gloves or boxing gloves to protect your knuckles. They'll cost you about the same. $100 bucks for a full-blown training system seems like a pretty decent investment to me!


Unlike equipment such as heavy bags, focus pads are small, light and extremely portable. You can throw them in a sport bag or knapsack and take them pretty much anywhere.

Because they don't have to be installed or mounted, they are excellent where room is limited or its impractical to install more cumbersome equipment.


If I had to teach you how to hit properly, in the shortest time possible, I'd use focus pads. If you already knew how to punch but you wanted to improve and refine you hitting skills, again I'd recommend focus pad work.

Because the pads are relatively small, they develop accuracy.

Because they can be moved quickly into different positions and at different angles, they are one of the best methods available for working punches in combination.

Because they can be moved dynamically and even pulled out of the way, they can be used to develop quick thinking and "non-telegraphic" delivery.


All impact training stresses the body. If you hit too hard or too often you're going to get injured. The problem is that punching power increases faster than the body can adapt and become resilient enough to withstand that impact energy.

There is a period of "adaptation" required before for tendons and ligaments become stronger and more resilient.

It takes about 6 to 10 weeks of more moderate training before all out, full power hitting efforts can be performed safely. That's where focus pads come in.

For starters, there is far less resistance to hitting a focus pad than a 60 to 100 lb heavy bag. That allows you to work on your punching power with less strain on your joints and connective tissues. This allows you to work your way up to more demanding heavy bag training which is undeniably harder on the body.

If you already do heavy bag work, you can do your focus pad work on days in between your heavy bag sessions. That will afford you some "active recovery" and the ability to continue working on your hitting skills while giving your body a time to recover.


If you ever watch a good fighter sparring, you'll notice that he begins to react to being punched at BEFORE the punch is even thrown.

Its almost as if he is reading their opponent's mind and anticipating what is about to happen before it does.

What is actually happening is that by being punched (or kicked) at over and over again, the brain begins to interpret the meaning of certain positions, weight distributions and body signals.

When holding the pads and watching various punches travelling in your direction, you begin to establish "pattern recognition" which will enhance your ability to anticipate and defend yourself from attack.


Many people are terrified with the idea of being hit in a fight. Just as many are uncomfortable with the idea of punching another human being. (I'm not sure why because I kinda like it! ;-)

In fact, because it is an "unknown" people are far more concerned about being hit than they should be. Speaking from the perspective of someone who has been punched, hit and kicked thousands and thousands of time; its not so bad! You do not want to be terrified by the idea of being hit or overwhelmed if it happens.

I refer to your comfort level with the idea of hitting and being hit as "Hit Psychology." People with weak hit psychology are more prone to panic or "freeze up" in a combative situation. They can become overwhelmed by an exaggerated and unnecessary fear of the encounter and perform poorly.

We have a term for that in the self-defense field… Its called, "NOT GOOD!"

Stress inoculation is a process of de-sensitizing someone to the fear of combat by exposing them to controlled amounts of impact in a low stress, non- threatening environment.

In a short period of time, the student finds that situations that formerly terrified her are far more manageable and even enjoyable!


Did you know that conditioning is "exercise specific?" If you are a runner, your body will become fit and accustom to running but not nearly as much for swimming or cycling.

If you work out on an elliptical machine, your body gets more efficient at working out on an elliptical machine. Your body adapts and improves specific to the activity that you are participating in. So what you ask?

I'll tell you what… the best way to condition your body for fighting is by mimicking movements and actions that are like fighting. It's as simple as that.

I have trained with people who would be considered extremely fit athletically but tire very quickly when introduced to combative training drills.

The good news is that there are a wide variety of combative drills that you can do with focus pads that will tone the muscles, build your stamina and endurance and enhance your self-defense performance.

SO… what I'm saying is this. Not only is combative training such as pad work an excellent, whole body form of exercise. The conditioning provides fitness qualities directly relevant to self-defense and fighting.


Many people undertake ongoing martial arts and self-defense training to get into shape… and more specifically to lose weight (excess body fat) and regain a lean and mean physique. Focus pad training is excellent for fat loss. Here's why…

Not that long ago, the belief was that the best way to lose body fat was through LSD (long slow distance) aerobic exercise. In other words, low intensity exercise that was sustained for at least 20 to 30 minutes. The theory was that during exercise your body uses fat as a fuel source at lower intensity and it burns glucose instead of fat at higher intensity levels.

That might be true, but the assumption was that fat loss is based on the amount of calories you burned during your workout. That's not the case. The amount of calories you burn during your exercises session is minimal.

What does matter is the extra calories you burn BETWEEN your workouts.

Fat burning is accomplished more effectively by interval training. Interval training involves periods of moderate to high intensity exertion intersperse with low intensity periods to catch your breath and recover your energy in between.

This type of training will increase your metabolism for hours after your workout and you will burn more overall calories and body fat.

Focus pads are excellent for interval training.


There have been very few evolutionary changes in the human body in millions of years. One thing that has not changed is our survival mechanism. The body is predisposed to "fighting or fleeing" from a threatening situation.

What HAS changed however is the fact that in modern day life, most of the "threats" we perceive are not actual, physical threats and do not merit kicking butt or running off. So what happens is that we activate this "fight or flight response" but do neither.

A host of chemical and physical changes occur that, if left unchecked become toxic and unhealthy. That is why exercise is so healthy and such a great way to manage stress.

I suggest that cardiovascular exercise satisfies the body's need for flight. I believe that impact training such as hitting a pair of focus pads or a heavy bag satisfies the bodies evolutionary need to fight.


Mental Toughness is the ability to be effective, healthy and happy regardless of the challenges and stressors in your life. It involves building your ability to cope with stress by repeatedly exposing yourself to stress and then recovering from it.

The more you do this the tougher you get on a physical, mental and emotional level. Focus pad training can be used to improve your mental toughness in two ways.

Physiologically, The interval training that I've already mentioned builds mental toughness. Doing "round training." (intervals of exertion interspersed with short periods of recovery) teaches your body to expend energy and then recover. This expend, recover, expend, recover process makes you tougher and more emotionally resilient.

Another opportunity that focus pads provide is the ability to design "never give up drills." I've referred to this in my Power Punching Guide as "blitz" training.

Blitz training is an advance training method that involves going "all out" for a predetermined period of time. You push yourself through the pain of lactic acid in your muscles and the discomfort of being winded and push, push push yourself until you reach the end of the drill.

This is not only a terrific conditioner for your body but it is also an excellent mental exercise to teach you on of the most important traits that you can have for self-defense: "NEVER GIVE UP."


Bottom line… if want to develop and refine your punching skills quickly, condition your body with fight-related exercise and design challenging and versatile training sessions then take a serious look at focus pad training.

Randy LaHaie

Randy LaHaie is the president of Protective Strategies and has been teaching reality-based self-defense for over 30 years. He is the author of several "Toughen Up Combative Training Guides" (

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1 Comment:

MARKS said...

Hi, There are some good valid points in this article. I personally prefer the focus pads to the heavy bag, aprt from working strength. Good post!


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