My MMA Journey · Philippines

My Amateur MMA Journey, Part 19: What to Expect from a First Boxing Class

Now that I’m based in the Philippines again, where my MMA journey began, I’ve finally made my way to the nearest boxing gym to get back into training.

It’s hard to believe it’s been six months since I last stepping inside an MMA gym. But now that things have settled down a bit and there’s a new spot to try around the corner, I’ve got no excuse.

Boxing in the Philippines 

Thanks to early American influence and a talented boy from the tuna-fishing town of General Santos, boxing gyms can be found on just about every street in Manila.

If you’ve considered giving it a try but would like to know what to expect first, this walkthrough is for you.

Plus, I’ll share some useful information and a few beginner tips to get you started.

Penalosa or Elorde Boxing Gym

There are boxing gyms all over Manila, some big and some small. In most cases, you can expect a similar training structure.
You can discover which gyms stand out in my post about the best boxing and MMA gyms in Manila. But if you’re taking your first step into boxing, the nearest Penalosa or Elorde branch is a good place to start.

Discover which gyms stand out in my post about the best boxing and MMA gyms in Manila.

The other day, I had my first experience training at a Penalosa Boxing Gym in my new neighborhood. Penalosa currently has eight branches in metropolitan Manila.

I started learning boxing and Muay Thai about two-and-a-half years ago at Elorde Boxing Gym, a franchise that can be found all over the metro.

Fun fact: both gyms carry the names of Filipino boxing champions, Gerry Penalosa and Gabrial “Flash” Elorde.

In my experience, Penalosa and Elorde seem to provide a similar experience when it comes to boxing classes, and that’s what I’ll be references in this post. Chances are, a lot of the gyms you find in Manila will offer something along the same lines, so this should give you a pretty well-rounded picture of what to expect from your first boxing class.

Penalosa Boxing Gym Rates

Compared to Elorde, Penalosa’s membership fee is significantly lower. Penalosa also has more package options, for members and non-members alike.

  • Annual membership: P800
  • Single session:
    • Boxing: P200 for members; P300 for non-members
    • Muay Thai: P300 for members; P350 for non-members
    • Gym use: P150
  • 30-day packages:
    • Boxing, 6 sessions: P1,000 for members; P1,500 non-members
    • Boxing, 12 sessions: P1,900 for members; P3,000 non-members
    • Boxing, unlimited: P3,200 for members; P4,600 non-members
    • Muay Thai, 6 sessions: P1,500 for members; 2,400 non-members
    • Muay Thai, 12 sessions: P2,800 for members; 4,800 non-members
    • Muay Thai, unlimited: P5,500 for members; 6,000 non-members
    • Sparring: P300 for members; P400 for non-members
Rates for Penalosa’s Southville branch

Elorde Boxing Gym Rates

In comparison, many of Elorde’s session prices are in the same range and in some cases cheaper:

  • Annual membership: P1,500
  • Single session:
    • Boxing: P200 for members; P300 for non-members
    • Muay Thai: P300 for members; P400 for non-members
    • Gym use: P150 for members; P250 for non-members
  • 30-day packages:
    • Boxing, 10 sessions: P1,500
    • Boxing, unlimited: P2,500
    • Muay Thai, 12 sessions: P3,000
    • Gym use: P1,000

What to Expect from Boxing Classes

Gearing Up

When I walked into Elorde to box for the first time, they set me up with some of their wraps and gloves. After the first class, I bought my own gear.

Boxing gloves: The other day at Penalosa, I had no problem borrowing a pair of their gloves. Whether or not you’re comfortable with this depends on the selection, state, and cleanliness of the gym’s glove stash.

Lately, I’ve appreciated not having to invest in my own gloves since I’ve been traveling quite a bit. It’s also a great option for beginners who are just experimenting with the sport.

Hand wraps: When it comes to wraps, I definitely recommend buying your own. You can get them for less than 500 pesos, either at the gym or a sporting goods store. They get really sweaty, so make sure to air out and wash them regularly.

In my first boxing classes, the trainers would always put the wraps on for me. This had advantages and disadvantageous. On the one hand, different trainers had different methods so I was able to get an idea of what felt best for me. On the other, when the wraps weren’t done right, I ended up with some badly scuffed knuckles.

Over time, I experimented with doing my own wraps, and I recommend the same for you. This video shows a common and effective method though I prefer a slight variation which keeps the middle of the palm open. [link” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6nn0iZwenA%5D

Mouth Guard: The next bit of gear you’ll need is a mouth guard. I got mine when I started training at B.A.M.F. and Lakay, where sparring is a given. If you’re planning on doing any sparring of your own, you can get yourself a mouth guard at most sports stores for about 500 pesos.

Follow this simple guide to molding your mouth guard to fit your bite.

Boxing Shoes: A final item to consider is boxing shoes. I can’t tell you much about this because I’ve never had any. I starting boxing with running shoes, then a simple pair of training shoes, and after moving on to Muay Thai and MMA I mostly trained barefoot.

If you go sans footwear, prepare to blister. Bandaids won’t stick, so you’ll just have to power through to the calluses. Once your feet toughen up, no more foot spas!

Hold onto your calluses for dear life or the blistering will start all over again the next time you train.

Attire: Opt for comfort and a good fit. A sports bra with solid support, a pair of loose-fitting shorts, and a sleeveless workout shirt are what I prefer. You can also train in yoga pants and a T-shirt but in my experience, less fabric is better.

The Boxing Training

On to the training. Here’s a quick rundown of the core elements:

  • Warm Up
  • Focus Pad Drills
  • Speed Bag and Double-End Bag Drills
  • Punching Bag Work
  • Footwork Drills
  • Sparring (optional)
  • Abs Workout and Resistance Training
  • Cool Down and Stretching

Every boxing gym has an interval timer, commonly set to 3 minutes with a 30-second break. This will punctuate your training, as most activities will last a number of rounds.

Warm Up

To get started, the trainer takes you through some dynamic stretching, followed by exercises such as jumping jacks and, of course, the jump rope.

Jumping rope is a fundamental element of any boxing training. You’ll want to work on being able to do this for at least 3 or up to 15 minutes.

The warm-up area at Penalosa The Edge near Southville

Shadow Boxing

Shadow boxing—or chasing an invisible opponent and air punching them—can seem a bit repetitive and even boring at first, especially when you only know a few punching combos. However, you’ll soon find that it’s an excellent way to rehash what you’ve been learning from the trainer. Bonus point for being able to watch your form in the mirror.

Shadow boxing it also a great opportunity to focus on footwork. At my last gym in Sydney, we would often be instructed to shadow box with our hands behind our back. By doing so, you’re forced to concentrate on how you’re moving the rest of your body.

An essential principle of boxing is that a punch doesn’t come from your fist: it comes from your whole body. When shadow boxing, you can take your time to work this out.

Focus Pad Drills

This is some prime one-on-one time with the trainer that should bring the most value to your training session. You should have at least three rounds of this.

Your trainer will start you off with four basic punches, the jab, straight, hook, and uppercut. You’ll practice basic combos like the jab-straight, jab-straight-hook, and jab-straight-hook-uppercut.

In my experience, trainers teach the basics of the punches but don’t give much guidance beyond that. It wasn’t until I started training at other gyms that I learned how to “punch like a man”, as one coach put it.

Of course, you can ask for more guidance and learn by watching good examples. You could also check out some videos on how to punch, though, if you’re just going for a taste of boxing you don’t have to worry too much about this yet.  

A few beginner tips:

  • Make your fist tight enough that it’s like hurling a rock.
  • Don’t let your elbows flare out; keep them in tight.
  • Extend your arm fully for more force.

Speaking of extending, I recommend asking your trainer not to bring the focus pads in to meet your punches. Besides not allowing you to properly extend your arm, it also messes with your perception of range—something you’ll need to develop if you want to spar.

Speed Bag and Double-End Bag Drills

These exercises improve rhythm, speed, and accuracy.

You’ll start with the speed bag, and likely look a bit of a fool the first few times you give it a go. It took me a good month or two to get the hang of it.

Before speed comes accuracy, so start slow and focus on finding your rhythm. You may find it easier to start with a single hand before combining both. You can also experiment with variations, such as right-right-left-left, to see which comes most naturally to you.

To get more speed you’ll have to increase force, and that’s when you’ll start to feel the burn.


In my experience, the double-end bag is trickier to master. Your coach can show you some simple drills to get started though, and you can benefit from it even as a beginner.

Once you do get the hang of it, you can practice a wide range of punches on the double end bag to develop timing and accuracy.

Punching Bag Work

The next bag in the sequence is the heavy bag, where you build strength and power.

Take the opportunity to practice what you learned in the focus pad drills here. Also, be mindful of your range. Practice extending your arm fully with every punch, without overextending and hurting yourself. You’ll need to step in for hooks and uppercuts.

Footwork Drills

The Elorde and Penalosa gyms I’ve been to both have speed or agility ladders for footwork drills. This element is not always included in a standard training session but you can ask to work on it.

Footwork is absolutely essential for boxing, and I made the mistake of not focusing on it at the beginning of my trainer. My advice to you: ask your trainer to make use of the speed ladder so you can learn to be agile on your feet from the start.

For footwork drills, the “ladder” is laid out on the floor for you to run up and down in various patterns.

Some drills to get you started on the agility ladder

Sparring

Sparring is not part of a regular training session. You’ll have to pay your trainer an additional 300 to 400 pesos if you want to spar with him. (I have yet to encounter a female trainer.)

Alternatively, you can bring a training partner or ask another gym-goer if they want to spar with you.

If you’re just getting started, or boxing primarily for exercise, you might think it best to opt out of sparring.

However, even if you’re a total beginner, I would still encourage sparring. Besides being the most fun part of boxing, it’s also the most important. How else will you put what you’ve been learning to the test?

Even if you’re only in it for the workout, consider this: throwing punches in the ring is one of the best exercises out there when it comes to burning calories, knocking off 727 Cal per hour.

If you’re worried about getting hurt while sparring, have no fear.
If you’re at Penalosa The Edge, the hospital is very near!

Abs Workout and Resistance Training

If you have your own ab routine, the trainer will leave you to it. Otherwise, you can ask him to give you some exercises.

Depending on what the gym has available, you can also incorporate weight training.

At Elorde, they had a nice assortment of weights and workout equipment so I often began the session with some resistance training.

The order of events in a training session can be flexible and/or subject to change.

For example, at Elorde the gym could get quite busy and trainers would often be handling more than one client at a time.

In some cases, you might do pad work with the trainer right away. On other days, you might go through the speed bag, double-end bag, and punching bags first while the trainer is working with someone else.

Cool Down and Stretching

At gyms like Elorde and Penalosa, the trainer will help you stretch and even give you a quick full-body massage. With a gentle trainer, this is the part where you get to lay back and relax.

If he’s not, well, you’ll feel better when it’s over.

Enjoy your first boxing class, and feel free to share your experience in the comments!

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