There’s no doubt boxing is one of the most important martial arts to master as a fighter. The simplicity but depth of the sweet science is something to admire when you watch Lomachenko, Andre Ward, and Floyd Mayweather.
If you want to get better at boxing, you have to learn to take accountability for making mistakes: when you get hit with hard punches, you should understand that it’s because of something you didn’t do. To work on that, you should focus on improving your own boxing skills and reviewing the fundamentals repeatedly.
In the following article, we break down some of the key points to focus on to become successful in boxing.
Footwork is the number one most important thing in boxing: moving in and out of punching range is the first step (pun intended) to become a better boxer.
Most people think that boxing footwork is the in-and-out bouncing you see professional boxers do, but this is just surface-level footwork in reality. A big problem with this bouncing is that it could be timed: your opponent will time your rhythm, and as soon as you’re in punching range, you will get hit.
The important thing is to step with your shots: if you throw the jab, move your left foot at the same time forward. Why? Because you need to keep your feet under you at all times not to get knocked off balance. Another benefit of having your feet under you is that it allows you to throw powerful and hard punches since your feet push off the ground.
A good drill to perform to get in and out of range without bouncing too much is called the skip-step: you will see all of the great boxers moving as such without getting hit.
Here’s how to do it:
- step down with the left foot
- step right with the right foot
- step-up with the left foot (resets normal stance)
Remember, boxing footwork doesn’t have to be complicated; it’s subtle most of the time.
Your stance is your base; it keeps you balanced and allows you to move with speed: boxing is about efficiency; it’s about hitting without getting hit.
Here’s how to find your stance:
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart
- Step with the left foot forward at a 20° angle (or right foot if you’re left-handed)
- Keep the toes of your front foot aligned with the heel of your back foot
- The back foot should be facing to a 45° angle
Many fighters get tired and start leaning into their shots, which is why they get hit: they’re not fighting with the proper heel-toe-alignment. As we said before, your feet should always be under your torso.
How to Land Punches in Using Boxing Footwork?
You need to find an opening by moving your head, but to do so, your feet need to be grounded and have a heel-to-toe alignment. After using your head, you need to use your footwork to move after punching. A good boxer can create angles and land shots using different openings that his opponent gives him. When your opponent is throwing shots, that’s when he’s most vulnerable, so use your footwork to move out of the way or slip his offense to land your own shots.
Here’s a great scenario with 2 different options, if your opponent throws the jab
- slip it and counter with the right hand
- Slip and circle away with your feet to avoid any more punches.
If you want to become a better boxer, you must put your heart and soul into perfecting your technique; now, what do I mean by that?
I mean reviewing your balance, throwing your shots correctly and precisely by turning your hips and rotating your whole body: believe it or not, this is how you get knockout punching power. Linking your whole body into one punch means executing every technique correctly in a split second.
How To Breathe
Breathing correctly in boxing can be the difference between gassing out in the 6th round and making it into the championship rounds. Put simply, gassing out means your body cannot send enough oxygen to your muscles to fight.
The worst thing that could happen in a fight is getting tired because everything falls out of the window, technique, defense, safety, etc. Boxing is a marathon, not a sprint, so train yourself to breathe correctly!
As a general rule of thumb, you should exhale with each punch. Make a sound as you do so to make sure you did so correctly. Another benefit to breathing out with your punches is that it tightens your whole body, from your core to your neck, so when if you get hit while you’re punching, your body is ready for it.
Dealing with Fatigue
Now let’s say you’re in the 7th round, and your opponent somehow managed to tire you out; what should you do?
Here are four tips for dealing with fatigue
1. Use efficient technique: do no try and swing your shot; use efficient punches. If you’re on the outside, throw straight shots (jab and cross). If you’re in short-range, throw short hooks and uppercuts driving with the hips and feet.
2. Dial in your running, sprinting, and jump rope training
3. Take control of your breathing: do not worry about inhaling; your body’s going to do it for you automatically. Instead, focus on exhaling long breaths.
4. If you get tired, stay at long range and control the distance. Do not get closer; instead, throw the jab and cross to keep your opponent at bay.
How to take a punch to the face
Sometimes you can’t avoid a punch; after all, it’s a fighting sport. With that in mind, there’s a couple of things you could do to minimize the damage you take from a punch.
- Make sure your hands are up! You can see it countless times where even some of the best boxers tire out and start to drop their hands. Keep them up, and don’t turn away from the punches!
- Roll with the punch: move in the same direction to take away some of the stingings of the punch. This comes down to head movement: slipping and rolling.
- Brace for it (last resort): Bite down on your mouthguard, stick your tongue to the roof of your mount, tuck your chin down and elevate your shoulders as you you bend your knees. Try and take the punch on the forehead because that part of your skull is one of the strongest bones in your body.
The jab (1) is the most important punch in boxing; it is what will set up your defense, as well as your offense. When they say the jab is the king of all the other punches, here’s why:
It keeps your opponent at bay and guessing when you keep them busy with it. It is also the only punch that will blend in with all of the eight other punches: the right hand, (2), the hook (3-4), the uppercut (5-6), the shovel hook (7), and the overhand right (8).
Make sure you execute it correctly; here’s a great cue to perfect your jab:
“Imagine there’s an apple on a plate suspended in the air”: Throw the jab perfectly straight and back (no circular motion).
Once you get comfortable and grow with experience, you will realize that other different variations will help you expand your boxing skills.
You can vary it to your own liking; there are different types of jabs for different purposes: for instance, a stiff jab is a little hard and powerful sticking into your opponent’s face. You can use it when you want to make them think twice before closing distance.
The cross, known as the right hand, is probably the most efficient punch for knocking someone out in all martial arts sports. Why is it so dangerous, though? Well, because it uses a stronger rotation of your torso and your back foot as you step with it.
To become a better boxer, you really need to work on the jab and the right hand. The 1-2 combination is the most basic but also vital combo to be used in boxing.
50% of boxing is defense, yet many people are too eager to learn how to attack, not realizing that your defense is what will set up your attacks.
After mastering the basic shots and getting the hang of footwork, now it’s time to develop your defensive skills to take your boxing to the next level.
Footwork For Defense
Stepping back will help clear your head out of the way and buy you time to think. Defensive footwork is a bit like tip-toeing in cold water; you don’t want to step in too deep and freeze. The lead foot is always important to step into punching range, but if you take too wide of a step, you will eat clean shots! Here’s what to do to improve your defensive footwork:
First, measure your range with a jab; once you can land the jab on your opponent, land a couple more, then slip right or left (depending on what’s coming at you) and pivot away from your opponent.
Not only does this guarantee better distance control, but it will put you in positions to counter with your own shots without getting hit.
Head Movement And Slipping Punches
Although you see a lot of good head movement in MMA, there’s a lack of proper foot positioning, which causes some fighters to throw wild winging shots: this is bad because it leaves you open for counters.
If you look at some of the great boxers of this era like Andre Ward or Errol Spence, you’ll see that the reason they’re able to maintain composure and not swing wildly is because of their head movement.
A slip is nothing more than a slight shift of the head, covering a distance as wide as a glove: it’s very subtle. Synchronize your head movement with your shots and watch the sweet science of boxing unfold to you.
Your guard is your most important line of defense: your guard is your hands protecting your head; they need to be up at all times. Even when you’re throwing punches, the other hand should be up covering your face if one hand is busy.
Now, as you might have noticed, different boxing styles create different nuances in defense. For instance, if you look at Mayweather, he adopts what we call a Philly shell guard, whereas someone like the late great Muhammad Ali always had his arms down by his side. Both styles work, but you need to experiment with sparring or shadow boxing to see what works best for you.
Defensive Strategies: The Different Layers of Defense
Defending yourself in boxing isn’t just about avoiding shots; you can scare your opponent from throwing shots, you can defend by using your footwork movements.
There are 5 layers of defense in boxing; by working on each layer below, you will become a better boxer without a doubt:
- Layer 1: Defending with hands to stop a fighter from the outside (block, catch, parry)
- Layer 2: Defending with your arms and elbows when you’re on the inside (against body shots) + tie-up. It would be best if you buckled down, especially with the aggressive and strong fighters (last resort!);
- Layer 3: Defending with the feet. Keep pressure fighters off balance by pressuring them, moving forward, and constantly changing angles. Stay compressed down as you move. He will have to reset. If he’s a fast circle to the right to avoid punches!
- Layer 4: rolling the shoulders but keep your eye on your opponent! Use your shoulders as shields.
- Layer 5: Mental defense, get in his head. Draw an imaginary line and if he gets close to it, lean forward (he thinks that you’re going to attack, so be careful here, he might get aggressive) and move away.
Defense is about owning your own space. To become a good boxer, you need to control what your opponent does and take accountability, as we said earlier.
Controlling distance by using the length of your arm is essential for good ring generalship. This skill will make you stand out as soon as you step foot in any boxing gym.
Distance control is about creating space for punches: you can, for instance, shoulder bump your opponents to create space for an uppercut.
Chess not Checkers
When you move around, putting the lead leg in various positions, and moving laterally, you’re not showboating! You’re assessing and creating angles that your opponents will walk into: these angles are traps for them.
Sparring is the last piece of the puzzle where you combine everything. Hopefully, with everything that we mentioned, you should handle yourself pretty well in the ring.
Here are a couple of key points for sparring that would serve you well in the long run:
Do not ever go 100%; always keep it classy and technical. When you get hit for the first time, try not to surrender to the fight or flight response; instead, focus on your breathing.
Try to find gyms that provide a safe environment for you to train without getting hurt or concussed if you want to keep boxing until your 60s and preserve your brain health.
Do NOT be scared of getting creative, moving your feet around, feinting because everyone is learning the same punches and same combos as you: it’s up to you to challenge them by mixing it up a little. Remember to have fun with it!
Tips On How To Self-Assess And Improve
Boxing training doesn’t have to be complicated; the good thing about it is that you don’t have much to improve. There’s still a lot of things you could do to jumpstart your training:
- Find a coach: a coach will give you proper guidance in the beginning and will help instill in you good habits so that you don’t have to fix them later.
- Film Yourself: whether you’re training on the heavy bag or shadow boxing, make sure you look at your technique and try and be your biggest critic, and aim to fix your technique to improve every training session.
Shadowboxing: How to become a better boxer?
The number one tool at your disposal right now to become a better boxer is shadowboxing. If you watch any elite fighter shadowboxing, you will quickly realize that they look so effortless, and the reason being they have done it countless times before. How to go about it? Well, here are a few tips that will elevate your shadowboxing.
Breaking Down your Shadowboxing: 5 Key Components
You can use repetitive drilling: this is the simplest form of shadowboxing. The main component of drilling is to keep it simple and focus on your technique.
Focus on a single aspect: with this type of shadow boxing, you are moving freestyle (moving around and going by what you feel and whatever comes to your head). However, you are only working on one aspect of your game. For example, you can take around and work on head movement, or blocking and parrying, etc.
Try sequencing: this is when you work on a specific sequence of moves that you have set up between you and your imaginary opponent. You can make these sequences as long or as short as you want. The key is to treat it like a chess match so you can deal with different scenarios.
Freestyle your shadowboxing: this is where you work your complete game, from offense to defense to head movement to footwork. When you do this, you want to simulate the fight as much as possible. Imagine your toughest sparring or a recent fight. Shadowbox fast, at fight pace. Anything slower won’t do.
Whatever method you adopt, my point is, you want your shadowboxing to have a purpose. Too many fighters see it as a warmup exercise or something to fill time. The truth is, it’s a powerful tool when used correctly, and it can be an effective form of training in and of itself.
Everyone is learning the same thing, sure it might be taught slightly differently, but the fundamentals remain the same. Everyone is learning the jab, cross, hook, etc. Keep trying to improve every day and don’t stall: Every punch you throw should be with intent, be self-aware. Meditate on your punches; don’t admire them!