You find yourself sitting in front of the TV with a drink in one hand and a savoury snack in the other. As you gaze at the TV, you see two men in a ring throwing a whirlwind of punches. The bell rings. The men make their way to their respective corners bloodied, bruised and breathing heavily.
As each coach rushes to the side of each respective fighter to wipe off the blood, cut eyelids and apply a generous glob of petroleum jelly you inevitably will hear them yelling, “create angles, create angles”. Whether you’re brand new to our boxing courses or have been an avid fan for many years, you have heard this phrase from fighters, coaches and the like. Well, what does it refer to?
When the average person thinks of boxing, they imagine two fighters toe-to-toe throwing heavy punches in the hopes that one lands. Very rarely watching or aware of what the fighter’s feet are doing.
However, the importance of boxing footwork is tremendous and often overlooked by both the fans and those who are new to training.
Learning the importance of boxing footwork for training can make the difference in your elevation to the next level. The difference between a win and a loss, and in some cases, the difference between avoiding a severe injury.
And for those who are fans of boxing, learning the intricacies of boxing footwork will provide you with a much greater appreciation for both the sport and the fighters.
So, What’s This Footwork All About?
We will break down the essentials of boxing footwork in 4 simple steps:
- The Importance of Boxing Footwork: The Basics
- Boxing Footwork Basics
- Boxing Footwork Techniques
- Boxing Footwork Drills and Exercises
The Importance of Boxing Footwork
Before getting into the details of how to position yourself with footwork and drills that you can use to improve your boxing footwork better, we will first briefly explain why footwork is such an essential component to any fighter.
Footwork is all about maintaining balance throughout a fight. Having excellent balance in a fight is key to being effective on both offence and defence.
The balance will deliver more power into your punches. Punching power is derived from your lower body: feet, legs, butt and hips.
In addition, your ability to effectively defend yourself relies on how well-balanced you are throughout the fight.
High-level boxers will look for the slightest opportunity to capitalise on.
Maybe you lean too far forward while trying to throw a right cross, this puts your upper body off-centre from your lower body and makes you vulnerable to a heavy counter-punch.
Perhaps you try to move laterally to the left, in doing so your legs cross. At this point, you are standing up too straight, and your legs are too close to one another. If your hit with a punch it is very likely to send you stumbling across the ring or straight to the canvas.
It comes as no surprise that your ability to move quickly in boxing is crucial. The slightest mistake or an inability to move out of the way can cause dire consequences.
Agility in moving side-to-side, as well as in-and-out of the pocket, will prove paramount. Quick, sharp, powerful and controlled movements are critical to any top-level boxer.
Improving your basic boxing footwork will make you agiler, and your ability to get in and out of striking distance will improve significantly.
More important than punching power is your positioning. After all, if you either aren’t able to find a position to strike your opponent or you can’t get in a position to avoid his/her strikes, all else is futile.
You should always be trying to create angles when striking your opponent. That is, you should rarely be striking in a 12-to-6 fashion. Basic boxing defence trains fighters to keep their hands up, in front of their faces to always protect themselves from a straight punch.
Because of this, creating angles, or pivoting to the left or right, allows you to find a potential vulnerability in your opponent’s defence.
In addition, ‘distance’ is a term you will often hear when you begin training boxing. As you may assume, it refers to the distance between you and your opponent.
However, every fighter has a different striking distance and an ability to close the space at a different rate. So, improving your footwork, and your ability to move in and out of your opponent’s striking distance is crucial.
Boxing Footwork Basics:
Now that we have covered the ‘why’ question of boxing footwork, we will move on to footwork positioning basics.
Let’s begin with the proper boxing stance. You want to stand with your legs slightly more than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, in an athletic position.
You don’t want your legs too wide or too narrow; remember, they essential here is maintaining balance.
Too wide or too narrow and you risk quickly falling off balance.
Always keep your feet pointed straight at your opponent. This will help you control both your movement and deliver strikes more effectively.
It is crucial here to mention that you want to always be on the ball (or toes) of your feet. Your heels will and should occasionally touch the canvas, but the ball of your foot should initiate any movements you make.
If you were to stand on your heels, this puts you at considerable risk for being knocked off balance. You should always push off or land on your toes.
This makes you more agile and able to react faster than if you were ‘flat-footed’.
It is worth mentioning that each martial art will teach you to stand differently. For example, Muay Thai fighters will stand different from kickboxers who will stand different from MMA fighters.
Muay Thai fighters need to be concerned about leg kicks. Therefore they stand much lighter on their front foot to avoid heavy leg kicks.
MMA fighters need to worry about a wrestler shooting in and taking them down, so they may stand much wider and shoulders more square to their opponent to avoid being taken to the ground.
At any rate, we are speaking explicitly focusing on the proper stance for boxing.
Boxing Footwork Technique:
So far, we have covered the reasoning behind the importance of boxing footwork and your basic stationary boxing stance. We will now move on to some boxing footwork technique. That is, basic footwork when you are in motion.
We will cover the following three topics:
- 45-degree stepping
- Side Stepping/Moving in and out
You want to begin by practising moving or circling your opponent in 45-degree increments. Most of all boxing footwork will be taught in distances of 45-degree increments.
For instance, you may pivot 90 degrees or sometimes even 180 degrees to throw a counter punch (we will get to this in the next section).
You can practice your 45-degree stepping by either imagining the lines or using tape to draw it out on the ground to ensure proper movement.
Looking at the figure above, each line is drawn out in approximately 45 degrees. You could continue this pattern and wrap it all the way around to complete the circle.
This stance would be for somebody who fights ‘orthodox’. That is to say. Their right hand is their dominant hand. If your left hand is your dominant hand, your right leg would be in front and left leg in the back.
This would be someone standing directly in front of their opponent. Striking from this angle would be a 12-to-6 strike. This strike is rarely available, as mentioned before. The default defensive position is to protect this space.
Therefore, you must move either left or right approximately 45 degrees to find a potential vulnerability in their defence.
Why 45 Degrees?
Remember, boxing is a game of split seconds and millimetres. So, 45 degrees is the general rule of thumb because you can cover that distance quickly enough to outspeed your opponent, and it’s a big enough space to either defend or strike from.
Drawing out these lines on the ground is essential because, as any coach will tell you, you NEVER want to cross your legs when moving from one angle to another.
For instance, if you move from position #1 to position #2, you want first to move your front foot, and then the back foot follows.
You always want to imagine that line between your feet and never cross your legs. This puts you off balance and in a weak defensive position.
It is important to note that despite your body changing angles and your back foot covering a decent amount of ground, your front foot stays relatively close to the previous position and your toes are always pointing toward your opponent.
This would allow for a very quick response time if you were to move 45 degrees and throw a punch.
The primary purpose of pivoting as a boxing footwork technique to create angles.
If your opponent has you in a bad position, your being overwhelmed with punches, pivoting can quickly change your angle and nullify your opponent’s offence.
Similarly, if you are toe-to-toe with your opponent and they appear to be defending very well, leaving you with no effective striking opportunity, a pivot can drastically open options for you.
You can imagine pivoting as a race around a circular track. When your opponent takes off running around the track, you simply cut across the field to the other side. You take a shortcut. You create an angle.
Pivoting allows you to take a quick, sharp, shortcut to another angle that would otherwise take much more time if you were to circle or side-step your way.
‘What are the basics of pivoting?’
In short, Pivoting is where your front foot stays stationary, but your back foot moves either left or right.
In the previous section, we discussed 45-degree stepping. Pivoting holds the same principles; the only difference is your front foot stays planted.
It’s is crucial to note that whether you pivot small (45-degrees) or large (90 to 180 degrees), your toes should remain to point at your opponent.
This is where a proper pair of boxing shoes comes in handy.
Practising pivoting with normal running or gym shoes may prove challenging as there may be too much grip on the shoe’s sole. You want to grip the ground. However, your front foot should remain planted and slide rather than lift.
When you pivot, you want to use the ball of your back foot to push off. Your back foot should slide or very slightly come off the canvas. Your front foot, while planted on the canvas, should rotate into a new angle pointed toward the opponent.
Side Stepping/Moving In and Out
45-degree stepping and pivoting were all about creating angles while remaining in the pocket to deliver strikes. Where side-stepping differs is that it is primarily used not to create an angle necessarily, but to step away and avoid a punch or remove yourself from the pocket.
The footwork movements will be similar to the 45-degree stepping. The basic principles will remain the same. You want to stay on the balls of your feet, and you want to ensure you NEVER cross your legs.
The difference is, with 45-degree stepping, you are moving in a circular motion to create a better angle. With sidestepping, you are moving laterally, or side to side. Not necessarily circular.
Now, you always want to remain engaged in a position that enables you to strike, so you do want your toes pointed at your opponent.
Remember, never cross your legs.
When moving from centre to the right, you want to push off your front foot and move your back foot first.
When moving from the centre to the left, you want to push off your back foot and move your front foot over first.
This will ensure your legs never cross, and you remain balanced.
The same here applies to moving in and out of the ‘pocket’.
In boxing, the pocket refers to space where you are within the striking zone of your opponent. You are not at the end of the fighters reach, but rather inside at a much shorter range.
Moving in and out of the pocket quickly, efficiently, and with the right timing can be the difference between winning and losing.
Typically, you want to punch your way into the pocket. That is, you want to be throwing offensive punches as you make your way into your opponent’s striking zone so that they are not in a position to hit you on your way in easily.
Boxing Footwork And Exercises:
In addition to the below footwork drills and exercises, you should drill the boxing footwork techniques mentioned above. You are drilling these while shadow boxing is a great way to become more familiar with creating your angles and transforming them into second nature.
It is essential to practice and drill your footwork to build both muscle memory and stamina. Footwork should be done as quick, sharp and efficient as possible.
Here are a few boxing footwork drills for beginners, as well as advanced:
- Jumping rope
- Resistance Bands
It is a classic workout and remains timeless. Every professional boxer you have seen TV training undoubtedly, you’ve seen the jumping rope; and for a good reason.
Jumping rope not only acts as a great warm-up before a hard workout, but it also builds cardio, and it improves your footwork significantly.
Remember, all footwork comes from the balls (or toes) of your feet and agility is critical.
During a fight, your feet should be very active. You never want to get caught flat-footed.
Often if you watch professional fighters, you will see them consistently bouncing or hopping or shifting in tiny quick bursts.
Jumping rope is a MUST to build great footwork.
As you can imagine, the movement in the jumping rope is nearly identical to that of a boxer during a fight: Light, on the balls of their feet, hopping around.
You should spend a minimum of fifteen minutes a day jumping rope. This will help adequately build these muscles and increase your agility.
Placing resistance bands around your ankles and in controlled bursts move laterally, or sidestep.
This will work out your hips, knees, and ankles. Applying resistance to your lateral movements will make you much agiler in your fights.
Your agility and power moving laterally will significantly increase; allowing you to improve your pivoting and 45-degree stepping.
Ladder workouts are fantastic for boxing footwork drills. There are many different types of ladder exercises that can be performed. However, they are all successful in building strength and agility.
NFL running backs are often seen performing ladder drills as agility is paramount in their position. In addition, quick, powerful lateral movements are essential for a running back.
They key here is agility and reaction time in your foot movement. The faster you can move in, and out of each ladder rung, the more improved your footwork will become.
Imagine each time you step in and out of a rung. You are stepping in and out of the ‘pocket’.
You may even want to shadow box as you perform this drill to represent the real situation better.
These ladders are typically made of plastic and rope and can be purchased at most local sport equipment stores.
As mentioned earlier, your power in your punches is derived from your lower body strength and your footwork positioning. Much of your balance comes from having a healthy lower body that can easily support and move your upper body.
Your glutes, or your butt, is a crucial component to a healthy, powerful lower body.
Squatting is a compound workout. Meaning it works out more than just one muscle. Squatting works out nearly your entire lower body and is fantastic for generating balance and power.
They can either be done with or without weights. Make sure to keep your legs slightly more than shoulder-width apart, with your toes angled slightly out and your back straight.
Squatting is a critical factor in explosive lateral movement in boxing. In addition, you are pivoting and creating angles both demand that you engage your glutes and quads.
Time To Put Knowledge To Action!
Now that we have covered the basics of boxing footwork, it’s time to get out there and put knowledge into action. Just remember some of the critical points when it comes to boxing footwork.
All boxing footwork revolves around balancing your body. You want a healthy lower body, and whether you are on offence or defence, your ability to balance yourself will prove crucial.
Boxing footwork is essential to create angles against your opponent. Creating tips and putting yourself in the best position either offensively or defensively, is more critical than hitting harder or perfecting your left hook.
After all, if you can’t hit your opponent or you can’t avoid getting hit, you’re in for a rough fight.
Balls Of Your Feet:
While you will find yourself touching your heels to the ground, you want to always be on the balls of your feet. Any movement should spring from the balls of your feet. Standing on the balls of your feet provide you with the quickest, most controlled movements so that you are prepared to defend or strike.
Never Cross Your Feet:
Whether you are pivoting, sidestepping, or creating an angle with a 45-degree step; you never want your legs to cross one another!
This will take practice. If you are moving to your right, you may push off your front foot, and your back foot will assume the position first. Conversely, if you move to your right, you will push off with your back foot, and your front foot will take the position first.
This takes practice, and you must drill this constantly for it to become second nature.
Practice, Practice, Practice:
Your boxing footwork will only get better by practising and performing exercises to strengthen those particular movements. Focus on workouts that promote lower body agility and power!