In this article I run through a few things I believe you must have if you want to improve your Boxing. Sure we all have different goals, not all of us will want to step into the ring and fight competitively outside of sparring, some of you may just want to use Boxing for fitness and that’s great too, but even then, a lot of this article will still apply to you because essentially I teach everyone the same. If you want to just be fit, well you still need to learn proper technique even if the emphasis will be more on the fitness side of things, If you are using Boxing to increase your fitness and improve your health you’ll still need to increase your cardio capability, you’ll still need to know how to punch properly because it helps to prevent injury and provides for a better workout. One thing which really annoys me when I see Personal Trainers on the pads with clients is how they hold the pads 12 inches either side of their head, well unless you want to go to the Zoo to punch Elephants that’s a pretty pointless exercise, and if they continue to teach you to punch that far across, you’ll probably still miss with any punch you throw, whatever your goal, it pays to learn the sport of Boxing correctly but I digress…and onto some essential tips for the Squared Circle. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some guidelines you need to keep in mind if you want to cover the bare basics of improving as a Boxer.
1. Running, running, running. Yes I said that three times to emphasize my point. If you want to Box well, you must improve your fitness. Fighting is an extremely draining sport. Without a good level of fitness you will not do justice to your talent, you will not be mentally sharp in the ring which means missed opportunities when Boxing and likely getting hit with shots you wouldn’t normally have. It was the great NFL Coach Vince Lombardi who said ‘Fatigue makes cowards us of all’ and that is very true of the ring, if you are tired there’s very little you can do except cover up and hope the bell sounds the end of the ring very soon. Your technique falls apart when you are tired, we’ve all been there, its not a very pleasant experience. I don’t care how hard you punch, if you gas out you will not be punching very hard at all. Do your running, jogging, sprinting and intervals. You will need the leg strength and endurance to last the fight, everything comes from the legs, even 3 rounds of amateur level is very fast paced and tiring. Don’t fall short.
2. The Jab. If there is one punch you have to master, it is the jab, the can opener of punches leads on to any number of punches after and sets you up for your next shot. No punch is used more often than the jab so make sure you work on this punch. The jab can be used in numerous ways, to find your range, to set up the next shot, to distract your opponent, to feel him out so don’t underestimate its effectiveness. It can also be thrown in various ways, the standard jab, the screw jab, the ‘up’ jab coming from low to high, the flick jab, the jab to the body, faking high then low and vice versa. An extremely versatile punch, great Boxers will always have great jabs, look at the jabs of great Boxers such as Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes.
3. Head Movement. It doesn’t have to be as extravagant as Pernell Whitaker, or bob and weave like Mike Tyson. As long as you can avoid a punch, even by just 1cm you’ve done your job. Boxers like Julio Cesar Chavez Snr or Roberto Duran were experts at moving just enough to slip your punch, economy of movement, efficient and energy saving. Of course if you find you are better suited at rolling under and using larger movements then that is fine too, the point here is to make sure your head is moving. Boxing is all about hitting whilst not getting hit yourself. If your head does not move you will be getting hit much more often. Learn to implement head movement into your basic Boxing moves, this means adding slips and rolls in shadow boxing after throwing a punch or combination, and adding head movement when you are moving around the ring. Don’t be a sitting target and don’t let your opponent line you up.
4. Footwork. This goes without saying, when you build a house, you must build a solid foundation, without it the house is flimsy and falls down and footwork is the foundation for your Boxing. If you have no footwork, you will not punch as hard because you will not be properly balanced, and by the same token, if you are not properly balanced, you are easier to knock over. Learn to pivot, it never ceases to surprise me when I come across people who have been boxing at a club for a year or more and still haven’t been taught how to pivot but pivoting will allow you punch off angles and fight on the ropes. Practice footwork every time you train, even the basics of going left, right, backwards and forwards, it will help you no end. As Sugar Ray Leonard once said, your legs will either get you into trouble, or get you out of trouble. Make sure it is not the former.
5. Your chin. As the old saying goes ‘if you step into the shower, you’re going to get wet. If you step into the ring, you are going to get hit’. Yes of course, having good footwork and good head movement will decrease the number of times you get hit but sooner or later you are going to get hit, whether that’s because you are tiring or simply because your opponent is very skilled, it will happen. When it does, don’t cower into a corner or totally change the way you fight. Mike Tyson proclaimed ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face’ so don’t be one of those who drops onto the back foot every time they get in the face. If you only want to take things as far as sparring, then invest in a facesaver headguard which offers increased protection and protects your nose. It’s safe to say if you cannot take a punch, you won’t get far in Boxing. Besides, it is never as bad as you think it will be….
Exercises which train the neck will help you absorb punches much better, so if you are that worried, buy a neck harness which allows you to attach weights, train your traps and do your deadlifts.
6. Sparring. I’m going to end it here, and sparring makes it into my top six essentials. The reason is obvious, you can’t go to war having played Call of Duty on your ps4 all year and you can’t go into a fight having never sparred before. Well you can, but neither instances will end well for you. Everything comes together in sparring, that move you were practicing all week? Well try it out in sparring against a live opponent and see how it goes. Bruce Lee famously said in Enter the Dragon ‘Boards don’t hit back’ and practicing on the pads or the bag, whilst it is great for training, things don’t always go your way when you are against an opponent who will be hitting you back. Sometimes the best way to ensure you are moving your head is to actually experience getting hit in the head, that makes you remember what you ought to have been doing! Sparring is essential because it is where you learn your range, distance and timing. No more wasting punches and valuable energy by throwing them when you are 5ft away from your opponent. Anything you want to practice, try it out in sparring first. It also helps you to learn ring awareness and recognize punches, it really is the finishing touch to all of your hard work.