Boxing Footwork Tips
When people think of what it takes to be a good boxer they tend to think about sledgehammer punches, conditioning, the ability to bob and weave and the right boxing gloves and mouthguards. What you don’t hear a lot about, except from insiders, is footwork. But there’s really only one irrefutable fact in boxing: if you don’t keep moving you’re going to get hit. Footwork is what separates the successful boxer from the unsuccessful one but it’s not as simple as learning to waltz. There’s a lot that goes into proper boxing footwork and below we’ll look at 10 of those things.
So you’ve spent your time at the punching bags, you’ve learned to tape your hands and you brought some top-of-the-line gloves. But when you finally get into the ring to spar you’re getting peppered with shots. What gives? What gives is that your footwork is undermining you. Here are 10 ways to improve it.
1. Learn The Steps
Like we said, boxing footwork is not like waltzing. You need to be able to react quickly to the constantly changing dynamic, whether you’re on the attack or on the defensive. In order to “float like a butterfly” as Ali used to say you need to stay on the balls of your feet. They should be the first thing that contacts the ground and the first part of the foot lifted from the ground. Staying on your toes this way allows you to avoid punches more easily and puts more authority behind the punches you throw.
2. Keep A Narrow Stance
Having a wide stance is not going to make it easier for you to stay upright. It’s just going to make it harder for you to move, harder for you to step into your punches on the move and tire you out quicker. Go look at videos of Tyson in his prime and watch his footwork. Watch how he stays on his toes in a narrow stance as he moves forward. About the only time, he widened his stance was when he had the opponent against the ropes and was lining up cruise missiles to take them out.
3. Jump Rope
Boxers don’t jump rope because they have Peter Pan syndrome and want to relive their childhood. They jump rope because it helps improve every aspect of their ring performance, particularly footwork. It trains you to stay on the balls of your feet, let’s you build the calf muscles necessary to stay on your toes and lets you practice bouncing your feet side to side, forward and backward. It’s one of the best conditioning exercises you can do.
4. Keep Your Back Straight
You can never achieve optimal balance unless you straighten your spine. Human anatomy is the result of millions of years of evolution. The design that emerged is one where our backs are intended to be kept straight at all times. Bending your spine creates imbalance, shifts your center of gravity and makes it easier for you to be knocked over. So keep your spine straight and don’t give your opponent a weakness they can exploit.
5. Make Sure You Wear Boxing Shoes
There hasn’t been a pair of running shoes invented that are going to be an asset in the ring. Not one. You need boxing shoes. Why? Because boxing shoes are really more like reinforced socks with no-slip soles than they are shoes. They’re super light, lace well up your shin to provide robust ankle support and they’ll allow you to tap dance your way around your opponent instead of standing there like a statue taking shots. The sole on standard athletic shoes is just too thick to facilitate nimble lateral motion.
6. Take Small Steps
A big step might seem like it’s necessary to line up that haymaker. But what if you miss? Your momentum is going to carry you past the opponent who can likely send you to the floor with just a moderate shot to the side of your head. Even if the opponent misses with that shot it’s going to take you several seconds to regroup and rebalance. And you’ll be vulnerable while you’re regrouping.
7. Unify Your Movements
In the world of boxing, your lower and upper body have to move as one unified entity with the core calling the shots. The core is what unites the upper and lower body and it’s needed to execute all pushing and pulling movements, including punching, bobbing and weaving. So it’s not the core that serves your arms and legs. Your arms and legs are extensions of your core. Why are attack dogs so dangerous? Because they’re all core.
“But I thought I was supposed to tap dance on the balls of my feet?” 90% of the time you are. But there comes a time when walking is a more effective approach. You’ll often see fighters revert to walking to conserve energy. They’ll walk out of an encounter along the ropes or walk toward an opponent both to save energy and because it can be very intimidating. A few seconds later they’ll go back up on their toes.
9. Get Enough Sleep
How are you supposed to stay on your toes if you’re tired all the time? Fatigue is an enemy that has brought down more boxers than just about anything else. Trainers spend a large amount of their time trying to stress the importance of sleep on the people they work with. Fatigue will not only undermine your footwork but will also slow your responses and leave you vulnerable to a skilled opponent.
10. Drop Your Hands
Isn’t that a recipe for disaster? Like wearing kids boxing gloves? It can be. So this tip is only for more experienced boxers. The higher your hands the higher your center of gravity. So dropping your hands allows you to lower your center of gravity and become a bit more nimble. You need to be very careful how and when you employ this footwork tip however. Do it when you’re in close and you will leave yourself open to a devastating shot.