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Two women shadowboxing.

Boxing delivers a mind–body punch. Physically, it works muscles in your upper body, lower body, and core; improves agility and coordination; builds aerobic and anaerobic capacity; and burns fat. Mentally, it calls for precision and patience — and also serves as a great stress-busting outlet.

“Boxing lets you tap into all your energy systems,” says boxer and coach Mariela Burkett. “You grow mentally because you’re constantly analyzing someone else’s moves, how they might react to you, and how you can counter their reaction.”

The sport involves either sparring with a partner in the ring, practicing solo against a bag, or shadowboxing into the air. It’s accessible to folks of various ages, gender identities, fitness levels, and physical and cognitive abilities.

“It feels amazing to take your stress out on the heavy bag,” says Life Time boxing instructor Bethany Keepman. “The endorphins start to flow, and you feel empowered when you walk out. It also helps improve self-confidence — not only do you physically feel better but [you also feel better] mentally.”

Boxing clubs have long been popular, but at-home exercise videos and group fitness classes incorporating common boxing moves sparked mainstream interest in the 1990s. This popularity created a generation that relishes both the fitness and the empowerment associated with the sport and its high-intensity spinoffs, like cardio kickboxing.

Today, it’s common to see trainers incorporating punches into boot-camp and even indoor-cycling classes.

The popular adaptations of boxing bear some risk: If you’re not focused on form and accuracy while throwing the sport’s four main punches — the jab, cross, hook, and uppercut — as well as executing the accompanying footwork, your technique can suffer, resulting in injury.

However you practice, establish your very best form and enhance your performance in the ring and the gym with these back-to-basics drills.

Technique Tips and Drills

Know Your Intention

Are you boxing for fitness and confidence? Are you boxing to go up against an opponent? Are you boxing for self-defense?

It’s good to set your intention before stepping into a ring or group fitness class, because the level and type of training each goal requires will differ:

  • For general fitness, less-than-perfect technique and less one-on-one instruction are OK.
  • Facing off against an opponent requires form, precision, and mental preparation, say Burkett and Keepman, who recommend high-level instruction from an experienced boxing coach.

Drill 1: Strengthen Your Boxing Stance

Burkett recommends this drill for building a solid foundation in your quads, glutes, and back muscles.

  • Holding a 4-pound rubber medicine ball (or one you can throw with one hand), stand about 9 feet away from a wall.
  • Assume your stance: legs shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, and left foot slightly forward.
  • With your right hand, throw the ball hard into the wall. Catch it with both hands.
  • Perform 10 throws leading with the left foot and right arm, then switch your stance for 10 throws with the opposite arm. Repeat for three rounds.

Drill 2: Fancy Footwork

Boxing requires fast upper-body reflexes and footwork to dodge and duck, explains Burkett, who recommends this agility drill.

  • Start in a boxing stance and push off the left foot to take 10 quick steps to the right.
  • Pushing off the right foot, take 10 quick steps to the left, back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for two minutes, then rest one minute.
  • Get back into your boxing stance and repeat the sequence to the front and back: Push off your rear foot to take 10 steps forward, then push off your front foot to take 10 steps backward.
  • Repeat for two minutes, switching your lead leg about halfway through.

Drill 3: Throwing Punches

The jab, cross, hook, and uppercut are the key moves in boxing. They are distinct and precise — but it’s common for their execution, particularly when sequenced, to become muddied into a flailing of arms.

“When throwing a punch, make sure you have the technique down before adding power,” Keepman says. “Fully extend your arms in the jab and cross. Rotate your body, specifically your hips; this is especially true in the hook and uppercut. Stay light and pivot your feet.

“Once you have the technique, then add some power behind your punch: Drive from your legs. Boxing is a full-body workout, so make sure the entire body is engaged.”

The jab appears to be the most straightforward of the four punches, but it’s actually the easiest to mess up, Keepman warns. (For a jab refresher to ensure you meet your mark, visit “Shadowboxing Cardio Workout”.)

Drill 4: Lean on Your Body Weight

Body-weight training — including shadowboxing, running, jumping rope, and strength exercises — is an ideal way to train for boxing. Try the following workout routines as part of your training:

Head Games

“Boxing is very tough mentally and requires patience with yourself and the sport,” Burkett says.

The first step to developing the requisite headspace, she adds, is to practice, practice, practice.

Burkett also recommends challenging your brain. “Playing chess, word searches, or any type of mind game to develop speed and foresight” will improve your technique. “For me, it’s reading a book in a loud environment. Whatever eases your frame of mind in a busy situation works.”

This article originally appeared in Experience LifeLife Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

Sarah
Sarah Tuff Dunn

Sarah Tuff Dunn is a Colorado-based outdoors, health, fitness, and nutrition writer.

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