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Footwork Fundamentals

Using Footwork in Boxing

When we watch boxing or think of the sport, it’s easy to get hung up on the hands. The punches attract most of the attention. It results in people undervaluing the importance of footwork–the source of where everything stems. While everyone is looking at the hands, it’s really the footwork that is responsible for success. Good footwork can make you a dangerous fighter, while poor footwork will almost guarantee that you won’t be very good.

Proper Footwork

Generally, your feet should be about shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. But there are variations. Your lead foot will be pointing straight ahead with your back foot cocked out at a slightly-less than 90-degree angle. As far as the spacing, if you have an opponent trapped in a corner and are working him over with shots, you can spread those feet a little bit to gain extra leverage. There are also times where you want to “stay small.” The closer your feet are together, the more quickly you can respond to an opponent who is moving a lot. If a moving fighter is peppering you before quickly getting out of range, a wide stance will leave you a step behind. Your ability to react will be slower.

The shoulder-length rule has not been a strict guideline, but if you hold them much wider, you will need to be a dynamite athlete and fighter to make it work–like a Pernell Whitaker or Roy Jones. In addition, you want the weight evenly spread on two feet to guarantee good balance. Some fighters lean a little extra weight on their rear foot. That might give you a little extra distance when you need it, or make you visually a little harder to hit.

If when you’re in the ring, your trainer can easily kick your leg up, you don’t have enough weight on that foot. It can be either foot. Some fighters are back on their rear heel, where they jeopardize their ability to be mobile. Other boxers get too forward-oriented, where their rear leg is dragging behind them almost like a dead limb. Good footwork and all that stems from it is dependent on both feet being involved and on-balance.

You want to be oriented on the balls of your feet more than your heels. It’s all about readiness. When trying to launch quick shots, you want to be more on the balls of your feet, which will allow to shoot out shots quicker than if you were on your heels. Your lead foot will be largely responsible for quick pivoting. If you’re a right-handed fighter, that left foot will be more explosive–helping you quickly spin to the side or simply move out of danger. Your rear leg will be more the driving force when you advance.

Bad Footwork

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Bad footwork equals bad balance–something you can’t afford to have in the ring. It could be something you’re doing wrong technically, like holding your feet too close together or far apart, crossing your feet, or it could be more mental. You’re not paying enough attention to footwork and all its possible benefits. You may be too hung up on your upper-half.

Poor footwork will leave you a step behind. It will leave you out of position. It will leave you with less options–defensively and offensively. A fighter with inactive feet or thoughtless footwork is always in danger of having major deficits in the areas of ring generalship, ring geography, and a lot of other things that can cost you a win.

What Good Footwork Can Do

  • Speed: Fast footwork will allow you to out-speed your opponent. A fast-footed fighter can gain an advantage by simply being too fast to hit. When using fast footwork, the opponent will be a step behind. While you’re creating new angles for attack, the opponent is reacting to where you were a nanosecond ago. Keep in mind, however, that good footwork is not necessarily dependent on speed. There are tons of fighters whose footwork was expert, though they weren’t what you would call fleet-of-foot.
  • Defense: Footwork can steer you out of trouble. It is one of many lines of defense you have at your disposal, but maybe the most usable. Your feet can move you completely out of range from your opponent. You can use your footwork to bail yourself completely out of trouble, where your opponent can’t reach you. You can use it to avoid certain punches. If your opponent’s best weapon is a left jab, you would go to your left to stay out of direct range. And in close, a little shift here and there can better close up the punching alleys of your opponent. If an opponent is drilling you with a right uppercut to the gut, you can shift your feet a tick clockwise and that punch will be hitting your left arm.
  • Ring Generalship: This is when you give off the vibe that you are leading the dance. The opponent is reacting to what you’re doing. You are dictating the terms of battle. Shifty footwork can help you do this. Your opponent can never get set and before long, he’s following your lead. You move and then stay still. Your opponent comes into exchange, but you move and then hit him with a few shots. He follows you again and on and on it goes. Your footwork enables you to be the ring captain. When it is you who is constantly resetting, the opponent can’t help but fall into a reactive mode.
  • Creating Offense: When you square up with your opponent or move around the ring, your opponent’s defense will be ready. His defense fits what you are presenting him at that precise moment. Shifty footwork can allow you to circumvent that defense before he has a time to react. If you are facing your opponent and try to throw a left hook to his body in between his gloves or arms, you’re probably going to miss. If you suddenly shift your feet a half-step to your right, now there is an opening for that punch. It will only be there for a fraction of a second, as your opponent will make the adjustment. But it will be there. The examples are endless. If we want to land the left uppercut, we can shift a tick to our right. If we want to throw a straight right to the gut, we can shift a tiny bit to our left. Instead of hitting elbows, arms, and gloves, now we’re connecting.
  • Power: There is always a range where various punches do the most damage. When trying to land our power punch, we might like a little distance. If we see a smothering opponent is open for that shot, we can give ourselves a little more room, plant, then let the punch go at a more desired distance. Maybe our best shot is the left hook, but it’s better when thrown short and compact. We keep hitting the opponent’s right glove with it. So we take a small step to our right and then we have a better chance of slipping it inside the opponent’s right glove.

Other Thoughts on Footwork

Footwork takes effort. It’s something you have to work on consciously in the gym. Good footwork doesn’t happen by accident. You don’t have to be especially fast, agile, or graceful in order to have good footwork. Those things help, but thoughtfulness and timing are also hallmarks of good footwork.

A bouncy fighter is easily able to move, since he’s in a state of constant motion, constantly shifting and staying on his toes. It’s just that some fighters are either bouncing or planted and throwing punches. An opponent can begin to notice that when you’re bouncing, you’re a sitting duck. If you’re gonna bounce, make sure you’re out of range.

It’s amazing how much your footwork will improve simply by paying more attention to it. When sparring, for example, it’s natural to pay about 95% of our mind to our arms. Working on footwork requires focus. Spend some rounds where footwork is your sole concern.

Determine how you want footwork to suit you. If you’re a moving boxer, footwork will be a big part of your defensive philosophy. If you’re a brawler, you will be using footwork to cut off the ring or create new punching opportunities. A counter-puncher will be using footwork to gain superior position. It is dependent on what you’re trying to accomplish.