Effectiveness as a boxer is a product of offence and defense. Offensive actions in boxing can be boiled down to punches and feints, while defensive movements are a combination of evasive positioning, parries, and head movement. Supporting all these points, however, is footwork.
Footwork is the basis of good ring positioning (whether offensively or defensively), the ability to plant into the floor to deliver powerful blows, and the ability to balance, both while delivering or taking shots. It underpins everything. Here, we’re looking at the basics of good footwork, the important techniques to learn, and drills to help you develop these skills.
So first up, rules for moving around the ring. You need to keep your balance at all times. Taking a punch whilst you’re on one foot, or whilst you have your feet crossed, is a recipe for a knockdown. You need to find the stance that works for you – as a boxer, you want to be longer than you are wide, to be bladed (side-on) to bring your lead shoulder in front of your jaw-line, and to keep your center of balance low so you can move your weight between your legs easily. Finding the right stance is a personal thing and will differ between body types and moves preferred. Once you’re comfortable in your stance, you can look to begin drilling.
Drill 1 – Forward Shuffle
We’re going to start with an easy, but critical, lesson: maintaining your stance. We’ve got 2 rules to follow.
Rule 1 – Keep your stance length
When fighting, your stance length is important – you want to maintain it as you move around the ring. When you’re moving forward, move your front foot before your rear. When you’re moving backwards, move your rear foot before your front. Keep your base stable, and keep your stance long.
To drill – take up your stance, and draw a line (imaginary or not) in front of each of your feet. Now, step over the line with your front foot, then with your back foot, and then vice versa on reverse. Never let both of your feet inside the two lines at the same time. Keep going until it’s second nature. Once you’re comfortable, move forward several steps on a line whilst maintaining the stance length.
Punching needs to accompany footwork, and the two need to work in unison. For that reason, we’re adding a stepping jab to our linear movements. This keeps the opponent busy defending while you advance, and allows you to attack and move at the same time. Simply add in the stepping jab when you take your first step with either forward or backwards steps – it either forces the opponent to defend and retreat, or keeps them away as you fall back. With all the drills, think about how to include your attacks in a way that is synchronous with your stepping.
Drill 2 – Lateral Shuffle
Rule 2 – Never cross your feet
Crossing your feet is a recipe for disaster. Not only are you limiting your ability to move quickly, but you’re also cutting down your base so much that any push from the side, whether that’s a shove, a hook, or something else, is liable to knock you right over. Always step first with the foot on the side you are looking to move towards (just like in rule one) and never step so far that your feet cross over.
To drill – it’s much like the forwards and backwards movement, but this time from left to right. Draw two more lines, and once again step with the foot in the direction that you want to move in before stepping the other over to correct your stance width.
Rules can be broken, but only once you know them inside out. So, though a few of the drills that follow are going to go against some points here, master the basics before you move on to the more advanced techniques.
Drill 3 – Pivot
Rule 3 – when defending, get off the center line
Once you’ve got general movement down, we can look at some more complex footwork. To turn, we’re going to keep our front foot planted, and use the rear foot to decide on the direction that we want to face. Keep your stance maintained every time you step. To drill this one, just keep your foot on one point and work around in circles to face different directions, maintaining the stance each time. Repeat until comfortable.
To level it up, incorporate it into defence. This only works when moving left (as an orthodox fighter). Moving right comes below. As an opponent advances on you, you want to look at stepping out your front foot in the same way as the lateral shuffle. This time, however, use the rear foot to pivot around and turn to face the imaginary opponent. A slip to the outside is a good accompanying head movement to the step. After you have the general movement down, introduce either a partner or a swinging heavy bag for more danger. This movement brings you too far outside of your opponent’s lead hand to be in danger, and too far from their rear hand to reach – they have to pivot to face which buys you time. If you feel comfortable, add in either a left hook at the same time as the pivot, or a right straight after you plant the rear foot.
Pivoting is also useful on the offence. After launching a combination, make sure to step off at an angle to avoid standard counter shots down the front. Slip your head to the outside, and then pivot off the center line to that same side, and then retreat at an angle. It will not only make you hard to hit, but also can be used to avoid the ropes and move into space.
Drill 4 – L-steps
For moving out to the rear foot side, we need a different movement. Here we’re breaking the rule about narrowing your stance, but in order to avoid the advancing opponent, we need to bring the front foot in first. After we’ve stepped back to our feet being close together, take another step out with the rear foot – in this way we have formed the long side of the L, then the short. This allows you to pivot quickly, to give up ground to an advancing opponent, but also to come offline and avoid the ropes or a corner. To follow up, the rear straight is once again an effective counter shot.
The previous few movements should be more than enough to get you started. For some more complex, aggressive patterns, have a look at the below.
Drill 5 – The Jose ‘Mantequilla’ Napoles Galloping Jab
This one is a development from the stepping jab, and a technique used beautifully by the Cuban great, Jose Napoles.
While in a stepping jab, the first step is with the front foot, the galloping jab is thrown while stepping up with the rear foot, narrowing your stance, before advancing with the left. You will likely want to be more front-foot heavy to execute this, but the result will be that you come much closer to your opponent and are able to chase down anyone on the retreat. It puts you in a more vulnerable position during the technique, so take care, but puts you in a much more aggressive stance after, allowing you to throw damaging shots.
Drill 6 – The Cus D’Amato Shift
This is a well known classic. Made famous by Cus D’Amato’s student, Mike Tyson, and used in K1 by Badr Hari, this is a devastating short-range movement.
You’ll need to be in the pocket to make this useful. From orthodox, slip your head to the outside. As you bring your head back to the center, take a slight hop to your left and pivot as you do so. This should turn you perpendicular to your opponent, off their firing line, and put you in a short southpaw stance. It will also present you with the opportunity to rattle off power hooks before they’re back in position. Some of the most advanced practitioners are able to fire this off multiple times and swap to both sides. Remember to step away at an angle after, and keep yourself safe during the movement.
Footwork is designed to provide a base for and to support your offensive and defensive techniques. Always make sure to bring in your punches, your head movement, and your strategies into your drilling, and incorporate them into your footwork practice.