It's easy to get into the zone when you're punching a bag. Maybe you're thinking about a certain situation you're stressed about or you're just really digging the playlist. But a few careless jabs can land you out of the ring. And that's a fight you're sure to lose.
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Like other fitness modalities, boxing takes skill and technique. Yes, you're using your arms, but your core and legs are also driving those powerful punches. Hand-eye coordination and agility come into play, too. But if your form fails, then how can you expect to stay on your feet round after round?
To help you hone your technique, we asked trainers about the most common boxing mistakes and how to fix them.
1. You Don't Have the Right Footwork
While you're probably thinking more about your hands and arms when boxing, your stance will set you up for mighty punches. Standing with your feet too close together, with your legs crossed or with one leg far behind the other is a fast track to getting knocked down — or tripping yourself.
"A common mistake people make is having one foot behind another when they are in their boxing stance. This is bad because you will be off balance with any defensive head movement you do, and hinder your back hand," Rubie Canton, CPT, boxing instructor at Shadowbox in Chicago, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Fix It: Proper boxing stance is to stagger your feet shoulder-width distance apart, evenly distributing your weight on both feet.
Which foot you have in front depends on which hand is dominant. The front foot is usually the opposite side of your dominant hand. For example, if you're right-handed, you want to have your left foot forward and right foot behind.
You should also have a slight bend in your knees, where your legs are a bit looser. This gives you the advantage of easily transitioning into a defensive move: When a punch is coming at you, you're going to want to duck.
2. You Let Your Guard Down
Your guard — aka holding your fists by your cheekbones with your elbows by your sides — is one of your best defenses against a killer punch, so you never want to let it go.
"When one hand is punching, the opposite hand should be protecting your face and rib cage," Canton says.
Fix It: Practice makes perfect, so one thing you can do to correct this is to pause between your punches. Actively think about keeping one fist by your face as you extend the opposite arm out.
"Always keep your opposite fist by the chin and make sure your chin is tucked," adds Kristine Kubat, CPT, Shadowbox and SoulCycle instructor. Tucking your chin will protect your jaw.
3. You Lean Into Your Punches
It might feel counterintuitive, but when you throw a jab, you shouldn't lean into it. "This is bad because in real life, if you put all your weight into punching someone and miss, you will either fall or get hit," Canton says.
Fix It: Instead, keep your weight in your feet to help you stand upright. Tighten your core to stand tall and maintain balance, rather than crouching and falling towards your opponent.
"When punching, keep your weight even, and snap your punches from that grounded stance. So even if you miss, you have balance and can still use defensive head movement or punch more," Canton says. That snap in punches should be coming from an activated core. Think of your core as the engine that generates your hooks and uppercuts.
4. Your Hooks Are Too Wide
Used as either a punch or a block, the hook is driven by rotation of the torso, hips and legs. But hooking too wide can lead you to miss or injure your wrist.
When landing hooks on a bag or an opponent, you want your wrist aligned with your elbow, Canton says. "This prevents the impact of your punches from going directly to your wrist," she says.
Fix It: Aim with your first two knuckles when performing hooks to ensure your punch is moving in the right direction. This will also protect your wrists.
In a front hook, your arm should make a 90-degree angle with your thumb facing up, as you pivot on the ball of your front foot and shift your weight to your back foot. When you're throwing a rear hook, the same hand and arm positions apply, but you want to pivot with your back foot to rotate your hips.
Wearing wraps with your gloves helps protect your wrists and hands, so don’t box without a pair that fits you well.
5. You Load Up on Punches
"Many people think if they wind up their punches, this will generate more power and that is wrong," Canton says. It can actually lead you to hit the bag with improper form, putting you at risk for injury.
Loading up on your punches will also give your opponent the perfect opportunity to land a pretty one on your face as you cock your hand back, Canton explains. Ouch.
Plus, if you apply the same punches, you're not keeping your opponent on their toes. "When you throw any punches, it is supposed to be a surprise," Canton says.
Fix It: Yes, be quick with your fists, but don't punch so fast that your opponent will know what to expect. Start from your guard, hit straight into the bag and then go back to your guard ASAP to prepare for the next jab or hook.
Play up other punches by mixing different combos of jabs, crosses, uppercuts and hooks. The key is to keep your opponent guessing. Boxing is much like a game of chess — it's not about throwing as many punches as you can; it's about making smart moves.
6. You Aren't Breathing
Breathing while you box seems obvious — but you'd be surprised how often you might hold your breath while you're throwing combo punches.
"It's bad for the obvious reason that you can't live, let alone box, without breathing. But also being able to control your breathing while doing a high-intensity workout will help you get through every minute of your boxing class or sparring," Canton says.
Fix It: Being mindful of your breath will help you recover and reset between rounds. You want to have your guard up between punches, so use this as an opportunity to also focus on your breath.
"Try exhaling small breaths every time you punch, and inhale while you are in your guard with hands up," Canton says. This timing will help you hone your combos, boosting the force behind each punch.
7. Your Body is Tight and Tense
Remember what Muhammad Ali said: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." You definitely want to fly around the ring, or a bag, with ease.
"Your fists should be tight but your body shouldn't be," Kubat says. "A stiff body and locked-out knees keep you from landing punches effectively."
Fix It: Keep your knees soft and relax your shoulders — this will allow you to react quicker and find a boxing flow.
Your boxer's bounce should be loose on the feet such that you are shifting weight from one foot to the other in a proper stance. Let that shifting motion feel natural.
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