Footwork is the most essential thing a boxer can have. Your offense and defense all come from what you do with your feet when you are boxing. For example, throwing a punch requires the correct positioning of your feet before, during, and after the punch. First, your feet have to work for you to be in range to land a punch. Second, your feet have to provide the balance and the pivot for your punch. Third, your feet must be positioned for a follow-up punch or defensive move. Since footwork is so essential to everything else, beginners should work on it first and foremost when starting to box.
What is Footwork:
There is no particular way for how footwork is supposed to be done, but it can be generally described. Great footwork is when you are balanced almost all of the time, when you are in or out of range when you want to be in or out of range, when you can get the proper angles against your opponent, and when you can deliver the right punch at any time. (An angle on your opponent is the direction from which your opponent eats a punch. The default direction is straight ahead. For example, you can find a left-side angle on your opponent and deliver a punch from that angle.) Horrible footwork is just the opposite; it leaves you off-balanced and at the mercy of your opponent’s will and range, with not much you would be able to do about it. In short, footwork is everything that your feet do when you are boxing.
How to Use Your Footwork:
- Assuming you are in your stance, stepping to one side is correctly done by taking a step with the foot closest to the direction you want to step in. For example, when stepping to the right, take a step with your right foot followed by your left foot.
- If you step correctly by maintaining (about) shoulder-width distance between your feet and taking care not to cross your feet, you have your most basic footwork down.
- To get basic footwork down, your weight must be about fifty-fifty on both feet, taking care not to be flat-footed, and you pivot your feet correspondingly to whichever punch is thrown, e.g. a slight lead-foot pivot for a jab. Rookies quickly learn that a sure fire way to get off-balance is to shift too much weight onto one foot.
- What about more advanced footwork? Well, that involves quickness with moving your feet, adaptability in how you move your feet, and how you use your feet to achieve certain goals, e.g. cutting off the ring, stepping on a foot (of a southpaw), or maintaining a certain rhythm. See our advanced footwork section to learn more.
There are three aspects in footwork which deserve our attention. These are positioning, balance, and power.
- Positioning has to do with your own position relative to your opponent and the position of your feet relative to each other and to your upper body. I cannot overemphasize the importance of positioning. I’ve seen many boxers’ footwork in positioning leave them with wide feet, where they cannot move quickly enough. Or they might have too much of a backwards lean that they look scared to engage. Or their positioning allows an opponent to control the pace because she can move in, out, and around at will.
- Balance is related to both positioning and power. When positioning yourself, your balance can be the determining factor of whether you can get your punch off at the right time or get knocked down (or knocked out). On the other hand, maintaining balance when moving is necessary if you are to position yourself well enough for defending against or knocking out a good opponent.
- Power might be surprising to find in an article about footwork, depending on how you think of power. Raw power like Mike Tyson’s power can be said to be largely a result of talent. Even if a boxer doesn’t have a punch like Tyson’s, he can still benefit from power provided by proper footwork. As mentioned, basic footwork includes pivoting your feet according to which punch you throw. The pivot of your foot during a punch helps your body rotate to deliver more power when your punch connects. Quick footwork can help power by making your punches sharper, allowing you to find angles against your opponent, or being in range when she makes a mistake like being off-balanced.
Hopefully, you can see the benefits which footwork provides. You’ve likely noticed that your positioning, balance, and power is taken care of for the most part when you stick with the basics of footwork. Fancy footwork like Muhammad Ali’s can be great to see, but it is not necessary to your positioning, balance, and power.
When to Change your Footwork:
In practice, you would want to change certain things about your footwork depending on the circumstances. In general, your footwork would most likely consist of light stepping and pivoting. But there are some situations where you should change your footwork in order to box better. One example is that when infighting, which is when you and the target are close to each other, it is good to assume a more stable stance, where balance is the focus. Since balance is the focus, you would be more flat-footed than normal. A higher stepping rate, which includes Ali’s type of footwork, is helpful when you want to move in, out, and around your opponent much better than they ever can.
If you find your footwork lacking such as being off-balance often, then practicing moving and punching without pressure or a target may help. If you want more quickness when you move your feet or want to get used to a higher work rate with your feet, jump roping is good practice. Finally, if you want to be able to adapt to certain situations that come up when boxing, sparring is your best bet to figure out when to do what and what other things can be done besides it.
This article was a longer one because footwork deserves much focus. If a boxer’s footwork is horrible, then she will find herself at a big disadvantage against someone with better footwork. It takes practice for you to get great footwork, but you only need the basics to get good footwork. If you have the basics down, you will be able to position yourself for a punch, have the balance needed to defend and attack, and the power needed to deliver a knock down (or knockout).