Written by Alistair Knight | 20 April 2020
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This is the ultimate guide to boxing footwork.
In this comprehensive guide I’ll cover:
So if you want to improve your boxing footwork or want to know how some elite fighters have better footwork than others, you’ll love this guide.
Are you ready?
Let’s get ready to rumble…
In this chapter, I’ll cover the fundamentals of boxing footwork.
First, you’ll learn exactly what boxing footwork is (and why it’s important for fighting well).
I’ll also show you how boxing footwork helped a soon-to-be-dominating professional boxer: Joshua Kelly, become one of the young rising talents in the world of professional boxing.
Short Answer: Control
“The manner in which one moves one’s feet with a swift flow that outmanoeuvres one’s opponent’”
Good boxing footwork essentially helps a fighter to move from position to position without losing balance.
When people ask: what sport requires the best footwork?
Boxing is clearly the winner as it demonstrates:
Just look at how one of the best fighters in the world, Vasyl Lomachenko, can dance around the ring with complete flow:
Footwork is important because it allows you to move into dominating positions which allows you to:
A) Hit and not be hit: The angle you create will allow you to hit your opponent where they can’t see you and this ‘where is he/she’ moment will prevent you from being hit by counters
B) Increase power in punches: When you rotate your entire body (starting from your feet) into the punch you’ll increase the amount of force which is where the knockout punch happens.
How does it help you hit your opponent?
Footwork helps you create angles that can put your opponent off balance, it allows you to step into range, and it positions you in a way that will knock out your opponent with a punch they didn’t see coming.
How does it help you avoid being hit?
Footwork puts you in the proper side-on-stance and reduces your bodies surface area (the area that can be hit).
Footwork means moving, and punching a moving target is ten times harder to hit than a static one (like shooting a gun).
The twisting and bending of your feet, knees, and hips also help you bob and weave your opponents punches.
How does footwork help you increase power in your punches?
Good footwork also helps you increase power in your punches because the rotation of your lower body (feet, hips, core) provides energy to your upper torso where the force of your punch is thrown.
As an amateur boxer, I would always train with the Amateurs at Like 2 Box in the U.K. where I live.
What makes this gym so popular, is that is was home to one of the best rising talents in world boxing: Josh Kelly.
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What makes ‘Pretty Boy Kelly‘ (PBK) a star isn’t just his good looks, the fact that he started boxing when he was young, or the fact that he has one of the best coaches (Adam Booth – former coach to David Haye) who mentors him.
What makes this young man a star is how his footwork demonstrates mastery, flow, and cheeky confidence which the crowd love and the opponents hate.
Just look at the movement:
Practice, practice, practice.
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Plus lots more that you’re going to see in Chapter 3!
Summary: Boxing footwork basically means having good control and balance which will allow you to out-manoeuvre and out-wit your opponent like you see so many boxers doing today.
Let’s now look at what equipment you need to improve your boxing footwork.
This chapter is all about the equipment.
Can you improve your footwork without any equipment?
But footwork specific equipment can make the entire process much easier.
With that, here is the equipment that I personally use and recommend.
Cones are a simple, yet massively under-estimated piece of training equipment that you can use to improve your footwork as a fighter.
They essentially provide a target for you to move towards and are the foundation for many great footwork drills that we’ll discuss later on.
Have you ever noticed how much boxers bounce?
Having a good spring in your step and being able to rapidly pivot, move and adjust faster than a punch is vital for your success as a fighter.
Jump ropes serve that purpose: to jump.
Bouncing on the balls of your feet for a long period of time requires a lot of practice because it is tough.
That is one of the primary reasons why a lot of fighters skip, as well as the fact that its a great way to warm up.
An agility ladder is an excellent piece of equipment that any athlete uses who is looking to improve footwork, agility, and endurance.
Can you use the agility ladder like Lomachenko can? Get practising! 🙂
If you don’t have access to an agility ladder, you can create your own by using masking tape or some chalk:
Agility ladders can be carried anywhere as they can be wrapped up in a small bag.
They will help prevent flat feet in your boxing footwork if you practice consistently
Plyometric soft foam boxes are another helpful piece of training equipment that can be incorporated into a plyometric workout.
Plyometric soft foam boxes are used for a variety of lower body exercises such as step-ups, explosive jumps, and toe taps.
These exercises can help increase your explosiveness and fast-twitch muscle fibres that support you when bouncing around the ring or throwing fast, hip driven knockout punches.
They usually come in three different levels which can sometimes be combined together for different heights and abilities.
How are you supposed to push yourself if you don’t know when to stop?
How do you know if you are progressing if you haven’t got a time to beat?
Stopwatches, as you already know, are essential for your training and are a great way to stay proactive no matter what area of boxing you are training.
Summary: While you can improve your footwork with no equipment at all (by just shadow-boxing for example), it helps to use equipment where you can practice boxing specific movements.
Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of boxing footwork.
Specifically, it’s time to learn the best drills and exercises that you can do to improve your footwork.
In this chapter, I’m going to show you proven strategies that you can use to turn your footwork from a caterpillar (?) to a butterfly (?) so that you can sting like a bee (?).
Ready to make some honey (?)? I mean… Knockouts? Let’s dive right in. ?
Try your best to include these high-intensity boxing footwork drills and exercises into your training regime because your boxing can massively improve from this extra work if it is done on a regular basis…
All drills and exercises can be completed by a complete beginner or seasoned professional because there are easy versions and harder versions.
First things first, we’ve got to get you bouncing:
In this fun (yet high intensity) jump rope drill, your primary objective is to learn one new trick that you don’t already know how to do with a skipping rope.
Learning how to perform new tricks can make skipping a more enjoyable practice and you will look like a ninja in the gym.
Here is the progression of tricks (from easy tricks to hard tricks):
Video of drill:
Text version of drill:
Skipping on the balls of your both feet, jump to your left side keeping both feet together and then jump to the right like you’re jumping over an insect on the ground.
Continue to do side-to-side hops until failure
Skipping on the balls of your both feet, jump up and spread your legs out so that you land with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
From here, quickly jump back to the starting position and continue skipping.
Continue to do jumping jacks until failure.
Skipping on the balls of your both feet, cross your feet over so that you land with your right foot on the left side and your left foot on your right side (do not do this exercise if you’ve had a knee injury recently).
When you land, jump back to the starting position and continue skipping normally.
Continue to do crisscrosses until failure.
You can probably imagine what you need to do here.
First things first, skip normally and then bring one foot out in front of you and one behind you like you’re doing the famous Muhammad Ali shuffle.
There is no progression for this exercise because it is easy to do continuously.
Skipping on the balls of your both feet, bring one leg back behind you and kick your bum as the rope rotates round.
Alternate between both legs.
Continuously keep doing but kicks.
Skipping on the balls of your both feet, bring one leg up to your chest as the rope rotates round.
Alternate between both legs.
Continuously keep doing high knees.
Skipping on the balls of your both feet, bounce twice on one leg and during the second bounce kick your opposite leg out.
This should feel natural as you bounce twice on each leg.
There is no progression for this exercise because it is easy to do continuously.
Skipping on the balls of your both feet, bring the rope to either side of you by using your arms.
Continuously move the rope to either side of you.
Skipping on the balls of your both feet, bring your arms over one another when the rope is above your head so that the rope crosses over itself and you have a big enough hole to jump through.
When you successfully jump through the loop, uncross your arms so that you are back to normal and repeat when you can.
Continuously criss-cross the jump rope.
Skipping on the balls of your both feet, quickly jump up higher than normal and spin the skipping rope faster so that the jump rope rotates underneath you twice before you land.
Continue skipping normally and then repeat when you can.
Continue to do double-unders until failure.
Skipping on the balls of your both feet, use your arms to bring the jump rope to the side of your body while you squat down.
Here is a short clip of Mike Tyson doing this:
Continue to do squat side-sides until failure.
With the rope out in front of you, skip backwards like you would when skipping forwards.
It’s going to feel like the time when you’ve first started skipping again because it’s really hard.
But with practice you can look like this:
Continue to do backwards skipping until failure.
The agility ladder is a great piece of training equipment because it will teach you to move your feet quickly which is essential as a boxer.
Here are the top three agility ladder drills for boxing:
Note: If you do not have an agility ladder, you can find one online or use some masking tape/chalk to draw out your own ladder.
So far, we’ve focused on moving your feet quickly in order to increase endurance and develop your smaller fast-twitch muscle fibres.
Now, let’s turn to a footwork exercise which will improve your lower body explosiveness that’ll build your knockout power:
The box jump.
Box jumps are a physically challenging exercise which is easy to include in any training you do.
If you don’t have a box to jump onto, you can use your stairs or a very stable chair which will not move.
Here is how to do the box jump:
Tip: Focus on exploding from the ground as you jump and then land carefully on the box in front of you – focusing on your form throughout.
Summary: Improving your boxing footwork will require training in the sports movement pattern. This includes moving your feet quickly and explosively in drills that are highlighted above.
There are a lot of boxers who can dance around their opponents like rabbits around flowers.
There are also a lot of boxers who do not move enough and get hunted like a Mammoth.
Understanding what boxers have the best footwork is useful because watching these boxers will give you a grasp of how good you need to be.
With that, here is my personal opinion on who has the best footwork from three different weight classes.
20th-century best: Muhammad Ali
There is a whole list of them, but for me, Muhammad Ali moved like a lightweight and hit like a heavyweight.
In fact, it turns out that Muhammad Ali was so fast he could: “turn off the light switch in his hotel room and be in bed before the room was dark.”
I personally think that was true… 😉
21st-century best: Tyson Fury
In today’s world, Tyson is the one hunting the big and powerful Mammoths in the ring.
It’s amazing how this man came back from his eating, drinking, and drug habits which caused him to walk around at over twenty-seven stone.
Yet this man turned from fat to fitfast (a new word I’ve just invented).
Just watch how he moves around his opponents like a champ.
20th – century best: Sugar Ray Robinson
Sugar Ray is one of the best boxers of all time, perhaps even the greatest.
This is because he had a complete set of strengths in every area of his boxing.
He could move like a cheetah, punch like a bear, and outwit like Einstein.
Sugar Ray was a freak of his time and I bet he could beat up a lot of welterweights if he teleported to today’s world.
21st – century best: Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacman Pacquiao is the Ferrari of the boxing world.
Smart, composed, talented, he is a true craftsman of his game.
In the early days, many coaches overlooked Pacquiao due to his brawl fighter style.
But one legendary coach noticed his willingness to learn: Freddie Roach.
Freddie has transformed Pacquiao’s aggressive forward fighting style and has turned him into a fast-paced Phillipino terminator which dominates the division.
20th – century best: Eusebio Pedroza
Eusebio Pedroza was the best featherweight in history who defended his WBA and lineal featherweight championship titles for longer than any other boxer in featherweight history.
He defended his title against 18 different contenders from 1978 to 1985, making him similar to the Floyd Mayweather of today.
One of his greatest strengths was his ability to move.
Move not just his feet rapidly, but also his head.
The man was so fast he could move his head as fast as you move your hand when you touch a burning stove…
For Pedroza to do this effectively, he had to move his feet like he moved his head.
21st – century best: Vasyl Lomachenko
What can I not say about Vasyl Lomachenko?
The Ukrainian three-weight world champion destroys everything and anything in his path.
If there was a Neo from the Matrix in boxing, Lomachenko would be him.
He doesn’t move around his opponents, he dances around them. His opponents aren’t monkeys either, their champions!
Lomachenkos footwork developed to where it is today thanks to his father, Anatoly Lomachenko.
Anatoly knew how important footwork and balance was for a boxer so he didn’t let him train in boxing until he attended Ukrainian dance classes and gymnastics before finally getting into the ring.
This and thousands of hours of practice and patience throughout the amateurs is what has made the Vasyl Lomachenko of today.
Summary: While hundreds of boxers can be added to this list, we’ve selected two of the best from the heavyweight division, welterweight division, and featherweight division from the 20th to the 21st century of today.
Now that you understand how important footwork is, how do you avoid making mistakes in this area?
Unfortunately, there’s no magic button you can press out there that will make you the next best boxer.
But, there is a part of your brain (cerebrum), the size of a button that will make or break you as a fighter because this part of your brain helps you to:
If you want to learn and become the best – no matter what – then you’re going to make a lot of mistakes and find yourself in a lot of problems.
Mistakes are a good thing because they are opportunities for you to learn from.
If you didn’t want to learn or improve your footwork, you’ll give up and won’t get a chance to make any.
This is why I’m going to show the most common boxing mistakes so that you can avoid (or embrace) the problem and be one step ahead of your opponent.
Do you look like a penguin when you fight?
Too many beginner and professional boxers do.
Not moving your feet is a very bad habit to have because it is very easy for your opponent to move around you and dominate from the side.
Having flat feet for you is like a penguin at the end of an ice age:
Everything is going to melt and the penguin will have nowhere to go, just like you won’t have anywhere to go but the canvas.
Instead, to avoid a flat foot, keep the pressure in the balls of your feet to ensure that your movement is fast and efficient.
How do you make sure you’re putting pressure on the balls of your feet?
You’ve got to consciously focus on doing this in your training whether you’re shadow boxing or hitting the bag.
This way you’ll be deliberately trying to do what will be best for you.
If you are fighting at a heavier weight, losing weight is also beneficial because you’ll be carrying less weight which slows you down.
Note: Keeping the pressure on your toes does not mean lifting your heels off the floor at all times like a kangaroo, as you’re even more static in this position:
When you move from side to side, it can be tempting to cross your feet because doing this at fight pace feels natural for beginners. But…
While moving to the side in this way can feel more comfortable, it is very dangerous.
When your legs are crossed, you are off balance which means if you happen to be pushed (let alone punched) you’ll fall over and get knocked down.
If you’re not careful, you could develop a habit of always moving by crossing your feet.
Balance is everything when it comes to boxing and maintaining a shoulder-width stance is important for staying composed.
When you move to the right for example (and you’re fighting orthodox), you’ll need to step with your back leg first which is then followed by the left in a quick sequence.
Moving backwards and forwards in boxing is very rarely a good idea because your opponent can time his shots better.
For example, if you were aiming a sniper rifle at a rabbit, would it be easier for you to shoot the rabbit when it is running towards you or when it is moving both to the left and right of your sights?
Running in this one movement pattern will result in your opponent throwing a flurry of punches which are more likely to land.
You’ll find that creating angles and slowly closing the distance by rotating around your opponent will confuse them.
Remember: A moving target is always harder to hit.
Having a stance which is too wide feels more comfortable for some boxers. But…
A wide stance is a footwork mistake because you’ll lose both your balance and agility.
Instead, you want your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart because this will result in a distribution of weight.
In 2019 at the boxing gym, My boxing coach stopped me during our pad work and said to me:
I didn’t make that mistake again.
How was I able to keep my feet ever so slightly wider than shoulder-width apart?
By consciously focusing and constantly filming what my legs were doing and how wide apart they were.
You will be able to do the same thing.
Summary: Mistakes are common in whatever sport or area of life you spend time in. So what you need to do is keep finding out what mistakes you are likely going to make as a boxer and diagnosing those problems by conciously creating good habits.
Now that you’ve mastered the basics of boxing footwork, it’s time to go over some cool advanced stuff.
Specifically, I’m going to reveal a bunch of advanced footwork tips and strategies that you can apply to your training right away.
So without further ado, let’s dive right into the techniques.
Pivoting is a brilliant movement to witness and apply in your game.
You feel graceful as your thin, non-grippy boxing shoes pivot to the side of your opponents punch (or kick) like you’ve just dodged a moving train:
Pivoting is a footwork technique which is incorporated into many combinations and can be used both offensively and defensively.
Let’s look at the pivot more closely.
How to pivot:
Let’s say you are an orthodox fighter (left leg in front, right leg back).
If you want to pivot to the left: you simply need to push off the ball of your back foot and swivel 90° to the left (pivoting on the ball of your front foot) and keeping your knees slightly bent.
If you want to pivot to the right: you simply need to push off your front foot and swivel 90° to the right.
Pivoting is an extremely effective technique you can add to your arsenal as it will help you avoid punches and put you in a side-on angle in line with your opponents temple.
The stance switch is a technique you can use to open up angles and dominate your opponent in the ring.
There are two stance switches.
1. The orthodox to orthodox stance switch
2. The orthodox to southpaw stance switch
The stance switch is used when you’re defending your opponent’s shots and need to get out of his/her line of fire to throw a hook right down the centre.
The skip-step is an advanced technique which is designed to put you in the right position and set you up for the next combination.
The way you skip step is by moving your front foot back a few feet, your back leg to the side by a few feet, then your front foot comes forward again by a few feet.
This movement will make it look like your skipping to the right (left if you are southpaw).
You can then incorporate the shuffle into this movement meaning the skip-step is not only effective at avoiding punches but actually rotating around your opponent.
Summary: Three advanced boxing techniques include the pivot, the stance switch, and the skip-step which are all designed to avoid punches and put you in a better position against your opponent.
Good boxing footwork is the holy grail of an athletes overall boxing performance.
It’s about how quick you move, and boxing is about hitting and not getting hit.
Now, improving your footwork is about applying your knowledge to your training and practising your moves over and over again. Which is why…
It’s time to turn it over to you:
What advice are you going to apply to your training from this article?
Could it be the footwork drills I showed you in chapter 3?
Or perhaps you have realised that you’re making a common boxing mistake which I covered in chapter 5?
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below.
I’ll respond to all of you as best as I possibly can.
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Alistair Knight is an amateur athlete in boxing and the founder of Healthy Principles. He spends most of his time practising and learning more about boxing to ensure you get the best experience-based and evidence-based insights to learn. Learn more about Alistair Knight