With a long history as a combat sport, boxing has now evolved into both a multi-billion dollar industry and a dynamic, challenging workout for beginners and professionals alike. There’s much more to boxing than throwing punches around a ring, too.
Physically, boxing workouts target your back, shoulders, core, and legs through cardio and strength training. Aaptiv also has HIIT workouts in app that can target those areas as well to improve your boxing stamina.
Boxing also builds discipline, teaches self-defense, releases stress, and improves hand-eye coordination. Boxing experts Elena Moffa and Mark Sayer share how boxing can help you float like a butterfly, sting like a bee—oh, and get into amazing shape, one round at a time.
Moffa says a boxing match typically consists of a determined number of rounds: four at minimum and 12 at most. Each round lasts three minutes, with one minute of rest in between. Judges are assigned to score the match. A match may end for four different reasons:
- A fighter is knocked to the ground and the referee counts to ten (a “knock out”)
- A fighter is knocked out and can no longer continue (a “technical knock out”)
- A match goes all 12 rounds, but one fighter earns more points than the other (a “draw”)
- A fighter is disqualified for doing something illegal (a “DQ”)
Warnings and Point Deductions
Fighters need to be in the same weight class, and from there, the rules are fairly straightforward. You cannot hit below the belt nor hold, trip, kick, headbutt, wrestle, bite, spit at, or push an opponent. You also cannot hit with your head, shoulder, forearm, or elbow, says Moffa.
“Legal target areas are above the belt line,” says Sayer. “Accidental fouls get a warning or one-point deduction. An intentional foul is a two-point deduction, or immediate disqualification, depending on the severity. However, a subtle use of fouls is part of professional boxing. For example, Mike Tyson punched people on the hip by the sciatic nerve, Floyd Mayweather gets in some good elbow strikes, and Bernard Hopkins had some pretty good head butts in his career.”
Fighters can be disqualified for repeatedly fouling an opponent or ignoring the rules, at a referee’s discretion. Again, this usually occurs with respect to illegal or overly aggressive and violent moves, like headbutting or low blows.
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There are all kinds of terms used to describe boxers, says Moffa, but typically, these four are used:
- “Swarmer”—attempts to overwhelm an opponent by applying constant pressure
- “Out-boxer”—looks to maintain a gap from an opponent and fight with faster, longer-range punches
- “Slugger”—throws fewer but harder shots and relies less on combinations
- “Boxer-puncher”—has great hand speed, combination, and/or counter-punching and defensive skills and accuracy—all with slugger-type power
At the same time, boxing styles tend to fall into three different categories: outside fighter, brawler, and inside fighter.
“Outside fighters tend to be tall and long-limbed, although good footwork and an understanding of range can allow a shorter fighter to fight from the outside,” explains Sayer. Muhammad Ali was considered a notable outside fighter, says Moffa, meaning he used a classical boxing style and maintained his distance in the ring by fighting with fast, long-range punches to mentally and physically endure an opponent.
Brawlers like George Foreman are less technical, but more powerful—and entertaining to watch. They tend to use simple, one-two punches to make up for a lack of foot mobility, and are willing to take a hit to give a hit based on a nuanced defense strategy.
“Inside fighters seek to close distance with an opponent, and will use turns and angles to add unpredictability to their attack,” says Sayer. These “pressure fighters,” as they are otherwise known, throw sharp, aggressive punches like hooks and uppercuts. (Think Mike Tyson.)
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Though motivation will help you kickstart a boxing routine, once you start officially punching bags, you’ll probably want some equipment to keep you safe, says Sayer. This usually means wrist straps or hand wraps, boxing gloves, and other protective gear.
Wrist straps or hand wraps
Once you begin hitting bags and sparring, Moffa suggests hand wraps or wrist straps to help protect your knuckles and wrists. “These come in several styles, from quick wraps to 120” wraps to 180,” says Sayer. “I prefer ones with a little elastic in the fabric.”
Many boxers stick to high-top boxing shoes, which allow them to move around the ring without any traction.
Minimal clothing helps boxers move freely without feeling weighed down. Moffa recommends both headgear and mouthguards to protect those more delicate areas of the body, though.
When it comes to complex terminology, boxing doesn’t disappoint. Once you get started, you’ll learn all about developing an effective stance, different types of punches, defense moves like slipping, plus blocking and footwork, just to name a few. Moffa describes four essential techniques to keep in mind, and how to give them a try on your own.
“Your stance is your home base, where you should feel comfortable and mobile,” she notes. “Stand with your feet directly under your shoulders, then take a step back with your dominant foot. Turn your back toe to face a 45-degree angle. Your lead toe faces your target. Slightly bend your knees, take your hands straight up above your head, and wrap your thumbs around your knuckles. Bring your hands down to guard your face, tuck your elbows in, and lead shoulder forward.”
“A jab is a straight extension of your lead (non-dominant) hand,” she says. “It is a notable punch to gain your distance from your opponent, not a knock-out punch. You want to fully extend your non-dominant hand all the way out, aiming with your front two knuckles. Turn your wrist over as if you are pouring out a pitcher of water, and retract it right back to your face. Your backhand should be right under your cheekbone, protecting the side of your face at all times.”
“The hook is a knock-out punch, and can be targeted to the head or the body,” says Moffa. “It is one of the most precise shots, coming in with a sharp, quick snap at a perfect angle. You want to rotate at your hips, turning your heels as if you are squashing a bug under your shoe. Your elbow should come up in a 90-degree angle. Imagine you have a large tree in front of you—wrap that arm around the tree, with your wrist facing you, always aiming with the front two knuckles. Keep your back hand connected to your face.”
“Slipping is a defensive technique, allowing fighters to dodge straight shots to the head,” she continues. “It is a contraction or an oblique twist, aiming to get your lead shoulder to cross over to your back knee, and your back shoulder to cross to your lead knee. Slips should be small and concise, a simple head movement, with hands up protecting the face. The object is to make your opponent miss by a hair, not a mile.”
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Controlling the pace, locating your angles, timing an attack or counter, and setting up your opponent—all of these are considered viable boxing strategies. According to Moffa and Sayer, though, say it’s more about figuring out what works best for you and then building from there.
For beginners, Sayer warns against relying on complicated strategic moves, because it’s easy to be thrown off your game. Instead, he suggests doing four simple things: showing up in shape, keeping your hands up, focusing on straight punches (like jabs and crosses), and moving forward rather than backward. But as you improve, you can start mixing different elements to evolve your strategy.
“Boxing is the sweet science of piecing together strength and conditioning, speed and style, power and tenacity, and strategy and skill all to complete one grand puzzle of victory,” says Moffa. “After fighters train to perfect their own style, their final step is to study their opponent’s styles to better react, defend, and conquer the match. Strategy is essentially the blueprint for winning, while training and technique are the goals and preparation. Most training sessions involve fighters shadowboxing through punches, and then reacting to shots coming at them by utilizing their pacing, footwork, counters, and set-up punches.”
As a full-body workout, it’s also important to work your muscles evenly as part of your training through movements like face-pulls and rowing exercises, says Sayer. That’ll help you get over any initial sense of intimidation and then build upon technicalities and your own physical and mental capacity.
“You always have room to grow,” says Moffa. “Just have fun, don’t overthink it and enjoy the liberating out-of-body experience that boxing delivers.”
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