Ducking, weaving, and throwing punches is the perfect brain-meets-brawn workout: You burn calories like crazy, activate every muscle in your body, and keep your mind sharp as you predict your opponent’s next move.
So it’s no wonder that boxing gyms like Rumble and EverybodyFights are popping up in major cities all over the country. “I love seeing more people interested in boxing,” says Julian Chua, a professional boxing coach at Wildcard Boxing Club (of Freddie Roach fame) in Hollywood, CA. “But I’m starting to see more people make major mistakes in boutique studios and on Instagram.”
Unlike most cardio-heavy workouts, boxing is an art. To honor it—and to improve its ability to strengthen and tone your body while avoiding injury—you should work to improve your technique. Here, Chua shares the biggest mistakes he sees among novice fighters.
You make your face as big as possible.
When your jaw’s in the air, your face is an easy target. So drop your head so that your chin is about two inches from your collarbone. “This is very, very uncomfortable at first—you’ll be tempted to keep your chin in the air,” Chua says. “It's almost like you're wearing sunglasses but trying to look above the frames so it’s not dark anymore.” That’s how you make your nose hard to break.
You have sleepy eyes.
“We have a saying in boxing: The shot that hurts is the one you don't see coming,” Chua says. “And the first thing people do when they’re panicked is close their eyes.” Even if you’re not in a live match, you might find yourself instinctively clenching your eyelids shut during make-believe battles with the bag—tired boxers do this most often. But fight the urge. Your eyes should be locked like a lion’s, and your opponent is the prey.
Your punches aren’t snapping back.
In fitness classes, Chua often sees punches hanging in mid-air, like people are hamming it up for a camera. That’s a big mistake: It means your glove isn’t in front of your face, where it should be. You should be snapping that punch back as quickly as possible. “In a real situation, you're not going to have the luxury of sitting there and striking a pose,” Chua says. “You've got to get yourself home, because that motherfucker is coming right back at you.”
You’re always on the attack.
The bag won’t hit you back, but you’ll score a better workout—and train like a legit fighter—if you pretend it will. That means you have take a break from throwing punches long enough to practice your defense: move your head, slip, duck, bob, weave—do anything to avoid the imaginary punches that are coming back your way.
You broadcast your exhaustion. Boxing is a mental game, and you need to cultivate a poker face that tells your opponent that you’re working with a full tank of steam at all times. “A good boxer is a good liar,” Chua says. “You need to look the most dangerous when you’re the most tired. You’d be surprised how much you can stop someone from attacking you because of your body language.” So if you’re tired, take it down a notch. But do it in way that doesn’t invite a torrent of punches. Keep your feet moving, keep your gloves up, and try to make that bag think you’re planning your next attack.
You let your arms do all the work.
A solid punch—one that’s both powerful and unexpected—comes from your hips, which should rotate with each attack. “Tuck your elbows into your rib cage to keep your punches compact and direct, heading straight to the target,” Chua says. “The more you draw your arms back, the more you tell on yourself.” The goal is to shoot a punch without your opponent seeing it. In other words, avoid winding up. Make your arms pistons, not pinball plungers.
You only box in group settings.
Boutique classes have their place, but if it’s the only thing you’re doing, then your form is probably a mess. “I work with professionals who’ve been doing this since they were babies, and they still make fundamental errors,” Chua says. “It’s impossible to learn how to box in a dark room with loud music playing.” That’s why Chua suggests scheduling a few lessons with a coach who can help you drill down the fundamental skills to practice when you’re back in your bags class. “A good boxing coach is a good teacher,’ he says. “Find one who works with fighters and asks a lot of questions.”