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A 20-minute boxing workout to build strength and endurance

Shadowboxing in New York, June 2023. One short workout can help you build fitness, achieve better balance and even ward off injuries. No punching bag needed.


Walking into a boxing gym can be an assault on the senses, whether it’s the ringing of a bell, the smell of accumulated sweat or the quick rat-a-tat of the speed bag.

But if you stay for a while, you’ll find that boxing provides one of the most complete workouts available, blending full-body strength training and cardiovascular endurance with exercises designed to improve balance, coordination and reflexes. A boxing workout can help strengthen your back, stabilize your shoulder muscles and even work parts of your legs you didn’t know you had. It will challenge you mentally and physically, while also fortifying your body against injury.

“Boxing workouts will keep you sharp,” said Dwight Pratchett, a boxing coach at Main Street Boxing and Muay Thai in Houston. And you don’t have to actually hit anything (or risk getting hit) to reap the many benefits of boxing — though walloping the heavy bag will certainly release any pent-up stress.

Even without access to a gym, you can still incorporate boxing into your regular workout routine, with minimal equipment required.

Why learn to box?

It’s no secret that boxing workouts can be incredibly challenging. Boxing consistently ranks as one of the toughest sports, requiring a high level of agility, speed, strength, endurance and technical skill. The traditional boxing workout has been crafted over centuries to prepare boxers for the rigors of a fight, with the goal of making them as fast and strong as they can be.

But what many don’t realize is that boxing workouts also help nonboxers improve balance and coordination. Compared with, say, running, boxing is low-impact and requires a greater range of lower body movement, which develops strength and mobility. That makes it a healthy routine to mix into your weekly exercise.

How to get started

A traditional boxing workout typically starts with jump rope and shadowboxing, followed by exercises that use the heavy bag, double-end bag and speed bag; it ends with body-weight exercises. Workouts are often paced in rounds, with three minutes of work followed by one minute of rest, a rhythm that lends itself naturally to high-intensity interval training.

Getting started can be as simple as shadowboxing at home alongside body-weight exercises. There are a number of at-home resources available, including digital classes such as Title Boxing, BoxUnion and Gloveworx. A jump rope and mat are good initial investments that can later be combined with a heavy bag if you find you like boxing. For a more comprehensive at-home setup, FightCamp provides a heavy bag, a punch tracker, gloves, wraps and online boxing classes.

How to stand

The power from a punch is generated in the lower body and transmitted through the midsection to the arms, working the lower body, core, back muscles and shoulders, in addition to the arms. “Boxing is a sport that really starts from the ground up,” said Justin Blackwell, a Title Boxing coach based in the Los Angeles area.

But this starts with a proper stance. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your lead shoulder facing your opponent (or a mirror), and with both knees bent. Your center of gravity should be just slightly toward your back leg, almost as if you are leaning against the edge of a bar stool.

“If you’re not in that proper stance, you’re going to feel off-balance,” Pratchett said. If you are right-handed, your left hand will serve as your lead hand, with your right leg in back; for lefties, it’s the opposite.

Your fists should be positioned against your face, with your lead hand touching your cheekbone on that side and your back hand positioned against your jaw on the other. Your chin should be tucked downward, with your eyes facing forward. Your elbows should be tucked in against your side. This is your stable boxing foundation — return to it after each combination of punches.

How to punch

There are six major punches: jab, cross, left and right hooks, and left and right uppercuts. Many gyms label these punches one through six, in that order. For each, notice how your lower body moves with your hands, using the back foot to push yourself forward while punching, or your lead foot to push yourself backward, while maintaining an equal distance between the lead and rear feet. This is known as footwork, and is one of the most important aspects of good boxing.

— To throw a jab, extend your left hand in a quick snapping motion, fully extending the arm and then bringing the hand back to its place against your cheekbone. Once you’ve mastered the jab while standing, add in movement, forward or backward, while punching.

— For the cross, extend your right hand in a similar quick, smooth motion, twisting the body as you do so until the arm is fully straight. The power of a cross is generated from twisting the back foot and midsection. After the punch, bring your hand back against the lower jaw and return your body to a stable stance.

— When throwing a hook, lead with the fist in an out-and-forward motion at an opponent’s head, with the thumb pointing upward. For the left hook, lead with the left hand, with the elbow following and the left knee turning inward, while lifting the heel of the foot. For the right hook, twist the right knee inward.

— The uppercut is a quick up-and-out motion aimed at either an opponent’s jaw or sternum. Bring the fist out, away from the body, and up, toward the bottom of the jaw, aiming it at a spot that mirrors the midsection of your body. The knee and torso should move slightly inward, toward the center of the body, the heel lifting slightly.

Sample workout

Once you get your punches down, try this workout. Be sure to maintain a good stance and keep your hands up at all times. Your first time boxing can be surprisingly tiring, so go at your own pace, taking care to maintain good form. Each round should last three minutes, followed by a one-minute rest.

And don’t forget to put on some music that pumps you up. If you have the energy, try the boxer skip instead of a rest.

Round 1: Jump rope.

If you don’t have one, try jumping jacks, high knees or the boxer skip. The point is to build lower body agility and speed.

Round 2: Jab/cross.

Work on throwing jabs, either singly or doubly, adding in crosses after the jabs. Alternate between slow, powerful punches and quick, sharp ones.

Round 3: Jab/cross and hooks.

Use three- or four-punch combinations, in which a jab/cross is followed by hooks. You can use a left hook, a right one, or both. Again, alternate between fast punches, thrown with little force, and slow punches, thrown with as much power as you can muster.

Round 4: Jab/cross and uppercuts.

Use four-punch combinations, in which a jab/cross is followed by left and right uppercuts, just like the hooks in Round Three. You can use a left uppercut, a right one or both.

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