Footwork is a big word in the world of boxing. As a matter of fact, it is a big word in the world of sports in general.
In basketball, the most famous, most elegant footwork, belonged to Kobe Bryant. That’s why his moves were so effective and good. In football, Messi and Ronaldo of course, and in the world of boxing, the greatest – Muhammad Ali.
Muhammad’s footwork is so unique that you can make science out of it. He will be our focus in this article.
Why Is Footwork So Important?
Footwork, besides from boxing technique, is the essence of this sport. It is absolutely necessary to have correct and good footwork in order to succeed.
Having good footwork is “ground zero” for any move. You can learn all about hand placement and punching form, but if you can’t connect that with your feet, you won’t be effective at all.
The ability to move well and place your shots is that cunning edge you’ll need to demolish your opponent. Just like Muhammad did. He wasn’t stronger than other boxers, nor bigger, he had good technique and understood the essence completely.
Benefits of good footwork:
Being able to control your opponent’s movement and setting your tone to the match is what any coach would advise. Footwork will grant you that wish. Not only will you be able to control space between you and your opponent, you could make him follow your tempo. This will wear him down and leave him open for a K.O, which is our next point.
Creating openings and avoiding shots
There is no defense without proper footwork! If you don’t use it, you would literally beg your opponent to hit you. Slide and move, place your feet right and you will have that opening for a perfect shot.
As you can see, it is beneficial for both offense and defense.
Muhammad Ali Footwork Basics – What makes him different?
His footwork separated him from other fighters and made him the winner of some matches where he wasn’t the dominant one. All of that is excellent, but how did he actually do it? What are the fundamentals to it?
Now, we will discuss and give you some pointers about how Muhammad did it and how small changes to your form can make you even a bigger threat.
Bend Legs or Straighten them up?
Always look for a way to make your move as natural as possible. Knowing how your body moves and implementing that knowledge to your training will make the game easier for you.
The key thing in this comparison is that – bones are stronger than muscles.
When your knees are bent for a long period of time, your muscles will get exhausted, therefore you will lose your speed and explosiveness. Your muscles will be focused on keeping your body up and constant pressure by your own weight will drain them down.
However, if your legs are straighter, you won’t be using your muscles to that extent, and your bones will handle the pressure.
This doesn’t mean that your legs should be completely straight. No! Your legs should be just straighter than usual. Don’t lock them up. Our bodies move easier with straighter legs, and that’s a fact.
What does this actually mean?
Don’t misunderstand these facts and think that your muscles don’t need to be strong. They do! Just don’t give your muscles that much stuff to do. You will overwhelm them. Rebounder needs to jump for the ball, shooter needs to shot, same thing here.
Just because your muscles are contracting more and feel like they are ready to blow up and give you more power and explosiveness, doesn’t mean that they will actually do that.
Bones give you strength. Muscles help you move.
Should you avoid bending your knees?
Bending your knees isn’t bad. There are situations where bending your knees is absolutely necessary, for an example for rolling under punches. Just don’t keep them bent all the time. That’s one of the most common mistakes fighters make.
Boxers that are masters of footwork almost never bend their knees while moving.
It is completely normal to have them bent a bit, just don’t go fully down and stay that way. If you don’t have to bend them, don’t!
Should you Pull or Swing?
This is connected to footwork because of the position you put your body in while doing it.
If you are punching, you are basically swinging (pushing), which means that your body is following up in order to make that move effective and natural. This transfers to your footwork and make you move that way.
Same goes for pulling and those types of techniques.
The best separation would be:
Linear moves require pushing techniques.
Circular moves require pulling techniques.
What is better?
Well, both are and should be used.
For pulling, you need more balance, more stamina and it’s harder to do. It can definitely exhaust you.
For swinging, you don’t need to be extremely skilled. It is easier to do and can be done while off balance.
Different situations require different techniques but long story short – Pulling technique will grant you more power than swinging.
This brings us to – How exactly are these techniques connected to footwork?
While performing these techniques you will be required to use different muscles and different posture.
If you are performing the pulling technique, you will have to straighten your legs up and use your hips, feet, calves. This means that you will “put your weight” higher to your body and move around with less pressure on your legs slowing you down.
If you are performing the swinging technique, you will have to bend your knees and use your quads. This means that you will put more pressure on your legs which will lead to you moving harder and in a “heavier” fashion.
Knowing all of this leads us to only one conclusion – good footwork involves feet muscles and calves more that it involves the quads.
NOTE’: While moving, stay connected to the ground and kind of slide. This is more effective than jumping all over the place.
NOTE’’: Move as much as you can! Boxers with good footwork are constantly moving. If you master the technique correctly this shouldn’t be hard. Fighters who get tired because of movement and footwork simply don’t have good footwork!
How To Float Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee?
Well, hard work and patience go without a doubt. If you don’t possess those two things, you won’t be able to change anything in your boxing style.
Here are some tips for obtaining the “pulling footwork”:
Shape your body
In order to move a certain way, you must have a body that can withstand it. We are all different by genetics but that doesn’t mean that we can’t look the way we want to look. Completing the right type of training and building endurance is absolutely necessary.
A good exercise that Muhammad always did – jumping rope. That’s just one of many. Keep your body strong and footwork will be that much easier.
The main thing here is your core. Movement is tightly connected to your core awareness and core strength. Focus on that.
Don’t bend your knees while moving
This can also be trained. While shadowboxing, you can and should practice footwork as well. Try not to bend your knees as much and keep your legs almost straight.
Activate your hips
Focus on your hip movement. Like you have already seen, it’s the essence of this type of footwork.
Focus on exercises that allow you to be connected to the ground
Remember, good footwork isn’t jumping all across the ring. It’s something similar to sliding. Try doing exercises that focus on your calves strength and hip muscles.
This means you shouldn’t overdo jumping exercises. Jumping rope is okay for conditioning, just don’t do too many exercises that are mainly made for increasing your vertical.
That’s about it. There is another point that we could have added to these tips, but you already know it. It’s persistence. This won’t come overnight! Some fighters have the natural feel for movement so they don’t train it as much, however, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t normal for you to train it. Take your time and don’t give up on it. The benefits are off the charts!