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Tips on Keeping Your Hands up

 Let's talk about an aspect of boxing defence that as a beginner, you're going to forget: Keeping your hands up! That's right—not only is this one of defensive boxing's main fundamentals, it's also something you're likely to forget once you're in the ring—assuming you're like most of us, that is.

No, you probably won't have trouble remembering when shadow boxing or performing other drills, since that's when it's easy. It's also the one rule you'll be hearing your trainer scream in your ear about the most, so there's that reminder too.

But where you will have trouble is in the ring, since that's where adrenaline and fatigue take over and fundamentals go out the window—unless you've established a good mental approach and muscle memory, that is.

Granted, it isn't only beginners who lapse on this important aspect of the sport, since you'll even see pros do it at times.

Even so, it's detrimental to your chances of winning, no matter your level.

The Answer is Right in Front of You

While you will forget to keep your hands up at times, there'll also be 2 not-so-gentle reminders that you need to do so: Your trainer screaming in your ear, and the pop of your opponent's glove against your jaw.

But what's better than taking a beating or having to listen to the din of your coach is to apply techniques that establish good habits from the get-go. This means establishing both muscle memory and good mental aspects of defence, along with one trick involving balance that may work best of all for you.

Let's start with the basic tips:

Get Back on Defence

On the football pitch, the first thing a player does after a missed shot on goal or turnover is turn downfield for defence. It's the same in boxing, where the rule is to ALWAYS return your hands to where they belong after throwing: In front of your face with knuckles up and palms in.

But while it's be easy for the footballer to remember their obvious job once they lose control of the ball, it isn't so in fighting. That's because it's easy to think in terms of continuous punching, though every punch thrown leaves your head temporarily open. If your opponent has any skills at all, they will note these openings, parry and block your punches, and use this to their advantage—as in, knock you for a loop.

Instead, the faster you return your hands after you throw a punch, the better chance you'll have at beating your opponent. Think of it as though your arms are stretchy bands that automatically snap back into position once they've thrown a punch.

To do this, try establishing a "snapping" effect at the end of your punches to use as return momentum. Think of this as you would casting a fishing fly where the momentum of the fly rod being swung back is the same momentum used to return it forward. While this won't produce punches as powerful this way as when you punch through your target, it will help you land more punches while getting hit less, which is how you win. 

 Maintain a Line of Sight

Another important aspect of keeping your hands up is maintaining a line of sight through your hands, which you can also use as a reminder to keep them up. Oftentimes, new fighters will overcompensate by keeping their hands too closed in front of their face, which blocks their vision and leaves them vulnerable to unseen punches.

Try thinking of your gloves as you would the sight on a gun where you need to look through it to produce offence. If you're not peering at your opponent between your gloves, you're likely either blocking your line of sight with your hands, or about to be hit since your hands are down.

Hold the Phone

Another means of reminding yourself to keep 'em up is to "hold the mike while answering the phone." By this, we mean use your non-dominant hand (usually the left) to hold an imaginary microphone in front of your face as though you are going to call the fight.

At the same time, keep your dominant hand up near your ear as though answering a phone. This is your starting defensive position.

You can also add in a mental "hello" after every punch to remind yourself to return to the mike and the phone.

Keep Your Dominant Hand "Coined" in Position

If you're overusing your dominant hand, try this: Place a coin between your dominant glove and the bottom of your jaw, below your molars. The object of this drill is to now keep the coin there as you practice punching (and returning) the other, non-dominate hand.

No, you don't want to spar this way, though it will help you establish muscle memory and good habits so that you don't have to re-learn things down the road. 

 Balance Your Defence

Believe it or not, one of the best ways to ALWAYS get your hands back up is to use them for balance. By this, we mean simply leaning your upper body forward so that your hands naturally swing into place in front of you. This is similar to what often happens with new fighters who tend to lean back, which also means their hands want to stay back to avoid toppling over. Leaning back also forces your chin up and moves your punches—and punching power—away from your target.

Instead, move your head so it is slightly in front of your shoulders, and with your shoulders just in front of your hips. This will not only create a need for you to counter-balance by keeping your hands up, it will also:

  • Improve your reach and the punching speed of both hands
  • Make it easier to move your head and body in response to your opponent's punches
  • Keeps your chin tucked and out of the way so that when you are hit, punches are more likely to land harmlessly on your forehead
  • Makes for a more aggressive approach with defence more naturally built in

Remember though, you also need to remember to look at your opponent from "under your eyebrows" as opposed to developing the bad habit of looking down, which can happen with your chin tucked.

A Final Note

When it comes to defensive fundamentals, keeping your hands up is at the top of the list. It prevents you from being counter-punched and puts you in a prime defensive AND offensive position for better control of the bout.

It's also the one rule you WILL forget at times, especially at first, though the consequences in the ring will be apparent.

By snapping your hands back after every punch, maintaining a clean line of sight through your gloves, not overusing your dominant hand, and—most of all—forming the habit of leaning forward so you counter-balance with your hands, you'll establish better defence, and win more bouts.

It really is that simple, even if it's hard!

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