How To Defend In Boxing (The 5 Essentials)

Don’t get hit. Knowing how to defend in boxing is arguably just as important as knowing how to throw punches. Trust me. After 6 years of boxing I’ve been on the wrong end of a fair few knocks and so have learnt this the hard way! A proper defense is also the best foundation for attack.

In this article I’ll explain the fundamentals of defense in boxing and some of the best strategies for protecting yourself in the ring.

There are 5 defensive essentials to always bear in mind when you’re training or fighting:

  1. Hands up
  2. Keep moving
  3. Chin down
  4. Footwork
  5. Eyes on your opponent

Let’s dive in.

How to defend in boxing: the 5 essentials 🛡️ 


1️⃣ Hands up 

Your face is the primary target for your opponent. It’s also the most vulnerable part of you that is legally allowed to be hit. Protect it all costs, at all times.

boxing hands upBy keeping your hands right up by your face (and your elbows tucked into your body) you’ll have a solid shield to absorb the power from any of your opponent’s punches. You will also be in a great position to throw some counter punches. Keep reading for where exactly to hold your hands, hint: phone and microphone!

Of course, when you punch your hands will leave this position, but you should return them immediately after. Think about drawing your hand back after a punch just as much as you are thinking about throwing the punch itself. Your non-punching hand should be by your face at all times, no matter what punch you are throwing.

Letting hands drop is one of the most classic mistakes beginners make, particularly when a fight drags on and the boxer begins to tire.

Yes, you’ll see some pros with their hands down (like Ali in the main image above!), dodging punches like they are in the matrix. But, guess what, you aren’t a pro. Keep your hands up.


2️⃣ Keep moving

“If you don’t move your head, your opponent will move it for you”.

keep moving boxingSounds about right. It’s a lot harder to hit a target that is constantly bobbing and weaving unpredictably. Always be moving your head, shoulders, and entire body, to keep your opponent guessing and punching thin air.

Blocking punches is fine, but if you can avoid the impact altogether then even better. You’ll take less damage and set yourself up for some devastating counter blows.


3️⃣ Chin down

You’ve probably heard people talk about a “weak” or “strong” chin. This refers to a boxer’s ability to take blows to the face and keeping on fighting.  The word “chin” is used because punching someone in the chin or jaw is the most effective place to land a knockout. Being hit here causes the head to rotate more sharply than being hit in any other way, thus causing lots of brain movement inside your skull à blackout!

Keeping your chin down protects this most vulnerable spot. But don’t have it so low that you are staring at the floor. Try holding a tennis ball between your chin and your chest. This is about the angle you should keep your chin. I’d recommend practicing with this simple trick.


4️⃣ Footwork

Your feet are the foundation of everything you do in the ring. If they’re in the wrong place you have no balance, no strength, no agility. I.e. all the things you need to defend against punches and dish out your own.

boxing good foot positionYour feet should always in this balanced, strong position.

Remember essential # 2 about keeping moving? This very much applies to your feet too. Dance around the ring while keeping your feet in this position and your opponent will be chasing shadows.




5️⃣ Eyes on your opponent

ali avoiding punches

If you’re on the defensive it might feel natural to look away from the incoming blows. But you can’t avoid what you can’t see. If you look away you’ll just become a punching bag and countering will be much harder.

Keep your eyes on your opponent. Watch this masterclass from Mohammed Ali, arguably the best boxer ever. (I wouldn’t recommend this hands down style though, not unless your reflexes are superhuman).



Related articles:


The 6 different methods of defense 🥊

Ok, so now you know the essentials of how to defend in boxing. Let’s take a look at the different methods, and their pros and cons, for defending against an incoming punch.


1️⃣ Block with your hands

This is the most instinctive and obvious form of defense. Your hands, which should already be up by your face, form a shield from any incoming punches. For straight punches this will require only a little extra movement if your hands are in the right place. If defending against a hook, you need to make sure your hand comes up by your cheek and ear.

Pros: requires little effort to block and is hard for your opponent to get through

Cons: you still take impact and often you will have to block your own vision with your gloves to defend


2️⃣ Parry

For straight jabs, you can use the palm of your dominant hand to slap the punch away before it reaches your face.

Pros: requires little effort

Cons: by moving your hand away from your face to parry, you leave yourself open to a left hook if the jab is a feint


3️⃣ Slip

Short, sharp movements of your head and shoulders to move out the way of straight punches. Keep your weight forward on your front leg and your hands up.

Pros: sets you up well for counter punches, avoids any impact

Cons: relies on very sharp reflexes and you’re still in range of the opponent so you could get hit if you don’t move quickly enough


4️⃣ Duck / roll

boxing roll defense For hooks, you bend your knees so you move under the punch as it comes round over your head. This movement is ideally done with your legs, not your back or shoulders. Try to keep your back straight, and your hands up.

Pros: sets you up well for counter punches, avoids any impact

Cons: relies on very sharp reflexes and you’re still in range of the opponent so you could get hit if you don’t move quickly enough.


5️⃣ Lean back

lean back defenceAs the punches come in, you lean your shoulders back to get out of range. Your feet stay where they are but you shift your weight back and watch as the punch flies past your nose.

Pros: you’re out of range of the punches

Cons: you’re off balance and vulnerable if your opponent moves forward into range. Less opportunities for quick counter punches.


6️⃣ Step back

Remember what we said about footwork and keeping moving? This is our favorite defense and involves simply stepping back out of range of the incoming punch. Remember to keep your feet in that all important balanced position.

Pros: you’re out of range of the punches and you retain your balance. As you are moving back, there is less impact if you do get hit.  

Cons: Less opportunities for quick counter punches, more effort 





Where should I hold my hands? 

There are several different boxing hand guards which we will discuss in another post but the recommended guard for most boxers is holding your hands up like a phone and microphone.

boxing hand guardYour dominant hand should be up on the side of your jaw and cheek as if you were speaking on the phone. It’s important to remember that your hand should be right next to your face, with no gap. If there is a gap, you’ll effectively hit yourself in the face: the opponent’s punch will knock your hand into your face, increasing the impact you receive.

Your forward, jab hand should be a few inches in front of your face like you are holding a microphone. Simple.

The other aspect to consider is your elbows. They should be tucked down into your body, not out like you are impersonating a chicken, so you can defend effectively against body shots.


How to defend against uppercuts? 

Many of the above techniques apply to defending against all types of punches, including uppercuts. However, if you can’t move out of the way of an uppercut, either by leaning or stepping back, then you will need to block it with your hands or arms.

One way to do this is by twisting your body away from the side that the uppercut is coming from. This will mean the punch ends up getting blocked by your elbow or wrist. You also set yourself up for a juicy counter punch by twisting like this.

Another option is to draw your hands and wrists tightly together in front of your face so there is no way through for the uppercut.


How to defend against body shots? 

If you have your elbows tucked in then you’re already in a solid position to defend from body shots using your elbows. Lower your body slightly by bending your knees and adjust the position of your elbow to block the incoming blow. It helps to tense your abdomen to lessen the impact.

Like with your face guard, make sure your elbows are touching your body otherwise you will still take a beating as your elbows get knocked back into your own body.


12th Round 🔔

Most people think of big hits and knockouts when they think of boxing. But knowing how to defend is half the art. Don’t neglect learning how to defend in boxing unless you want to end up on the mat, staring at the stars! And, accept that you will get hit. It’s part of the sport. But you’ll soon realize you aren’t so fragile after all. 

If you remember anything about how to defend in boxing, remember these 5 essentials:

  1. Hands up
  2. Keep moving
  3. Chin down
  4. Footwork
  5. Eyes on your opponent

Happy fighting! 🥊🥊

“…if I survived the Marines, I can survive Ali.” – Chuck Wepner