If you’ve ever watched a boxing match, you’ve probably noticed that fighters get hit incredibly often. Statistics show that boxing matches tend to average anywhere from thirty to one hundred punches per round. How can boxers take so many hits?
Boxers can take so many hits because they know how to lessen the impact of their opponent’s punches. They do this through a combination of punch rolls and increased neck strength. Boxers undergo a variety of drills to improve their strength and technique.
To start, we’ll take a look at why boxers try to lessen the impact of clean hits. Then, we’ll take a closer look at how to roll punches. Finally, we’ll look at the importance of neck strength, plus some drills boxers use to improve it.
Boxers Try To Avoid Clean Punches
A clean punch in boxing refers to a level, unblocked hit on an opponent. Think of it as the equivalent of an unexpected punch in the face from a stranger on the street.
As boxing veteran Christopher Poland explains, boxers are no better off than a layman when hit with a clean punch. More often than not, such hits in boxing result in a KO.
Boxers, then, train to avoid these clean hits as often as possible. Christopher explains that, even though a fighter may get hit multiple times throughout a match, most if not all of these hits aren’t clean. One clean punch beats dozens of weak ones.
To quote Christopher, “Hit anyone on the button with a hard shot, almost anyone is going to go to sleep.” For a pro, “It’s just going to be many, many times harder” to land such a blow.
How, then, do boxers avoid such punches in the first place?
Boxers Roll With the Punches
The most effective way for a boxer to diminish his opponent’s hits is to roll with the punches.
Boxers roll when they can’t outright dodge a punch. To roll, they move their body with the motion of the approaching blow.
For example, let’s say an opponent swings a right hook towards a boxer’s head. To roll the punch, the fighter would turn his head to the left.
The punch has to go deeper to make contact and thus loses some strength at impact. While they still get hit, that hit is significantly less effective.
Boxers need to train several skills to roll with their opponent’s punches. These include constant eye contact, body contortion, and an awareness of their opponent’s punches.
As we dig into some strategies, watch this YouTube video from Johnny at ExpertBoxing as a visual guide:
The first and most essential step to roll a punch is to see the punch before it hits. As a boxer sees a swing, his nervous system braces for impact.
There are several consequences if a boxer doesn’t see a punch before it lands. It’ll surprise him, catch him off guard, and ultimately do more damage.
Meanwhile, if a boxer sees the punch before it lands, he can better anticipate the blow and roll ASAP.
Boxers roll their heads from side to side to lessen the impact of a head blow. This roll functionally looks like a head turn.
The direction a boxer turns his head depends on the direction of the incoming attack. A turn to the left defends a punch from an opponent’s right. Subsequently, a turn to the right protects a punch from an opponent’s left.
Boxers sometimes throw their head to the left or right to roll. Fighters should only use this technique while out of position. It’s an act of desperation rather than a consistent part of a boxer’s defensive repertoire.
Occasionally, boxers don’t even have time to throw their heads from side to side. In this case, boxers will absorb a blow on their forehead.
To roll with their forehead, a boxer simply tilts their chin downward and braces for impact.
Boxers should roll their shoulders back for hits to the upper body, with a ninety-degree turn of the torso.
Boxers should also use their shoulders to deflect punches. Deflections occur with a sharper ninety-degree turn to push the blow away.
It is important to keep one’s shoulder out of harm’s way when possible. The shoulder is a critical joint, and injury could seriously hurt a boxer’s form and ability later.
Watch the following video to learn more about shoulder rolls:
Body, Ribs, and Core
Finally, to block a shot with their bodies, boxers close their rib cages and tighten their cores.
To close their rib cages, boxers squeeze their arms and torso to push their rib cages down and in. This doesn’t involve an extreme arch of the back. Instead, it’s a tight, controlled motion. He also recommends boxers to activate their lats.
Once their rib cages are closed, boxers tighten their cores. Then, as with the other ways to roll, they turn to lessen the punch’s impact.
Check out more content from ExpertBoxing here.
Even while they roll with punches, a blow to the head can quickly turn dangerous for boxers.
The head is one of the most vulnerable spots of the body, especially for boxers. A study from the Association of Neurological Surgeons found that nearly 90% of fighters will suffer from brain injuries.
A more muscular neck decreases the risk of such injury. Sturdy neck muscles resist the momentum of a hit. Lowered momentum leads to lowered whiplash and thus reduces the risk for injury and concussion.
Because of this, many boxers train their necks to better withstand such hits.
Boxers Train Their Neck Muscles
Boxing training instead focuses on the side and front of the neck. These are the muscles that sustain contact from front-facing blows.
To take a look at some standard exercises, watch this YouTube video from Precision Striking hosted by Trainer Jason Van Veldhuysen:
Most neck exercises online come from the vantage of a wrestler. These exercises tend to focus on the back of the neck. This counters approaches such as snap downs and helps them use their necks to drive.
For this exercise, all a boxer needs is a towel and a wall. Without a towel, Jason recommends an ab mat or anything else with padding.
Once folded, Jason places the towel against a wall. He then slightly tucks in his chin and presses his head against the towel. He recommends newer boxers hold their heads against the wall for fifteen seconds.
To decrease difficulty, Jason recommends a higher angle for the exercise or to use fingers for increased support.
As a boxer builds up strength, Jason recommends a lower angle. The lower the gradient, the higher the exercises’ burden of stress on the neck.
After he faces forward, Jason turns his body so that he now faces the perpendicular wall. With this move, the exercise shifts to the side muscles of the neck. He holds for 15 seconds, then switches to the other side for an additional 15 seconds.
Jason recommends some basic head isometrics for beginner boxers.
He places his fingers from both hands on top of his head to start the exercise. He then pushes his head down for fifteen reps as he applies some pressure from his fingers. While less intensive than the towel exercise, Jason emphasizes that this will still work the neck muscles where you need them.
Jason also does a side variation of this exercise. Rather than push downward, he resists to the left or right. He uses one hand to apply pressure instead of both.
For increased difficulty for the side variation, Jason recommends the addition of a resistance band.
While less important, some boxers still train the back of their necks.
Many boxers use head harnesses strapped with weights to train these muscles. Once attached, they nod their heads up and down for several reps.
Watch this YouTube video of Floyd Mayweather for an infamous example of this method:
Most boxers, however, don’t have access to this sort of equipment.
Jason recommends a suspended head exercise, as the head itself already weighs 5 kilograms (11.02 lbs). He places his body on an elevated surface. He allows only his head to hover in the air.
From there, he moves his head up and down in a full range of motion for fifteen reps. For increased difficulty, Jason recommends added pressure from the fingers.
Check out other boxing videos from Jason on his main channel here.
Boxers can take as many hits as they do, thanks to a mix of evasive maneuvers and intensive strength training. Without this training, a fighter would likely take hits about as well as the average civilian.
With this training, however, boxers can avoid and sustain the clean blows that would otherwise leave them unconscious.