The benefits of boxing are well documented—it is the workout of choice for the Victoria’s Secret model squad, after all—and easier than ever to access thanks to the growing trend of punch-happy boutique fitness studios.
But it’s also an ultra-precise discipline that’s practiced at rapid-fire speed, which means that improper form and technique can sabotage the best of sweaty intentions.
Perhaps no one knows this better than Christa DiPaolo, the Miami-based creator of Equinox’s new bag- and glove-free boxing class, The Cut. (Think choreographed boxing moves—with light weights in hand—combined with sport conditioning drills and a high-energy hip-hop playlist). A veteran boxer herself, she’s spent the past few months traveling the country to teach the class, and has spotted plenty of questionable jabs, hooks, and kicks along the way.
The good news? Once you know which common mistakes to watch out for, you’re on track for an injury-free, ultra-effective workout—one with perks that go beyond the physical. “There’s nothing more cathartic than punching and kicking,” says DiPaolo. “You’re reducing stress and building confidence, and that’s why I tell everyone, it doesn’t matter if you have experience—just try it.”
Read on to discover the top technical tweaks DiPaolo wants you to make, all of which are sure to make your next boxing class (ahem) a knockout. —Erin Magner
1. This isn’t the Chicken Dance.
“I often see people swinging their elbows out when they’re doing straight punches, like the jab and cross,” says DiPaolo, who dubs it “chicken arms.” (Picture the Chicken Dance and you’ll get the idea.) “That’s why I always say to retract your elbows—keep them tight into your body.” Why? This technique helps you deliver a more powerful punch, which translates to more toned arms in the long run.
2. Think about that knuckle sandwich.
Alignment is everything in boxing, and poor punching form is a recipe for injury (especially if you’re sparring or hitting a bag). DiPaolo says it’s important to punch with the first two knuckles first, palm down—and watch to make sure your thumb isn’t facing up. “This reminds you to use rotation to generate power and speed behind your punches,” she says. “Be sure to keep everything in line, from your knuckles to your wrist, then elbow.”
3. It’s not just about your fists.
DiPaolo notes many novices only use their upper body when punching—which means they’re only getting half of the workout’s benefits. “All the power in boxing comes from your lower half. That’s when you really start using the core.” We know, this can be hard for less coordinated types, but DiPaolo says the trick is to get out of your head. “People try to be so perfect, but the less you think about it, the easier it’ll get and the more coordinated you’ll be.” Besides, if you can walk and text at the same time, you can do this.
4. Get a leg-up with some pro advice.
Don’t be afraid to pull your instructor aside for a one-on-one, slowed-down demo—especially if you’re taking a high-speed kickboxing class like The Cut. “Kicking is definitely more intricate than punching,” says DiPaolo. “The biggest thing I see is with roundhouse kicks; a lot of people don’t bring their hip down and they’re not keeping their knee in line with their toe.” Wonky form will set you up for knee injuries down the road, so this is a crucial step to get right.
5. Go on, be weak in the knees.
“You should always be soft in the knees and elbows—that’s a big one,” says DiPaolo. “You don’t want your legs completely straight, and the same goes for punches—you want to reach, but you don’t want to hyperextend.” Need some help in this department? Find a class with killer tunes. “This is where good music comes into play; it just naturally loosens people up,” DiPaolo explains.
6. Just breathe. No, seriously.
As with yoga and running, linking breath and movement is an important part of boxing that many people forget. DiPaolo’s pro tip: Exhale forcefully at the end of any kick or punch. “It keeps your core tight,” she says. “And you want that core to be tight if there’s an incoming punch.” (It also helps protect your back, so bonus points there.)
Need more boxing intel asap? Here’s everything you need to know about the white-hot workout craze…and more tips for good form.
(Photos: Codis, Inc for Equinox (top); Alex Maier (middle); Equinox (bottom))