In case you haven’t heard, boxing is all the rage right now. And for good reason—not only is it a great way to let out all your pent-up feels (and way cheaper than therapy), but it’s also a killer total-body workout that’s sure to get you in fighting shape. That means everything from your core to your arms to even your brain (after all, those combinations aren’t going to remember themselves).
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But before you can jab and cross like a pro, it’s essential to build up some endurance, says Brian Pedone, lead boxing trainer at Box + Flow and Work Train Fight in NYC and founder of Quiet Punch. “Cardio is the baseline; once you have that, then you work on your technique,” he says.
Check out these 13 boxing-inspired cardio and conditioning exercises that help build endurance, balance, and agility—whether you’re hitting the ring or just rolling with the punches of day-to-day life.
How to use this list: Perform each exercise below for 1 minute. If you’d like to focus on one exercise (jump rope, for example), build your way up to 10 minutes by adding 30 seconds at a time. Once you master 2 minutes of any exercise, combine 5 to 6 moves with no rest in-between to create a killer 10- to 12-minute cardio workout. Or scroll down to try the 12-minute workout we created at the end of this article.
1. Jump Rope
A classic cardio warm-up for boxing, jumping rope is a great way to get your heart pumping. If you need a refresher: Take the handles in hands, then swing rope over head and in front of body. Hop over rope as it skims ground and land lightly on balls of feet. No rope? No problem. Simply rotate wrists in same motion and hop over an imaginary rope. Make it harder: Switch it up by alternating legs, or trying double unders (rope passes under feet twice during one jump or crossovers (crossing rope in front of body during swing).
2. High Knees
Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Bring knee toward chest (aim to get knee in-line with hip so thigh is parallel to ground). Continue to alternate as quickly as possible. Swing arms like you would during a sprint. Remember to land lightly on the balls of your feet and toes to propel knees upward.
3. Heel Tap
Start standing with feet hip-width apart. Bend right knee to bring foot toward butt. Switch legs and continue to alternate as quickly as possible to get your heart rate up. Reach fingertips back to touch heel. The idea is to bring heels as close to butt as possible to get the maximum strengthening and stretching benefits for hamstrings.
In a real match, you’d use this move to prevent a takedown by your opponent, but when you’re just training, think of this like a boxer’s version of a burpee. Start in boxer stance—that means left foot in front (or right if you’re left-handed), with your right foot just wider than shoulder-width apart behind you and turned out at a 45-degree angle. Hands should be at jaw, fists clenched, protecting face. From fighter stance, lower hands to floor and jump feet back to a wide-leg plank (if mobility allows, let hips dip to floor and back to arch). From here, immediately hop back up to starting position and repeat.
5. Sprinter Hops
While standing, drop down into sprinter’s position with right knee bent, left leg straight out behind you, and left fingertips on floor. This should look and feel like a low runner’s lunge. From lunge position, drive left knee forward and up as you drive through right foot to explode off ground to hop. Reverse the motion to return to starting position. Repeat on opposite leg.
6. Jump Squat
Stand with legs slightly wider than hip-width apart. Send hips back and bend knees to lower into a squat. Drive through balls of feet to jump off ground. Land lightly by rolling from toes to heels, then send hips back and bend knees to lower back to squat again. You can place hands in prayer position in front of chest for balance. Repeat.
7. Lateral Hop
Start standing with knees slightly bent. Pushing off left foot, extend right leg out to right side to hop and land on right foot. Reverse momentum to repeat on opposite leg. Keep alternating back and forth while you swing arms like a sprinter. This should feel like ice skating without the skates.
8. Jump Tuck
From a standing position, jump and use lower abs to draw knees up until nearly in line with hips, parallel to ground. Engage core to keep spine long and chest lifted (don’t bend over). It helps to place hands out in front of you to tap knees. Land softly on balls of feet and repeat.
9. Shadow Boxing
Shadow boxing is a prime way to polish your form, footwork, and breathing technique. Start in boxing stance and throw a couple jabs and crosses. As you do, dance around with fast footwork, like hopping forward and back, taking lateral steps, or even incorporating squats to simulate ducking under your opponent’s punch. You really can’t mess this one up since you just make it up as you go along. For more info, brush up on boxing basics here.
10. Mountain Climber
Start in a high plank position, core engaged, wrists under shoulders. Bring knee in toward chest—almost like doing high knees in a horizontal position—and continue to alternate legs. Engage core to support spine and keep hips level with shoulders.
11. Plyo Push-Up
Start in high plank position, core engaged, wrists under shoulders. Bend elbows and lower chest to floor to perform a push-up. At the bottom of the move, push off hands with explosive power to pop upper body off ground. Land back on hands and repeat. For this version, be sure to keep your elbows tucked in at sides and bend elbows as you land to lessen the impact.Make it easier: Start with a push-up on your knees to build strength, then progress to a basic push-up. Once you have that mastered, try the plyo push-up on your knees, then progress to the version above.
12. Fast Feet
Start standing with feet hip-width apart and fists at jaw in guard. With knees slightly bent, shift weight back and forth between each foot, staying on the balls of feet for agility and speed. The quicker you move, the harder it is! Keep core engaged and upper body as still as possible.
13. Footwork Switch
Start in boxing stance with fists in guard. From here, hop and rotate at the hips to land with feet squared off and body facing forward. Hop again to fighter stance on the opposite side. If you’re a righty, this alternate stance is referred to as “south paw,” and it’s often used as a tactic to throw off an opponent. Continue to switch your stance as fast as possible.
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Photography: Julia Hembree
Special thanks to Gotham Gym for providing the location and to trainer Ruben Marin for modeling these moves.