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Switching Stances in Boxing (Part 1)

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  • September 25, 2021October 11, 2021

Switching Stances in Boxing

What I’m Trying to Learn: Fighting Southpaw (as a naturally orthodox fighter)

Back when I used to compete, I would occasionally shift into a southpaw (left-handed) stance, only to find myself shifting right back into orthodox. I would use it to confuse my opponent, but never stayed in that stance for long. Switching stances in boxing could provide a different look for my opponent, but I preferred to master fighting in my orthodox stance.

Lately, I’ve been playing around with training the southpaw stance again. But now, I’d like to be able to stay in that southpaw stance for an entire round (or more) without switching back to orthodox. Part of the reason I’m trying to switch stances is to be in a position of learning all over again. It’s challenging going back to the basics and starting from square one.

But another reason isn’t for anything boxing related – it’s just for health. I tend to get a lot of injuries only on my right leg and am used to sitting in that orthodox position which has me putting my weight on my back (right) foot. This has been impacting my marathon running, as I noted on my East Canyon Marathon recap. I’d be fine with that if I were still competing but, considering I’m far past those days of competition, I’d like to play around with fighting in a different stance.

Pointers for Switching Stances in Boxing:

  • Try your combination in orthodox and then southpaw: The best way I learn how to throw a particular combination from a southpaw stance, is by getting into a rhythm throwing that combination in orthodox, and then switching to southpaw. I like to switch back and forth between a stance where I know how to throw a combination properly, to the opposite stance where I struggle with that same combination. I find that this helps create body awareness and is more effective than repeatedly trying to throw the combination in the southpaw stance.
  • Back to the basics! Focus on stance first: The first thing I focus on when switching southpaw, boxer practicing any punches, is stance and weight distribution. Many fighters, even seasoned professionals, switch southpaw but keep their weight on their right leg. In the orthodox stance, it’s correct to sit on your right (rear) leg. But in the southpaw stance, your weight should now be on your left (rear) leg.
    • Fighters like Andre Ward and Floyd Mayweather switched southpaw on occasion early in their careers, and did so effectively. However, you’ll notice they still have their weight on the wrong (right) foot. Their success was very much despite that flaw in their stance, and the product of their overall boxing IQ.
  • Practice footwork before punches: In the same way that I teach boxing to beginners, I always start with footwork before I ever teach my boxers to throw a punch. When learning to fight the opposite stance, pretend like it’s your first day in the gym. Start with footwork!
  • Other issues I’ve had making the transition:
    • How weight distribution impacts technique: Once you get your stance down, you can practice throwing your punches in the opposite stance. Everything is backwards, and people will have different issues with different punches. But I’ve noticed that most issues stem from the same problem – finishing your combination with your weight on the wrong foot. For me, I had issues throwing the right hook and, once again, sitting on my left (rear) foot once finished with the punch.
    • Finishing position for your combination: Another issue I had was throwing the jab to finish a combination. That would require you to put your weight back onto your rear foot to step into that jab. For example, if you were to lunge with your left cross, you would not be in position to push off your left (rear) foot to step into a jab.
    • Re-wiring your mind – the punches of your combination: Try throwing 6 punches on the bag (1-2-1-2-1-2). When I have my fighters throw an even number of straights, I have them count in even numbers rather than trying to count each individual punch. I’m so used to throwing 6 punches and finishing with my right cross. When I switch southpaw, I often throw in an extra punch (1-2-1-2-1-2-1), because I’m so used to finishing with my right. Now finishing your combinations with a jab is a great practice to have, but not when you don’t mean to! I’m currently practicing to be able to re-wire my mind to throw the combinations that I actually intend on throwing, whether I finish with the jab or the cross.
    • Stepping over with the cross: Sometimes throwing the left cross confuses natural orthodox fighters because they’re so used to that being their jab hand. As a result, they may step over with their left cross and use it to shift back into orthodox. I used to do this in sparring sometimes as a form of shifting and then double jab out of the orthodox stance to follow it up. While that may work at times, it’s a dangerous combination to throw. Furthermore, it defeats the purpose of all of this drilling to fight in the opposite stance! 

Added Benefit of Switching Stances: Neuroprotection?

I read this in the book Damage: The Untold Story of Brain Trauma in Boxing by Tris Dixon, which claims that switching stances can help prevent Dementia.

“By changing their whole orientation from left-handed to be right-handed, what does that do to the brain? It creates new neural connections and this to us was an explanation for this. Note that they didn’t have brain trauma, but since they had these other connections that most people don’t have . . . They had a reserve to fall back on when their sixties and early seventies came around.”

Claiming that switching stances in boxing can help prevent neurodegeneration seems like a stretch to me. But some propose that fighters like converted southpaws (like Carmen Basilio, Jake Lamotta, Tony Demarco, and Joe Miceli) had better health outcomes in their later years than many of the greats (like Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, etc.), simply because converting their stance from orthodox to southpaw created neural connections that helped preserve their minds in their later years. My gut tells me that that’s a stretch, but I’d love to hear more research on the matter as it comes out!

Final thoughts: My biggest focus right now is keeping my weight on my left (rear) foot and fighting the temptation to step over with my left cross. My southpaw training is predominantly shadowboxing (6+ rounds of shadowboxing before hitting the heavy bag). I’ll post an update on my progress as I continue training southpaw!

About the Author:

Coach Ian is an ultra-marathon runner and a volunteer coach at the non-profit boxing organization, Dreamland Boxing, in San Jose, CA. He competed in boxing for both Dreamland and collegiately at UCLA. His goal is to empower all to be the best that they can be, in boxing and in life. You can find Coach Ian on InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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