How to Develop the Muscle Memory to Keep Your Guard Up


By Bryanna Fissori

Defense is often underrated, especially in fitness-oriented boxing classes. This can often give a false sense of security. Just because you can punch effectively, does not mean that you can effectively avoid punches. Step one of any defensive boxing lesson should be keeping your guard up. The hands serve to block or “guard” you from incoming strikes. The position of having your hands blocking your face is often referred to as “the guard.” You may here coaches yell at their boxers to “Keep your guard up!” This is what they are referring to. 

Keeping your guard up sounds like a simple task, but after a few moments of moving around with your hands at the level of your face, the arms will begin to fatigue or lose focus. This is why it is imperative to develop muscle memory and take the thinking element out of the equation. 

Here are a couple of drills and suggestions to help develop the muscle memory to keep your guard up without conscious effort. 

Defensive Shadowboxing

Shadowboxing is an important element of any boxing regiment. Start off your workout with one round of shadowboxing defensively with no punches thrown. Keep your hands up the entire round. If a mirror is available, do this in front of a mirror. In your next round add defensive blocking techniques such as parrying and blocking hooks and straight punches. Do not start throwing any punches until you have been shadowboxing defensively for at least 3 or 4 minutes, more if possible depending on the length of your rounds. This will help you remember to keep your hands up once you start offensive work. 

Rope Slipping Drill

Use an extra hand wrap or a rope of some sort to tie from one point to another. The rope or wrap should be positioned approximately six to eight inches below head level to encourage proper level changing. If there is a fixture such as a pole or heavy bag to use as anchors, that would be helpful. Keeping your hands up the entire drills walk forward in your fight stance, moving your head from one side of the rope to the other in a slipping motion. Do this going forward and backward. Do not drop your hands. This should help you get use to keeping your guard up.

Heavy Bag Blocking

This drill will require a partner, heavy bag and a foam pool noodle if available. The actual combinations thrown to the bag are not important. The focus is on returning your hands to your face after each punch. Your partner will stand on the opposite side of the heavy bag. While you are throwing punch combinations they will intermittently hit you with the noodle. (These are cheap and can be purchased at most stores that have a toy section. Some boxing gyms keep them on hand for these types of drills.)

If your hands do not return to the guard position you will be smacked with the noodle, which is not painful but will remind you to keep your guard up. 

Advanced Pad work Drill

If you have a pad holder, it is a good idea to incorporate defensive work into your pad feed. Most boxing pad holders will use small rounded focus mitts rather than square Thai pads. This means that they are fairly mobile. Encourage your pad holder to throw back at you occasionally to make sure you are returning to the guard position in between combinations. A strike from the pad holder will sting a bit more than the noodle if not blocked. 

If All Else Fails

If you are just a chronic hand dropper, some coaches will literally tape an athlete’s hands to their head. It is hard to say whether this is actually effective or just a solid and embarrassing disciplinary measure. Either way, it gets the point across. 

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