Today, we break down boxing’s meat-and-potatoes power punch.
In theory, the cross is much simpler than those fancy shovel hooks, Gazelle punches, and corkscrew shots you’ll learn later on. Throwing a punch in a straight line to your opponent’s chin with your dominant hand sounds like a no-brainer, but of course it’s not. As is often the case in boxing, the cross’s technical details challenge some of our natural punching instincts, and it’s a lot harder than it looks.
The cross is a deceptively hard punch to master; there’s a lot that goes into a good one, and that’s why we appreciate the great ones. Arcing overhand power shots are fun, but complimenting a fighter’s cross has more gravitas. If you want your cross to win the respect of your gym-mates (and more fights while you’re at it!), these eight technical tips can help.
1. Understand the Cross’s Kinetic Chain (and Eliminate Your Tri-phasic Motion)
A good right cross starts in the toe and ends in the fist, building momentum as the power transfers through the heel, knee, hip, torso, and shoulder. Watch Saul “Canelo” Alvarez demonstrates this full-body motion:
It’s important to note that Canelo’s body locks out in one piece. Many beginner cross’s suffer from what world-class boxing coach Barry Robinson refers to as a “tri-phasic motion.” This term sounds fancy, but it’s easy to understand when you break it down:
- Tri = three
- Phasic = of or relating to a phase or phases
- Motion = self-explanatory!
In other words, beginner crosses are deployed in 3 distinct phases, rather than all at once. Their punch fires like a trebuchet: the counterweight drops, the arm swings, and the payload is released. This isn’t good because it gives the opponent visual indicators that the punch is coming before it actually arrives. Instead of a “tri-phasic trebuchet,” you want your cross to fire like a ballista – the tension in the bowstave is released all at once, sending the bolt spearing out immediately.
2. Keep the Elbows Tucked
Flared elbows are one of the quickest ways to a spot a beginner’s cross. Tucking the elbows means more power, faster delivery, less telegraphing, and the opportunity to get an “inside track” on your opponent. Anytime you flare your elbows and loop your cross, you give your opponent an opportunity to “beat the loop” by punching straight. Keeping your elbows tucked against your body until the last moment makes your cross harder to spot or pick off with a parry, and discourages smart opponents from throwing big hooks.
If you have trouble keeping the elbows tucked, it usually means your balance is off. Your body steadies itself by floating the arms away from the body to act like a tightrope walker’s pole. If you notice persistent elbow flaring when you throw your cross, it might be time to reevaluate your stance and weight distribution.
3. Initiate the Punch with the Lead Shoulder Rotated Ahead (and the Rear Shoulder Rotated back!)
By setting up for the cross with the lead shoulder rotated ahead, you effectively pre-load the punch, gaining valuable space to generate power. The cross is often setup with the jab for this very reason, but advanced fighters find other creative ways to rotate their lead shoulder in front, including outside slips, shoulder rolls, feints, and pivots.
The severity of this lead shoulder rotation will depend on what you’re trying to accomplish with the punch; leading with a fast cross may require more squaring of the shoulders so the punch gets off quickly, whereas a long-range power shot is best delivered with a significant “pre-load.”
Don’t feel like this is the only position your shoulders should be in, of course. Moving around with a static “pre-load” shoulder position forfeits excellent opportunities to feint, play with head movement, and set up punches. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different shoulder positions and see what’s available.
4. Carry Your Weight 50/50 or 40/60 Before You Punch
Starting with the proper weight distribution - 50/50 or 40/60 on the front/rear leg, respectively - is crucial for power, balance, and recovery.
The cross cannot be thrown properly if you start with the majority of your weight on the lead leg. If you stand up and try to throw a cross with your weight loaded onto your lead hip, you’ll find you have two options: you can throw an arm punch, or tip fully onto your front leg with no options to defend, recover, or follow-up.
Beginners should focus on shifting the weight from the ball of the rear foot to the lead hip, with the punch making impact just as the transfer occurs. To do so, they’ll need to initiate the punch with 50-60% of their weight on the rear hip.
Some beginners have a hard time keeping their back foot in contact with the floor as they throw the cross. This is because they front-load their stance, then sink further onto the lead leg to lunge deeper into the punch. They think they’re getting power, but they’re really just compromising their fighting stance and offering their head to the opponent. Review your stance and settle onto the rear hip a bit more.
5. Keep an Imaginary Thumbtack Beneath Your Back Heel
Beginners sometimes struggle to get the cross off quickly because they stand with their feet out of position. It may feel more stable to remain flat-footed, especially in the pocket, but it seriously slows down the punch’s delivery. Since you can’t pivot flat feet, leaving the heel down delays the punch for the fraction of a second it takes to lift it into position to turn over.
Instead, keep yourself primed to fire the cross at all times by imagining a thumbtack resting under your back heel. This should keep your heel raised just enough to optimize your mobility and leave you ready to turn over a mean cross at a moment’s notice.
6. Maintain Your Posture As You Punch; Don’t Fall into the Cross
Your parents told you not to slouch as a kid - who knew they were helping you develop a murderous cross all along?
You might have been told to “sit down on your punches,” and that’s great advice to increase your power and stability, but beginners need to be careful not to fall into their punches, which really means minding their posture.
The cross should be thrown with the chin down and chest up – this maximizes your range and enables full “T-frame” rotation of the hips, torso, and shoulders. If you slump forward and fall into the punch, you dip your head further into your opponent’s range, and make it much harder to recover your position. Sure, you might generate a bit more power at first, but at what cost!
Think of it like this: throwing a left-right-left combination is much easier when your posture remains upright because you only have to rotate your body in either direction to send the corresponding side’s shoulder and fist flying. Conversely, if you break your posture and rock from leg to leg as you punch, you smother yourself and have to expend more energy to right yourself for the follow-up. You can sit down on your cross, just make sure you don’t fall into it!
7. Keep Your Off-hand On Guard Duty
My first boxing coach used a military metaphor to explain off-hand positioning. He told me that each fist represents a soldier, and like any responsible general will tell you, you cannot mobilize all of your troops and leave the base undefended. When one soldier goes off to battle, the other needs to defend the homestead. In boxing terms, this means that the off-hand always has a job to do. Any hand that isn’t punching should be parrying, controlling, feinting, or covering a target area.
When you throw the cross, focus on ripping the lead shoulder back to generate additional range and power, but leave the off-hand glued to your temple or cheek bone. Your chin should be perfectly safe between the meat of your rear shoulder and the cover your off-hand is providing.
8. Tighten Up at the End
As you can see with Canelo’s cross, the entire motion of the punch should be fluid and efficient until the moment of impact. Then, as Shannon Briggs says, you need to tighten up at the end. Clench your fist and lock the punch out with your body for a split second as you exhale sharply, then retract it:
Tightening up on the end also means having a predetermined “impact point” for your punch, which relates back to knowing your optimal range. This is something beginners struggle with because they’re often encouraged to “punch through the target.” A better coaching phrase would be to “commit to your punches” – it means the same thing, but keeps beginners from getting into the habit of pushing their punches past the point of impact.
There is literally nothing to gain by pushing your punch past the point of impact. The heavy-bag might move a bit more, but your cross isn’t doing any additional damage. Think of it in terms of a car accident: when two vehicles collide, the damage is done at the moment of impact. The momentum may push both cars further down the road, but the danger has passed.
Similarly, when you throw your cross, tightening up at the end for a split second creates that moment of impact, but punching through won’t do you any good.
Remember, a good cross is earned in the gym, not acquired through reading, but this breakdown should help guide your training.
Advanced fighters will have many different crosses in their arsenal, but they all share the same basic principles. Experiment with what you’ve read here today and see how it fits into your unique style.
Hope you’ve learned something worthwhile. Tweet @macrea to request custom breakdowns, talk shop, or tell me I suck!