While the jab isn’t as exciting as the cross, hook, or uppercut, the jab is more useful than all other punches combined. The jab can punch, push, distract, create openings, or even defend against your opponent’s deadliest punches!
Here is my official boxing guide on throwing a proper jab. It’s complete with pictures, videos, and explanations for all the common nuances of the jab.
Learn how to throw your #1 punch!
I don’t remember what I wrote on the jab 4 years ago when I first started the website. That was 2008, this is 2012. I look to re-do many of these basic guides with newer and more complete boxing instruction. Thank you for your patience!
Basic Jab Technique
The jab is a boxer’s most important weapon!
In case you haven’t heard it before: the jab is your #1 weapon! But WHY is it your number one weapon?
Compared to ALL OTHER PUNCHES, the jab is faster, longer, most likely to land, and least likely to leave you vulnerable. The jab uses less energy than any other punch and still keeps you in position to follow up with a dangerous power punch (ie: the right cross). You can use the jab to punch, to push, or even to distract. It’s accurate and effective from many angles even if you have limited skill. Do you know of any other punch that is still equally effective when thrown while moving?!
The jab isn’t just an offensive weapon, it’s also your best defense! Instead of blocking or slipping or rolling, you can counter just about any punch with the jab! The jab can do everything: your offense, your defense, your entire boxing ability can measured by the skill of your jab.
Although there are many different types of jabs and many different ways to throw them, this guide will focus only on the BASIC JAB TECHNIQUE!
How to Throw a Jab
1. Stand in your boxing stance
Hands up, elbows in, hips between your feet, knees slightly bent, and back heel lifted. Front foot at slight angle generally pointing towards opponent, back foot about 45 degrees diagonal. (Note that my back foot doesn’t look very diagonal because the heel is lifted, making it appear more like 90 degrees.)
- Basically, all you need to do is get in your stance and do nothing else. Do not try to “load” the jab by pulling your front hand towards you or lowering your hips, or otherwise preparing yourself in any other way.
- If you don’t know what the basic boxing stance is, read my guides on boxing stance: The Perfect Boxing Stance & Perfect Boxing Stance Width.
- Oh and please, keep the body and hands relaxed.
The beauty of the jab
is that you’re always in position to throw it.
2. Extend the glove
Now extend (PUNCH) your front glove (left hand for orthodox, right hand for southpaws) towards your opponent, while exhaling a sharp breath.
- NOTHING ELSE MOVES. Move only your front arm, and none of your other limbs. Do not shift your weight forwards or backwards, keep your weight at center.
- The extension is the speed portion of the jab. It has to be relaxed and fast. If you tighten your fist too early or visualize your fist becoming a brick and hitting your opponent, it decreases your jabbing speed. Try instead to imagine your fist cracking upwards and forwards like a fast whip, with your knuckles slapping upwards at your opponent.
- Visualize this “upwards snap” with only your hand, NOT your entire arm! Do not try to hit with the top of your head, lead the punch with your knuckles. If you feel unable to jab powerfully, try to focus more on your arm rotation and tightening of the fist than the whipping motion of the fist.
The most relaxed jab is the fastest jab.
3. Rotate your arm
Ok, it’s about to get tricky for you beginners! While the glove is extending outwards, ROTATE YOUR ENTIRE FRONT ARM so that your punch lands with the palm facing down and your shoulder rotated up to cover your chin.
- You will be rotating your entire arm, the shoulder, the elbow, the fist.
- Rotating the shoulder is what allows the rest of the arm to fully rotate. Instead of only rotating the shoulder, try to LIFT your front shoulder. Lifting the front shoulder gives you more reach and also protects your chin from overhand counters. It’s a good habit to develop for new fighters because they often leave the chin exposed when throwing the jab.
- Bring the elbow straight up into the jab instead of sideways. The straight elbow solidifies the jab and gives it a direct angle of attack. When you rotate the elbow quickly, it adds snap and power to your jab. The arm will also telegraph a lot less because your elbow is coming straight behind the jab as opposed to swinging upwards beforehand. (If your elbow keeps swinging out because you don’t rotate, try throwing jabs while standing with your left side against a wall. This will prevent the “chicken wing” effect.) Again, bring the elbow forward (instead of sideways) so your jab comes out straighter for better power, less telegraphing, and straighter penetration force.
- Rotate the fist for power and snap. You don’t need to visualize the arm drilling a hole in your opponent. Your arm rotates because your arm cannot comfortably throw a forward punch with the palm facing upwards. Think about it, your jab starts with your palm facing you, and then your arm rotates during the jab, and then the jab lands with your palm facing down. The rotation should feel natural; the fist rotates because your arm rotates!
- Tighten your fist right at the moment of impact. The fist tightens and entire body contracts explosively only for a split second at the moment of impact! If you tense up before the impact or beyond the impact, it slows your speed, reduces power, and wastes energy.
Rotating the entire arm
provides power, form, and defense!
I know I broke the jab down into 3 steps but in reality, it all happens simultaneously. Your arm extends quickly outwards as it rotates, and your jab lands with a tight fist and rotated arm right simultaneous with a sharp exhale. The result is a sharp snapping jab!
- Once you finish the jab, pull it straight back to continue attacking or defending!
*** Watch my video above to see some live demonstration of a proper jab!
Common Mistakes with the Jab
Mistake #1 – elbow comes out sideways aka the “chicken wing”
BAD! Don’t let your elbow fly out like that. I know you’ve seen the pros do it on TV or maybe you discovered it yourself as a cool way to whip your jab up while your hands are down.
Here are some problems you’ll find with a “chicken wing” jab:
- Less power – pros can do the back-slap jab because they’re just throwing their left hand out there while waiting for to throw their right hand. They’re using it as a touching jab. For now, beginners need a proper jab with sufficient power.
- Telegraphs – anybody can see it coming. Sticking that elbow out makes it really easy to see and really easy to parry the jab because you’re throwing your whole forearm instead of only the glove. Anytime I see someone throw a chicken wing jab, I no longer have to block the glove because I can just slap their forearm down everytime that elbow comes up. Your jab might also be slower because the elbow is coming out sidewards instead of straight forward into the punch. (The pros do it quick sometimes by leaving the elbow out there and just back-slapping with the hand.)
- Bad form – the chicken wing jab isn’t only less powerful and less speedy, it’s also less direct. The jab won’t be as straight and cannot force it’s way cleanly inside a tight guard. There may be moments in your fight when you need a really straight jab to push forward, and a sideways elbow won’t allow the angle or stability for that.
Mistake #2 – dropping the right hand
WHOA! How did this happen? Everybody knows what this clown is gonna throw next! Anyway, dropping your right hand is just plain dangerous. It leaves you vulnerable to left hook counters and telegraphs your right hand follow-up. A longer armed opponent will easily counter all your jabs with left hooks.
- Keep your right hand by your face when you jab. A good trainer will drill this bad habit out of you on the mitts from day one. My trainer used to slap me with left hooks anytime I dropped my right hand; not just during jabs.
Mistake #3 – reaching with the head
Many fighters do this for reach or power. Hey, it works if you want to steal a quick point or have some tactic behind this. In terms of general boxing purposes, this is bad technique.
- Decreased power and balance – leaning forward reduces your power because you’re falling towards one leg instead of staying on two. This creates less balance and makes it even harder for you to recover your stance (pulling the hand back is easy, pulling your head back might not be).
- Decreased right hand power – Leaning forward also means you’re taking weight off your back foot. This will make it harder for you to throw a right hand since you have no weight back there to powerfully rotate into a right cross. You’re only option to throw a powerful right cross is probably to lean even further forward. One day you’ll pay for this!
- Vulnerable – you’re already vulnerable by throwing a punch, but to come forward with it makes you especially vulnerable! First off, it’s common knowledge never to bring your head forward with your jab. A good opponent will knock you out with a perfectly timed right hand because you threw yourself into it.
- A wise rule would be to keep your head BEHIND YOUR SHOULDER. Try it again, throw a regular jab and keep your head back—see how the shoulder comes up to protect the chin? Now lean forward with the jab and now the head is next to the shoulder with no protection.
- If you want to come forward or have better reach, use a step-jab so you have even more power and don’t sacrifice any balance or unnecessary vulnerabilities. (A step jab means to step forward with your front foot as you throw/land your jab.)
Mistake #4 – not lifting the shoulder
See the difference between lifting the shoulder vs not lifting the shoulder? It results in less power, less reach, less rotation, and even leaves your chin open to counter rights. Beginner boxers should be drilled until they no longer make this amateur mistake.
Mistake #5 – popping up with the jab
WHOA! Why are my legs so straight?! Why am I trying to stand up so high?! Many beginners commit this crucial mistake because they were taught that punching power comes from the legs. This is true but it doesn’t mean you should straighten your legs while punching.
Straightening your legs during the jab results in:
- Less grounding – well you’re obviously going to have less balance and less power because you uprooted yourself during the punch. If anything, you need to stay down so your legs can exert more force against the ground—especially during the moment of impact! Go over to a heavy bag and try hitting while you pop up. Then try it again while you stay down (or even drop an inch). Which one has more power and balance? 😉
- Less control – if you pop up, you won’t be able to quickly move from your position or go into other punches or bob & weave, etc. Stay down so you can be more grounded and able to move yourself powerfully.
Mistake #6 – rotating the foot or body
This isn’t bad technique, it’s just not a jab. Rotating the foot and body gets you a totally different punch called the “left cross”. Most beginners will probably resort to this technique in effort to increase their jab power. The jab is straight, fast, and surprising. A left cross is rotational power making it hardly any different from all your other punches.
The left cross definitely has more power but lacks many of the jab’s qualities:
- Speed – a left cross requires more body movement than a jab. It will take more time and more energy. Being that all your non-jab punches are power punches, you should really let your jab do all your speed work for you. Don’t worry about power, the jab will set up your power punches for you!
- Right cross reaction time – the right hand is faster after a jab than after a left cross. The reason is simple: during a proper jab, your body does not rotate however during a left cross, your body rotates in the opposite direction of your right cross which slows its release.
- Left hook reaction time – now that you already wasted your rotation on a left cross, you can’t follow your jab with a left hook. Well you CANNNNN, but it won’t be as fast. It’s better to keep that body stable and not waste any energy until you see openings for the more powerful punches.
- Variety – The jab is beautiful as it is. Where it lacks in power, it makes up in utility. There are many variations of the jab that all incredibly fast and useful in infinite situations. It would be a poor strategic decision to give up all of the jab’s qualities for the sake of power.
The left cross is not a jab,
not even a more powerful jab.
Variations of the jab
Here are some fun variations to the basic jab. You will need to master ALL of these in order to be a successful boxer! (Note: I’m not putting any pictures for these because they will have their own instructional guides later.)
The step jab will most likely become your number one punch because it’s fast, powerful, and brings you into range. It’s more powerful than your regular jab and also has more reach because you’re stepping forward.
The most common mistake is to try and step too far. What ends up happening is that your punch lands before your foot hits the ground and you have less power OR you get countered or pushed off balance because you were floating during the jab.
Try standing just outside your opponent’s reach and then using only a very tiny step to bring yourself in range. This is what makes you fast, powerful, AND EFFICIENT! The pro’s take small steps, not giant ones that leave them vulnerable in the air.
Step jabs have more power and reach than regular jabs,
making them your #1 weapon!
How to throw a step jab
- Step forward with your front foot (just a few inches) as you throw your jab.
- Recover your BACK FOOT as you recover your front arm.
- Every step jab should take you a few inches closer to your opponent.
***Note: you can also throw back-step jabs. Jab while stepping back with your BACK FOOT and recover the front foot as you recover your front arm.
The body jab is incredibly useful for scoring body shots, distracting your opponent downstairs to land right hands upstairs, or even pushing him off balance. The body jab is also a natural counter to the jab. The common mistake is to telegraph your jab to the body by looking down at his body (instead of his head) AND/OR crouching down too low when you do it. If anything, you crouch down only enough to avoid his oncoming punch (like a jab). Otherwise, getting low is not necessary to land body punches!
Body jabs can punch or PUSH your opponent.
How to throw a body jab
- Start from your natural boxing stance, do not crouch down!
- Throw a step jab but bend at your knees and waist as you aim your jab at your opponent’s body. Taking a small step allows you to get lower without having to bend over so much AND it helps you drop your body weight into the punch.
- The body is a softer target than the head, so you need more of a pushing jab than a snapping jab to hurt it. You can “push” a little longer as you dig your jab into his body. This can even push him off balance if he blocks it.
The pivot jab is useful in both offensive and defensive situations because it allows you to attack your opponent while angling yourself out of the way. Offensively, pivot jabs allow you to attack while circling your opponent. Defensively, pivot jabs allow you to counter attack as you move your body out of the way.
The most common mistake for pivot jabs is to over-rotate. Jabs thrown with a wide pivot have less power because you were floating too much on one leg. Pivoting too wide can also turn your back towards your opponent AND/OR make it harder for your right hand to reach. Unless your pivot jab is purely for escaping the corner and spinning your opponent, smaller pivots are usually more ideal. The general idea is to pivot only enough to avoid your opponent’s attack, otherwise your focus should be on grounding the feet as quickly as possible to counter.
Pivot jabs allow you to attack
while moving out of harm’s way.
How to throw the pivot jab
- Throw a jab while simultaneously rotating your body as your back foot swings behind you. This will cause you to pivot clockwise (for orthodox boxers) or counter-clockwise (for southpaw boxers).
- As you pivot, allow your opponent’s punch to miss into the space you just occupied. The pivot jab will require some timing skills.
The power jab is a difficult and crucial skill to master. It’s probably impossible that you can learn it from this brief guide but here is how it works. The power jab is simply a jab thrown while grounding the body downwards. It is a jab thrown while your hips are projecting force downwards!
In moments when you see an opportunity to land a jab but nothing else, the power jab will make a great impression. In all other moments, it’s best to land a fast jab and follow immediately with the right cross, left hook, etc. In other words, the power jab is great for POWER potshot-ing.
The most common mistake is to try and use power jabs as your normal jab; you end up waiting for opportunities instead of creating them with lighter faster jabs.
The power jab is useful for landing single shots,
but not for combination punching.
How to throw the power jab
- Throw a jab while slightly dropping your hips. It might FEEL like a free-fall.
- Allow this hip drop to happen simultaneously as you throw the jab.
- In the moment of impact, your jab lands as your hips and legs exert a LITTLE BIT of downward force to counteract your fall. Your jab lands as you “catch” your hips. Again, your hips and legs are only EXERTING FORCE–they are not actually moving…and you do not stand up or otherwise move your hips from their position. The power jab is something you feel, not something you see.
Final thoughts on the jab
It doesn’t matter what style of fighter or what level of fighter you are. The natural game of boxing gravitates towards a jab fight. Whether you like to box or brawl, throw in high volume or high power, attack or defend, you will need a jab. A stronger fighter needs a jab to create openings for his right hand just as a weakened fighter needs a jab to keep his opponent away. The jab is essential whether you’re trying to win by knockout or decision.
Lower-level fights are usually about power and endurance. Higher-level fights are usually about speed, accuracy, timing, range, and skills. I don’t have to tell you what the fastest, longest, most accurate punch is in boxing. The better you want to get at boxing, the better your jab must be!
The more skillful a boxing match,
the more important the jab becomes!
FINAL JAB TIP: The jab is for boxing, not fighting.
Don’t jab in a way that puts you off balance or exposes you, or prevents you from using your more powerful punches. The jab is not the best weapon because you can trade punches with it; it’s the best weapon because it KEEPS you from having to trade punches!