The lead hook is one of the quintessential punches of boxing; however, it can be difficult to master, even for veteran boxers. There are many elements that go into a textbook perfect lead hook, as well as numerous variations to learn. Today, Evolve University is pleased to share a guide on how to throw a stronger and more powerful lead hook.
There is an age-old debate in boxing on which way the thumb should be facing while throwing a lead hook. The thumb can be facing up, towards your body, or down. No one way is wrong; each way has its own unique pros and cons.
A lead hook thrown with your thumb up is often called an American hook. The vast majority of American boxers use this technique in their professional bouts. The idea behind having the thumb up for the lead hook is to stabilize the punch by engaging the bicep, while also stacking the knuckles, wrist, and elbow of the lead arm. When throwing the lead hook with your thumb up, you can make contact with the index and middle knuckles or spread the contact over all of the knuckles. With boxing gloves on, it is common for all of the knuckles to make contact; however, while wearing MMA gloves, it is encouraged to land with the index and middle knuckles to avoid injuring your own hand. The primary disadvantage of throwing the lead hook with your thumb up is the lack of range. This type of hook is a very short-range punch, best suited for inside fighting or countering an opponent that closes the gap very quickly. Many boxing legends such as Joe Frazier, Floyd Mayweather, and Sugar Ray Robinson utilized the thumb-up hook to great effect.
A lead hook thrown with your thumb facing inside is more common in amateur boxing circles, as well as in regions of Europe. This style of lead hook is common in amateur boxing due to the ruleset. In amateur boxing, you must make contact with your primary knuckles, and not the knuckles you would use to knock on a door. To avoid point deductions, many coaches teach their fighters to throw the lead hook with their thumb facing their body, virtually eliminating any possibility to hit with the door-knocking knuckles. Like the thumb-up lead hook, you want to stack your knuckles, wrists, and elbows when making contact to avoid any hand injury. A good thumb in lead hook will land with just your index and middle knuckles. One advantage the thumb-in hook has over the thumb-up hook is range. The thumb-in hook has a bit more range than the thumb-up hook, which can be advantageous in many situations. The primary disadvantage of the thumb-in hook is the increased chance for the punch to land with the ring and pinky knuckles, which can result in hand injuries.
A lead hook thrown with your thumb facing down is often called a European or Cuban hook. This is seen as the primary type of hook that Russian or Cuban boxers use. Like the other types of hooks, you need to stack the knuckles, wrist, and elbow for the punch to have power and to avoid injury. By turning the thumb down on your lead hook, the angle of the punch changes. The thumb-down hook comes over an opponent’s guard, with a diagonal downward trajectory. Because of the trajectory, there are 2 ways to land this type of hook. The first is like the previous hooks, where you land with the front of the index and middle knuckles. The second is landing with the top of the index and middle knuckles, the same point of contact as a back fist. This can make this style of hook difficult to block for your opponents since they aren’t used to blocking so high on the temple. The main advantage of this style of hook is also its disadvantage. The thumb-down hook is a long-range punch that can be landed at the same distance as a jab and a cross, making it difficult to use this style of hook for fighting on the inside or counter-punching while moving backwards. Manny Pacquiao and Gennady Golovkin are known for using a thumb-down hook.
It is essential that each boxer chooses their style of lead hook based on their individual boxing style and physique. For example, Mike Tyson chose to use a thumb-up hook, since his boxing style entailed him closing the gap and initiating a fight on the inside. In contrast, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin threw many of his hooks with his thumb facing his body or completely down, even body shots. This allowed him to dominate the mid-range while landing punishing blows to his opponents.
Hip Rotation And Drive
Increasing power in your lead hook comes down to hip rotation and drive. Hip rotation refers to the amount you turn your hips into a punch, while drive refers to how much body weight is shifted. Combining both will allow you to throw a stronger and more powerful lead hook. American-style boxing teaches you to rotate on the balls of your front foot while throwing the lead hook, which in theory will shift your weight to your back foot while turning your hip over. This type of hook, thrown with your thumb up, usually has the most power. Its weakness is the difficulty in follow-up shots if you do not land flush. This type of hook can work very well in a pure boxing context but will leave you exposed to leg kicks in Kickboxing, Muay Thai, and MMA. In contrast, the Russian and Cuban styles of boxing teach their boxers to rotate the back foot, keeping their front foot facing their opponent or slightly turned inwards. Rotating the back foot for the lead hook may have less hip rotation than rotating the front foot, but still shifts your weight to your back foot. This style of lead hook can be just as powerful as the American hook but requires a more refined technique to master. Many boxers use a combination or hybrid of these lead hooks to suit their individual boxing style. For example, Canelo Alvarez often throws his lead hooks with his thumb up and lead foot planted.
Manny Pacquiao tends to throw his lead hooks, dubbed Manilla Ice, with his thumb in or down and his front foot planted. There are even times he steps forward with his rear leg as he throws his lead hook to close in on a retreating opponent.
There is no one correct way to utilize hip rotation and drive; you will only find your own optimal way by experimenting and training all of the variations.
The lead hook is an advanced punch and we have covered just the tip of the iceberg on its variations and how to perfect it. Try these out in your next training session and let us know how your lead hook improves!
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