How to Do an Uppercut in Boxing

Verywell / Ben Goldstein 

Related Terms: Upper Cut

Targets: Biceps, Shoulders, Abdominals, Quadriceps, Glutes

Equipment Needed: None (Optional Dumbbells, Cables, Punching Bag)

Level: Beginner

The uppercut is a traditional boxing movement that can be incorporated into cardiovascular training (such as a HIIT workout ) or boxing-style aerobic classes. The movement can also be included in strength training workouts when cables or dumbbells are used. An uppercut can be performed solo or with a partner.


There are many benefits to the exercise because the movement focuses on upper body movement but also engages the full body. This beginning-level movement requires coordination but involves minimal risk. This exercise incorporates alternating arm repetitions and can be performed with a partner to add both mental and physical challenges.


When you perform an uppercut the primary muscles activated include the biceps on the front of the upper arm and the deltoid muscles which shape the shoulder. The anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder) is most active, although the medial (middle) and posterior (back) deltoid are also engaged to support the movement.

The arm movement, however, is supported by an active lower body. For this reason, your core muscles and the large muscles in your legs must also be engaged to properly execute the sequence. When done properly, the uppercut can also help to strengthen and shape the abdominal muscles (especially the obliques) and the legs (particularly the gluteus maximus and the quadriceps or front of the thighs).

Cardio and Strength Benefits

Depending on how you perform the uppercut, you may gain strength or cardiovascular benefits or both.

When used in a boxing-style workout with no weights, the uppercut is usually put into a series of movements performed at a quick pace. In this scenario, you are likely to gain primarily aerobic benefits. However, if the boxing sequence is performed with a sparring partner or punching bag, you are likely to gain some strength benefits as well because you are performing the movement against resistance.

If you perform the uppercut solo with resistance—using dumbbells or cables—you'll gain strength and muscle mass. When weight is added, the movement is not performed quickly enough or long enough to gain substantial cardio benefits.

The uppercut is a boxing-style movement that anyone can complete with or without resistance. If you add weight to the exercise, you are likely to build strength with the uppercut. When completed as part of a boxing workout, you'll gain cardiovascular and (some) strength benefits.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Since the uppercut involves several different coordinated movements, it is best to try the movement with little to no weight at first. Perform the exercise in front of a mirror to check your form. When you have mastered the mechanics, add weight slowly.

  1. Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Knees and hips should be straight but soft so that you are standing in a relaxed but "ready" posture.
  2. Make fists with both hands and lift the arms so that hands are facing your body at chin height. Elbows are bent to a 90-degree angle and shoulder-width apart.
  3. As you lower the body into a slight squat position, rotate the torso and lower your right hand down to chest height so that you can powerfully scoop (or "cut") the arm under and up and to the left.
  4. Continue to scoop and lift as you rotate your body left. Stop when you reach a standing position facing slightly left, and fist is at chin height.
  5. Repeat the movement to the right with the left arm. Because you are starting in a position where you are rotated left, the movements will be bigger and you'll have to use more energy to engage the body and turn it to the right.
  6. Continue to repeat, alternating arms and rotating to the left and right.

If you are performing the movement without weight, with a sparring partner, or in front of a punching bag, you'll repeat the sequence quickly. Be prepared to get breathless and sweaty.

If you perform the exercise with weights, you'll execute the movement more slowly. Use lightweight (3-5 pounds) to begin and increase as you become more comfortable with the movement.

Common Mistakes

The most common errors that you might make when you learn the upper usually involve your stance and your posture.

Starting Stance and Posture

Because this is primarily an arm movement, it is easy to forget about the importance of your lower body stance.

In order to rotate properly and engage the abdominals, you should start this movement by sitting into an easy squat. This not only gives you the momentum to scoop the working arm down and under but it also gives your hips the mobility needed to rotate to the side.

Overextending Arms

At no point during an uppercut are your arms straight. So, even though you lift the arm to gain power as you rotate, you never fully extend the elbow. Both arms should stay bent at a 90-degree angle throughout the exercise.

Relaxing the Resting Arm

Because there is so much coordinated movement on one side of your body, it is easy to forget about what is happening on the non-working side of your body. But it is important to maintain your posture on both sides for an effective uppercut.

When the right side is working, the left arm stays bent and ready to scoop and cut on the other side.

The uppercut involves several coordinated movements on both sides of the body. When one side is working, the other side remains in a "prepared" posture. Learn the movement slowly before adding speed or weight.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

Beginners should try this movement slowly with no weight at first. Working with a boxing coach is a great way to learn the move. Or take a boxing-style workout at your local gym to see how others incorporate the move into a workout. As you get comfortable with the full sequence, add speed and (if you prefer) resistance.

Up for a Challenge?

The uppercut offers the opportunity for several different challenges.

For a strength challenge, add small weights. When you add a dumbbell to each arm, you'll notice that the scooping and lifting segments of the exercise become more challenging. This is because the biceps have to work to lift the weight and the shoulders have to work to stabilize the weight.

For a strength, cardiovascular, and mental challenge, try sparring with a partner or a punching bag. Put the uppercut into a series of boxing movements such as a jab or a right/left punch combination. If you are working with a boxing coach, they can call out movements so that you have to execute them quickly in a series.

Safety and Precautions

While the uppercut is a relatively safe movement, there are some safety precautions to take into account.

First, don't add weight until you can execute not only the upper body but also the lower body segments of the movement. You risk injuring the upper body and the abs if you move quickly with resistance and can't control the movement.

Also, if you work with a punching bag or sparring partner, use boxing gloves. Punching against resistance can cause damage to your hands if they are not protected.

Give It a Try

Incorporate this move into a boxing or upper body workout that you can do at home or in the gym.

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.