Ah, the shoulder roll. Nothing looks quite as smooth as simply turning your shoulder and letting your opponent’s best punches literally slide off of you like Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez. The shoulder roll, also commonly known as the “Philly Shell,” is a very useful skill to have in your boxing repertoire, and a great way to get used to activating your hips in boxing defense. In this article, I am going to give you some tools and tips to improve your use of the shoulder roll in boxing and explain how competitive fighters use it to evade attacks that would otherwise be unavoidable in a boxing match.
What Is a Shoulder Roll?
The shoulder roll is a defensive boxing technique that uses your shoulder and the momentum of an opponent’s punch to offset the angle of a punch and cause it to go wide.
How To Shoulder Roll
The motion of a shoulder roll itself is relatively simple. From your basic boxing stance, bring your lead shoulder to your chin and turn your hips away from the oncoming punch, allowing your shoulder to act as a shield and causing the attack to slide off your moving shoulder. When executed correctly, your own momentum, coupled with the speed of the opponent’s punch, will make the punch swing wide and miss you.
When To Use The Shoulder Roll In Boxing
The shoulder roll, unlike a slip or block, is not an all-purpose tool. You cannot use a shoulder roll in certain situations, and with a tool like this, it is important to know the difference between situations where it is useful and situations where other options are better. In general, the shoulder roll is good for:
Dodging power punches
The main purpose of the shoulder roll is to avoid power shots without needing to react fast enough to slip or partially absorb impact by blocking. Doing so allows you to counter back with a shot very quickly, much faster than if you had blocked your opponent’s punch.
Avoiding shots when up against the ropes
The “Philly Shell” makes defending your lead side easier, giving you an escape route.
Setting up counter right hands and hooks
Executing the shoulder roll motion loads your hips towards your power hand, allowing for very powerful counter shots when executed effectively. Just don’t get greedy--if the opponent knows what’s coming, no amount of power or speed will make the punch land.
When Not To Use The Shoulder Roll In Boxing
Just like with any tool, especially in boxing, there are situations where the shoulder roll is simply not an effective option. Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid. In general, you should avoid using a shoulder roll in the following situations:
A lefty/righty matchup
Using the shoulder roll in a lefty/righty matchup is a very dangerous thing to do. In an Orthodox match, shoulder rolling moves you away from your opponent’s power. However, in a lefty vs. righty matchup, the shoulder roll moves you towards your opponent’s power. In general, the advantage for avoiding a lead hand shot is not worth risking eating a power shot that you are leaning into.
Against a counter puncher
The reason that using a shoulder roll against a counter puncher is dangerous is that the shoulder roll puts you in a position where it is difficult to throw lead hand punches without telegraphing, meaning that to a skilled counter puncher, you are very predictable and vulnerable to a counter punch.
Because your legs are tired
It can be tempting to use a shoulder roll when your legs are tired. Both slipping and using evasive footwork are taxing on your legs, so the shoulder roll is an enticing option in those later rounds of a boxing match. The reason this is dangerous is because the shoulder roll requires precise timing--something that is hard to do when you’re very tired. The best defensive option when you’re tired is usually to block and clinch.
How To Practice The Shoulder Roll
In my experience, the best way to practice the shoulder roll outside of live sparring is with a double end bag because it responds to punches, and as the shoulder roll is a defensive move, it's good to practice using it against return fire. Another great way to practice, as with all boxing techniques, is to shadowbox in slow motion in front of a mirror. This will help you catch bad habits and see where the weaknesses in your boxing defense are.
More Advanced Boxing Training
I recommend you start by mastering some of the basic boxing techniques and get a good handle on basic boxing defense before you transition into learning about more advanced boxing skills, such as the shoulder roll.
To learn more about how you can enhance your boxing and kickboxing training at-home and in the ring, visit the FightCamp YouTube Channel and Blog to get pro tips, drills, and exercises to keep you in fighting shape. Let us know what other boxing techniques you want to learn more about!