How to do Shoulder Roll and Philly Shell Defense in Boxing

Shoulder Roll and Philly Shell are among the best defensive techniques in boxing. You may have seen boxers like James Toney and Floyd Mayweather Jr. use them often in their fights. Many don’t realize there is a difference between the two techniques.

To better understand the difference between the two, let’s first explore: 

What is the Philly Shell Defense in Boxing? 

The Philadelphia Shell, also called the “crab” defense stance, is not for the boxing world’s novices. It’s a riskier defense stance, which requires sacrificing some coverage for the ability to counterpunch more quickly.

However, various successful fighters like James Toney and Floyd Mayweather Jr. have used it to devastating effect during their careers.

Why is the Philly Shell Called the Philly Shell in Boxing? 

No one is a hundred percent sure about that, but the most popular version has it that Philadelphia’s boxing gyms are the birthplace of this move.

Philadelphia can boast some all-time greats like Joe Frazier, George Benton, and Bernard Hopkins. It is mainly because of the gyms like Joe Hand’s teeming with incredible talent.  

There are always boxers with skills and maybe even a great amateur background, but they never went pro. Though such fighters never went pro, they never stopped boxing, either. 

Many earn their living as sparring partners or spar regularly just to stay in shape. These fighters are said to have developed the Philly Shell defense out of necessity. 

Why? Because some don’t (or can’t) train as often as a pro or active fighter. Some of them experience a decrease in stamina as they age. 

So, out of necessity, they came up with the defense tactic all of us now know as the Philly Shell defense.

How to Position Yourself for Philly Shell Defense?

How to Position Yourself for Philly Shell

  • For this defensive move, it is mandatory to outline a little more to the diagonal with respect to the classic guard. 
  • The rival sees the “edge” of the body, and the front surface is reduced mainly for direct hits. The front hand, in turn, folds over the solar plexus and the liver to protect them in defensive action. The rival only has one “profile” left to hit, which is defended by the front hand. The other “profile” is the back, where they cannot hit. Therefore your opponent’s backhand, their powerhouse, is left without an objective.
  • Work on torso rotation using the front shoulder as a replacement for the front hand for the guard. The shoulder must rise to deflect attacks to this region.
  • The upper body movement technique intervenes, and the torso is articulated on the waist to help the shoulder in defense (goes back and recovers the position).
  • The backhand is held almost to the cheek for defense and is ideal for connecting straight crosses on offense, primarily in a defensive stance.
  • It is important to understand that it is essential to use the body pivot for this position. We address it as one of the pillars of our basic training since the full rotation of our profile will be responsible for leaving us in a good defensive position and allowing us to unload the counter attacks with power. 
  • This guard is used almost exclusively with a counterattack strategy. The meaning of using the shoulder as a shield instead of the working hand is precisely to be able to use either of the two hands in response to the opponent’s attack. It allows you to take advantage of the fact that they opened their guard to be attacked.   

Difference between Shoulder Roll and Philly Shell

Difference between Shoulder Roll and Philly Shell

In this case, even many experienced boxers make a critical mistake. They see Philly Shell as just another name for shoulder roll, which is technically wrong, of course.  

The shoulder roll is a defensive move in its essence, one you can get to from any position or stance. It allows you to tuck your chin behind your shoulder to avoid your opponent’s punches.  

Philly shell is a guard you take up as a defensive strategy against an opponent.

How to Do a Shoulder Roll?

Start with your normal boxing stance. (Make sure that you get your foot placement right. Don’t forget to read about the footwork drills we posted earlier).

How to Do a Shoulder Roll?

Step 1

‘Roll’ your shoulder. Basically, you are lifting it to hide your chin behind it. Dropping your left hand isn’t necessary to perform a shoulder roll.

Step 2

Keep your back straight and roll your body just enough to block the incoming hit. Sometimes, the hit will be blocked by the shoulder.

Sometimes, it is deflected towards the outside. You should not worry about that.

Step 3

Just be ready to counter with the straight right or uppercut. Remember that you can roll to the right or left, depending on the direction of the punch.

How to Get into a Philly Shell? 

It is of utmost importance that you understand that this is a defensive boxing stance, not a single movement.

You can protect your head with your shoulder and forearm. Follow the instructions below to get the correct stance:

How to Get into a Philly Shell?

Step 1

Get into your normal boxing stance: feet hip-width apart, legs loose, back straight but ready to flex.

Step 2

Lay the lead hand across your torso, running at rib or chest height with your fist on the opposite side of your chest.

Step 3

Raise your backhand to face level, to the side of your face.

Step 4

Hunch the lead shoulder to protect your face as much as possible.

Step 5

Slide to the right – or to the left- of incoming punches and respond by firing your backhand.

How to Use Philly Shell Defense in Boxing?

This technique isn’t a ‘one fits all’ type of stance. You can’t use this against a boxer taller than you and who has a longer reach. It is very effective against fighters who are equal to you in height or shorter.

There is one scenario where it can be used against taller boxers; when they crouch down a lot during the fight.

Strengths of Philly Shell

  • Philly shell can be handy against boxers with an orthodox stance.
  • It puts you in a perfect position to counter the opponent. Either with a straight punch or uppercut.
  • Your jab game boosts when you are in a Philly shell defensive stance.
  • Your vision remains clear, and you are able to see punches better.
  • Uppercuts, hooks, and crosses are mostly ineffective against a Philly shell.

Limits of the Philly Shell

Like other defensive techniques of boxing, the Philly shell has its limitations:

  • You have to move your upper body, especially abdominal muscles, a lot, which can be tiring.
  • Inside boxing is affected when you are in a Philly shell stance.
  • The front arm can get hurt with all the hits coming its way.

Now, you can perform a shoulder roll and perfect your Philly shell stance.

Practice both these techniques against a sparring partner or coach with focus pads.

How to Train for Philly Shell Defense? 

The training:

How to Train for Philly Shell Defense?

Step 1

Do your footwork? The Philadelphia Shell requires significant mobility if you are to keep your head safe. It means staying in top condition to stay light on your feet in the later rounds.

Step 2

Use a speed bag. This lighter bag swings on a chain for you to dodge. It is the best tool to successfully build the reaction time you need to use a Philly Shell.

Step 3

Work with a training partner once you can dodge the slip bag more often than not. Practicing the Philadelphia Shell in the ring against an opponent motivated by a punch to the head is the best way to get better at your move and use it in a live fight. 

Boxers Known for Using Philly Shell or Shoulder Roll Frequently

Boxer’s Name Career Span
Jersey Joe Walcott  1930-1952
Archie Moore  1935-1963
Charlie Burely 1936-1950
Ezzard Charles  1940-1959
George Benton 1949-1970
Nicolino Locche 1968-1972
Pernell Whitaker  1984-2001
Bernard Hopkins 1988-2016
James Tony  1988-2017
Floyd Mayweather Jr.  1996-2015