The term shadow boxing originates from a training method where boxers pretended to box their shadow on a wall. Nowadays they more often use a mirror or just their imagination. This article will take you through the many shadow boxing workout benefits.
In essence, it is simply a boxer going through the motions of fighting. Throwing punches, ducking, weaving, bobbing and practicing footwork.
Shadow boxing can be carried out anywhere, at the gym, the boxing club or at home. It can be easily fitted around the rest of your workout or even your daily routine. No equipment is required!
Every experienced boxer will use shadow boxing as part of their routine. It’s extremely useful for learning drills, routines, and combinations. Cementing them in your mind as well as your muscle memory. Practising them as part of shadow boxing makes them much easier to perform when stepping into the ring to spar or working with focus mitts.
What are shadow boxing workout benefits?
There are numerous benefits of shadow boxing, below we will discuss the major ones.
There is no pressure on you shadow boxing, the opposite of sparring where you must consider the opponents actions. This means you can take time to perfect the technique you are practising.
With an opponent you may rush punches, or your footwork may suffer as you are focusing on not getting hit. Practising techniques without pressure means that you can learn punches, footwork movements and dodges, and commit them to muscle memory so that when you step into the ring they are second nature. You will be on auto-pilot and won’t even have think about them.
Watching yourself in the mirror means that you can spot areas where you need to develop your technique. Are your hands in the correct position to defend yourself, is your head in the right place?
Shadow boxing is great for practising key strategic movements you wish to implement in sparring and fights. Again, you are committing these movements and actions to memory so they are easier to perform under pressure.
For example, if you going to fight an opponent with a strong jab, you can practice slipping the jab and counter punching. Having performed the movement many times before even entering the ring will prepare you.
You may want to practice the footwork involved in cutting down the size of the ring and stopping an opponent running from you. You could do this on your own in a ring, learning the angles and movements. It will be far easier to replicate when you are in the ring with an opponent.
What you are ultimately trying to achieve is to strategically asses what you need to produce in the ring. Then turn this strategy into a HABIT.
Full body work out
You should be utilising all of the muscles in your body when shadow boxing. Obviously holding your hands up and throwing punches over and extended period of time works on your arms and shoulders. However, throwing a punch correctly starts with your feet and movement though your legs and torso as well.
This means lots of muscles are engaged during a vigorous workout. In fact, a punch is a chain of movements throughout your whole body. Exercising with these compound movements is far more functional and beneficial than isolated exercises.
Balance and Coordination
When you strike a punch bag the weight of it stops your punch from following through completely. This in effect holds you in position, stops you over extending and stops your momentum carrying you forwards.
This doesn’t happen in a fight, if your punch doesn’t land, and it often won’t, then you need to control this momentum. Shadow boxing will teach you how to balance yourself from punches that do not connect with anything. Halting forward movement using your body and recovering efficiently from punches you have thrown. This is an important part of your defence as you are vulnerable to being counter-punched after you throw a punch and miss.
Coordination is the ability to repeatedly execute a sequence of movements smoothly and accurately. It relies on muscular contractions and joint movements. Practicing these movements by shadow boxing teaches the body to make them more effortlessly. Therefore, improving your coordination through repetitive actions.
When you watch two professional boxers fight you will sense that it is like a rhythmic dance. With them stepping in and out of range and throwing combinations of punches.
What will actually be happening is they are trying to work out each other’s rhythm and strategies to disrupt it. Throwing punches comes down to timing, and timing is impacted by rhythm. You may sense that when you strike a bag, speedball or focus mitts you fall into a rhythmic pattern.
An opponent can work out your rhythm and use it to anticipate punches, evade them and counter-punch. They will also try and disrupt your rhythm as a way of putting you off and placing you under mental stress.
Shadow boxing allows you to practice throwing punches and combinations as well as practicing footwork drills at various rhythms. This means you can carry this into sparring or a fight. Therefore, making it much tougher for your opponent to anticipate your movements, as you can mix them up.
Many fighters shadow box at a high intensity, constantly moving and throwing punches for an extended period of time. Often broken down into 3 minutes rounds to replicate a fight scenario.
This high intensity pushes the cardiovascular system in the same way as any other high intensity work out. When you feel your heart rate rise and your breathing become laboured it is training your system to become more efficient.
Visualising is a very powerful tool. Imagining the movements of an opponent and practising countering them. Be they slipping a punch or using footwork to move out of range.
Having run through these scenarios in your mind and trained your muscle memory to counter them subconsciously they will become natural movements that you will not have to think about.
Good warm up / cool down
It is important to warm up and cool down well with any type of exercise. With boxing being intense and involving high impacts on joints and muscles it is especially important.
Shadow boxing is the perfect way to do both. It engages exactly the same muscle groups in the same way as boxing.
The warm up should last at least 5 minutes. Replicate all of the movements from the training you are about to start. Throw some punches, move around on the balls of your feet, roll your shoulders, neck and head and try and break into a sweat.
How to shadow box – the basics
This next part of the article is aimed at inexperienced boxers, if you have been doing this for a while, sorry, it’s sucking eggs time.
The key thing to remember when shadowing boxing is what you are trying to do is store movements away in the muscle memory bank. You want them to become second nature, so they happen without you even having to consciously engage your brain.
Another important thing to consider before you start a shadow boxing routine is what are you trying to achieve, what is you goal? You should have something in mind that you wish to gain from the session. It may be improving footwork, slipping a jab or simply throwing punches for 3 mins straight. Not having a goal and training intention wastes valuable time. Use this time to progress your skills.
To get you started here are some basic shadow boxing drills:
Footwork and ring movement
Often the first stage of any shadow boxing is to work on basic footwork and movement. Concentrate on moving around in a boxing stance.
One foot forward the other back, always moving the foot closest to the direction you wish to travel first, not allowing feet to get too close or over extend as you move. Keep your hands raised in front of you.
Practice without throwing any punches, that can come later, this is where you get comfortable with the movement. Move forwards and backwards, side to side, pivot and duck, bob and weave. All the time maintaining the boxing stance so it becomes second nature.
This will develop your agility, familiarise you with basic boxing movement and prepare you for the next progression.
Next up introduce some punches along side the footwork and movement. Practice punches from a stationary position and also build them into movements forwards or sideways.
To start with do not throw combinations. What we are looking for here is getting the technique correct. Incorporate the full range of movement of a punch not just using arms and shoulders. Start the punches from your feet and create the chain of motion through your legs pivoting your torso with the arm and shoulder movement at the end of the chain.
Punches do not need to be full speed to begin with. Make sure you have the technique and range of motion accurate before you start to throw punches at speed. You gain nothing learning to throw fast punches if the technique is poor. Once technique is good then add more pace.
Make sure you foot placement is correct when throwing punches, we are placing building blocks on top of each other so the foundations must be strong.
Once footwork is good and you are throwing single punches with correct technique move on to throwing combinations. We are not thinking about complicated combinations to begin with. As ever we are building slowly on foundations we have put down making sure one building block is strong before laying another.
Start with throwing jabs, 2 at a time, then 3 at a time, always making sure footwork is correct and recovering defensive stance quickly. From here progress on to 1 – 2 combinations like a jab followed by a straight cross. Build to 2 jabs then a straight cross before putting in more advanced punches like hooks and upper-cuts.
Spend time working and perfecting simple combinations and move on once you are comfortable throwing them and they are committed to muscle memory.
Do not mix combinations up when you are starting out. Spend a 3 minute round one one combination and then the next 3 minute round practice another. This is the best way to learn, by repetition. Progression to more realistic free-styling comes later once the basics are good.
Once you have some experience shadow boxing and you are comfortable with correct technique for footwork, punches and combinations you can take what you have learnt and speed things up.
Try to throw as many punches as you can in the space of a 3 minute round. Remember the punches must be technically correct and footwork should be precise. This adds a level of competition and gives targets for a fighter to try and beat.
Throwing lots of punches will help with your hand speed and increase the intensity of the training. This turns it into a high intensity work out with all the associated benefits.
A good challenge is to record the amount of punches thrown and then use this as a target to beat next time. Mix things up by having targets specific to how many jabs or straight shots you are throwing. Variety keeps it from getting boring and keeps up motivation.
Use a mirror
Spend some time shadow boxing in front of a mirror. Pay close attention to watching your technique to see which areas need sharpening up on.
Once you have identified your weaker areas then go back to basics on them. Start with visualising the improvement you want to make. Drill yourself slowly to iron out the problem, then up the tempo so you can perform at speed. Include the technique in with another range of motion to replicate a fight scenario. Get back in front of a mirror and see if you’ve made the improvements you were looking for.
Recreate a fight
Picture an opponent and visualise them fighting you, there movements, punches and footwork. The react to it, move, punch, counter-punch and defend to their reaction.
This takes an imagination. But if you can picture a fight scenario, react to what is happening and get your own punches off, then it entrenches it in your mind to be utilised in a real situation. This is all about training yourself to react to stimuli without thinking, making boxing second nature.
You may see some articles talking about holding weights when you shadow box so you become stronger and your hands get quicker.
Take no notice, this is poor advice. Firstly, with weights in your hands you will naturally punch more slowly. How will regularly punching slower than your muscles are capable of speed you up?
Also, the weights act against gravity, which pulls them downwards. Therefore, your muscles are not working against tension in the correct plane of motion. Punches are thrown horizontally so resistance is horizontal not vertical. It’s equivalent to trying to get better at lifting above your head by practising pushing forwards from your chest!
Things to consider when you shadow box
As mentioned earlier always set a training goal in order to get the most from a shadow boxing session. Training without purpose limits the gains that can be achieved.
If someone is available to give you feedback on your technique ask them for help. It could be a trainer or an experienced fighter. They may spot something you have missed with your technique self-analysis and their feedback could be invaluable.
Never be afraid of constructive criticism. It helps you develop.
Train as you fight, wear the same gear so you are as familiar with it as possible. Put a mouth guard in, you need to become accustomed to breathing with it on. Wrap your hands and put on gloves so they weigh the same as when you step in to the ring. Use boxing boots, your feet will be as light as when you fight or spar and they are designed to allow you the most effective pivoting motion – important in punch technique.
The wrap up
Shadow boxing is one of the fundamentals of boxing training. It’s great for beginners to get them used to the movements required to compete in the ring. Also great for experienced fighters either looking to hone and perfect technique or to practice executing a specific strategy for an up-coming fight.
Plus it’s a great physical workout and can be carried out anywhere. Plus, it forms the perfect warm up and cool down for any other boxing training.
Shadow boxing should form a significant part of the training program of a fighter at any level.
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If you like to check out some awesome shadow boxing take at look at Iron Mike Tyson in this video