MMA fighters, boxers and Nak Muay all shadow box as a regular part of their training. Nearly all striking based martial arts make some form of shadow boxing a standard part of their classes.
What is shadow boxing?
Why should I do it?
What’s the best way to shadow box?
What is Shadow Boxing?
Shadow boxing is a popular exercise with fighters and athletes who participate in a martial art whose primary focus is striking. It is essentially the act of sparring with an imaginary opponent and, while it is often seen as merely a warm up, shadow boxing is an effective and versatile method for improving your striking ability.
Why should I Shadow Box?
Done properly shadow boxing allows you to work on techniques and correct errors in a realistic manner without the external pressure of an opponent or training partner. It is also excellent for specific mental preparation and the rehearsal of game plans. Regular practice leads to dramatic improvements in form, footwork and flow and results in the development of the lethal grace exhibited by top boxers and kickboxers.
How to Shadow Box
There’s more to shadow boxing than just punching and kicking into the air. Shadow boxing is a form of deliberate practice for your striking art and as such it needs to be purposeful, systematic and mindful.
One of the best things about shadow boxing is its versatility – you can do it anywhere, anytime and for practically any purpose related to developing your striking game. For example it can be used to simulate sparring, work on a specific technique, develop a combo, refine a movement or even to correct an error. It doesn’t particularly matter what your purpose is; the key is to come into your shadow boxing practice with a clear goal in mind.
As you start your practice make sure to be progressive and build towards your primary training purpose of the session. Start the round by checking that your stance and structure are correct, then begin to move around ensuring that you are using the correct footwork and then spend a few moments getting comfortable with all of this before you even think about throwing a punch or beginning to work on your goal.
No matter how specific a goal you are training towards, you should always be mindful that your are also trying to simulate the energy and actions of the “real thing” as closely as possible. This means keeping your movements realistic and remembering that you are training to perform against another human being and not some kind of meat based punching bag. A genuine opponent will move, a genuine opponent will defend your attacks and a genuine opponent will make attacks of their own and your shadow work should reflect this reality.
That said, because there actually isn’t an opponent there trying to hit you in the face, shadow boxing should be a 100% stress free environment. This is your chance to practice perfection. Make sure your stance, structure, movement and strikes are as spot on as possible. Your focus should be on achieving flow over speed and power.
Shadow Boxing with Weights
This is one of the most harmful things you can do in your boxing practice – it doesn’t work, it increases the risk of injury, it makes you slow and it screws up the specific motor pattern that you are trying to develop.
Adding a vertical load (gravity on dumbbell) to a horizontal movement (punching forward) means the resistance doesn’t even load the movement you are trying to strengthen. To do this, you are loading the most distal point of your limb and then violently extending that limb away from you. This creates huge amounts of stress in your wrist, elbow and shoulder joints, increasing your chances of developing bursitis, arthritis and more. If that wasn’t enough, when you load an explosive action and movement speed drops by 10% or more it will have a negative impact on the execution of the unloaded movement meaning you now move slower and punch worse. All in all, this method will not help you.
Do not do this.
Not Moving Enough
It’s pretty common for athletes new to shadow boxing – or who have not been properly coached in how to shadow box – to stand dead still or move directly forwards and backwards like they are on train tracks. Remember that you are simulating a sparring match or a fight and these both take place in a 360 degree environment.
Moving Without Purpose
On the other end of the spectrum is the athlete who takes six steps for every one that is necessary. It’s important to move but it’s more important for your movements to have purpose. Your movement should be to set up an angle to attack, evade a specific incoming strike or even to circle off before re-engaging. You should not be moving just to be moving.