Shadow boxing is probably one of the easiest forms of training. You don’t need gloves or other gear, you don’t need a partner to hold pads, you don’t need a bag and you don’t even need to be at a gym. Shadow boxing is one of the few forms of training you could practise almost anywhere at any time. You don’t have to just focus on boxing either, it’s easy to throw in kicks, elbows and knees if you’re more of a kickboxer, or even practice stepping in for takedowns or add in a few sprawls if you’re training in MMA.
While it may initially feel a bit silly attacking air, shadow boxing actually has a whole load of benefits which can drastically improve the rest of your training.
We like to break the benefits down into 5 different aspects, all of which can make a huge impact when training.
When shadow boxing, you really have a chance to focus on your form. There’s no rush to hit the pads or an opponent trying to hit you back, so you can really focus on reinforcing good habits and perfecting your stance.
It’s great to make sure your feet are in the ideal positions, with your hands up ready to parry or block, your chin down, but staring forward. When starting it’s great to start slow and really break everything down to make sure you don’t have any bad habits before you start to speed things up.
Our Tip: When shadow boxing it’s great to have a mirror to train next to. Shadow boxing by a mirror is one of the few times you have the ability to see how you look from an outside perspective and notice the flaws in your stance that you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed. Don’t get carried away watching yourself too much, but keep glancing back occasionally to make sure everything is on point.
Once your form is good, you can really focus on the attacks you’re throwing. If you know there’s a gap in your game – for example you want to improve your jab – then you can really focus on them. Shadow boxing is also great for practising the combinations you’ve been learning in training. You can really reinforce your muscle memory by drilling combinations as many times as possible.
It also helps make punches much snappier and more controlled. When hitting pads or bags, many people get so used to hitting a solid object that they find if they miss their opponent they aren’t prepared and end up flying past the opponent and leaving themselves open. Some people also end up learning to do half-punches through mitt work, where the arm doesn’t extend enough. When shadow boxing you can eliminate these issues, and focus on extending properly, and snapping punches back.
Our Tip: When throwing kicks, act as if every kick misses. For example when throwing a Muay Thai roundhouse kick, instead of slowing it down and pretending you made contact, follow through with the kick and spin through it. Check out the FightTips video towards the end of the article to see this in action.
Shadow boxing is a perfect time to work on footwork and movement. You can focus on moving around your opponent as if you were in a ring, between strikes and even while striking. In a real fight people rarely stand still. Being able to control the ring and cut off your opponent, as well as circling, pivoting or moving away are all important skills.
There’s no need to move excessively, but it’s a great idea to throw in a bit of movement, throwing in switches and side steps as well sometimes to mix things up and closer mimic a real fight.
Our Tip: When hitting bags or pads, you usually end up staying fairly stationary, so shadow boxing is a great time to practise attacking whilst moving forward towards your opponent, or whilst moving backwards away from them. Try stepping forward and finishing with a knee, or moving backwards with a long jab to create some distance.
Some people find shadow boxing strange because they don’t have anything to aim for, but in reality it’s as much of a mental workout as it is a physical one. When you shadow box, imagine your opponent in front of you. Keep your focus high as if you’re watching their hands, always focusing on where you’re imagining they are. When you throw body shots or kicks, aim for where the body part would be on the imaginary enemy.
It might feel a little weird to just pretend there’s someone there, but going over it in your head as if there is someone there can make it almost second-nature to fight when there is.
Our Tip: When throwing a combination, always try and end with some form of moving out of reach, slipping or blocking as if the opponent is immediately attacking back. In a real fight your opponent will fight back, so it’s worth visualising the same in shadow boxing and teaching yourself good habits.
When you’re slightly more confident, start to focus on flow.
Flow is what turns a good shadow boxing session into a great one, and when it you can really start to reap the benefits. Getting into the flow requires the right state of mind, visualising the opponent, and merging all of your footwork, strikes, blocks and body movement together into one seamless, ongoing routine.
Think about how real fights go. When shadow boxing, too many people get into the same routine of combination, pause, combination, pause, but that simply doesn’t happen against someone who’s fighting back. Try to match the intensity of a real fight, and make sure you’re always doing something, even if it is just using your jab as a rangefinder against your visualised opponent.
If you want to improve your shadow boxing even more, we’ve rounded up a few instructional videos from people who really know what they’re talking about. You’ll notice that no two people shadow box the same, but watching the ways they do can give you a great idea of the movements and mind-sets which make up good shadow boxing. You’ll also notice a lot of the points we’ve presented occurring in these videos.
JT Van V of Precision Striking – A great video focusing solely on Boxing. The video really shows how to get a good flow, with good movement, routines and rhythms.
Shane Fazen of FightTips – Shane breaks down how to shadow box for Kickboxing and Muay Thai, focusing on good form, striking, blocking and again shows good flow. (Take a look at our interview with Shane)
Dan Hardy for World of Martial Arts Television – This masterclass from Dan Hardy shows a more structured method of shadow boxing but does a brilliant job at breaking down the visualisation of your opponent and reacting to them, with a mainly boxing-based MMA shadow boxing session.
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