Shadow boxing. It seems such a fundamental part of a fighter’s life. We all see boxers do it. My own personal favourite to watch shadow boxing was the one and only Muhammad Ali. His style for me perfectly captured the essence of shadow boxing. When shadow boxing Ali incorporated rhythm, fluidity, speed, relaxed power and wonderful footwork. He effortlessly joined up boxing skills to produce a mesmerising display of shadow boxing that the world just had to stand and watch.
So, what is shadow boxing, how do we do it and how can we maximize the benefits that shadow boxing provides? In this post I am going to answer these questions and put you on the path to shadow boxing perfection!
Shadow Boxing – In the Mind
As long as boxing has existed (since the time of the ancient Greeks), boxers have built in shadow boxing to their training regime. In brief and at it’s most simple, shadow boxing is boxing without a physical opponent present. Shadow boxing empowers you to try out many of the skills of boxing before using those skills on a heavy bag or indeed a live opponent. In fact, you could argue that shadow boxing is as much a workout for the brain as a workout the body.
As a child I was taught how to play chess. As part of my learning, my wonderful Uncle Jimmy bought me a chess book written by a couple of Grandmasters. The authors provided some pictures of particular chess positions but one of the key conditions that they laid down for the reader was that you should not use a chess board to physically work through the moves. There was a skill in developing the mind to think 3, 4 or 5 moves ahead and this skill is what they wanted the reader to build.
Using this chess analogy to describe why boxers use shadow boxing might seem odd, but it’s as good an analogy as I can produce. Shadow boxing trains the mind, it enables free-thinking and allows the creation of any scenario possible. In fact, the strength and effectiveness of shadow boxing is based upon the absence of a physical opponent.
Taking the chess analogy one step further, let’s lay down one of our MyBoxingCoach definitions of shadow boxing:
‘Shadow Boxing’ (noun) The process by which a boxer uses visualization to develop and enhance boxing skills.
As I have mentioned, shadow boxing is more about the mind than the body. If you have worked through the post Boxing Drills – Tips for Success, shadow boxing is the next logical step to boxing drills. Where boxing drills rely on systematic, methodical repetition, shadow boxing relies on flow, speed and ‘thinking on your feet’. Shadow boxing is about putting yourself in the combat situation and planning the necessary tactics needed to defeat a particular type of opponent. You visualize the way things need to be done.
Shadow Boxing and Boxing Training
Shadow boxing is generally undertaken towards the start of the session, after the warm-up but before the ‘heavier impacts’ of sparring, punch pads or heavy bag work. Having said this, all boxers will occupy any spare moments with a burst of shadow boxing.
Some people consider shadow boxing to be part of a warm-up, but I absolutely do not. Shadow boxing is a very important aspect of training in it’s own right and should not be sacrificed for the more ‘exciting’ impact work.
My own approach with shadow boxing is to apply a round-based structure just as I would with any other boxing training elements. So, when shadow boxing we work within the round/rest period structure and we don’t just mindlessly go through the motions in order to pass the time. So, with this in mind here are my 7 steps to help you breathe life into your shadow boxing sessions.
7 Steps to Successful Shadow Boxing
Some key points of successful shadow boxing as part of your boxing training session:
- When shadow boxing, your emphasis should be on movement. Free-flowing, varied and slick bits of footwork and body movement. Combine diagonal movement footwork with rolling, fire fast left hooks following on from the inside slip. By all means use mirrors when shadow boxing as they are fantastically helpful (you see what an opponent would see), but don’t become a slave to the mirrors. Whatever floor-space that you have during shadow boxing, make use of it.
- Visualize an opponent and place a target. I mentioned that there is no physical opponent present when shadow boxing. Well, your job is to put that physical opponent in there. Don’t get sloppy, be sure to imagine your range in relation to the opponent and for heaven’s sake make sure that the imaginary opponent is a threat. There is no use shadow boxing with an imaginary opponent who is no more dangerous than your average bunny rabbit.
- When shadow boxing, accelerate your shots onto a target, snapping back the head of the ‘opponent’. By thinking about the speed and acceleration of your punch, then you will improve your punching speed and ultimately improve your punching power. This is especially important when throwing hooks and uppercuts.
- Related to the previous point, when shadow boxing don’t allow your punches to go through the target before eventually finding their way back to the guard position. This is a terribly bad habit. Think about it, when your fist hits a solid object it does not continue to travel for 2 feet beyond that object. Your fist pretty much stops and the force generated is passed into the object. So let’s train for that situation of hitting the target. If during shadow boxing you don’t ‘hit a target’, then you are effectively training to miss the target.
- To make improvements to your hand speed during shadow boxing, why not grab a 1lb or 2lb weight in each hand. Use these weights for a round then dispense with them for the next round. You should feel an instant improvement in hand speed. Make this a regular part of your shadow boxing and these improvements in punching speed will be for the long term.
- ‘Theme’ your rounds of shadow boxing. For example, in round 1, visualize an opponent who is looking to put a lot of pressure on you, constantly attacking with reckless abandon. Use lots of side-steps, pivots and long range hooks and long range uppercuts to build an effective fighting retreat. In the next round, turn the tables and you chase down your opponent. Check out the Dealing with Counter Punching article for an idea of approach here.
- Watch other boxers, both on TV (or the boxing fan’s best friend YouTube) and if you are at a gym the boxers there. Try to spot some of the skills that they use. Try to spot the subtle bits; pivots, hand-defences and footwork, and look to use some of those for a round. Basically, mimic your favourite boxers.
One final point, don’t ever take shadow boxing for granted. It is one of the finest aspects of a boxing training session. Make the most of shadow boxing and really use it to become the boxer that you deserve to be. Shadow boxing will never be as effective as sparring, but it should without question form a fundamental part of your boxing training session.
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