Shadow Boxing – 7 Tips for Success

by Fran on June 5, 2012

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 , 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 -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:

  1. When shadow boxing, your emphasis should be on movement.  -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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 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.
  5. 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.
  6. ‘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.
  7. 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.

Cheers

Fran

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave June 5, 2012 at 11:16 pm

This is helped alot.Good tips.

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Fran June 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Glad you liked it. Cheers.

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chris June 6, 2012 at 7:08 am

thanx a lot!

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Fran June 6, 2012 at 9:49 pm

You’re welcome. Thanks.

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tom June 7, 2012 at 6:15 am

It is really helpful to have these seemingly obvious goals written down.
Thanks.

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Fran June 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Cheers Tom.

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Paul Smith June 12, 2012 at 8:45 pm

This was a nice insightful article. I’ve always had admiration for those who skillfully shadow box (Ricky Hatton was one of the best imo) and now I know the thought process. Well done and thanks again Fran.

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Fran June 12, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Cheers Paul. Nice to hear from you, I hope that your boxing training and everything else is going well. Got a few posts planned for this week; more Cubans, Pacquiao/Bradley score and a little one on motivation. keep an eye out.

Thanks again

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Darren June 14, 2012 at 10:39 am

Nice! Very well explained coach.

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Fran June 14, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Thanks Darren

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Sam Leigh December 24, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Great article mate! I’ve always respected the need for shadow boxing but this article made me see it in a whole new light, good job!

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Fran December 27, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Cheers Sam, thanks for the comment and I’m glad that the article helps.

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Gabby January 18, 2013 at 11:12 pm

This is a great article! Thanks. I hope you do not mind that I shared it on a new Facebbok Shadowboxing Workout page with other Shadowboxing funs. All the best.

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Fran January 21, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Thanks Gabby. Checked out your FB page, some nice stuff there :-)

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San February 5, 2013 at 5:32 am

nice write-ups

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Fran February 8, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Thanks San.

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Fahsel February 13, 2013 at 12:52 am

Okay I would like to ask you two things. What should be the distance between you and the real target? And what’s the reason that when I’m actually punching the real target I fail to punch as hard as I punch the imaginary or punching bag, no matter the target is fixed or stuck, something hold ma back. I want to ask why this happens?

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Fran February 16, 2013 at 9:07 am

Hi Fahsel

If I understand your question, then the distance between you and the target will change often during a contest. Check out this article on Range Finding in Boxing for more information. What I would suggest is that often during a spar or a boxing match, the opponent can be moving slightly all of the time. This means that it can be more difficult for you to target and time the punch accordingly.

Keep practising, your timing and range finding will work.

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chris k. February 22, 2013 at 9:27 am

Thanx alot im new to boxing but ive
loved it since i was in diapers.
this helped ALOT

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Fran February 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Glad to hear that Chris. Thanks

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tk March 3, 2013 at 4:48 pm

this is very insightful article . thank you
when shadow boxing with hand weight, can o use more heavy dumebll such as 5lb ?

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Fran March 4, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Depends on your weight TK. If you’re a big guy then you can use them. I tend to have the boxers use smaller weights though so that they can keep the punch rate up.

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Larry B January 26, 2014 at 10:14 am

I bought some weighted gloves (2 lb each) with thin padding for shadow boxing and light bag hitting, and they worked great. Ready now for heavier weights (will use wrist weights or dumbbells). Starting with too heavy a weight may lead to changes in punch mechanics, injury and bad habits, so slow progression might be good.

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Paul March 24, 2013 at 8:50 am

Loved this post, very insightful. Being a kickboxing practitioner, I use shadow boxing all the time so I can testify to it’s benefits, and I never go a training day without doing some shadow work.

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Fran March 25, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Thanks Paul, glad it helped.

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bl July 3, 2013 at 12:58 am

can you give some advice on shadow boxing drills please?

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gaurav July 31, 2013 at 7:03 am

my punches are not opening during bouts and i dont know about my range of right punch pls help me….

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Fran August 5, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Hey Gaurav. Tough question without seeing the video. But, if you are landing with the jab then there is no reason why the straight backhand should not land…as long it the backhand is being thrown correctly with the right amount of rotation.

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Anonymous August 11, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Good tips I’m going to use. For someone just wanting to learn and practice a little boxing on my own do you think i should get a speed bag or double ended bag. If so which is better. i want increase speed also endurance . Rather have speed.

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Fran August 13, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Thanks. As a straight choice I would always go with the double-end bag, it’s a great and versatile piece of equipment. I am assuming that you have a heavy bag already?

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Danny November 12, 2013 at 6:22 am

I agree with Fran. I would go with the double-ended bag whenever I practice boxing.

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Azhar November 26, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Thanks a LOT !!!! I can’t even tell you how much its helpful …… I am a die hard fan of mma and wrestling style

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Larry B January 26, 2014 at 10:27 am

Very useful info. The best martial arts exercise during my training had one imagine a scenario where two or three enemies would be closing in from different directions, and they had to be defended against in rapid succession. This exercise trains the mind to identify and classify threats, and plan defense (you can’t apply too lengthy a skill set to any one opponent or the others will gain the advantage).

I apply a simiilar technique to shadow boxing, where two imaginary opponents are moving in, and one has to rapidily shift their attention and strikes from side to side (and/or front to rear and back again). This exercise improves footwork and mobility, and seems to help loosen up the joints compared to always working against someone in front of you.

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vanda monaco April 20, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Hi Frank

this shadow boxing directions are great! They help me so much. You know, I ‘m an actress and the “shadow” is basic when rehearsing a character’s dialog.
I love boxing and its combination of precision, creativity and hard training. Your coaching helps me. Thanks. Vanda

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Fran April 23, 2014 at 7:51 pm

Hey Vanda

Thanks so much for the comment. Great that you see the overlaps with your profession. I’m sure that the visualisation is 2nd nature to you! Best of luck with your boxing :-)

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neil arche r August 27, 2014 at 9:10 am

are you suggesting that no man on earth, no society or collection of peoples boxed in any shape form or fashion before the “ancient greeks”?

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Fran August 27, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Maybe my wording should have included the phrase ‘earliest recorded’ Neil. I’m not a brilliant boxing historian though Neil so I am very much open to being corrected as to the origins of the game.

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