If you have done any training in martial arts, and in boxing, kickboxing or MMA in particular, then you have probably spent some time shadowboxing. Most times it is used as a beginning of class or workout for warm up, and the coach sets the timer and you are left to your own time. The trick is, do you know what to do with this time to get the most of your training? The following is my personal insights into shadowboxing, and may help you flesh out and broaden your shadowboxing. In order to get the most your time you need to look to understand your reason or goal for shadowboxing and the context that you mean to practice it.
What is shadow boxing and why when and how is it used?
The reasons for shadowboxing can be varied and the outcomes determine how you go about it. If you are shadowboxing pre-workout, it can be for a warm up exercise to help facilitate the blood flow and loosening up the whole body. As a warm up for class it helps loosen the joints, coordinate the movements, and sharpen one’s mental focus. Post workout shadowboxing helps cool the body down and after more strenuous activities it more importantly lets the fighter focus on executing proper techniques while fatigued. (which is a very important rehearsal, because everyone looks good fresh but how will you perform under pressure and duress?) My pre-fight shadowboxing is similar to pre-workout method but with a stronger emphasis on visualization, strategy, and footwork. Even during these periods it is possible to approach you shadowboxing with different goals in mind.
Methods and Goals for Shadowboxing
Shadowboxing is more than just executing techniques and shuffling around the floor. During your time you should have an awareness for what you are working on and why. Typical goals include technical improvement which requires using a mirror, your coach, or a camera for technical analysis. When working on analysis it is equally important to have a mirror, your coach watch you or camera record you to correct your mistakes and make suggested improvements, as it is to shadowbox away from the mirror and strengthen your inner-eye and body awareness as you visualize an opponent and focus more on movement and footwork.
Another goal for shadowboxing is to work on rhythm and flow. Experienced boxers will shadowbox with seemingly effortless relaxation and coordination while at the same time executing fast and effective striking and footwork. The amount of time spent shadowboxing will directly correlate to how well you strike and move while boxing. Let me say that again. The amount of time spent shadowboxing will directly correlate to how well you strike and move while boxing. Nothing prepares the mind and body for movement like rehearsing them. You want good foot work, you have to work footwork. If you want to hit combinations faster, you need to shadowbox them until they quit being individual strikes and melt into flowing sequences of movement.
One of the last goals for shadowboxing should be conditioning. By this I mean working on endurance, wind, and even mobility and speed. The difference here is shadowboxing with a concerted effort. Too much effort in the previous areas of rhythm and analysis have a detrimental effect on relaxation and awareness. But once you are proficient at shadowboxing with good form you can now work on pushing your physical boundaries and make shadowboxing a demanding workout. Be careful here though, because improper techniques done in this zone, will generalize into all you other areas. As a coach I hawk over my fighters that are using strong effort while shadowboxing, because usually the first thing to go is the form. But if you are rock solid in your form, you can push you footwork, strikes, slips and feints to higher levels while shadowboxing and tax yourself as hard as any other method. This is because you get to go, go, go and not have anything or anyone holding you back but you. You can push yourself as far and hard as you can tolerate while keeping your form.
Techniques Used In Shadowboxing
The actual shadowboxing techniques that one uses depends on the individual sport, its rules and what ranges are utilized. Typically boxing will focus itself on the long and short range punches, while Muay Thai and various forms of kickboxing will combine kicks and punches, and may also include elbows and knees. All stand up will include foot work, evasions, slipping, and bobbing and weaving. If you are practicing MMA you will want to be sure to incorporate your grappling and anti-grappling techniques like sprawling, shooting, and re-shooting. (it is noted that I also like to incorporate some ground movement drills into MMA shadow boxing to develop movement). All stand up will include foot work, evasions, slipping and bobbing and weaving. I will not go into various lists of combinations and their intended uses, as that would fill a book. But be imaginative and creative. Use the combinations taught to you, and keep their tactical role in mind when using them. The role of footwork is paramount to making your entire offense and defense effective. I like to practice my pivots, quarter turns, my step n slide, push steps, pendulum step, and side steps and lunges until they feel natural.
Combinations, strategy, and influencing your opponent
We touched a bit on tactics when shadowboxing. If you practice with a cognitive mindset, and use techniques with a mind on setting up your opponent or influencing them to make them susceptible to strikes or take downs, than you will develop the ability to think on your feet. It is often difficult to move beyond the adrenaline rush and “fight or flight” response and get comfortable in a fight. By focusing and being mindful of strategy and “the fight game” it has helped me back off just a bit mentally and focus on the fight as contest versus feeling overwhelmed and like I was in a fight. Often time it is the fighter that can pull the other out of his “game” and comfort zone that wins the contest. By shadowboxing with mental focus on strategy and your game, you strengthen your mental fortitude.
Equipment Training Do’s and Maybe Don’ts
Some shadowboxing proponents suggest using equipment while shadowboxing. I see this as a nice way to supplement or change up your shadowboxing routine. Unfortunately most people simply are not putting enough time into their shadowboxing and are looking for a gimmick to try and cheat the system and find a shortcut. There are no shortcuts to building skill and excellence in fighting. Consistent effort in will yield consistent results out. But that is not to say you cannot use equipment, just be mindful of goals and what you are trying to accomplish. As you add equipment, you are putting barriers or restraints on what is normally free flowing and creative shadowboxing. But if you have put in the time doing good shadowboxing, some equipment training can move you past plateaus or slumps. Some people recommend holding weights to develop muscle stamina and strength. I do not. I would prefer my fighters wear heaving 18oz gloves or a weight vest if you are working on stamina. Too much unbalanced weight on the hands can lead to bad form, shoulder injury and false sense of rhythm. I do like a slipping ball that hangs at head height, or another bag swinging to help with evasion and movement. (of course a boxer with good imagination will be able to use the same movements without it, but the equipment can help a new fighter or remind a seasoned one of the spatial relationships involved). I also like a slipping line or rope to work around, or even stationary hanging bags. What I don’t recommend is actually hitting anything! Bag work time is bag work time. Shadowboxing is shadowboxing. And never the two should meet! The goals and results are different. Usually it is the new fighter who’s focus is weak and he has to hit something out of boredom. That should be a signal to continue shadowboxing and work on creativity and strategy to improve focus.
Shadowboxing is wide and varied activity that can yeild tremendous gains for those who put the consistent time into practicing and mastering it. How long should you shadowbox? My coaches gave me a good rule of thumb many years ago, that a good fighter shadowboxes the same number of rounds that he works on the pads or bag. If you hit 5 rounds on the bag. Get 5 rounds of shadowboxing in. This was not usually handed to me as part of my gym time, but was an assumed homework that I was meant to get in on my own. That is part of the beauty of shadow boxing, it can be a solo drill that you can do practically anywhere.