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In the modern era of combat sports there are many different training systems that can comprehensively prepare an athlete for battle. Some fighters will rely upon learning techniques, and engaging in a high amount of strength and conditioning exercises, while other athletes will spar heavily with their training partners. It is a well known fact that the world's most prolific combat sports athletes utilise shadow boxing, as one of their key training workouts. Shadow boxing can be used for warm up purposes, for cardio based and strength and conditioning workouts, but more commonly for fine tuning an athlete's striking processes.   

What this article covers:

Many newcomers to Martial Arts will often ask the question: does shadow boxing make you a better fighter. A shadow boxing workout incorporates a high amount of energy, combined with a systematic striking system, to help an athlete build skills in all areas of the Boxing game. The diversity of shadow boxing is instrumental to how an athlete can improve, and the key component being the low impact on the athlete's body.

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why do boxers shadow box

Shadow boxing has the ability to build up an athlete's attributes in punching accuracy, the flow in how they execute their punches, the positioning of their footwork, their overall fighting strategy, their strength and conditioning, and their cardiovascular fitness.


The art of fighting has been around for thousands of years, and dates back to early Babylon, and ancient Greek mythology. Centuries and centuries of combat sports have been depicted throughout all cultures in the world, and shadow boxing routines have always been a part of the training make up. There is an art to all fighting styles, and athletes must use their intelligence to strategise a way to defeat their opponents. Rushing in and throwing bombs is an extremely impulsive action, and usually winds up bad for the aggressor. Using patience and skills to choreograph an attacking fight system is crucial, and this is only usually achievable with a high level of fitness, strength, conditioning, and knowledge. 

Becoming a successful fighter involves developing a fast, and intelligent style of fighting. In the fight game, fast feet equals smooth entries into positions where an athlete can land significant striking techniques. Martial Arts is all about awareness, and anticipation, and these two aspects are extremely important for an athlete. They will need to anticipate what an opponent may be trying to do, and secondly, use their senses, and their instincts to know when danger is upon them. Once the athlete can develop these concepts, the art of fighting will become more about knowledge, technique, and their physical and mental conditioning.


Shadow boxing is an extremely important part of the fight game, and learning how to do it correctly is paramount. There is a lot of logic behind training in pad work, heavy bag work, and sparring, but the overwhelming factor of how shadow boxing can improve an athlete's skill set is bullet proof. Shadow boxing will improve an athlete's overall conditioning, while sharpening up their punching proficiency, and significantly improving their foot work, and the cohesion between all of these aspects. To shadow box correctly an athlete must maximise their training efficiency, and set a variety of different goals.  

Each shadow boxing round can have a different goal like improving their footwork, and athletes can do this by focusing more intently on where they step, and staying in and out of range of their imaginary opponent. They can also utilise evasive maneuvers, and focus predominantly on moving their head, and slipping imaginary punches, and looking at ways to counter strike. Other rounds can be more high paced in order to boost their cardiovascular fitness, or they can simply use it as a strength building session, by implementing different techniques like shadow boxing with weights, or strength exercises like squats, lunges, burpees, and sprawls. Breaking down each shadow boxing session, and focusing on specifically targeted goals is one of the best uses of shadow boxing in the modern fight game.


When an ordinary person commits to shadow boxing everyday they will build a significant level of cardiovascular health. Continuous striking movements will only aid in the progression of Martial Arts skill, and force a person to use high amounts of energy. Shadow boxing is well known to burn anywhere from five hundred to thousands of calories per workout. A simple twenty minute session can burn up to five hundred calories, and professional fighters that shadow box for multiple sessions can burn thousands of calories. The versatility of a shadow boxing workout is unmatched, and this is due to the fact it can be utilised anywhere at any time, and with no equipment necessary. All world class fighters will use shadow boxing workouts as a way to hone in on their technical skills, but to also burn calories, and improve their lung capacity. What makes shadow boxing so special is that among the physical qualities, athletes will not be in danger while they shadow box. When an athlete has no opponent to throw punches, it has very little impact on an athlete's body. This can give an athlete more confidence with their movements, before it can become more instinctive when they fight against an opponent.


There are different ways to build up a significant amount of strength, while performing shadow boxing techniques. Athletes have been well known to pick up dumbbells, or strap on wrist, and ankle weights, or weighted vests, and engage in shadow boxing. This is a good way to really burn the muscles, and incorporate a high level of strength and conditioning. Utilising punches with wrist weights on will only add extra stamina, and power into the muscles of the athlete. Once the weights are taken off, the athlete will realise how light their arms may feel, and how they have a faster, and more powerful punch. Another strength and conditioning method is for athletes to engage in extra strength workouts, while integrating them with shadow boxing techniques. This means to move around the mats throwing punches, and then utilising exercises like sprawling, push ups, burpees, or squat jumps. Engaging the core muscles during a shadow boxing workout will increase the burn ten fold, and this can be highly advantageous to an athlete that needs a higher level of strength and conditioning. 


The art of fighting involves using a high intensity of systematic movements, coupled with precision, and power. When shadow boxing is done properly it can improve an athlete's boxing technique, their strength, their power, their speed, their endurance, their rhythm, their footwork, and their offensive and defensive fighting ability. With the right goals in place, an athlete can develop all of these systems to become expertly dynamic. One of the best measures a prospective athlete can use, is the fact that all world class strikers swear by the benefits that shadow boxing can offer. Some of the greatest boxers of all time like Mohammed Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, and Sonny Liston are well documented for using shadow boxing to enhance their overall fighting performance.

Setting goals is extremely important, and all beginner athletes will need to break down a shadow boxing workout into several sessions, so they can understand the intricacies involved. To improve their overall quality they need to look at each component, and master them individually, before they can integrate them into one structured, and systematic flow of movements. Once a beginner has significant experience they can use shadow boxing in a more comprehensive way, and this is because they would have already built up a significant muscle memory for all of the movements involved. The worst thing an athlete can do is engage in repetition of movements that are incorrect. This will only build bad habits, and leave an athlete considerably exposed when they are facing a real opponent in the ring.


An important concept about fighting is how to implement a fight strategy. All athletes must engage their opponent the right way, and this can only be done once they can identify how they're opponent thinks, and moves. Athletes must develop game plans, and a smart option is to always have backup plans in case their initial plan goes wrong. Sometimes a strategy that an athlete conceives will eat right into the hands of their opponent, so they may need to change their strategy in order to enhance their ability to win. There are always different strategies that will work against different opponents, and understanding how to implement these is a vital concept of the combative arts. Finding the right avenue to success, without putting themselves in danger, is why athletes will train as hard as they do.

A good way to think is that an athlete should go out into a fight and test the waters. This means to throw out a jab, a fake, or even a leg kick, to see how their opponent will react. Once the athlete can decipher the game plan of their opponent, or at least see how they are in terms of their footwork, and their fluency of punching. From here it will become about using the right combinations to snare the opponent into a trap, and this can be as simple as throwing a jab, or ducking and slipping counter punches, before implementing power shots like body hooks, upper cuts, and overhand punches. This is where shadow boxing can play a vital role in the development of an athlete's overall fight strategy. Dancing around the mat, and utilising various striking combos, and having the creativity to explore different variations is a crucial aspect in developing a significant muscle memory. This is how athletes in real fights will be able to use systematic movements without having to think too much. An instinctive fighter is a successful fighter, and this is compared to a fighter that telegraphs their punches too much.  


Shadow boxing is one of those all round technical workouts that can offer athletes an impressive amount of benefits. The fitness, and strength benefits are incredible, as athletes will find that dancing around a mat, and throwing a volley of punches for long periods of time, will significantly increase their cardiovascular capacity, and their overall core strength. Combining explosive speed, muscular strength, endurance in the muscle, and cardio all together, will increase their athleticism, improving their health significantly. These are benefits that go far beyond physical health, as they offer forms of stress relief, and senses of personal accomplishment. Reaching new levels of strength and athleticism is only going to improve the mental state, and the health of the athlete. 

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 what is the point of shadow boxing

On the technical side, athletes will gain significant skills in footwork, which involve better posture, with a more stable form of balance. Using good footwork like side stepping, skipping, faking the step out, changing levels, and pivoting, and combining these attributes in unison with an athlete's upper body movements. This becomes a cohesive skill that hours of shadow boxing will instill within the athlete. Increasing agility, along with speed is one of the most effective improvements an athlete can achieve. This is how they will become more nimble on their feet, and gain the ability to strategise with their footwork. 

One of the most important benefits from shadow boxing is how fluent an athlete will become with their punching. Practising form can be done in many different ways, including hitting the focus mitts, sparring with a training partner, or even hitting the heavy bag. Shadow boxing exposes an athlete, and forces them to move around the mat with posture and energy. An athlete that is dropping their hands, or being lazy with their footwork is displaying poor form. They will need to stay guarded and use some good footwork techniques, and combine these attributes with some fast and accurate punches. This is how the athlete will learn to connect these two fundamental techniques together into one symbiotic, and fluent form of boxing. At the higher levels of boxing an athlete can add more detailed shadow boxing combinations into their solo drills, which can only result in more fluent and effective movements.

The mental health benefits of shadow boxing are astronomical, and this is because of the busy, and stressful lives that people live. Most people have some form of stress in their life, and some even have crises. Shadow boxing is a great form of exercise that reduces stress, and helps people to vent out all of their frustrations into each punch. It works as a form of distraction, and the brain will naturally focus on each technical component within the technique. This is a great way to slide the frustrations to the side, and focus your energy into the movement. This can improve someone's mood, and build up their self confidence, while making them feel calmer, but still having a solid workout to release their tension. Exercise is proven to release chemicals inside someone's brain, and these endorphins and serotonin are responsible for those feelings of calmness, and happiness. This can reduce stress, relieve anxiety, and depression, while helping the person to stay happy, and motivated. 

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