Shadowboxing: All About It

Everybody likes the heavy bag. You can hit it with all your might and as much as you want and with every hit, it gives you a feeling satisfaction. Since it is made to absorb enormous amount of impact, it will develop your power.

There are speed bags, double-end bags, banana bags, kick pads, power shields… They all have a place in fight training. These equipments, when used properly, improve accuracy, speed, and power. Each gear trains a specific area in your game. Example, double-end bags will develop accuracy and timing; power shields will enhance kicking power; speed bags will build shoulder endurance. Each one provides a different objective but they all have one thing in common…. You have a tangible target. You have something to hit.

With all these equipments around, why do we still see someone punching and kicking air? Dancing around, doing defensive head movements, as if fighting an invisible opponent? The purpose of fighting is hitting the opponent, right? So, why do fighters do what they call shadowboxing?

The purpose of shadowboxing:

Almost all kinds of sports require mastery of particular physical movements. The more adept you are in executing these movements the better your chances of success. Fighting sports is no different. In fact, it is crucial because a fighter incorporates the whole body to perform even just a simple punch or kick. And there are plenty of punches and kicks to be mastered. Shadowboxing helps develop neuromuscular familiarity in executing these actions.

As a warm-up: Before any strenuous activity --- like a serious match, hard sparring, or even just hitting mitts --- fighters shadowbox lightly to warm and loosen up the muscles and joints. It prepares not just the muscles but also the nervous system. It will send signals to the brain that the body must prepare for the activity that lies ahead. When the time comes to explode, the fighter is not stiff but fluid and effortless in his movements.

To improve footwork: You must shadowbox while moving your feet. Lateral movements, moving in and out, sidestepping, and positional rotations should be drilled in shadowboxing. This will make the fighter comfortable on his toes until it becomes second nature.

To analyze the openings and motion: This is done while shadowboxing with mirrors. Usually in the gym, fighters look and study how they tend to execute their punches and kicks. They look for the openings they present in their every attack. They also study the motion of their punches and kicks. With the knowledge they acquire from these, they can fine tune their training and they will know what to expect.

To develop coordination and improve the stabilizing muscles:
In a fight, you cannot hit the target all the time. Your opponents will always try to make you miss. And in every miss --- depending on the commitment to the attack --- you will get off-balanced. That brief moment of trying to regain balance and posture is more than enough time for the opponent to hit you with a KO shot.

Ideally, a fighter should go back to proper stance after every attack. The more you try to hit harder, the more momentum you generate, and the more difficult it is to go back to the neutral position. Shadowboxing is the perfect way to train the muscles to counteract the momentum you generated in your every attack. It will develop the supporting muscles involved in the retraction. It will make them alert and strong so that you will not severely get off-balanced even when you throw your power shots. Thus, it will develop your power the better way. With shadowboxing, you will have better coordination in your movements.

Take this for example: When you forcefully hit the heavy bag with the right hook then go back to neutral position, the execution is relatively easy. All the momentum you generated will be absorbed by the heavy bag thus returning to neutral position is not difficult. But doing the same thing against air will prove to be demanding. The momentum will throw your body off-balanced.

In shadowboxing, you will learn to adjust the sufficient force to be generated that will not sacrifice your positional equilibrium. Eventually, with highly developed stabilizing muscles and coordination, you can produce tremendous attacking force while maintaining balanced.
So far, this is the best reason why a fighter must complement his training with shadowboxing.

To visualize techniques: If you want to practice a particular technique, say, for example a counterattack, shadowboxing will help the fighter drill his mind and body. He will try to visualize an imaginary attack and shadowbox his counter to that. The fighter will repeatedly use this visualization training until he is comfortable with the movement. Constant shadowboxing of the technique will condition the body and the mind to react effectively to the visualized stimulus.

To improve cardio and conditioning: Simulating actual movements used in a fight will improve your stamina. The more often and intense you do shadowboxing, the further the body will naturally adapt. This conditioning of your system will develop an efficient utilization of oxygen.
For example, if you frequently shadowbox doing intense and high volume combination punching for six rounds, your system will “smarten up” and adjust to this conditioning.
Thus, in an actual 4 round match, you can fight with full intensity and high volume without getting too tired because your body will be already familiar with these movements. Your system won’t be too stressed because you do these actions all the time.

Some helpful videos about shadowboxing:

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