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Shadowboxing is when a boxer moves around alone throwing various combinations of punches in the air against an imaginary opponent. For the martial artist, shadowboxing may also include using kicks and other hand strikes. Shadowboxing is a popular exercise that fighters use to hone their fighting strength, power, speed, endurance, rhythm, and footwork, to condition their muscles, to warm-up or cool-down, or to prepare themselves mentally before a fight.


Shadowboxing is a versatile training tool because of its freestyle nature and simplicity. Some benefits include:
  • You don’t need any equipment or any opponent.
  • You don’t get hit when you make a mistake.
  • You may practice any movement, technique, or combination you want; you are limited only by your imagination.
  • You can practice without any distractions and take instant feedback from a mirror, coach, or camera.
  • The air punches build shoulder and back muscles. Heavy bag work tends to weaken your shoulder and back muscles. Your hand rebounds off the bag so your recovery muscles are not trained, which causes your arms to tire quickly when you miss punches in a fight. When you are shadowboxing, your hands and arms are constantly being held up and reaching out and back. Beginner students know what this means; the day after your first class your arms are weak and ache from being held up so long. 


The primary shortcoming is that shadowboxing is nothing like a real fight. Since there is no opponent for you to adjust to, every movement and attack appears effective. The imaginary opponent always seems to move the direction you need it to move and thus it always moves predictably. Fighting a real opponent is always harder because of the unpredictability of the opponent’s movement, which requires you to constantly change your tactics and fight strategy. Another shortcoming is that you do not get hit by imaginary opponents; pain is a good teacher.

It is all about movement

Many fighters do not have good movement. They may have good power and speed, but their movement is not natural or relaxed; they do not look coordinated. Shadowboxing is all about movement. Since there are no distractions, you can focus on moving around effectively and throwing punches from all positions. This allows your body to develop muscle memory so that punches or kicks just happen, with little conscious thought, such as when fielding a baseball.

Fighters who don’t shadowbox appear excited, anxious, nervous, and even frantic during a fight. Fighters who shadowbox appear calmer, more comfortable, and natural during a fight.


  • Warm-up or cool-down. Use shadowboxing to warm-up for a training session or a fight and use it to cool-down afterward.
  • To warm–up, move around, dodge, bob and weave, use your legs a lot, move your head, relax the shoulders, and throw light punches and kicks. Stop periodically and shake out your legs and arms. Do not be concerned with speed or power; the emphasis should be on the constant movement of every body part. Stop when your heart rate starts to rise, and you feel warm.
  • To cool-down, keep moving and throwing light techniques, and gradually lessen the number of techniques thrown and gradually slow your movements. Slow your breathing and calm down while thinking about what you have just learned. Once your body is back to normal, stop.
  • The perfection of technique. Use shadowboxing to work on the perfection of a punch, kick, block, or movement. Do not be concerned about speed or power; the perfection of movement is the goal. Take your time and check out your form in a mirror or have a coach. Perfect each key point of a technique individually and then practice it all as one movement.
  • Build coordination. As you are training for the perfection of a technique, throw it from a variety of body positions so you are comfortable using it from any stance or position. Move around, throwing the techniques while moving forward, backward, and side to side.
  • Develop rhythm. Sometimes your singular attacks work fine but your combinations lack flow. You can work on your rhythm while shadowboxing by making many movements, such as a mix of punches, kicks, slips, and steps while trying to maintain a rhythm of motion. Listening to music can help. Do not worry about fully extending all your punches or exerting full power. Try to find a “fighting dance” rhythm in your body where you look like a natural fighter who was born to fight.
  • Formulate strategy. Work on how you should handle key strategic moments during a fight. Remember what you did during key moments in past bouts, such as always backing up, missing the opportunity to slip a right cross to land a left hook to the body, or getting hit constantly by a jab. Shadowboxing allows you to develop new strategies and tactics to cure these shortcomings and then develop new muscle memory habits to accomplish them.

How to shadowbox

To shadowbox, visualize an opponent and pick a target. Since there is no physical opponent when shadowboxing, it is your job is to put an imaginary opponent in front of you. Don’t get sloppy, be sure to imagine your range in relation to the opponent and make sure that the imaginary opponent is a viable threat.

Accelerate your shots onto a target, such as the head, and imagine snapping back the imaginary opponent’s head. This is especially important when throwing hooks and uppercuts. However, do not allow your punches to go through the target before returning to the guard position. Think about it, when your fist hits a solid object, it does not continue to travel for feet beyond that object; it stops, and the force generated transfers into the object.

“Theme” your rounds of shadowboxing. For example, in round one, visualize an opponent who is constantly attacking with reckless abandon. Use lots of side steps, pivots, and long-range hooks and uppercuts to build an effective fighting retreat. In the next round, reverse the situation and you be the pursuer.

How much is enough

The goal is not to show off by throwing as many punches and kicks as you can; you will quickly tire and waste your time. Have a plan for the shadowboxing session and stick to it. A general shadowboxing workout would be about 15 nonstop minutes. For serious training, shoot for 30 minutes; pros usually go for an hour. If you get tired, don’t quit, just slow down for a while.

Just do it

You can do shadowboxing anywhere anytime, no need for special clothing or equipment, just stand up and do it. Shadowboxing can be your default “rest workout.”

If you have a heavy bag, shadowbox it using only light contact. You can use a slip rope or slip bag to practice your slipping, bobbing and weaving, and head movement techniques.

Shadowbox with a friend. It is like fighting each other except you keep a distance so no punches connect. You may also shadowbox under the supervision of a coach who can give you constant feedback and even act as a training partner.

You can even shadowbox in your mind without moving while waiting in line or a waiting room. By just thinking about what you would do in certain situations, you are training your mind and body to do it.

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