Written by Alistair Knight | 08 March 2020
The ultimate shadow boxing guide is designed to teach you what to look out for, how to improve, and all of the smaller, less talked about details of shadow boxing that are important to learn.
Today you’re going to learn everything you need to know about shadow boxing.
Specifically, I’m going to show you how you can improve your shadow boxing so that you can start looking like Christina Hammer:
Here is what you’re going to learn:
Let’s jump into it!
Shadow boxing is defined as:
Fighting against an imaginary opponent as a form of training
Shadow boxing is where you move around an area (typically the size of a ring/cage or smaller) and throws punches/elbows/kicks depending on the laws of your combat sport.
It can be performed anywhere with a stable surface and is legal to do everywhere in the world.
It can greatly enhance your fighting game in various ways including:
Example of what shadow boxing is:
Vasyl Lomachenko Shadow Boxing
Below I have put together the top five shadow boxing tips which will help you in your journey as a fighter. I’ve been a boxer for three years now and these tips have been passed down from my boxing coach who trains professional fighters from across the world.
Here are the top 5 tips with jump links:
Let’s jump into it.
Photo by: By Airman 1st Class Jeremy L. Mosier, 366th Fighter Wing/ Public Affairs
It’s very common for beginner fighters to become tight and tense when fighting because of nerves, incorrect technique, and bad habits.
When you are fighting with a stiff upper torso, your punches, head movement, and defence can become ineffective because you’ll lack dynamic mobility of everything from your chest up.
If this happens to you during a fight with a relaxed opponent, you’ll likely be shut down and picked apart.
So how do you stay relaxed when you’re fighting?
As a boxer myself, I used to struggle with a rigid fighting style, and my boxing coach definitely didn’t want me in the ring until I’d remain calm and composed.
As a professional boxing coach, Jumbo taught me how important this area of my game was in order to be successful. He taught me by doing something I’d never forget. He stopped me right in the middle of my 1-1 pad session and brought over an eleven year old fighter with more experience than my twenty year old self.
Jumbo looked at me and then said:
“Listen to the sound of this boys punches”
I nodded and watched as this eleven year old kid was throwing fast combinations with punches that landed with a vicious snap. I felt envious, frustrated, and annoyed with myself.
Then coach Jumbo turned to me and said:
“Look Alistair, the way, and the ONLY way you’re going to be able to find your rhythm is by staying relaxed. It doesn’t matter how big or strong you are, sharp punches come from your body’s ability to avoid tensing up”.
He then taught me how to fix the problem.
He explained that the way to solve the problem was by fighting with my hands down because with my arms down by my side, it would be impossible for me to tense up.
Throughout the entire next round, an extraordinary thing happened. I felt comfortable, composed and my punches were actually landing with a powerfully loud SNAP.
Jumbo then said to me:
“See, that’s what happens when you are fighting with a loose body, how did you feel in that round?”
I replied with a wide smile and nod:
Summary: Maintaining relaxed is the most important thing you can do as a fighter, which is why it is our top shadow boxing tip. If you are stiff and rigid as fighter, you’ll find that your head movement, defence, and punches will suffer. If you find that you’re a tight fighter (like I used to be), then you’ll want to incorporate the drill mentioned within the story above into your shadow boxing, that is: training with your hands down.
Photo by: Airman 1st Class Jesenia Landaverde
Footwork is a fundamental part of any fighter’s game because good foot movement can confuse your opponent, help you avoid getting hit, and help you create angles where you can knock out your opponent by surprise.
Note: If you watch closely, you’ll notice that the majority of knockouts appear when the person being knocked out cannot see the punch. This is due to the physical and psychological factors where the victim is surprised by the sudden impact to the most fragile part of their body/head which they couldn’t see.
Shadow boxing is the perfect place to practice your footwork because it’s a very similar situation to a real fight.
As simple as it sounds, the key to improving your footwork when shadow boxing is by focusing on your footwork.
Ask yourself these questions:
Are you moving your feet after every combination?
Are you pivoting on the ball of your foot, creating angles to outmanoeuvre your opponent?
Do you feel uncomfortable doing this?
If you’re a beginner fighter, the answer to the last question should be a resounding YES. Because let’s face it, footwork is hard when you’re starting out.
You don’t know where to place your feet and so much attention is going on with your upper body punches or lower body kicks, that moving your feet can seem difficult to remember.
Although it is hard in the beginning, the more you practice moving your feet, the easier it will become because you’ll develop an ingrained habit of doing so.
However, habits aren’t always a good thing because without proper coaching and self-analysis you could very easily pick up bad habits that put you off balance or make you vulnerable to knockouts.
The solution to this is by first filming yourself so that you can see areas of your game that require improvement and other areas where you may already be doing well.
When you’re reviewing yourself on camera, you’ve got to be very critical and objectively give yourself feedback from the advice that you’re reading online (like you’re doing right now) and what you already know. This way, you can constantly look to improve your game.
If you have a good boxing coach, ask him to review the video with you or even better: ask your coach to see you shadow box in person and directly ask for his/her advice on what you’re doing wrong because this is how you’ll improve.
Most coaches would be more than happy to help you because you’re showing commitment to becoming a greater fighter than you already are and psychologists say that people also like to give advice.
You may not like to hear critical feedback but if your coach knows more than you do, you must listen as it could save a bad fight night for you down the road.
Summary: Without good footwork, you’ll miss out on out-maneuvering your opponent and potentially put yourself in dangerous, unbalanced positions where you’re prone to being hit.
Shadow boxing is a great place to practice your footwork because it mirrors the reality of an actual fight, except that you’re just against an imaginary shadow.
You can also record yourself on your phone as a way to self analyse your strengths/weaknesses and if you have a good coach to provide relevant and helpful advice, that’ll go a long way for your development as a fighter.
When you’re shadow boxing, it can be very tempting to constantly look at yourself in the mirror.
Shadow boxing should feel as realistic as an actual fight.
Let me ask you this:
Do you look at yourself in the mirror or on a screen when you’re shadow boxing/fighting your opponent?
No, or at least I hope not!
You’ll be looking at your opponent dead in the eye, ready to strike.
Remember, you really need to imagine that there is an opponent in front of you because it will force you to be active in your movement and flow.
However, looking at yourself in the mirror whilst you’re shadow boxing isn’t always a bad thing. Looking at yourself in the mirror can show you how much you move your head and also when facing the mirror you’re imitating what it’ll be like fighting a southpaw with the reflection.
Summary: Looking at the mirror whilst shadow boxing can be helpful because it can show you your flow, how much and how far you move your head, and the reflection in the mirror can also imitate what it will be like fighting a southpaw. However, if you’re prone (like so many fighters) to constantly look at the mirror (20 seconds or more at a time), then that is bad shadow boxing because you would’ve lost focus on your imaginary opponent who you should be fighting and outwitting.
Filming your shadow boxing with a smartphone and self-analysing how you perform is a brilliant way to improve as a fighter.
When you film yourself and objectively watch the video back, you’ll instantly see the strengths and weaknesses of your shadow boxing.
When reviewing yourself on film, you’ll want to ask yourself questions such as:
You can also ask your coach for advice by uploading the video privately onto youtube and then sharing the link with him/her to check it out and give you advice on how you can improve.
Note: All professional athletes are filmed by their coaches.
An example of an athlete who would constantly watch himself on film would be Kobe Bryant.
When this champion was not physically training, he would be training mentally with his coach by analysing everything that was filmed in the game or in his training.
Here is what he said:
Textual summary of video:
“When you watch yourself playing, you see what you do right, you see what you do wrong. I would look at myself and say, ‘Let’s do MORE of that, or, let’s do LESS of that’. But the way film was broken down for me was by the smallest details.
It was broken down by my angle, it was broken down to my foot placement, timing, posture.
You’re looking at every little thing and how everyone else on the court performed. This meant that a fifty-minute game would take something like five hours to break down and analyse.”
Summary: Watching how you performed on film is one of the best ways you’ll improve your shadow boxing because you’ll find areas in your game where you are doing the right thing and areas where you may be doing the wrong thing. Self-analysis is a great way to highlight your strengths and weaknesses and it’s something that athletes from all sports do.
What is the old saying? Hit and don’t get hit! My boxing coach would always say these words to me because they’re always worth repeating. As a fighter, the less you move your head (and feet), the more you’ll get hit.
The solution to this problem that many beginners face is simple:
After every combination or three seconds, move that head of yours.
Moving your head after every combination or every three seconds will help you to create the mind-muscle connection where you’ll develop habits to systematically and instinctively move.
If you watch any great fighter you’ll notice that they move their head so frequently. For example, let’s look closely at this clip of Mike Tyson moving his head, try to count how many times he moves his head.
Now, when you’re next shadow boxing, film yourself and compare your head movement to that of Mike Tyson above. That’s the level you want to get to and it can be done by consciously moving your head after every combination or after ever every three seconds.
Head movement is a fundamental part of any fighters game and shadow boxing is a brilliant way to improve your head movement. You’ll be able to improve your head movement by focusing solely on moving your head after three seconds or after every combination. It can also be helpful to film yourself to see what you look like compared to professional fighters.
Shadow boxing may seem like a waste of time because surely you could just use a punching bag?
Although the punching bag is far more popular to use, shadow boxing can also provide a progression in your boxing ability because you’ll:
A beginner will feel much more comfortable standing still and throwing punches on a heavy bag compared to when shadow boxing.
Because shadow boxing can seem more realistic; whereby, the name ‘shadow’ refers to an imaginary opponent in front of you.
When an opponent is standing in front of you, imaginary or not, you’re definitely not going to stand still like beginners are prone to do on a punching bag.
What happens when you feel the urge to move?
That’s right, you move!
My boxing coach always tells me:
Remember: The aim of the game is to be hit, and not be hit…
Whether your field of discipline is MMA, Muay Thai, Kickboxing or Boxing; shadow boxing will develop greater flow in your movements.
Shadow boxing gives you the freedom to move around and the freedom to pick and chose any punch or combination.
When you’re using your imagination in shadow boxing, you’re likely going to be in the state of flow (the zone), which you’ll need when it comes to sparring or competition.
When I’m shadow boxing, I like to do it outside in the dark.
I then turn on a strobe light to imitate somebody from the crowd taking photos and place audience noises on full volume so that when I have my boxing bout, I’m both physically and mentally prepared for whatever I’m going to experience.
Sure, that may be over the top, but it nonetheless helps me.
Shadow boxing is one of the closest things to sparring/a real-fight because you’ll not always connect on every single punch like some people are prone to doing on a heavy bag.
In March of 2018, The ‘National Center for Biotechnology Information’ (NCBI) did a study on the effects of using boxing-specific plyometrics over a 4-week period to measure the benefits on:
The study consisted of 8 male boxers who:
What was the result of this experiment?
They found that these exercises didn’t have any effect on the punching frequency (punching speed), except for an increase in power when throwing the rear-hand low punch to the body as well as overall punching power endurance — meaning, the ability to tolerate (throw) more power punches for a longer period of time.
Contrary to popular belief, Connor Mcgregors coach from the ‘Mcgregor Fast Program’, Colin Byrne, thinks that shadow boxing is not actually that important:
According to Colin, weighted shadow boxing is an ineffective exercise because it teaches poor form and it will only slow your hand speed
Is he right?
According to the study above, he is wrong, because it can increase punching power and there is no evidence yet as to whether it increases or decreases punching speed.
However, he does have a point in that it can teach you poor form because instead of focusing on how you’re throwing the punches (combos, slipping, footwork), your mind may become fixated on punching quickly with the weights in your hand with a lack of awareness to what you’re doing.
Summary: What does this mean for you?
It means that while shadow boxing with weights can be beneficial for you, shadow boxing with a pair of 16oz (1lb) gloves can be just as beneficial and you may also be able to focus on how you’re throwing punches as opposed to how quickly you’re throwing the punch (which can happen when using weights).
As an overall conditioning exercise, weighted shadow boxing is a great exercise…
It is like swimming in water or using the battle rope; with every movement, you’re up against a form of resistance which is conditioning your muscles.
Shadow boxing with weights requires the strength of your shoulders, back, arms and core to move the dumbbell quickly in front of you and back again, therefore, you’ll be fatiguing and ultimately strengthening them.
Floyd Mayweather demonstrating how to shadowbox with weights
You’ll only need to use 1-3lb dumbells because shadow boxing is about:
Moving the weight quickly through the air, immitating punches thrown when sparring/competing.
So yes, either shadow boxing with weights or with 16 oz + boxing gloves on can both be effective to increase punching-power-endurance. However, the thing, and the most important thing you can do to become a better fighter is what?
Practice; for the right deliberate (focused) practice can result in mastery.
Shadow boxing can be performed as a warm-up or cool down, it can be performed between rounds mid-workout, as well as serve as an excellent high-intensity interval drill with weights. It can also be performed in front of your bedroom mirror (at low intensity) whenever you feel like it.
Of course, be careful not to overtrain but instead because rest is very important for your bodies ability to recover.
For how long?
You can shadowbox for as long as you like, although, the norm in both boxing and MMA gyms that I have had experience in can be from 6 minutes to 15 minutes (2 X 3-minute rounds — 5 X 3-minute rounds).
A large majority of fighters do what is called a 3 skip, 3 shadow warm-up/cool down. Whereby, they do a 3 X 2-3 minute skip followed by 3 X 2-3 minute round of shadow boxing with a 1-minute break in-between each round.
Some fighters may say that you shouldn’t have the 1-minute break in-between each round because this doesn’t push your body as much.
And they are right, however, having breaks is very important for your brain because breaks can refresh your mind so that when you’re doing your next round of shadow boxing, you may have more focus and therefore be more creative in terms of shot-selection and movements.
5-10 minutes of cardio is enough as a warm up followed by some dynamic stretching exercises that you’ll find here.
As a cool-down, it is great to finish off with static stretching because it can reduce muscle tightness and break down the build up of lactic acid.
How long should you Shadowbox in-between HIIT rounds?
Shadow boxing in-between rounds isn’t essential, however, it can be very helpful when you’re in training camp and you need to increase your aerobic capacity (VO2 max). To maximise your VO2 max (how much oxygen you can put into your body), light shadow boxing between sparring rounds, bag-work rounds, or pad-work rounds can work wonders for your:
This is a 12-round shadow boxing workout, perfect for fighters of any level, and has a sole focus on upper body punching (boxing).
All you’ll need is some space (5 ft X 5 ft is enough), a pair of good trainers, and sports clothing.
You can complete this shadow boxing workout with or without hand wraps on but if you’re going to hit the heavy bag right after, it is definitely worth putting your wraps on beforehand so that you’re ready to go.
Let’s jump into it…
Note: Throughout this shadow boxing workout, imagine as if you’re are sparring an invisible opponent.
Here is the video version with credit to Precision Striking
Here is the text version:
For the first round, all your focus should be on is moving your feet (at a low intensity). This is a great way to start off any shadow boxing workout because:
In round 2, you want to only throw jabs. The jab is the most commonly used punches and it can be used in so many ways including:
Rember to vary your jab by throwing:
Keep it simple and get creative with throwing the jab.
In this round, you can take some time to work on combinations that you may know or have recently been taught from your coach.
For example, you could throw:
Work on some combos that are new to you and focus on the execution and technique of those combos.
Think about trying to close the gap between yourself and your opponent and being the pressure fighter (even if you’re a tall fighter).
Adapting to different fighting styles is a skill that would make you an even greater fighter than you already are.
Work your way in and take your imaginary opponent to the ropes – closing the gap.
Pretending as though you’re Muhammad Ali or Sugar Ray Robinson, move around the area you have and initiate quick jabs, combinations whilst staying on the outside of your opponent so they’re out of reach.
Now, counter-punching can be hard to do because it’s one thing to throw punches from a set position, but it’s a whole different level of talent to throw punches right after defending.
Whatever happens in this round, you’re expecting your shadow-opponent to throw the first punch. What punch will that be? You have to make it up like a child makes up an imaginary game.
For example, you could imagine your opponent quickly throwing the jab then your counter could be to slip and jab or parry and jab.
Other examples could be:
See the opening, make your opponent miss, and then make them pay.
Remember to focus and have fun!
You’ve stumbled your opponent with a cross or an accurate combination, and your opponent is rocked.
This round is all about finishing your opponent off with POWER SHOTS.
Whilst remaining calm and composed, walk down on your opponent and throw flurries of knockout punches including:
Try to take him/her down and out.
I don’t want you to stop punching in this round. It doesn’t have to be super intense as you come to a close of your shadow boxing workout, but it has to be continuous.
Throw combinations, punches while moving, punches while slipping, and keep on going with flow until the end of the round.
Alright, now you want to go at your full fight pace. Imagine now that you are in the ring against your favourite fighter such as Pacquiao, Muhammad Ali, Connor Mcgregor.
You need to be shadow boxing at full fight pace in order to beat your imaginary shadow meaning you need to include a mixture of:
All of which must be performed at a fighting pace (which means fast movements).
Do things you would do in a fight situation and ask yourself: What do I have to do to win?
Picture your opponent in front of you and try to beat them.
Round 10, in this round I want you to focus on moving in the direction you are most uncomfortable with.
There are a lot of other fighters that may find it harder to fight and move towards their right so this round is about focusing on where you are currently struggling and improving those weaknesses.
Maybe halfway into the round instead of moving in one direction, switch it up so that you are moving in the other direction. This will teach you to adapt your fight game depending on the opponent you are up against. Maybe your opponent has a deadly left hook so the best thing for you to do is fight whilst moving to the left.
There will always be a time when you are up close to your opponent, whether you’re up against the ropes, in the corner or in the middle of the ring. Fighting in the pocket (close to your opponent) requires a completely different type of style, whereby your punches are very hard, short, and controlled.
Pretend as though you’re Mike Tyson in this round and get close and personal to your opponent, throwing short hooks, uppercuts, and right hands, moving all the time with your punches.
The last round of the shadow boxing workout, round 12. In this round, I want you to focus on throwing an array of punches at a very high tempo for a short period of time (10-15 seconds).
You want to be working anaerobically, throwing punches very quickly one after the other. For example, you could throw:
It’s very important to cool down after working anaerobically. Finish off with 5 minutes of light cardio which could include skipping, jogging, or light shado w boxing.
Honestly, there is nothing on the internet to explain where shadow boxing is from and who invented it. If I ever do find the data to answer this question objectively, this blog post will be updated right away.
Therefore, like all historians, we can only speculate and estimate the origins of shadow boxing.
In order to find an estimated time, we have to invert the question and instead of asking where and who created shadow boxing, we have to ask: when was boxing invented.
As a boxer myself, whenever you’re competing and practising consistently, you get into the habit of spontaneously shadow boxing in your own home because there is a lot of fun, freedom, and joy to the sport.
Therefore, we could say that shadow boxing has been around since the beginning of competitive fighting.
Although humans and homo sapiens alike have been fighting for millions of years, below I have bullet pointed a timeline of the history of boxing from Ancient Egypt to the modern-day.
3000 years before Christ, the earliest image of boxing comes from a Sumerian sculpture in Iraq according to Wikipedia.
Later evidence stems from the 2nd Millennium BC whereby another relief (sculpture) shows boxers and spectators from the Mesopotamian nations of Babylonia and Assyria.
The earliest depiction of boxing with gloves on can be found on Minoan Crete (1500 BC – 1 AD).
Fighting (and most likely shadow boxing), existed in ancient India where duels (niyuddham) consisted of kicks, knee strikes, finger strikes, headbutts, and were usually fought to the death.
Like today, boxing is a very entertaining sport and it was widely popular among ancient greeks. In fact, the sport was introduced in the 23rd Olympiad, 688 BC, where boxers would wrap leather thongs around their hands for padding and protection.
There were no rules to boxing and the game was usually fought until the other person died or became unconscious. Heavyweights tended to dominate because there were also no weight categories.
Similar to the ancient greeks, boxing was also a popular spectator sport in Ancient Rome where things became increasingly deadlier.
Boxers would wear boxing gloves known as cestus; which were hard leather thongs sometimes filled with metal spikes/blades designed to pierce the opponent’s skin.
Events were held at Roman Amphitheatres and in the post AD period, slaves were purchased and were trained to fight in a small circular marked floor which came to be known as the ‘boxing ring’.
Shortly after in AD 393, the Roman Gladiator Period emerged and interestingly, boxing was abolished due to extreme brutality.
Following this period there were detailed records of fist-fighting that were popular in between the 12 – 17th century within different cities and provinces across Italy.
It wasn’t until the 16th century when boxing (or bare-knuckled boxing) re-emerged in London.
The first documented bare-knuckle fight was on the 6th January 1681 in the London Protestant Mercury, where Christopher Monck (2nd Duke of Albemarle) decided to fight against his very own butler, with the latter winning the prize.
During this period, there were no written rules, weight divisions, round limits, or referees. It was completely disorganised and dangerous.
It wasn’t until 1743 where champion Jack Broughton introduced a 30-second knockdown count which gave a losing fighter control and saved many lives in the ring.
These rules, however, were disregarded in most boxing bouts until the more established London Prize Ring Rules (1838) banned headbutting, holding the ropes, biting, external objects, hitting a man whilst down, kicking, and scratching; until the widely known Marquess of Queensbury rules (1867) formed the basis of modern boxing.
Marquess of Queensberry
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, boxing was a sport of uncertainty and unlawfulness. Boxing was banned in across England and the United States, with prizefights often being broken up by the police.
However, while boxers struggled to make a mark in an ‘illegitimate sport’ at the time, with influence from promoters such as Tex Rickard and popular new champions such as John L. Sullivan in the early 20th century, boxing became more credible and the historic outlawed prize fighting rapidly turned into one of the largest multi-billion sports in the world.
The sport attracts young talent across the world from areas (both prosperous and poor) such as Mexico, Africa, Eastern Europe, South America, who all desire the significance of being the best boxer in history.
Summary: We don’t know when shadow boxing was invented, but what we do know is that boxing (or competitive lawless fighting) was first recorded from sculptures (relief) dating back to the Early-Modern Bronze Age of 3000 BC. We can therefore estimate that shadow boxing was performed (but not coined) during the same period of time.
The shadow boxing challenge is a fun game you can play with friends where the objective is to make your opponent move their head in the same direction your finger points with the winner successfully making their opponent flinch three times in the right direction.
Here are the rules of the game:
2. When the punches move in any of these four directions allowed (left, right, up, down), the defender has to instantly and instinctively move their head in any of the 3 other directions in which the puncher hasn’t pointed his/her finger towards.
3. The puncher and the defender alternate after every movement (whether successful or unsuccessful).
4. The aim of the game is to have 3 successful punches in the right direction.
The video below will show you how it is played:
Shadow boxing is a fundamental training method for any combat fighter because it emulates what you’ll be doing in a fight scenario except in shadow boxing you’re fighting an imaginary shadow.
From this definitve guide, you’ve learnt:
Now it’s over to you:
What shadow boxing tip or insight have you taken away from this post? Could there be any tips you’ve learnt such as filming yourself as a way of self-analysing your shadow boxing? Or perhaps it was the history of the sport and how shadow boxing was originated.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below!
Alistair Knight is an amateur athlete in boxing and the founder of Healthy Principles. He spends most of his time practising and learning more about boxing to ensure you get the best experience-based and evidence-based insights to learn. Learn more about Alistair Knight