Does Shadowboxing Build Muscle?

November 25, 2021

You watch the professional boxers on TV, and you see many of them have huge shoulders, arms, and back muscles. Intuitively you may be wondering, “does shadowboxing build muscle?”

Shadowboxing does not build muscle. Building muscle requires maximizing mechanical tension and metabolic stress which are key mechanisms of building muscle. Shadowboxing does neither.

But if shadowboxing doesn’t build muscle, why? And what will help you build muscle?

Does Shadowboxing Build Muscle?

The reason shadowboxing doesn’t build muscle comes down to the key mechanisms of hypertrophy (aka muscle growth or building muscle). These are mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage.

Mechanical tension is maximized by force production while the muscle is put through stretch [1]To maximize force production, heavy loads must be used through a full range of motion. For example, a heavy ass to grass squat.

Mechanical tension can also be maximized with lighter loads when taken to failure as the slowing velocity of the exercise allows more cross-bridges to be formed within the muscle resulting in greater tension.

Metabolic stress is simply the build-up of metabolic by-products that occur as part of creating energy for your muscles to use to contract [2]This is often associated with the “burn” sensation you get when performing high rep exercises.

Muscle damage is a by-product of these two mechanisms. High levels of mechanical tension and/or metabolic stress can cause a lot of muscle damage which signals the body to repair and create new muscle tissue [1].

Shadowboxing ticks none of these boxes. When you first start shadowboxing, you may experience the “burn” sensation in your shoulders and arms since you are not used to keeping the boxing stance for long periods.

But this subsides quickly and you don’t want this burn as shadowboxing should be relaxed and fluid. If you are finding your arms and shoulders are tiring quickly, you may be too tense.

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Shadowboxing however will help develop shoulder and arm endurance that can carry over to your boxing performance.

Does Shadowboxing With Weights Build Muscle?

Does Shadowboxing With Weights Build Muscle

Shadowboxing with light weights can be an exercise to help develop shoulder and arm endurance when used sparingly. However, it should be a mainstay within your boxing training and definitely should not be used in the guise of making you punch harder.

Just like traditional shadowboxing, shadowboxing with weights will not build muscle. The loads used are not heavy enough to maximize mechanical tension or to get near failure, the muscles of the arm and shoulder are not put under stretch, and because of these factors, there is little metabolic stress.

When holding weights in your hands and shadowboxing, the line of force is vertical due to gravity. That means there is no resistance when punching horizontally.

What Muscles Does Shadowboxing Work?

Shadowboxing will mainly work the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and arms. The muscles of the trunk and the legs will also be worked when shadowboxing. However, just because they are being used when shadowboxing doesn’t mean that you will build muscle in these areas.

Can Shadowboxing Get You Ripped?

Can Shadowboxing Get You Ripped

Just like any form of exercise, shadowboxing can get you ripped. Getting ripped is a combination of having high levels of muscle mass and low levels of body fat. While shadowboxing won’t help you pack on muscle, it can help shed body fat by expending energy which, depending on your diet, will put you into a caloric deficit.

By expending more energy than you consume (aka calories), you start to lose weight. Depending on how much body fat you are carrying, and depending on if you are lifting weights, most of your weight loss will come from body fat.

However, if you are eating enough to maintain your bodyweight or gain bodyweight, shadowboxing will not get you ripped so it all comes down to your food intake.

Will Shadowboxing Give You Abs?

Shadowboxing can give you abs like it can get you ripped depending on your caloric intake. Shadowboxing can help you get into a caloric deficit so you are losing weight. For your abs to show, you need a very low body fat percentage.

No number of sit-ups and crunches will give you abs if you are holding onto too much body fat. Shadowboxing can be a way to reduce your body fat so your abs show.

Can Shadowboxing Make You Stronger?

Can Shadowboxing Make You Stronger

Shadowboxing cannot make you stronger. Strength requires performing exercises under heavy loads. Strength is also specific to the task. Shadowboxing doesn’t require you to overcome any form of resistance, even if you are holding weights in your hands.

Because there is no resistance when shadowboxing, it will not get you stronger. If you want to get stronger for boxing, you need to perform basic exercises with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and medicine balls.

Summary

Unfortunately, shadowboxing does not build muscle due to inadequate resistance and not maximizing the key mechanisms of muscle growth. However, shadowboxing can help you get ripped by helping create a caloric deficit through exercise.

References

1. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research24(10), 2857-2872.

2. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Potential mechanisms for a role of metabolic stress in hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training. Sports medicine43(3), 179-194.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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