While shadowboxing is a popular fitness trend these days and provides a great workout, the primary goal of this essential fighting exercise is not simply to break a sweat.
Shadowboxing is mainly used to improve and perfect punching technique, footwork patterns, combinations and sequences, and even defense. It is an exercise of the imagination where you simulate every aspect of your striking against an imaginary opponent while also being an effective workout.
What’s excellent about shadowboxing is that it can be used as a warm-up. Or a full-blown workout to peak heart rate, or even a steady-state cardio workout while working on technical aspects.
Now, this may sound too good to be true, but all those benefits can be acquired to full effect only when shadowboxing is used properly. But do you know how to use shadowboxing to its full potential?
4 Epic Shadowboxing Workouts
There are thousands of ways to shadowbox, and I will guide you through some of the most popular ones and the key things to consider every time you start flicking your fists in the air.
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We will keep this strictly striking and focused mainly on boxing. You can add wrestling and MMA drills to shadowboxing, but this deserves a different article.
We will split this section into drills as it’s easier to follow. Each drill can be used separately and be done for a couple of rounds before or after another workout.
It can also be used as a single round in a longer workout of multiple rounds, each with a different aspect to focus on. Depending on your goals, these can be programmed in various ways.
Focused Rounds Shadowboxing Workout
One of the best and most popular ways to do a full shadowboxing workout is by dedicating each round to a different aspect of your game. This can include specific strikes, combinations, or concepts, from a basic 1-2 to work on 3-phase attack sequences. Here is a sample 6-round shadowboxing workout with a different focus for each round.
Round 1 – Jab
A prevalent way to begin is with the jab. Use this time to work exclusively on the jab. Throw it from a distance, double it up, and pull back. If you also kick, you can add the teep in this round, as it’s essentially a foot jab.
Round 2 – Build Combinations
Start building your combinations in the second round. Throw 1-2 and 1-2-3s. Be creative or stick to the basics, depending on your preferences and level. If you are not purely boxing, try to end every combo on a kick for a Dutch kickboxing flavor.
Round 3- Work on the Body
Work primarily on combinations, but make sure one or more strikes land on the body this time. It doesn’t matter if the combo starts, has one in the middle, or ends with a body strike. The point is that it has to have one.
Round 4- Focus on Head Movement and Defensive Movement
It’s good to implement head movement into every round. Still, in this one, the focus is solely on head movement and defensive footwork. Slip before throwing a punch, duck after one, pivot, and slide out of the way.
The most effective way of rolling under punches is after you’ve thrown them because it’s much easier to transfer your body weight than from a static position. To roll right under a left hook, you do it after your right straight. To roll under a right hook, you do it after a left hand, ideally a hook.
Round 5 – Switch the Stance
True switch hitters are usually found only at the highest levels of fighting. Still, it is beneficial for beginners to be somewhat competent from the opposite guard. If you are a natural orthodox, devote an entire round to fighting southpaw, and vice versa. It may be awkward at first, but it’s worth it.
Round 6 – Put It All Together
For the last round, imagine you are fighting an opponent and simulate a fight. Move around, throw strikes, defend and move away, counter, and keep a pace similar to a sparring round.
This is, of course, just a sample workout. There are countless things you can focus on each round. You can find a ton of information online, or you can make something yourself based on your goals and things you want to improve. Here are a few more recommendations for focused rounds.
- Defensive footwork.
- Fighting from a distance- get in and out.
- Fighting on the inside.
- Focus on a specific combo for an entire round.
- Focus on implementing a particular strike in different combos—for example, a low kick.
- Counterattacks of a slipped jab.
- Work on whatever you know you could improve at.
Focusing on Defence Shadowboxing Workout
Training defense is the single most neglected aspect of shadowboxing. While it’s easy to understand why, not working on defense is a mistake. Everybody can attack, but a real fight does not happen this way.
You can incorporate all kinds of defenses into shadowboxing. You can block, parry, and evade. It may seem strange to defend against punches not coming at you, but doing so has proven effective.
The key here is to visualize the strikes coming your way. Imagine a jab being thrown at you and slipping it. Refrain from overdoing it and moving just out of the way of strikes, as you would against a real punch.
You can also parry and block imaginary punches and kicks. Once you get used to just defending, you can start countering back with your own strikes.
A good rule is that you can counter from the same side you received a punch (the opponent’s attacking hand is rarely in a position to defend immediately in this case). For example, block a right hook and fire immediately with your left hook.
Ideally, you can incorporate defensive work as a separate round in a multi-round shadowboxing workout like in the example routine above. Remember to add defensive movements and counterattacks into your free-flowing rounds. This way, you simulate everything that can happen in a fight.
Phase attacks are a bit more advanced concept, but it’s crucial as you progress beyond the beginner stages. Basically, phase attacks mean attacking, defending the opponent’s counter (usually by movement), and attacking again.
This is commonly known as a two-phase attack. You can extend the sequence to 3 or even 4 phases, which is what real high-level exchanges often look like, especially in boxing. Here are some examples of 2 phase attacks.
- Throw a 1-2, step back out of range and come back with a cross-left hook. This can also be done as a pull counter.
- Throw a 1-2, step back to the right to open a better angle, and throw a cross.
- Throw a cross-left hook, slip to the left, and throw another left hook.
- Jab, head movement, second phase attack with a combo.
- Do a 3 punch combo, step back, and jab.
A great way to simulate the different periods of a fight is by alternating intervals. This means switching between high-intensity (full speed and power) periods and low-intensity. The longer the high-intensity interval is, the better conditioning you build.
Set your timer to beep every 10 seconds and alternate high and low-intensity punching. Progress this to 20 or even 30 seconds of full-speed punching. The low-intensity periods are not static rest. Move around, feint, defend, and throw the occasional punch until the timer beeps, and it’s time to blast full-on again.
Aerobic conditioning improves mainly through long intervals of work. Boxers and fighters, in general, usually use running or cycling to increase their cardiovascular endurance. Still, shadowboxing can be suitable for that while also improving your technique.
For good results, aim for at least 30 minutes of non-stop work at a reasonably high heart rate, somewhere around 70% of your maximal heart rate. Experienced athletes with heart rate monitors can track this efficiently.
Still, even if you don’t have the equipment, there is an easy way to recognize the correct tempo by the ability to maintain nasal breathing.
If you can breathe mostly through your nose or form complete sentences and keep the pace for 15-minute intervals, you are working at a suitable rate to improve your aerobic conditioning.
The 30 minutes is a minimum, and you should strive for a 60-minute workout for the best results. Shadowboxing non-stop for a full hour is a daunting task.
You can vary with other suitable exercises, like jumping rope, air biking, or jogging, to keep your heart rate at the appropriate rate for the entire workout.
The focus of these workouts may be cardio and maintaining a certain pace, but shadowboxing is the perfect opportunity to work on technique constantly, so don’t neglect technique in the long workouts.
Here is what a sample workout can look like:
Shadowboxing- 15 min.
Jump rope- 10 min.
It’s important to know the purpose of each workout. In shadowboxing, we always work on specific techniques. But where does the shadowboxing fit into a complete session?
If it’s a warm-up, then perform it without too much tension and try to cover the movements you will be doing afterward in the main session.
If it’s steady-state work aimed at improving cardiovascular endurance, then you should keep a pace you can keep up for at least 20–30 minutes, preferably longer, without getting winded.
Throw the combinations with full speed and power if you work on explosiveness. Dedicate your focus to executing techniques flawlessly if it’s purely technical work.
The list can go on, but the point is to know what you want to improve with the session and work towards that accordingly.
Many great fighters will tell you that visualizing an opponent in front of you during shadowboxing is a great way to enhance the workouts. Imagine yourself moving around the ring; imagine an opponent throwing strikes at you.
You will see much faster results if you practice your head movement in this manner. Visualization is a potent tool used by high-level athletes in every sport, and shadowboxing presents the perfect opportunity for us fighters to use it.
Feinting is something that often separates advanced strikers from lower-level ones. It means you make the first movement of a specific strike but only execute it partially.
This way, you confuse your opponent into not knowing when you will throw the actual strike and can get him to overreact to false punches and kicks, which you can then exploit. An excellent way to try and learn feints is by implementing them into shadowboxing.
You can dedicate entire rounds to feinting, but it’s an excellent habit to use it constantly, the way you will in sparring or competition.
Shadowboxing in front of a mirror is very helpful, especially when working on new techniques. But if you want to work more on footwork, use visualization, and move around quite a bit, filming yourself and analyzing the tape later is superior. Set up your phone, do your work with focus and intention, and then review the film to pinpoint mistakes.
The best shadowboxing workouts follow a plan and improve a particular aspect of your game. Shadowboxing is a perfect tool to improve or try out techniques, tactics, and movements while also improving your conditioning. Try the workouts from this article, program your own workouts based on the suggestions and witness your boxing skills improve.