STOP Shadowboxing With Weights

November 27, 2021

We’ve all seen it—many professional boxers like Canelo and GGG shadowboxing with light weights in their hands. The pros are doing it. Why shouldn’t you?

Shadowboxing with weights may be helpful for general shoulder and arm endurance. It is not suitable for punching faster, building muscle, and may hurt your punching technique if used too often.

If you’re after the reasons why, I’m going to dive deep into each topic so you know exactly when and why you should or shouldn’t shadowbox with weights.

Does Shadowboxing With Weights Build Muscle?

Shadowboxing with weights does not build muscle. Unfortunately, it doesn’t satisfy the critical mechanisms of building muscle. That is mechanical tension and metabolic stress [1]. Mechanical tension is maximized by producing high forces with the muscle stretching and contracting, which means lifting heavy loads through a full range of motion.

Metabolic stress is the build-up of by-products within the muscle associated with that burning sensation [2]. Think about those last few reps of a heavy bench press set. Sure, you can get this burn in your shoulders and arms when shadowboxing with weights. However, because mechanical tension is barely stimulated, there is little to no muscle growth.

Does Shadowboxing With Weights Make You Punch Faster?

Does Shadowboxing With Weights Make You Punch Faster

Shadowboxing with weights does not make you punch faster. Punching faster is not just about your physical attributes. Recognizing patterns, anticipating an opponent’s movements, knowing the situation, and visual scanning are vital components to punching faster.

But guess what? These are the key cognitive factors for agility. Agility is not running your feet through ladders. It is being able to react to a sport-specific stimulus. The fastest boxers may not always be physically fastest. Still, because they can recognize precisely where their opponent will be and what they will do, it seems like they are much quicker.

Instead, they can anticipate and throw their punch where it needs to be. Regarding physical factors for punching faster, it often comes down to experience. The more experienced you are at punching, the better you develop the double peak muscle activation phenomenon [3].

The double peak muscle activation is what allows the speed behind the punch. The first peak occurs as the punch is initiated, then the relaxation period occurs throughout the movement until the second peak activation occurs moments before impact.

It’s essentially the muscle groups activating, relaxing, and then activating again. This is due to the inverse relationship between force and velocity. To produce high forces, slow velocities are needed (think of a heavy squat). At high velocities, lower forces are generated [4].

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The double peak muscle activation is a way to circumvent this problem where high speeds and forces can be inflicted on your target. And you can’t train this in the gym. No amount of bench press or push-ups will develop this quality.

It comes with time. Time hitting the pads, bag, sparring, and shadowboxing. Shadowboxing with weights blunts this double peak activation and is one reason it can change your technique.

Lastly, speed can be trained. It is trained through neural development. You might be thinking, what does that even mean. Neural development is about the central nervous system. That is the connections from your brain to your muscles.

The ability to produce force quickly (and therefore, be fast) is known as the rate of force development. This is determined by discharge rate and motor unit recruitment [5]. Think of it like this. Your muscle fibers are attached to motor units that receive signals from the brain.

These motor units are light switches. Pretend you have more than one light switch attached to a light bulb where your muscle is the light bulb. When you flick the light switch, it sends waves of electrical currents (discharge rate) to the lightbulb, so it lights up. The faster these electrical currents reach the muscle fiber; the faster force can be produced. Flick another switch, and the bulb will light up brighter (greater motor unit recruitment).

This is the basis of improving rate of force development [6]. Plyometric and ballistic training improves rate of force development by increasing the speed of this discharge rate. Therefore, fast ground contact jumps, plyometric push-ups, and other power-based exercises will help develop the physical ability to punch fast.

Is Shadowboxing With Weights Good Or Bad?

Is Shadowboxing With Weights Good Or Bad

This depends on the intent of how you shadowbox with weights. Suppose you are using light weights while shadowboxing as GGG does in training. In that case, there may be some shoulder and arm endurance benefits that can carry over to your boxing.

If you are shadowboxing with light or heavy weights, hoping that it will make you punch harder or faster, then I’m sorry to burst your bubble; it will not help you with that goal. Further, suppose you are trying to throw hard punches while holding weights. In that case, you may negatively affect your punching technique if done too often.

Should You Shadowbox With Weights?

If you are performing a warm-up or strength endurance routine for your shoulders and arms, shadowboxing with weights can potentially be a helpful tool. But that’s about as far as its use case. You need to use different training methods to punch faster and build muscle.

References

1. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(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.

3. Lenetsky, S., Nates, R, Brughelli, M, Harris, N., Is effective mass in combat sports punching above its weight? Human Movement Science, 2015. 40: p. 89-97.

4. Andersen, L. L., Andersen, J. L., Magnusson, S. P., Suetta, C., Madsen, J. L., Christensen, L. R., & Aagaard, P. (2005). Changes in the human muscle force-velocity relationship in response to resistance training and subsequent detraining. Journal of Applied Physiology, 99(1), 87-94.

5. Enoka, R. M., & Duchateau, J. (2017). Rate coding and the control of muscle force. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine7(10), a029702.

6. Del Vecchio, A., Negro, F., Holobar, A., Casolo, A., Folland, J. P., Felici, F., & Farina, D. (2019). You are as fast as your motor neurons: speed of recruitment and maximal discharge of motor neurons determine the maximal rate of force development in humans. The Journal of physiology597(9), 2445-2456.

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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