You’ve undoubtedly seen fighters punch and kick the air, and you’ve probably tried it yourself. This is called shadowboxing, which involves much more than fighting your shadow. Shadowboxing is a non-negotiable part of combat sports training because of its benefits. But what are they?
Shadowboxing, which can include all techniques found in MMA, is a great way to improve technique, cardio, endurance, and focus while putting very low stress on the body. It is also easy to do anywhere and does not require any equipment.
If you train in a martial art, you also surely shadowbox, so there is no need to persuade you to do it. Still, if you know all the benefits you are getting, you will likely double the effort and enjoy it even more.
Shadowboxing is a fundamental exercise in boxing, MMA, and all other combat sports. Shadowboxing involves practicing offense, defense, and movement against an imaginary opponent.
It is one of the most versatile exercises because you can do it anywhere. It serves multiple purposes, often a few simultaneously, from a warm-up to a technique-building exercise, to a full-blown cardio workout.
Despite all the advancements in sport science and training regimens, shadowboxing has remained a staple of fighter preparation and the routine of every weekend warrior.
This is no coincidence because shadowboxing offers immense benefits to many physical and mental areas while requiring no equipment and not putting the body under a lot of stress. You may say it’s one of the best bang-for-buck exercises in combat sports.
But before we see why shadowboxing is so beneficial, we must first address another issue, as this is an MMA site, not a boxing one.
Is Shadowboxing for MMA and Boxing Different?
Shadowboxing, as the name implies, comes from boxing. MMA has adopted a lot of things from boxing, the most developed combat sport in the western world, and this essential exercise is one of those things.
The overarching principles and benefits of shadowboxing are the same regardless of the sport. You must still work on specific things—techniques, rhythm, and tactics—and need to visualize an opponent.
The only difference when shadowboxing for MMA is the inclusion of many more techniques. Aside from adding kicks, knees, and elbows, you must also implement wrestling and grappling.
This is easy to do. You’ve probably done most of the drills like sprawling, technical stand-ups, shrimping, and anything else you’ve done during wrestling or BJJ-centric classes.
The only thing left to do is incorporate them into your striking. Create realistic scenarios, like defending a takedown after a punch combination, shooting for a double leg after an overhand right, and so on. Only your imagination may limit you. So when we say shadowboxing, understand shadowboxing for MMA.
Best way to improve technique
Outside of strength and conditioning work, every boxing exercise you do will improve technique (or degrade it if executed poorly). However, shadowboxing allows you to focus solely on technique, unlike sparring, partner drills, and even pad work, which all involve external factors and stress.
You can focus on each part of every movement and hone it. There is a no better opportunity to observe and correct the small details than while shadowboxing.
As all the pros will tell you, visualizing an opponent in front of you is vital to get the most out of shadowboxing.
The mind is extremely powerful, and if you imagine someone striking at you or defending your own shots, that translates to your performance against real people. Learning to visualize can later be used as a form of more advanced mental training for fighting.
Develops rhythm and strategy
Continuing on the previous point, during shadowboxing, you can work on different scenarios, like pushing the pace, fighting from the outside, or defending against an aggressive wrestler. It’s also the perfect time to drill patterns against a specific opponent.
All of this is, of course, later done on the pads and in sparring, but if you can’t do it against thin air, forget about succeeding against a real opponent.
This may come as a surprise, but the best way to improve speed in your punches is by punching fast. One of the ways to train maximum speed strikes and improve your anaerobic bursts is by shadowboxing.
Focus is critical in combat but severely lacking in many people today. Shadowboxing is a perfect time to learn to focus on yourself or on the object you are visualizing.
The good thing is that the more you learn to focus, the faster your technique will improve. This happens because you start noticing mistakes and areas to improve.
Enhances Aerobic Conditioning
MMA requires a very high level of aerobic conditioning to last the multiple 5-minute rounds in the gym or the cage. The aerobic energy system is the one that replenishes the anaerobic one, which in turn fuels explosive movements.
Fighters often use steady-pace running to improve their cardiovascular fitness. But shadowboxing at a low to moderate pace for long periods is also excellent cardio, with the bonus of being sport-specific.
Builds Muscle Endurance
MMA conditioning is not all about the heart and lungs. The muscles also need to work efficiently for long durations of time. Shadowboxing prepares and strengthens the whole body precisely for the demands in the ring.
You Can Do It Anywhere
Shadowboxing is the most portable exercise you can do. In addition to the gym, you can shadow box anywhere, including your living room, your hotel room while on vacation, or lovely outdoor scenery. The ideal environment for shadowboxing requires a small area with free movement. There are no excuses not to shadowbox.
Fortifies Muscle Memory
Muscle memory takes over once the adrenaline does. Experienced MMA fighters come to a point where they can make better judgments in the heat of action.
Still, usually, there is not much time to think when you fight, and the body resorts to what it knows best. Muscle memory only gets improved with repetition and shadowboxing at a very low cost, which brings us to the last point.
Low Impact On The Body
Other exercises will improve your cardio, endurance, and technique. Still, all of them are more taxing on the body than shadowboxing. Even the most well-conditioned fighters cannot train too much without suffering repercussions. Shadowboxing is the least stressful fight-specific exercise for the body.
Shadowboxing is but one component of the training of MMA fighters and martial artists. It’s the building block upon which all the heavy bag, pads, and sparring skills are built. The fact that you can do it anywhere requires no equipment or partner and does not stress the body that much makes it even better.