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Boxers train so that they can have the best possible chance of winning in the ring. In fact, it is the one-on-one aspect of boxing, as well as the need to develop speed, power and strength in their training which brings up the question: Why is sparring without an opponent---otherwise known of as shadow boxing—so important to a boxer's training?
Shadow boxing is, after all, free of any form of resistance exercise or other means of improving power and strength, so why not use sparring in the ring or bag workouts when working through combos, developing footwork, and developing hand speed? After all, doing so would seemingly be the best way to kill two birds with one stone and develop combos AND power AND strength all at once.
However, it may not be so simple since, shadow boxing adds elements to training that punching an opponent or a heavy bag cannot. These elements will not only help in making your punches and defensive moves far more effective, but in preparing you mentally to become a better, more confident fighter.
What is Shadow Boxing?
Shadow boxing is best described as "boxing without an opponent," and can be used for anything from a pre-fight warmup, to a regular training aid to improve form, footwork and technique. While true shadows can be used to watch for form mistakes and to verify hand and foot speed, it is more commonly performed in front of a mirror, coach, or camera for these same reasons.
Perhaps even more importantly, shadow boxing can be used to help you improve your confidence as a fighter through visualization, and by perfecting your use of combos, footwork, and hand speed in a fluid and effective manner. By gaining confidence and a positive image of yourself against an opponent, you can better position yourself to "win before stepping into the ring," which is arguably be the most powerful advantage you can have as a fighter.
However, this does not mean that shadow boxing is only for those intending to step into the ring against a foe, since it can also help to improve the aerobic capacity, fitness, and speed of those looking for the kind of ultimate workout which boxing training provides.
Boxing is a sport which requires a strong, balanced base from which you can move both offensively and defensively. In fact, good fighters need to be able to move into and away from an opponent to throw punches and to avoid punches being thrown, and they need to do it with lightning speed, pinpoint accuracy, and without hesitation.
This requires all potential offensive and defensive moves, techniques, and combos to be fully developed to the point they are an automatic and ingrained reaction to the situation, which the free-form nature of shadow boxing is ideal in developing.
And, as you become more confident in having all your "tools" readily at hand in the ring, you can be more confident in knowing you can both duck and evade your opponent's punches, as well as place a punch of your own the instant you see an opening.
In short, shadow boxing can help you to better "float like a butterfly" before you "sting like a bee."
It's About Finding your Calm
It is said that those who don't include enough time shadow boxing in their training show it in a few ways:
First, it gets you comfortable moving around fluidly and used to the natural rhythms and motions of throwing punches, ducking, and evading being hit. This helps you make the connection between having a powerful punch and having a powerful and EFFECTIVE punch.
Next, it allows you to develop the kind of positive visualization that can help you remain relaxed and ready for your opponent's next move in the ring, rather than being apprehensive and purely reactionary. This helps you develop a calm energy which allows you to be a more effective and efficient fighter. In fact, it is this relaxed sense of calm which you see not just in boxing, but in a good cricket swing, football catch, or most any well executed athletic move.
However, if you lack ample time shadow boxing in your training, your lack of these qualities will show dramatically!
The Physical Benefits of Shadow Boxing
While shadow boxing offers excellent mental benefits to helping you become a better fighter, there are some important physical ones as well.
For instance, fighters who spend all their time working out on the heavy bag to develop striking power often have underdeveloped back muscles. This causes them to tire easily and lose the effectiveness of their punches in the ring when they can't return to striking position quickly enough. This is because hitting the heavy bag offers a "bounce-back" to your punch so that less back muscle is necessary when pulling back punches.
There is also your aerobic development, as well as slow-twitch muscle fibres which will give you longevity and endurance over your opponent in the ring. By getting used to moving around like a fighter and utilizing all these muscles in unison, you are not only developing endurance, you are doing so in a functional manner. By this, we mean rather than strengthening a muscle to act on its own, you are training all muscles together in a functional manner. This will make them stronger as a unit while reducing your risk for injury and honing your form.
Who would think that bouncing around and acting as though you are fighting could make you a better fighter, although it can.
Whether you are training for your first bout, or just enjoying the benefits of the best workout there is—AKA fitness boxing—you need to use shadow boxing in your workouts.
Not only will doing so help you to move more quickly and effectively in the ring, it will help you do so in the kind of focused, relaxed, and confident manner that is dangerous to your opponent.