There’s no sight quite like witnessing the athletic prowess and raw beauty of a trained boxer shadowboxing inside a ring. The speed and rhythm of an entire body in perfect sync gives the misleading impression that to be a boxer, one must first be born with this remarkable gift. And while it helps, a lack of innate talent shouldn’t limit the average person from looking and feeling like Muhammad Ali inside the ropes, and getting the results and confidence of a champion.
Shadowboxing is a noncontact warm-up exercise using punch combos and footwork to mimic the movement encountered in a boxing match. But shadowboxing is really about intensity. It can be anything from a light warm-up to vigorous, interval-based movement that will shred everything from your arms and shoulders to your core and lower body (if you’re doing it right, your quads will be the first to reach exhaustion). Once you start putting two- and three-punch combos together and feel the music tell your feet where to go, you’ll be hooked.
Here are a few tips to get you started as well as some mechanics to focus on:
- Get on your toes and make small, choppy steps (not large bounds).
- Use your hips and shift weight from one leg to the other. This will engage your core and allow force to transfer up through your arms when you start throwing.
- Start with jabs and crosses, alternate the cadence: jab/cross, jab/jab/cross, jab/block/jab-jab/cross.
- Move forward and backward, then add side to side (after the combo is complete, not during).
- Get your head moving: first side to side (these are called slips). Then mix slips into combos.
- Always keep your hands up: elbows tucked in and pointing down, resting on your front ribs.
- Let the music start to take over, don’t think so much about the next move, let things evolve naturally. There are no mistakes when shadowboxing, so enjoy this dance and watch how much sweat you can work up in just three minutes! (A boxing round is three minutes of activity and one of rest, aka the original interval training!).
With a bit of technique and practice, anyone can enjoy this workout. And it really can be done anywhere. The best tools are great music (preferably loud and with a solid beat), a mirror to watch and correct your form, and some one pound hand weights if you want to crank things up a bit.
For the first timers, here are the four basic punches. Everything else is just a variation of these fundamental boxing moves:
This is the most used punch in boxing, and it’s said that the fastest jab is the most relaxed jab.
Keeping the rest of your body still, extend your lead (front) hand forward. When you strike out, your fist should rotate in and down, like you’re pouring out a mug (the punch should land with your palm down). Pull hand back to your face to defend as fast as it stuck forward. Think of it like you’re producing a “sting” effect with the glove.
The cross can be the most satisfying punch to throw when done correctly.
Starting with your gloves at your chin, throw your rear hand across the chest/shoulders, landing it on the rear shoulder. Rotate your hips and upper body in the same direction your arm is traveling as you pivot the foot rear foot. Like the jab, rotate the ﬁst 90 degrees before landing, and snap the punch oﬀ the bag and back to the chin where it started. Your legs are critical here, as weight must be transferred from back to front in unison with the arms, then recoil back. Think of a lunge when practicing.
This punch is hard to master but devastating when executed correctly.
Thrown with the lead (front) hand toward the side of a target, your speed and power comes from legs and hips to get rotation. Pivot your feet clockwise as your drop the right heel and lift the left heel (this creates a greater range because your body now acts as one solid block). When your arm is extended, imagine pulling a cape across your face to get form correct.
4. Upper Cut
The upper cut can be used at all sorts of angles and heights, and will give your arms a lean, chiseled look.
Thrown with either hand and typically at close range, imagine punching up underneath a crossbar when you throw an upper cut. Your upper body and hips should rotate just like they did with the hook, and with your elbow pointing down, drop your fist slightly and swing upward. The punch should land with the palm facing up.
Remember to keep your hands up when throwing all punches. Use less arm and more shoulder to keep form correct.