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Shadow Boxing Benefits: Burn Calories, Reduce Fat, and Gain Lean Muscle

Michael is an online fitness writer who's an expert in strength training exercises.


Boxing is a violent sport that usually results in both participants hurting each other. In kickboxing and martial arts fights, the objective is to beat up or incapacitate your opponent.

The athletes that participate in these fights are usually lean and muscular but their bodies are not just a result of them fighting in the ring. They spend a lot more time training than they do fighting.

You could avoid the injuries and brutality of the fighting and still get most of the benefits with just the training.

Shadow boxing is sparring with yourself. The term is not limited to only boxing, but also to sparring with yourself in general. It can be done using your shadow or your reflection. Another method is to use visualization.

Using visualization, you would visualize an opponent and go through the moves like you were in a real fight. In shadow boxing, however, there is no one to hit you back. You can get a good full-body cardio workout that mainly focuses on your arms but also works your legs and abs.

While fighting or sparring with someone else will usually give you a better workout, it can leave you with injuries. You also need to have someone willing to fight or spar with you at a scheduled time. After buying a pair of boxing cloves I tried to spar against an opponent as a form of exercise but I kept getting hurt.

The injuries can prevent you from exercising for a while, making it counterproductive. Shadow boxing can provide a good workout. You do not need to be a fighter to benefit from the training.

To get the most of your shadow boxing workout, try to include footwork and dodging. Boxers are constantly moving around. You should be too.

When you punch, put some power into it. Some people punch like they are punching air. You should punch like you intend to hit something or someone. Just make sure you do not extend your arms out too much.

Since you are not going to be hitting anything, you need to stop yourself. You should also keep your guard up and block your fictional opponents' punches.

It does not require any special equipment but you might want to get a pair of boxing gloves.

Wearing my boxing gloves and doing a few punches to make a split-depth GIF.

Wearing my boxing gloves and doing a few punches to make a split-depth GIF.

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Since it is a full-body workout, most of your muscles are being worked. Your main focus is on your arms but you may be surprised at how many muscles are being used.

It works your abdominal muscles, shoulders, chest, back, calves, quadriceps etc. Punching power starts in the legs. Assuming you do a variety of punches, footwork, and dodging you are working your toes to your neck.

Since shadow boxing does not involve a punching bag or person, your abs and back muscles are used more. That is because you stop the force of the punch yourself and maintain your balance.

It can help you improve your strength, endurance and reflexes. However, as an exercise it lacks focus. So it is not a good replacement for weight-lifting or a cardio exercise like running but goes well with them.

As a cardio exercise, it probably will not get you breathing heavy or your heart beating fast. As an exercise to build muscle it is good for toning but not for building big muscles.

Stay on your toes most of the time so you can move quickly and put more power into your punches.

Shadow boxing is a great way to burn calories. It is comparable to jogging. I could burn around 400 calories in an hour-long shadow boxing workout. Including kicks can increase the calorie burn.

Boxing with an opponent can burn a lot more calories. I could burn around 700 while boxing for an hour. It is comparable to running at a good pace. However, because boxing an opponent is more intense it can only be done for short periods of time and requires a longer recovery time. There is also a high risk of injury.

You may be tempted to add weight to your hands. Doing boxing punches with weights can be harmful and does not significantly increase the amount of calories burned.

So I would suggest that you limit yourself to using boxing gloves for a little extra weight. 20 to 30 minutes of shadow boxing 3 or 4 times a week is a good limit. If it is not enough, try to increase the intensity or jump rope afterwards.

In a week you should be able to burn off enough calories to notice a difference if you weigh and measure yourself.

I shadow boxed near a wall facing my shadow. Shadow boxing did not get my heart racing as fast as a normal cardio workout and my arm muscles were not as sore as they would be from weightlifting. It was like a combination of the two.

My muscles became a little sore and my heart was beating a bit faster. It did get my temperature up and I felt like I used a lot of energy. By the end of the workout I was always sweating a lot even though I was cold when I started because it is winter.

My routine consisted of me randomly throwing punches, ducking and weaving for 30 minutes every day. I just did what I felt like doing. The first few times I had trouble maintaining a good pace for the whole time. It became a bit easier and I got better at punching. So I was able to increase the intensity of the workout, allowing me to burn more calories. I could feel it working my arms, abdominal muscles and calf muscles.

Even though it was only for a week I was able to improve. However I felt like my muscles needed time off. I would have definitely needed to take a couple days if I wanted to continue. Measuring the circumference of my stomach, I lost 1 1/8'' in a week. My weight was reduced by just over a pound.

In my opinion, one of the best ways to learn how to shadow box is to watch other people boxing or shadow boxing.

It will help with the punches and footwork. When visualizing an opponent, you may want to visualize someone you saw boxing. Another way is to take a class.

Here are some videos below to get you started.

Boxers do more than boxing and shadow boxing. They also spar, punch heavy bags and speed bags, jump rope, lift weights and run while maintaining healthy eating habits.

Shadow boxing can give you a better body, but you may want to combine it with other workouts and a healthy diet for a leaner and firmer body. I recommend jumping rope in addition to shadow boxing.

Working out by yourself requires more willpower. If you have trouble staying focused or want a change you may want to try some exercise DVDs or attend a class.

Tae Bo would be a good choice. Recently I lost weight exercising to Tae Bo DVDs. It gave me the idea to try shadow boxing. The main difference between the Tae Bo DVDs and shadow boxing is that I had more control of the workout while shadow boxing and I was more focused on me.

The down side was that I was by myself staring at a wall instead of watching attractive people exercising with me.

Other Cardio Boxing Workouts

Light Punching Bags

Shadow boxing is a good workout but some times you actually want to hit something. For an upper body cardio workout I recommend using a standing inflatable punching bag. With a light bag there is very little resistance. The trick is to control your punches.

Hit the bag hard then stop yourself. Aim for the edge. If you hit really hard without trying to punch through it then the light bag moves as much as a heavier bag would. Stay on your toes, punch and move around the bag. Most people think standing inflatable boxing bags don't have enough resistance but they are good for cardio boxing.

I watch a Tae Bo DVD or do it as a shadow boxing workout but instead of hitting the air I hit the punching bag.

VR and Motion Control Boxing Games

I still like to do Wii Sports boxing workouts. Box against a friend or a computer opponent. You can also punch a virtual punching bag or dodge tennis balls. Wii Fit has rhythm cardio boxing.

Most of the newer games system like the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Oculus also have motion control. If your game system has motion control or VR then it probably has rhythm boxing and actual boxing games.

Boxing games are fun. Like shadow boxing you are punching the air but you are virtually hitting something while trying to beat your opponent or score points. I have not tried VR boxing yet but I want to. Nintendo and VR consoles like Oculus made motion control popular.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Michael H


lila on October 30, 2015:

i just started to practice shadow boxing i will try shadow boxing everyday for 30 minutes and up the time and intencity over time. I watched the video but i cant sprawl do you think it would be ok to leave it out? Im hoping it will help reduce my tummy fat and make it firmer do you think it will? I have been looking for a workout that i could do at home and felt comfortable with but i had no luck until i found myself bored and staring at myself in the mirror and started boxing and did for 30 minutes i loved how fast it made me sweat and how afterward it made me feel tired without the need to go outside wich is why im sticking with it :)

Phenomenal on July 27, 2015:

Just recently started givig this some serious thought, so searching the net for some pointers.

Bata on May 31, 2013:

Shadow boxing is a great workout which works not just the body but the mind, too.

yoursinglepurpose on March 09, 2013:

I loved this Hub, because it gives yet another way that you can definitely get in a cardio workout and be in the comfort of your home. You get the benefits without shelling out a bunch of extra money to belong to a gym. This is a great testament to ingenuity and the will to create a routine for yourself. Great Inspiration!!

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