The global pandemic has shown that it is not always possible to hit the gym, but for many of us that won’t stop us from getting a good work out in. Exercise of any description can be one of the best ways to shake off both physical and mental blues and there are few better exercises to do than boxing.
Shadowboxing is used by many different martial arts as a warm-up exercise, employed to increase heart rate and prepare the muscles for training. A fighter moves around the room or open space and throws punches at the air as if their opponent was right in front of them. Us Muay Thai folk might throw kicks, elbows, knees and even grapples at the poor imaginary victim as if we were locked in combat.
Alongside acting as a solid cardio workout, it can greatly enhance technique, timing, speed, footwork and head movement. Whilst it may seem like just a simple warm up, it actually presents a perfect opportunity to work on your form. With no risk of anyone else hitting you, you can focus on developing good habits, keeping your stance correct and using good movement and balance to practice both strikes and defensive moves like rolls and dips.
Obviously with more space, you should be able to add in switches, pivots and side steps into the training, all whilst expanding your mindfulness and muscle memory.
A key point is to stay relaxed. Beginner fighters become tense and tight, stiffening their torso, punches and head movement, making their defence ineffective due to reducing dynamic mobility and taking the snap out of their punches. Shadowboxing, whether at amateur or pro level can allow a fighter to loosen up and release some of this tension, thereby enabling a more progressive flow and rhythm.
If it starts to feel stale, there are various ways to make it more interesting. Each shadowboxing session can be focused on a different skillset, or the pace can be altered to set the mood. As with any other exercise, you can practice it whilst listening to music, which can dictate your rhythm.
If you want, try adding light dumbbells to the workout. Remember, the goal isn’t to make you or your punches stronger. Whilst it may slightly enlarge your shoulder muscles, training with light dumbbells is unlikely to make your arms grow. Nor should you want them to, if you are a fighter. Remember, power should come from the feet and the hips, not the arms and using heavy weights that physically challenge your muscles may negatively affect your punching timing, technique and timing.
You can also set up your smart phone on a cheap tripod to film yourself and analyse your movements. One final word of advice on shadowboxing – don’t stare at yourself in a mirror continuously, this may lead you to tense up, completely undoing the point of the exercise.
An hour of shadow boxing will burn somewhere in the region of 400-500 calories per hour for the average person.
Some of us absolutely hate skipping, due to our lack of coordination, rhythm and balance but it is undeniable that this classic staple of boxing training is fantastic for enhancing cardiovascular endurance, speed and footwork. The boxer skip is designed to mimic the footwork of a fight and involves shifting weight from one foot to another with each bounce. This means the boxer is constantly transferring pressure from left to right and back, instead of distributing weight equally on two feet. It is a part of training which has been utilized for decades as it works the wrists, arms and shoulders, on top of boosting a boxer’s lower leg explosiveness, consequently making it more efficient than running.
You can vary your jump rope movements with single jumps, double jumps, figure eights and high knees if regular boxer skipping becomes monotonous.
One final note on skipping is that it builds mental toughness by teaching fighters to keep moving and concentrating. So if you’re like me, pushing through this irritation to augment concentration and coordination is something we may have to do.
An hour of jump rope will burn somewhere around 750 calories on average.
Body Weight Exercises
Body weight exercises are typically very good for developing core strength, something of critical importance to any martial art. Here’s a few we suggest:
Jumping Jacks – this calisthenic exercise you might remember from childhood involves repeatedly jumping up to widen the leg, either hands held up or in an overhead clapping position before returning to the original stance. Jacks will tone biceps, triceps, leg and chest muscles, all the while building that cardio.
Sit Ups – classic core building workout to give you strong punches from the gut. Lie on the ground with your feet connected to the ground, hold the back of your head in your hands and use your abs to pull you from the floor. Bring your chest to your knees and gently lower yourself back to the ground before you repeat.
Push Ups – another highly efficient, classic body weight exercise, push ups are executed by starting with your palms connected to the ground, with shoulders directly above them, tightening abs, glutes and thighs then lowering yourself towards the ground so that the chest is an inch or two above it, before pushing back up to the initial position. Beginners may choose to start on their knees, whilst experts can make push ups more challenging or build different muscles with different starting positions – diamond, wide-angled etc.
Pull Ups – If you’ve got a pull up bar, or frame that can support your weight, you can do what some feel is the most badass of all body weight exercises, the pull up. Start in the upright hanging position with straight elbows and palms facing away from your body. Keep your chest straight and with your shoulders back, squeeze your glutes, then pull yourself up so that your chin is above the bar.
Squats – Strengthening your glutes will allow you to practice boxing defences a lot easier. Slipping, bobbing and weaving are facilitated by a strong lower body. Stand with your feet apart and engage your abs by pulling your shoulders back. Push your backside and hips back as if sitting in a chair, then with the weight firmly on your heels drop down until your thighs are parallel to the door, lifting your arms as you go down. Then repeat.
Burpees – You might hate them, but burpees are arguably the best body weight exercise ever for increasing strength and endurance. Hopefully you won’t need it, but should you be knocked down or swept in a fight, being able to get back up again can be very handy.
Heavy Bag Training
If you have the space to mount a wall, or ceiling bracket, or set up a standing heavy bag, you can have a lot of fun. When we smash a heavy bag, we tap into that most primal desire to break something with our fists, either releasing a lot of built up tension, or just giving ourselves something to focus on. Investing on a punching bag is without question the best option for the novice or professional fighter capable of doing so and it is one of the most motivating exercises to keep you going when gyms are closed, or if your schedule doesn’t meet the timetable.
Whether you are a Nak Muay or a pugilist, remember to take into consideration your footwork, rhythm and timing when hitting the bag and consider ways to be more specific with your aims.
In this wonderful age of high technology, there are even apps that can help you get the most out of your training session. Like Heavy Bag Pro.
Heavy Bag Pro acts as an automated coach that will shout out single strikes, combos and body weight exercises for you to do during your workout. Not only that, but you can pick a workout suited for your martial art and for your particular needs.
Depending on your weight and build, along with the intensity of a work out, an hour on the punch bag will typically burn between 700-1100 calories.
Stretching is highly important for any athlete and should be built into any training regime either at the beginning or end of a session. Pre-workout dynamic stretches generally involve loosening the shoulders, back and hips. Arm swings such as arm rotations, back rotations and hip circles are great at activating some of the most key muscles used in boxing. Post training static stretches can be used to target specific problematic areas – shoulders, forearm and biceps and calf and thigh release. Muay Thai practitioners are going to want to make particular efforts to loosen hamstrings, which when tense can lead to exerting a lot of pressure on the lower back muscles.
Provided you have the space and the equipment, a great hour long work out would consist of the following:
10 min – Shadowboxing
5 min – Dynamic Stretching
5 min – Jump Rope
10 min – Body Weight Exercise circuit: push ups, pull ups, squats, pull ups and burpees
25 min – Heavy Bag work out – six rounds of a selected workout programme on the Heavy Bag Pro app
5 min – Cool down and static stretching
Overall this should lead to around 600-700 calories being burnt and many of the major muscle groups worked, all whilst giving you a great cardio vascular work out