Woman shadowboxes outside on the river, what is shadowboxing

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No, You Don't Need a Punching Bag to Box. Get Hooked on Shadowboxing

It's time to punch it out with this effective, equipment-free cardiovascular workout.

By Natalie Arroyo CamachoJanuary 3, 2024


If you're looking for a workout that packs a punch, consider trying shadowboxing. In the world of martial arts, the term shadowboxing refers to “practicing punches, defensive movements, footwork, [and] other martial art techniques without having an opponent [or punching bag] in front of you,” says Peloton instructor Rad Lopez. But it’s also great cardiovascular exercise.

Here, we break down everything you need to know about shadowboxing, including key movements, benefits, and advice from the experts. 

What Is Shadowboxing?

Shadowboxing practices all of the movements of traditional boxing—without actually hitting anything or anyone. “It can be a beneficial form of exercise for a wide range of individuals,” says Amar Shere, MD, a non-invasive cardiologist at Atlantic Health System in New Jersey who practices shadowboxing.

In shadowboxing, you’ll move through the same six punches you would in a bag boxing set-up: a jab, a cross, a left hook, a right hook, a left uppercut, and a right uppercut. You’ll also integrate defensive movements, such as slips, ducks, and rolls. Typically, you’ll work through a set number of three-minute rounds. However, this can vary depending on the class you take. 

How to Shadowbox

Form, especially your footwork, is critical in shadowboxing—but enjoying yourself is just as important. If you’re a beginner, it’s important to have fun, Rad says. “Understand that most of us don’t pick it up right away, but eventually we do.” He adds that the more you practice shadowboxing, the more you’ll get out of it. 

“The sport has so much to teach us: perseverance, discipline, self-control, mental strength, and so much more,” Rad adds. “If you're okay with looking ‘silly’ at first, you'll be well on your way to learning so much of this.”

And now, onto that footwork: A proper shadowboxing stance is the same as a boxing stance: 

  1. Start with your feet planted on the ground.

  2. Take a step back with your dominant leg. If you’re right-handed, this will be your right leg. If you’re left-handed, it’ll be your left leg. 

  3. The toes of your non-dominant foot should aim straight ahead, as if toward 12 on a clock. If your right leg is behind, your right toes should angle toward 2 on the clock. If your left leg is behind, your left toes should angle toward 8 on the clock. 

  4. Keep a light bend in your knees and lift your back heel slightly. You're ready to box.

Shadowboxing is a safe workout for most individuals, Dr. Shere says. However, he strongly encourages those with preexisting health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal conditions, to check with their doctor before starting a new exercise regimen. (Psst: Interested in trying shadowboxing? Test out a class on the Peloton App.)

How Often Should You Shadowbox?

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week for heart health, Dr. Shere says. 

Of course, how long your shadowboxing workouts last is up to you and your fitness goals. However, if you want to keep that cardiovascular benefit in mind, you’ll want to ensure you clock around 30 minutes of boxing. 

“Shadowboxing sessions can be divided into sessions of 30 minutes on most days of the week to get that cardiovascular benefit,” Dr. Shere says. “However, if you are new to shadowboxing, it’s recommended to start with short sessions of 10 to 15 minutes and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your fitness level and stamina improve.” 

But your exercise regimen shouldn’t only be shadowboxing—even if you love it. “The overall and cardiovascular health benefits of shadowboxing can be optimized when incorporated into a well-rounded fitness routine and healthy lifestyle practice,” Dr. Shere adds. Other modalities, such as yoga, Pilates, and strength training, can help build strength, stamina, and mobility for those shadowboxing sessions.

Woman boxes with dumbbells outside, what is shadowboxing

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Is It OK to Use Dumbbells When Shadowboxing?

A 2023 study published in Cancers found that building and maintaining muscle mass should be a top priority for longevity and quality of life. Taking that into consideration, it could be a good idea to use dumbbells when you’re shadowboxing. But is it safe? 

Yes, but keep it light, Rad says. Only use one to two pound dumbbells—maybe three at most. “With consistent punching, you'll be sure to feel the burn,” he says. “And you'll be strengthening your back, arms, shoulders, and core simultaneously.”

Dr. Shere agrees. “Adding dumbbells to shadowboxing can increase the intensity of the workout session,” he says. “This will lead to higher heart rates, which will increase cardiovascular demands and enhance the cardiovascular benefits.” 

But why don’t you want to surpass the three-pound limit? It’s ultimately for your own safety. “Heavier dumbbells have the possibility to injure these muscles or bring old injuries to the surface again,” Rad says. 

5 Benefits of Shadowboxing

It’s about more than practicing those punches. “Shadowboxing is an excellent form of aerobic exercise that can have many physical and mental health benefits,” Dr. Shere says. It’s also a fun, versatile, low-impact, and efficient aerobic workout that’s accessible and beginner-friendly, he adds.

1. It Reduces Your Risk of Disease

“Engaging in regular and sustained aerobic exercise—such as shadowboxing—can help reduce many risk factors that are linked to developing cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Shere says. 

2. It Boosts Your Cardiovascular Health

It may also boost your short-term health. “Regular aerobic exercise helps improve cardiovascular health,” he says. “That’s because it strengthens the heart muscle and improves its efficiency to pump blood throughout the body.” The movements you turn to in shadowboxing engage your large muscle groups, such as your back, resulting in a higher demand for oxygen, he says. “This sustained aerobic activity will strengthen the heart muscle, improve blood circulation, and ultimately enhance the efficiency of the cardiovascular system.”

3. It May Improve Your Lipid Profile

Throwing those jabs and crosses may also contribute to your lipid profile. Also known as a lipid panel or a lipoprotein profile, your lipid profile identifies how much cholesterol and other fats are in your blood. Regular aerobic exercise, such as shadowboxing, can positively affect your lipid profile, Dr. Shere says. “It increases high-density lipoprotein—or HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol—and manages or reduces low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol,” he says.

4. It Supports Your Strength Training Regimen

Safely adding dumbbells into your shadowboxing session can incorporate some aspects of strength training into your aerobic workout. And there are many benefits to strength training, Dr. Shere says. In addition to making you stronger, it also improves your balance, endurance, stamina, and overall cardiovascular health.

5. It Helps Manage Stress 

Do you ever just need to punch it out? Beyond the positive benefits of aerobic exercise, such as the release of endorphins, shadowboxing can help to alleviate some of that stress and frustration. Because, sometimes, well, you just need to throw a hook.

If you’re wondering whether or not shadowboxing is for you, give it a try. The dynamic and rhythmic nature of this type of exercise makes it engaging and enjoyable, Dr. Shere says. And after losing track of time as you move through multiple rounds, you may just find yourself in your new favorite workout.


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