Air guitar became popular in the early ‘80s. Meant to be a lark, it quickly grew to be international championship material. The air guitarists are judged on technical merit, mimemanship, stage presence and airness. The culture’s quote is, “Wars would end and all bad things would go away if everyone just played air guitar.”
Not so long ago, two British fellows launched Aerodrums, a product that uses real time motion tracking technology to accurately translate air drumming into sound. You put sensors on your feet, plug into your computer and get feedback on how accurate your movements are. You can air drum without buying anything, though. In fact, you can air exercise any activity.
I’m a boxing coach and founder of Cappy’s Boxing Gym, Seattle. Shadowboxing is an important part of the sport. Boxers use shadowbox to perfect their moves, to streamline them toward the core. Air guitar is a similar process. The participant drops down into the music where it lives inside them. A boxer cultivates core muscles in their shadowbox to hone reflexes and power.
Fitness boxers are growing in numbers. It’s an excellent all body workout, and if you have authentic instructors, you learn all your boxing fundamentals. Fitness boxers don’t step in the ring to spar or compete, however, and this creates a gap between their training and how to use shadowboxing to perfect their moves.
Determined to follow in the footsteps of air guitar and air drum, I set about designing a system for developing authentic shadowboxing. I knew fitness boxers didn’t really know what it is like getting into the ring to trade blows, but they know something, some sport or activity. Or, in the case of air guitar and drum, you don’t have to know how to play the instruments, just get in there and feel the moves.
First step, I started from a sitting position. The connection between the feet and the sit bones is key to engaging the legs. Might seem odd, but it’s true — most people aren’t really aware of their feet or how they sit. To get the boxer warmed up, I put them through a simple visualization and movement sequence to their personal music. As the feet and legs wake up, I have them follow the beat and visualize they are stepping onto a path. They mimewalk, move their feet in a simulated jog, looking from side to side. A boxer is alert to everything inside their punch zone.
To develop their bob and weave, I have them visualize the path narrowing into a tunnel. They enter the close, confined space, do what they can to drop the sit bones directly down. They are asked to punch their way out of the tunnel, break it apart. If I feel their movements aren’t realistic, they don’t exhibit the urgency of getting out of the narrowing tunnel, I typically move them on from that visualization. If a person is not ready to access the fear of being trapped, better to try it again another day.
Some of my favorite air exercises are canoeing, zipline, weightlifting and sledge hammer. I air chest press, using the repetition to expand and flatten the chest, use air pull downs to engage the lats to the spine. I visualize sitting in my canoe, engage the legs feet to sit bones, organize my muscles for effective paddle performance and hit the rapids! At the bottom I back paddle, tuck into an eddy, usually at the conclusion of a tremendously uplifting song. My sledge hammer is for destroying things, pounding stakes like making a point in a conversation, sometimes a tap sometimes a blow. My zipline is for finding the whole body flow. Takes a lot of relaxed strength to fly through the air!
As I guide boxers on their visualized adventures, I note which activities resonate. When a visual resonates, the boxer’s body wakes up, comes alive. The more they perfect the movements that speak to them, the more I can help them link the movements to boxing. For example, digging a paddle into the water engages one side of the body toward the core. Pause at the bottom of the stroke and the engagement is actually the feeling of an uppercut cocked and ready for delivery.