How To Increase Your Punching Power 🥊🥊🥇
This article is evidence-based, verified by Blake Conner, Certified Strength, and Conditioning Specialist
For any striving MMA or boxing athlete, two qualities will make a dramatic difference.
Punching power and punching speed.
As a combat sports athlete, you are more than likely going to be throwing punches. While some individuals may have heavier hands than others, a powerful, quick punch is important. It is a quality that some athletes may be genetically gifted with, but it is something that can be improved through specific training.
How It Works
Let’s break it down. You are sparring at the gym. You see an opening in your opponent’s guard and you decide to go for a right jab. You plant your foot, using that force to generate power into your fist. BOOM! You land a direct hit on your sparring partner.
From the naked eye, this may seem simple, however, a lot is going on. Your brain operates at rapid speed to decide where to punch. From there, signals are sent through your nervous system at rapid rates to initiate the movement.
The nerve impulses surge through the required muscles which then generate torque and motion around the joints to fire the punch. This process happens at a rapid rate during a fight or match, but it may only seem like movement from the outside.
Check out UFC Fighter Jeremy Stephens (Instagram link) demonstrate thoracic rotation when throwing a right cross below 👇
How To Improve Punching Power And Speed
Now that you understand some of the processes of how it works, how does one work to improve these qualities?
To start, you will need to perform some general-purpose training to build a base and then work on sport-specific training. These two will go hand in hand to help you make the desired improvements to your punching abilities.
General-purpose training is important for building a base to work with. This includes general endurance, strength, and power. If you lack endurance, you will have a hard time keeping up with the competition. If you lack strength and power, then you will have a hard time overcoming the opponent. A good balance with general training is important to be successful in a combat sport.
A great start is to build your cardiovascular base. This can be done in multiple ways. Running, extended sparring sessions, or interval training. You also want to begin building strength. Strength can be achieved through bodyweight training, but that will only get you so far. Resistance training utilizing free weights or machines will help to increase your baseline strength much higher than if you only used bodyweight.
General power production can be trained either with weights or bodyweight. Power comes down to short, quick bursts of movement. It can be described as the speed at which you can produce maximal force.
Here is an example beginner workout for building a general base of cardio/strength/power:
5 sets of 10 reps (moderate weight)
Dumbbell Bench Press:
5 sets of 10 reps (moderate weight)
Russian Kettlebell Swings:
5 sets of 10 reps (heavyweight)
Bodyweight Strict Pull-Ups:
5 sets of Max Reps
1-Arm Bent Over Dumbbell Rows:
3 sets of 12 reps
Using the above beginner workout, an athlete could begin to build the needed qualities to increase punching speed and power.
Here is an example of an intermediate workout for building a general base of cardio/strength/power:
Barbell Back Squats:
5 sets of 10 reps @65% of your 1 REP MAX
Barbell Back Rack Walking Lunges:
3 sets of 8 each leg (lightweight)
Dumbbell Strict Shoulder Press:
5 sets of 5 (moderate weight)
In a circuit format for 5 rounds:
15 Russian Kettlebell Swings
5 strict pull-ups
5 power cleans
Using the above workout, you will develop a solid foundation from which you can build punching speed and power. Try this style of training with other moves!
Sport-specific training is exactly what it sounds like. You are training for more specific movement patters that pertain to a given sport. This article is focused on combat sports and punching power and/or speed, so the training will reflect that. After going through a general training phase similar to the aforementioned, an athlete should have built more endurance, strength, and power. This alone will increase the capacity to produce force and create a faster, stronger punch.
One method of sport-specific training is to use sport to train. If an athlete wants to box better, then it would benefit them to box more. They could even go into more detail by making a workout specific to boxing. This has been shown to increase punching force (speed and power) when made into an interval-style workout. Creating rounds of punches followed by short rest, athletes can indeed improve on the desired qualities (Source).
Athletes can utilize equipment such as medicine balls, boxes, and sleds to increase sport-specific power. A lot of the power needed for punches will come from plyometric exercises (Source) These can be described as movements using maximum force in short amounts of time (which are qualities of a good punch). All of the aforementioned equipment can be utilized for these specific kinds of exercises. Think of someone doing a box jump.
This is a quick movement that produces a lot of force in one direction. By training the body to produce more force, neurologically and muscularly, an athlete can, therefore, increase their punching speed and power. You may be wondering how a box jump (related article) or sled drive can increase one’s punching capabilities…
If you remember from the beginning of the article, planting your feet for certain punches initiates the force that will travel into the fist. When you are doing a jump, you increase the lower musculature’s capacity to produce force from the feet, into a different direction i.e. into a punch.
In a study done on the relationship of lower limb strength for improving punching force, it was shown that having powerful and strong lower limbs led to higher outputs of power in punches for boxers (Source).
There is even more specific plyometrics that can transfer. One example would be taking a medicine ball and building explosive power through the arms. This could be done using a chest pass against the wall in powerful, quick bursts. Doing an exercise similar to this would train the muscles of your upper body to react faster and with more force. Doing so would ultimately increase the desired outcome, a faster and stronger punch.
Does any of this transfer into actual increase though? It does. In a study done on the transferability using an increase in certain exercises (squat variations and bench press) when the power and strength of the lower limbs increased, so did the punch impact. These exercises were done at high power outputs and led to significant increases. While the fist is part of the upper body, this goes to show the benefit of increasing lower body power (Source).
Here is an example of a beginner sport-specific workout:
Barbell Back Squats:
7 sets of 2 reps (try moving the weight as fast as you can)
10 sets of 3 reps (explode off of the ground)
7 sets of 5 jumps
10 sets of 3 reps (step down each time)
This workout would build some explosiveness through the legs as well as the upper body. This would create the perfect conditions for a powerful punch.
Here is an example of an intermediate sport-specific workout:
Barbell Back Rack Jumping Squats:
7 sets of 4 reps (go as high as you can use 50% of your 1RM back squat)
Barbell Bench Press:
6 sets of 3 reps/finish with 2 sets of 10 reps
The set of 6 can be moderately heavy and move it fast. The last sets of 10 are meant to be about 50% of the weight used and FAST.
Box Depth Jumps:
10 sets of 1 rep
5 sets of 3 reps
Wall Facing Medicine Ball Punch:
6 sets of 10 reps
6 sets of 2 reps
This workout or something similar would be specific enough to create the appropriate power and speed where it’s needed for combat sports. Due to the nature of these movements, punch speed would increase (Source).
Additional Ways Of Increasing Punching Speed And Power
In addition to certain training methods, there are other ways that a combat sports athlete can increase punching power or speed. Nutrition can be manipulated, supplementation can be used, and a coach can fine-tune an athlete.
Nutrition is going to be a key component on top of proper training. An athlete can complete all of the workouts he or she wants, however, if they are not properly providing their body with the right food it is pointless. If an athlete hopes to reach higher levels, this is an area where they can gain a leg on the competition. But how does this help with punching power?
If an athlete properly fuels their body, they will then have the right fuel to punch harder and faster. Fuel typically comes in the form of carbohydrates as it is the most readily used by the body. If you were to take and compare two athletes of the same skill and weight, but one didn’t consume any carbohydrates; there would be a massive difference in power output.
The athlete that properly consumed carbohydrates will benefit from the energy stores and operate at maximum potential. In combat sports, protein is important as well. Without proper protein intake, the muscles cannot recover. If recovery is low then there is always a chance of over-training, which would lead to a decrease in speed and power concerning punches. Putting a strong emphasis on just these two macronutrients can make a world of difference when looking to improve performance in a combat sport.
Supplementation seems to be a huge topic now. They help to boost performance in some cases when paired with a proper diet. Not many need to be used, but there is one that could improve punching speed and power.
Creatine! Creatine is one of the MOST researched supplements you can purchase (related article).
In the body, we already have creatine stores. We tend to get it from red meat and other meat sources, but this does involve consuming large quantities of meat if you want to reap the whole benefit. Regardless, when absorbed it is transformed into what is called Creatine Phosphate. It is used in many processes involving muscle contraction and energy systems. When performing high-intensity activities like boxing or MMA, you are using large amounts of this creatine phosphate.
Those stores tend to deplete very quickly and take a while to restock. However, if you are supplementing with creatine, you increase the amount that is stored. This excess leads to you being able to not only work out at that level longer but also produce more force as well. This directly creates an environment that would support an increase in punching power and speed.
Having a coach may seem obvious, but so much of any combat sport comes down to technique. The roadblock for a better punch may just be the way you’re stepping into it. You may not be following through all the way or punching from the proper distance. All of this can be fixed with practice and help from a watchful eye. You may not be able to spot or notice some slight differences that are holding you back. Even the greats have coaches and for good reasons! It works!
Putting It All Together
When looking to improve your skills in combat sports, it will come down to a few things:
Practicing the sport
Building a general base with general-purpose training
Homing in on sport’s performance using sport-specific training.
If you emphasize these techniques, you will provide yourself with the right conditions to improve. Specifically, this post is focused on improving punching speed and punching power, but much of this can be applied to other components of the sport.