Speed and power. Martial artists are obsessed with these two concepts and for good reason. The goal of any martial system is to deliver as much damage to a given target in the shortest amount of time possible. Some call it efficiency and others just call it right. There has been, though, way too many times that I have seen a martial artist – whether it’s in sports, traditional systems, battlefield combative or self defense – tighten their arms, chest and obliques in an attempt to deliver the most powerful punch they know.
They try everything they know. They throw their shoulder into the punch, twist their hips, push off the ground and give it everything they have. Then they bounce back off the target surface. This is a sure sign that the kinetic energy from the punch is going back into them instead of into the target. AND THEY THINK THAT’S NORMAL.
It is not. During this post, we are going to discuss methods of increasing impact value – aka power – and a quicker way of getting into range to deliver that power. I am going to teach you how to increase your punching speed and power.
The Anatomy of a Punch
The extremities are made up of three groups of muscles which have three very specific purposes. Yes, they are all connected and should work in harmony, but we’ll get to that a little bit later. The three muscle types are (in non-technical terms):
- Movement – Basic movements like reaching, bending, twisting, etc. These muscles do not require any special speed or power. They are simply repositioning the skeleton from one posture to the next.
- Strength – Good for heavy lifting, pushing, pulling or maintaining position against resistance (stabilizing).
- Fast-twitch – Any jerky movements or the need to move quickly from a stand-still to full speed.
When one group of muscles engage, it is important that the others relax so we get the full effect of the working muscles. Otherwise, we are either slower, less powerful or less accurate than we want to be. All of these muscle groups run parallel to the bone; making it easier for the muscle to move the skeleton in the manner we choose.
In the skeletal sense, a set of muscles directly effects the bone(s) after them; going from the core of the body outward along the extremities. For instance: if I tense my biceps, my forearm moves. If I wish to close my hand tightly, my forearm muscles tense.
Regardless of the angle from which you strike or what type of punch you are using, there are certain mechanics at play that – if ignored – reduce your punching power. The alignment of the arm from shoulder to wrist is VERY important. The shoulder should be directly behind the elbow and the elbow needs to be behind the wrist; all in a straight line.
To illustrate my point, let’s look closely at the push-up. When performing a push-up, the average person will place the hands directly under the shoulders. They do this for purpose of leverage because it is easier to do a push-up when the weight is directly over the point of exertion. Move the hands on or out by a few inches and the push-up starts to get harder; It’s because by doing so, you are compromising the natural structure of the body an lessening your power.
When we proceed downward, first try lowering yourself with your elbows in the position that if you drew a line between the wrist and shoulder, the elbow would be along that same line. Now – as a matter of experiment – angle the elbow outward a little and try it again. Which position required less effort to do the push-up? This is because the in-line structure is only working with one angle (forward) and the other way uses two (forward and stabilizing from the sides). The more angles you have to work with, the more the muscles strain.This proves that the more in line our skeleton is, the stronger the structure and the easier it is to move.
Move Your Body, Not Your Shoulder
The shoulder muscles are intended for skeletal movement; not strength or fast twitching. The shoulder joint only rotates and is not intended for forward or backward movement. The pectoral and deltoid muscles reposition the shoulders through the movement of the clavicle (or collar bone) much like the tie rods on a car move the tires to the “toe in” or “toe out” positions. We call it steering. If there is gravel, grit or some form of resistance in the ball joint of the car, it is harder to turn the wheel.
This is the very reason our shoulder muscles need to be relaxed as much as possible unless we want to change the elevation of the elbow. The concept of “throwing your shoulder” into a punch actually breaks the natural structure of the body and makes a person weaker; not stronger. Relaxing the shoulder and letting it sit comfortably in its socket allows for a free range of easy movement. Trying to push your shoulder forward during a punch causes resistance in the joint and slows you down.
Also, which is heavier? Is it your shoulder or your whole body? The answer should be obvious. So instead of trying to move the shoulder (which isn’t going to move that far on its own anyway), why not put the whole body into the punching process? I call it… stepping. By moving the body in the direction of the punch, you lend the body’s entire mass to the impact value. It doesn’t require a large step either. A small, quick step forward is all it takes. A larger step actually slows down the process by right of distance. The farther distance you travel, the longer it takes to get there.
Acceleration VS Speed
Imagine a diesel truck and a sports car preparing to race from one point (a stop light, for instance) to the next (a stop light 5 miles (8 km) away). Both vehicles are governed to only be able to reach 60 MPH (96.5 kph). The light turns green and they both take off at the same time. Which vehicle reaches the destination first or do they both arrive at the same time?
Speed is the rate at which an object travels. The rate of acceleration dictates the time it takes to get to a certain speed. That is why the formula for power is Force times Acceleration (or P=FA); not Force times Speed. I know it sounds like I’m terminology nitpicking here, but it makes a HUGE difference in the way we view punching.
Speed (or Rate) is also the product of Distance times Time (or R=DT). Since we want to reach our maximum speed, the equation tells us that we would need more time or more distance… if we were a diesel truck. But, we’re not. Martial artists are more like a finely tuned sports car. Through use of our fast-twitch muscles, we can accelerate to maximum speed from a very short distance in a very short period of time.
So, why chamber the punch? Why not move our hands smoothly and accurately (movement muscles) into a position a short distance away from the target and then accelerate to full speed (fast-twitch muscles) as quickly as we can? Why would we want to increase the distance – thereby telegraphing the punch and increasing the amount of energy spent on travel – by trying to reach chambering a punch and attempting to reach and maintain full speed until we reach the target?
Turn, Don’t Recoil
Which is harder to move; a stationary object, a moving object or an object moving in the opposite direction that you want to go? Again, the answer should be obvious. When you punch, your hand is moving is one direction. When you recoil, you must stop your hand and then move your hand in another direction. Usually, that means returning to a point where you feel comfortable throwing another punch; rechambering.
If you could keep your hand moving after the punch, wouldn’t it require less energy to return it to that rechambering point? That’s why turning the punch after you complete your punch works a LOT better than simply recoiling. There are two reasons for this. First, when you turn your wrist after making contact, the kinetic energy continues and it is easier to recover from your previous action. Secondly, the continued motion strains the body less than the stop-and-go action of recoiling traditionally. The smooth movement helps prevent over-extension and helps you maintain your structure and control.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practicing is the only way to get good at anything. It is the repetition of an action that allows a person to see the flaws in their methods and correct them on the fly. I also have some suggestions that will not only make the practice easier and more effective, but also shorten the learning curve.
- Practice slowly. Get the feel of the “new” methods and find out where the unneeded tension in your body is. Don’t worry about speed and power yet – ironic isn’t it? – because they will develop naturally in time as you practice.
- Try to remain relaxed. The tension of TRYING to move fast is actually slowing you down because you are using the wrong types of muscles to do so. You SHOULD be using your fast-twitch muscles to snap out from zero to OUCH! in the least possible time. Any effort to MAKE it happen tenses the biceps and the triceps and uses the tension of the opposite muscle clusters to slow you down and alter your aim.
- Make flush hits on your target. Any slipping or sliding diminishes the impact value of the punch and lessens your power. Don’t roll you hand across your target. Hit squarely and dont allow any bouncing.
- Don’t REACH for your target. Extend your arm to about a 120 degree angle at the end of the punch. If the punch either doesn’t impact the target or only barely touches the target, move your whole body closer to the target. Experimentation will help you find your effective striking distance. IF you start feeling like you are bouncing back from the target, move into the the target at the same time you strike.
Follow the above recommendations and you will start to see a DRASTIC improvement in both your speed and power over time. I wish you the best in your training and will be in touch. Feel free to comment and let me know how you are doing or ask any related questions you would like.