How To Punch Harder: A Scientific Look Into A Powerful Punch.

July 30, 2022

The punch is a key component of various combat sports. Punching is a complex motion that involves movement of the arm, trunk, and legs, with the lower body considered a primary contributor to an effective punch [1].

Previous research has reported that punching impact force is the leading performance indicator in amateur boxing and paramount to a fighter's victory [1][2].

Research is scarce regarding how to punch harder, but this article will attempt to piece together the current research and give practical advice to enhance punching power. 

For this article, when referring to punching harder in the literature, I will be referring to the rear hand punch or the "cross," as this is the punch studied most.

Factors Of Punching Harder & Faster

One of the earliest studies, if not the earliest, looked at contributions to punching forces in different levels of boxers (experienced, intermediate, and novice) and in different styles of boxers (knockout artists, players, and speedsters) [3].

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They identified 3 different components of an effective punch:

  • The arm musculature into the target,
  • Rotation of the trunk, 
  • The drive off the ground by the legs [1][3].

Level

Arm Extension

Trunk Rotation

Back Leg Push

Advanced

24.12%

37.42%

38.46%

Intermediate

25.94%

41.84%

32.22%

Novice

37.99%

45.50%

16.51%

Table adapted from [3].

Experienced boxers had more significant contributions from the legs (38.46%) compared to other levels of boxers and compared to arm (24.12%) and trunk (37.42%) contributions.

They also showed less involvement of the arm musculature compared to other levels of boxers (advanced = 24.12%; intermediate = 25.94%; novice = 37.99%) and compared to trunk and leg contribution.

In regards to the different styles, knockout artists had greater contributions from the legs (38.65%) compared to "players" (32.81%) and "speedsters" (32.55%), along with a higher contribution than the trunk (37.30%) and arms (24.05%).

More recent research has investigated the strength and power qualities of elite amateur boxers from the Brazilian National Team [2]. As the research above indicated about legs being a primary contributor to punching power, this study observed very high correlations between jumping performance and punching harder.

Furthermore, upper body propulsive forces in the bench press and bench throw showed very high correlations with punching harder. These correlations indicate that jump performance could potentially explain 78% of punching harder.

A correlation indicates how 2 different variables interact with each other. If the correlation is 0, then both variables are independent and have no relationship with each other. If the correlation is 1, the 2 variables share a mutual relationship.

Another study investigating the Brazilian National Team found short-term jump squats and half squats performed at optimal power load (load that maximizes peak power) transferred to punching impact force [7].

Interestingly, this study did not find the bench press at optimal power load to transfer to punching impact. Perhaps the load was too light as bench press velocity at 80% 1RM has been highly related to punching velocity.

One of the most telling studies published recently correlated physical testing with punch impact forces and compared how low, medium, and high force National amateur boxers differed among these tests [8].

They found countermovement jump (CMJ) and isometric mid-thigh pull (IMTP) peak force and peak power significantly correlated with peak punching force.

Indicating lower body strength is an essential quality to punch hard and fast. When comparing low, medium, and high punch force boxers, rate of force development (RFD) during the IMTP was significantly greater in the high punch force boxers compared to medium and low.

These brackets were calculated as follows:

  • Low punch force: 1445 – 1607 N (147 – 164 kg)
  • Medium punch force: 1784 – 1934 N (182 – 197 kg)
  • High punch force: 2102 – 2579 (214 – 263 kg)

Further, peak force during the IMTP and CMJ were significantly greater in the high force cohort. Peak power during the CMJ and force generated in 5 ms followed the same trend.

It is suggested from these data presented that boxers who punch harder have greater contributions from their legs based on greater strength and power outputs of the lower body. This indicates these combat athletes also have better coordination between the various body segments [3].

The impact forces from the punch are the resultant sum of forces applied simultaneously by the upper and lower limbs [2][3]. In essence, effective coordination of the body links increases “hitting mass” [3]. Why is “hitting mass” important? We can look at Newton’s 2nd law.

Force = Mass x Acceleration. The size of an athlete does not always equal a harder punch.

If we can increase the mass behind the punch while maintaining the same acceleration, the impact force of the punch increases. 

However, that is not to say that being a bigger athlete means you automatically increase the mass behind the punch, as evidenced by body mass having a weaker correlation to punching harder than the strength and power variables [2].

Furthermore, suppose you throw a punch as fast as possible at an intended target, but contact is only made halfway through the punch. In that case, you cannot maximize mass due to the musculature being relaxed and the summation of forces from the ground not being applied appropriately [4].

This is where the concept of "effective mass" comes into play and could be a pivotal component to punching harder.

What Is Effective Mass & How Does It Relate To Harder Punches?

How To Punch Harder At Home

Seth Lenetsky and colleagues reference anecdotal evidence from the one and only Bruce Lee. He emphasizes the importance of relaxing the body as you strike, tensing at the last possible moment before impact.

Similarly, Jack Dempsey (a world champion boxer) states that punches should be thrown as relaxed as possible, only becoming 'frozen, steel-hard' at impact.

Both elite martial artists (without them knowing) were referring to increasing the effective mass of their strike, improving the ability to transfer momentum throughout the body to the intended target.

“If an athlete is able to relax their arm throughout a strike, and then stiffen their arm at the last possible moment, theoretically that strike would impact with greater force than one thrown with constant activation or stiffness” [4].

If an athlete were a solid uniformly block of mass (e.g., a fridge), then the calculation of punching impact force would be easy. The uniform mass would just be plugged into Newton's 2nd law above.

However, athletes are made of multiple moving segments with both rigid (bone) and soft (muscles) structures [4]. This is important as soft structures can deform at impact, coined as "wobbling mass."

"Wobbling mass" cannot transmit impact forces as effectively as a rigid mass, so your ability to punch hard is directly affected. The greater the rigidity of the impact mass (arm, trunk, and legs), the less elastic the collision is.

The less elastic the collision, the greater momentum (Momentum = Mass x Velocity) imparted on the target [4]. Take, for example, swinging two different objects at someone.

Firstly, a pool noodle is swung as hard as possible. Due to the soft mass of a pool noodle, at impact, the noodle wraps around the target, and at the point of impact, the noodle deforms slightly and creates a slight indent.

Now take a wooden stick or bat with approximately the same mass as the noodle. When swung at the target at the same velocity as the pool noodle, the stick is rigid and can transfer more momentum to the target due to its greater effective mass. Effective mass is used to quantify the impacts of this "wobbling mass" in humans [4].

Referring to Lenetsky et al., previous research has found that an increase in muscle contraction and co-contraction (opposing muscle groups both contracting simultaneously, increasing joint stability) around a given joint can reduce the deformation during impact, which allows for a greater effective mass and a harder punch.

Additionally, the more segments involved in a movement, the greater the potential to enhance effective mass [4]. For example, stepping forward during a jab would increase the impact force compared to just throwing the arm.

At the start of the impact, two aspects of the punch need to be satisfied to transfer momentum. Firstly, all joints supporting the impact need to be stiffened (as mentioned previously) to prevent the collapse of the joint or "wobbling mass."

Secondly, it is theorized that to maximize the effectiveness of a punch, an additional force needs to be added during the time of impact [4]. The authors state that force needs to be timed carefully to coincide with the deceleration of the impact, as this is the only time force may be effectively applied.

Force applied after impact could be theorized to push at the target rather than deform it. This leads us to a critical neuromuscular phenomenon thought to cause changes in effective mass [4].

Double Peak Muscle Activation Phenomenon

how to punch harder without a punching bag

This striking technique has been found in elite mixed martial artists [9]. Double peak muscle activation refers to the involved muscle groups activating, relaxing, and then re-activating (hence the double peak).

The first peak occurs as the punch is initiated, then the relaxation period occurs throughout the movement until the second peak in activation moments before impact.

It has been claimed to occur because of the velocity needed to appropriately interact with an opponent [4]. The force-velocity relationship shows that velocity and force are inversely related where-as velocity increases, force decreases which occurs during multi-joint movements [6]. However, appropriate levels of impact force are also needed for the punch to be effective.

Hence, the double peak activation may be a way to circumvent the inherent limitations in the force-velocity relationship and result in a punch maximizing velocity and force [4].

What is interesting to note is that double peak activation occurs in trained and non-trained individuals. However, for non-trained individuals, the second peak occurred much earlier and lasted much longer [4].

Therefore, non-trained individuals will intuitively stiffen the joints to brace for anticipated impact and protect the limbs. The early activation will tend to slow the velocity of the punch, thereby reducing the effective mass.

A high-level martial artist will tense at the moment of impact and continue to push through the impact to deliver a harder punch. This is believed to separate the novice from the expert [4].

How To Punch Harder

How to punch harder and faster

Before diving into some training applications to enhance punching power, you should note that the most significant influence on improving effective mass and therefore punching harder is experience. The more you punch a target, the better you will be at enhancing effective mass [4].

However, one technique that could help deliver a more brutal punch immediately is using an 'energy shout.'

An ‘energy shout’ made pre-impact of a strike has the potential to increase effective mass [4]. This could be why tennis players loudly grunt whenever they strike the ball.

When training, there is evidence that choosing your combinations of strikes enhances punching velocity by 6-11% and impact forces by 5-10% [5].

When hitting pads or the heavy bag, rather than pre-determined combinations, self-select your own, and you can punch harder and faster in training which may lead to positive long-term adaptations.

Common Punching Mistakes

Not Staying Grounded

To generate and transfer force effectively from the ground to your hands, you must stay on the ground when throwing a punch. This will allow you to develop the greatest effective mass.

Being Too Stiff

Just because you feel you're putting maximum effort into your punches does not mean they will be hard and fast. Stiffness is what will slow down your punches, as shown by the double peak muscle activation phenomenon. Fast and loose is your ticket to a harder punch. It should feel almost effortless.

Throwing Wild Punches

Like being too stiff, throwing full-blown haymakers not only are slow and soft punches but leave you open to getting countered very easily.

Overreaching

Extending too far by throwing your body weight forward will only throw you off balance, not help you punch harder. You should be able to throw with power and return to your boxing stance immediately or after another punch. This is known as "sitting on your punch."

Poor Distance Control

You need to know your range. Making contact with an opponent only halfway through the punch reduces punching impact force because you cannot transfer force effectively to the target.

Proper Technique To Punch Hard

Let's start with your stance. Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder-width to provide you with a solid base to punch from. Your knees will be slightly bent. As you throw your punch (in this instance, the cross or rear hand punch), your back foot will pivot in the direction of your punch with your heel lifted off the floor.

Rotate hard and fast with your trunk while simultaneously dropping your bodyweight down like you are “sitting on your punch.” Turn your hips in the direction of your punch with this rotation.

Keep your shoulders, arms, and hands relaxed while throwing the punch. Turn your fist over by pronating your hand while punching. You are aiming to make contact with your index and middle finger knuckles.

If you are not wearing gloves, making contact with your ring or pinky finger knuckles will likely cause them to break. Exhale sharply when you punch to take advantage of the 'energy shout.'

Best Exercises To Punch Harder And Faster

Based on the research presented, prioritizing training in the lower body seems to be a logical way of improving punching power due to its greater contribution to an effective punch. Typically, these should be done in the 3 – 6 rep range as increased muscle size is not usually the desired outcome. Each exercise mentioned is in the video below.

Jump Squat

The jump squat is an epic exercise for blasting knockout power. You can load it many ways to target specific parts of the force-velocity spectrum. For example, loading >80% body weight targets the quality of strength speed.

<10% body weight targets speed-strength quality, while training at loads between 30-45% 1RM squat targets the load that maximizes power output.

Band Assisted Jump

No one talks about this exercise. It is the most effective way of training pure speed. Strong legs are great, but you need to be able to produce force very quickly. Jumping with less than bodyweight is your ticket to developing game-changing speed.

You will need to tie a band to the top of a rack. You can hold the band or wrap it under your arms like in the video above. I prefer it this way.

Squat

You can't go past the squat for pure strength development of the legs. Front squat, back squat, split squat, doesn't matter. As long as you can load it relatively heavy, you will build stronger legs that can carry over to punching power.

Landmine Rotation

My favorite trunk exercise for boxers. Do you want to improve your ability to rotate hard and fast with your trunk and hips? You need to perform the Landmine Rotation. Make sure you turn your hip and pivot your feet. Don’t stand like a stiff statue which you will often see in other videos.

Bench Press

Those who are less informed will tell you the bench press makes you slow. Sure, if all you did was bench press heavy and never did anything at speed. But we know that the speed you move the barbell while benching is highly correlated with punching power. So it would be silly not to use this exercise in your quest for knockout power.

Medicine Ball Punch Throw

Easily my favorite upper body ballistic exercise for strikers. Sure, you can perform plyometric (clap) push-ups. But they don’t give you the sequencing of the punch that the medicine ball does. Keep these light. A 2-3 kg (4-6 lb) medicine ball is more than enough. Try to replicate your punch exactly.

Punch More!

Boxing experience is associated with how hard you can punch. So it goes without saying, the more time you can spend practicing your punch technique, the better you will get at punching. Resulting in a harder and faster punch.

Here are a couple of example programs that can be used and tinkered with for someone trying to punch harder. These are general and provide a framework for those looking for guidance.

Remember, with strength & conditioning training, certain capacities that don’t get trained while doing the sport should be touched on during strength training. For example, generating very high levels of force rarely occur (depending on the martial art).

Theoretically, submaximal force outputs become easier when you increase the maximum level of force you can produce, increasing work capacity or conditioning.

Punch Harder Workout

Band Assisted Jump Squat to improve punching power

Beginner Workout For Harder Punches

Preparing for more intense work in the future. Developing a general strength base.

Day 1

Exercise

Set/Rep

A1) Upper Body Extensive Med Ball Circuit

Cell

A1) Chest Pass Wall Rebound

1 x 15

A2) Sideways Rotary Pass

1 x 15/side

A3) Front Facing Side to Side Wall Rebound

1 x 8/side

A4) Slam

1 x 15

B1) Box Jump

4 x 3

C1) Back Squat (4 sec down)

3 x 4

D1) Bench Press

3 x 6

D2) Chin-Up

3 x Max bodyweight strict

E1) Seated Plate Rotation

3 x 10/side

E2) Side Plank

3 x 30sec/side

Day 2

Exercise

Set/Rep

A1) Extensive (sub-maximal) Jumping Leg Circuit

Cell

A1) Tuck Jump

1 x 10

A2) Skater Jump

1 x 10

A3) Lunge Split Jumps

1 x 10

A4) Pogo Jumps

1 x 20

A5) Squat Jump

1 x 10

B1) Landmine Rotation

3 x 6/side

C1) Plate Lateral Lunge

3 x 5/side

D1) 1-Arm DB Press

3 x 6

D2) Half-Kneeling Cable Row

3 x 8-10/side

Advanced Workout To Punch Harder

Day 1

Exercise

Set/Rep

A1) Band Assisted Skater Rebound Jump

3 x 3/side

B1) Heavy Band Rotation

3 x 5/side

B2) Explosive Med Ball Rotational Punch Throw

3 x 3/side

C1) Half Squat off Pins

3 x 2-3

C2) Band Assisted Jump

3 x 5

D1) KB Swing

3 x 6

Day 2

Exercise

Set/Rep

A1) Bench Press

3 x 1+1+1 w/30sec rest between reps @93-95% 1RM

A2) Explosive Med Ball Chest Throw

3 x 3

B2) Explosive Med Ball Rotational Punch Throw

3 x 3/side

A3) Bench Throw

3 x 4 @30% 1RM

A4) Band Assisted or Incline Clap Pushup

3 x 5

B1) Weighted Pullups

4 x 5

Critical Points to Punch Harder

  • Punch More! The more experience gathered, the better the double peak muscle activation timing.
  • Utilize the ‘energy shout’ It has the potential to enhance effective mass immediately.
  • "Knockout" artists have a more significant contribution from the legs in their punching power compared to other stylists of fighters. Train your legs to maximize strength/power capabilities. But don't neglect your trunk and arm musculature.
  • Bigger is not better. Instead, the ability to effectively transfer momentum between body segments, being relaxed while throwing the punch to maximize acceleration & velocity, and stiffening the arm at the last possible moment to minimize "wobbling mass" and optimize effective mass.

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References

1. Lenetsky, Seth, Nigel Harris, and Matt Brughelli. "Assessment and contributors of punching forces in combat sports athletes: Implications for strength and conditioning." Strength & Conditioning Journal 35.2 (2013): 1-7.

2. Luturco, I., Nakamura, F, Artioli, G, Kobal, R, Kitamura, K, Cal Abad, C, Cruz, I, Romano, F, Pereira, L, & Franchini, E., Strength and power qualities are highly associated with punching impact in elite amateur boxers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2016. 30(1): p. 109-116.

3. Filimonov VI, K.K., Husyanov ZM, & Nazarov SS., Means of increasing strength of the punch. NSCA Journal, 1985. 7: p. 65-66.

4. Lenetsky, S., Nates, R, Brughelli, M, Harris, N., Is effective mass in combat sports punching above its weight? Human Movement Science, 2015. 40: p. 89-97.

5. Halperin, I., Chapman, D. W., Martin, D. T., Lewthwaite, R., & Wulf, G. (2017). Choices enhance punching performance of competitive kickboxers. Psychological research, 81(5), 1051-1058.

6. Andersen, L. L., Andersen, J. L., Magnusson, S. P., Suetta, C., Madsen, J. L., Christensen, L. R., & Aagaard, P. (2005). Changes in the human muscle force-velocity relationship in response to resistance training and subsequent detraining. Journal of Applied Physiology, 99(1), 87-94.

7. Loturco, I., Pereira, L. A., Kobal, R., Fernandes, V., Reis, V. P., Romano, F., … & McGuigan, M. (2019). Transference Effect of Short-Term Optimum Power Load Training on the Punching Impact of Elite Boxers. Journal of strength and conditioning research.

8. Dunn, E. C., Humberstone, C. E., Franchini, E., Iredale, K. F., & Blazevich, A. J. (2022). Relationships between punch impact force and upper-and lower-body muscular strength and power in highly trained amateur boxers. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 36(4), 1019-1025.

9. McGill, S. M., Chaimberg, J. D., Frost, D. M., & Fenwick, C. M. (2010). Evidence of a double peak in muscle activation to enhance strike speed and force: an example with elite mixed martial arts fighters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(2), 348-357.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


Tags

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