Engage MMA Gear Latest Promotion and New Release

Developing Punching Power Using Science: Part 1, Lower Extremity

by David Liang, MD, Resident Physician and Combat Sports Practitioner February 04, 2020 4 min read

Developing Punching Power Using Science: Part 1, Lower Extremity

In this post, we will start to address one of the most popular combat sports-related questions: how to develop massive punching power? Whether KO artists are born or made is certainly an age-old subject of debate. However, the truth is that neither side of that argument can provide an adequate explanation on its own. Every human is born with a certain percentage of type 2 muscle fibers which help develop the explosive speed and force necessary in strikes to inflict damage. However, even fighters with average genetic make-ups can still increase the chances of reaching their own limits through proper training.

Let’s first take a look at these charts from a classic Soviet-era study by Filimonov et al. which broke down which muscle motions contributed to the creation of punches delivered with maximal force by 120 amateur boxers.

Category

Arm Extension

Trunk Rotation

Push Off Extension of back leg

Total

"Knock-out" Artists

24.05%

37.30%

38.65%

100%

"Players"

25.43%

41.76%

32.81%

100%

"Speedsters"

27.72%

41.73%

32.55%

100%

Table II: Percent of Contribution to Force of Punch

Category

Arm Extension

Trunk Rotation

Push Off Extension of back leg

Total

Master of Sports and Candidate of Master of Sports

24.12%

37.42%

38.46%

100%

Class I

25.94%

41.84%

32.22%

100%

Class II & Class III

37.99%

45.50%

16.51%

100%

Table I: Percent of Contribution to Force of Punch

Reference: Strength and Condition Journal

You can clearly see that the advanced “Masters of Sport” boxers utilized a significantly higher percentage of back leg extension (primarily gluteus maximus and hamstrings) in their punches with concurrent less arm extension and trunk rotation than their more novice peers. The boxers are known to be “KO artists” had a very similar breakdown. So the take-home message here?The most efficient heavy punches use more of your legs and less of your arms. Just like your coaches have, hopefully, been telling you from the start.

Let’s look at another study by Dyson et al. that used electromyography (EMG) to examine the patterns of muscle recruitment in punches delivered by amateur boxers in the UK.

Figure 3: Muscular recruitment during deliveries with maximum force to the head.

Figure 4: Muscular recruitment during maximum speed to the head.

Reference: semanticscholar.org

As you can see, not only does the percentage of muscles used matter for developing a strong punch, but the ORDER in which they are activated plays a major role as well. Note the difference in recruitment sequences between the maximum force and maximum speed punches. Both these studies only confirm how crucial it is to develop good techniques with proper shadow boxing under the guise of a watchful coach. In the long run, strength trainingALWAYS takes a backseat to technique training. Your body is already strong. But to punch hard, you must learn how to hit with all of your mass by activating the correct muscles in the correct order.

Where Does Punching Power Come From - Developing Punching Power Using Science: Part 1, Lower Extremity

With that being said, the following are closed-chain compound movements shown by exercise physiology research to most effectively recruit the relevant lower extremity muscle groups. I prefer exercises that target multiple muscle groups at the same time, giving you more bang for your buck. And closed-chain exercises, where your feet are planted and fixed in space, produce less of the damaging shear forces across your joints than open-chain exercises like leg curls or extensions.If you have never done these exercises before, be sure to first research proper form and/or work with a certified strength coach. And be sure to discuss with your coach about how to best fit these lifts into your overall strength and conditioning program as well.

Conventional deadlifts: target mainly the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors while providing an extra benefit of developing the upper back and grip strength. EMG studies show that this also hits the calves more effectively than the Sumo variation. If you had to choose one lift to help build punching power, this would be it.

Sumo deadlifts: the same targets as the conventional style. Studies have shown less activity in the calves but more recruitment of the quadriceps compared to the conventional variation.

Sumo Dead Lift - Developing Punching Power Using Science: Part 1, Lower Extremity

Romanian deadlifts: more activation of the hamstrings than the conventional style. But less glute and quadriceps involvement.

Back Squats: target the glutes (which are activated more when you squat deep), quadriceps, and hamstrings

Back Squats - Developing Punching Power Using Science: Part 1, Lower Extremity

Front Squats: same targets as the back squat but with more emphasis on quadriceps and abdominals.

Front Squats - Developing Punching Power Using Science: Part 1, Lower Extremity

Barbell hip thrusts: target the glutes and hamstrings more effectively than squats but less so than deadlifts.

Hip Thrusts - Developing Punching Power Using Science: Part 1, Lower Extremity

It can also help to strengthen the hip abductors (muscles like the gluteus medius which bring the legs away from the midline) to counteract the hip adduction force (which brings legs together) produced on the front leg when punching. Great exercises for this according to EMG studies include dumbbell lunges, lateral band walking, and skater squats.

Tip: try holding a lightweight in front of you with both hands if you have balance difficulties with skater squats.

By: David Liang, MD
Resident Physician and Combat Sports Practitioner

Leave a comment

Win a $50 Gift Voucher