The Science of Developing Punching Power
There are many legends in the sport of boxing
The ones who get the most attention are usually the big hitters: Tyson, Foreman, Marciano, Hearns, Durán, and most recently Golovkin. Some sports writers and coaches would say that devastating punching power is a gift. Yes, talent does prevail, but the fact is that punching power can be developed, much more than you might believe.
Surprisingly few boxing coaches and trainers know the most effective ways to develop this power beyond hitting a heavy bag. Lifting weights is an obvious solution, but often the strength developed from heavy bench pressing doesn’t translate into knockout power.
1 – One reason for disappointing results with strength training to improve punching power is a lack of understanding of the concept of sport specificity. Using bands in simulated punching movements is a terrible idea, invented/promoted by people who have no clue on how to train.
Bands provide the most tension at the end of a movement, and as such they will affect coordination patterns. More precisely, the bands decelerate the arms towards the end of a movement rather than the biceps; when the fighter goes back to trying to punch without the bands, often they decelerate too late or too early. Decelerating too late cause harmful hyperextension of the elbow, and decelerating too early reduces punching power, and give the opportunity to the opponent to serve you a McGregor special.
2 – Another type of sport specific issue is shadow boxing with 1-to- 2-kilo dumbbells. Yes, I realize Mayweather does this, but my opinion is he has become a champion despite using these weights rather than because of it. There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who will back up this statement. Let me explain.
In the 1970s, walking and running with dumbbells was a fitness fad. Due to a physics principle commonly referred to as Newton’s Second Law of Motion, the dumbbells increase the momentum of the arms and therefore force the joints beyond their range of motion. The fad faded away as people discovered that the ballistic exercise caused overuse injuries in their shoulders and elbows. So this exercise makes no sense for a boxer; using dumbbells in this manner increases the stress on the upper body (and on the lumbar spine as well, from the excessive torque such training causes) and adversely affects the fine-movement patterns of a boxer’s punches.
3 – What about spending extra time on the heavy bag to develop “Hands of Stone” like Durán? Yes the heavy bag does improve punching power, but it has to be used intelligently. First, a fighter shouldn’t use the heavy bag every day, as it places extremely high levels of stress on the shoulders. Here is scientific support from a review of research studies on boxing injuries published in the sports medicine textbook Epidemiology of Sports Injuries (Human Kinetics, 1996): “The second most common site of upper extremity injuries [the first being the hand and wrist] involves the shoulders. As expected, the repetitive and forceful delivery of punches is responsible for the relatively high frequency of extremity injury.”
4 – I prefer to focus on heavy bag training in the early stages of training, in what strength coaches would refer to as the preparatory phase. As a fighter’s competition approaches, I prefer that they focus more on double-end bags (which are attached to both the ceiling and the floor with tight coils). This type of bag snaps back rapidly when punched, simulating the action of an opponent and thus enabling the fighter to practice counterstriking and defensive movement skills. It also has less impact on the shoulder. In contrast, standing bags – although convenient because they don’t take up much space and can be moved – are generally heavy and stiff and convey too much impact to the shoulder. I must also mention that the week before the fight I like to stop all heavy bag work so that the athlete is fresh for the fight.
5 – nother mistaken practice is trying to develop punching power by training like a bodybuilder. Bodybuilders often perform their exercises with 12-15 reps, which not only gives them a “pump” in their muscles but also prolongs the time the muscles are under tension, which is critical to muscle growth. Research shows, however, that this increase in muscle bulk does not transfer well to boxing.
Support for this phenomenon can be found in a study by Dr. Andrew Fry published in Sports Medicine in August 2004, which looked at the muscle fiber types of bodybuilders, powerlifters, and Olympic-style weightlifters. Powerlifters in the study performed the bench press, squat, and deadlift in competition; weightlifters performed the snatch and clean and jerk. Dr. Fry found that the predominant muscle fiber type in bodybuilders is the slower and weaker Type 1, whereas the more powerful Type II fibers are predominant in the powerlifters and weightlifters. How do weightlifters and powerlifters train? Heavy weights and lower reps – in fact, weightlifters (the group that had the highest percentage of fast-twitch fibers) seldom performed more than three reps per set!
6 – In terms of what types of weight training exercises a boxer should perform…
… I believe squats are a great exercise, but full squats tend to add too much bodyweight and could move a boxer up a weight class. So what types of leg exercises are best for a boxer?
7 – For training the legs, I prefer to do split squats and lunges, as they better recreate the movement patterns that are used in a fight. I also like Romanian rhythm squats to develop explosiveness. With this exercise you alternate between 10 reps of the regular quarter squat and 10 reps in a quarter squat where you come up on the balls of your feet – you continue in this manner until you have performed a total of 50 reps.
8 – As for Olympic lifting movements, power cleans and jerks are great exercises for developing the muscle fibers used in boxing. However, these exercises are complex and should be taught by someone experienced in coaching these lifts; when beginners learn these exercises incorrectly, it is difficult to correct these errors as they get older.
9 – Although bands are not a good idea to use for simulating punching, they can be used with good results in many weight training exercises for boxers; likewise chains. For example, one of the best upper body exercises to increase punching power is the incline bench press. I would use chains on this exercise in the preparatory phase, and then switch to bands as a competition neared because their effect on the barbell in increasing eccentric (lowering) load is more sport specific to boxing.
10 – I would also combine incline presses with medicine ball work, a training method called contrast training, which is based upon the neurological phenomenon called post-tetanic facilitation (PTF). PTF refers to the training concept that a more powerful muscular contraction can be achieved if that contraction is preceded by a strong muscular contraction. For example, a boxer might perform a heavy set of three reps in the incline bench press with bands, followed immediately by about a dozen medicine ball chest passes. I find that although medicine ball training is overrated as a single training method, it becomes much more effective when preceded by heavy weight training exercises. I learned this from Charles R. Poliquin back in 2002 and applied it with excellent results since then.
11 – Another valuable exercise for boxers is the chin-up. Just as it’s important to train the primary muscle groups used in punching, such as by performing incline presses and dips to strengthen the pectorals, anterior deltoids, and triceps, it’s equally important to train the opposing (antagonist) muscles. I do several variations of chin-ups, but the key is to make the exercise progressively more difficult by performing them with additional resistance. Take, for example, Yuriorkis Gamboa, the 2004 flyweight Olympic champion and WBA super featherweight champion, with a professional record of 23-1 that included 16 knockouts. I got his upper body strength to the level where he was able to perform chin-ups with 55 kilos (121 pounds) attached to his waist!
12 – It’s best to outfit your gym with thick-grip barbells and dumbbells rather than conventional weight training equipment. You can’t punch hard with injured wrists and hands, and working with thick-grip equipment is one of the best ways to strengthen these areas.
13 – Finally, it’s important for fighters to avoid long duration steady state aerobic work because this type of training will cause fast-twitch muscle fibers to behave like slow-twitch fibers. Energy system training is important, but the type of endurance a fighter needs is best developed with interval training, not steady-state aerobics.
A powerful punch is essential in boxing. By using the ideas in this article you will ensure that your training programs help fighters achieve the highest levels of physical superiority in the ring.
As a strength coach for boxing, Moritz Klatten has trained three Olympic champions, four amateur world champions, and five professional world champions, including Yuriorikis Gamboa, Juan Carlos Gómezs, Herbie Hide, and Jack Culcay.
Among the boxing coaches he has worked with are Ismael Salas, Orlando Cuellar, Fritz Sdunek, Michael Timm, Freddie Roach, Joey Gamache and Jimmy Montoya.
Coach Klatten is also an accomplished strength coach for football (soccer), and has attracted an international clientele that includes Zlatko Junuzović, Werder Bremen; Tolgay Arslan, Beşiktaş; and Piotr Trochowski, Augsburg.
Coach Klatten works primarily out of Champ Performance, his own gym in Hamburg, Germany, where he offers strength coaching internships and operates a satellite training service to work with athletes worldwide.His book about strength and conditioning for fighters, The Klatten Power Boxing System, will be available in April at amazon.co.uk. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org