In martial arts, how can I punch faster?

There are several practical ways to approach this:

Relax -- this is probably the most important overall. Tense muscles are slow muscles, especially if you carry residual tension in the OPPOSING muscles while punching.

In a misguided attempt to hit harder or even faster, most people tense the OPPOSING muscle while punching. The triceps (extensor) do a lot (most?) of the work for a jab, yet by "trying harder", people tense their BICEPS and other flexors in the arm.

This is counter-productive on many levels -- obviously it is slower if the extensor is working against its opposing flexor, but this also uses both more energy (e.g., ATP) and more oxygen.

Any resource (energy or oxygen) used is unavailable for other work, so this means that you tire and thus slow down even more and even sooner when holding unnecessary tension.

Systema practitioners excel at this relaxation method.

Shortest distance between two points -- when possible, straight punches (e.g., jabs) should go straight to the target with no 'cock' nor any deviation from the path); punches should travel along the shortest possible path.

Even hooks should be thrown along the shortest CURVE -- contrary to the popular saying, the shortest distance between two points is not ALWAYS a straight line, on the earth, you must travel the "curve of the earth" and the shortest distance is along what is known as a "Great Circle."

For hooks the shortest distance is the path that follows the natural curve most closely.

Systema, Guided Chaos, Tai Chi, and Boxers all try to do this if they understand the concept.

Practice -- a lot. I place this after the previous two items since you want to practice throwing RELAXED and EFFICIENT punches before you train yourself to throw any other way at speed and power. Once your punch is relaxed and efficient you want to practice it to (near) exhaustion and extend the time you can perform and the speed you can punch.

It is highly counterproductive to train "wrong" - i.e., training with tension and poor form teaches you to punch THAT way: i.e., with tension and poor form.

Boxers practice punching A LOT -- but make sure you are doing it correctly, as many boxers don't practice with the correct form and relaxation.

Do NOT "Shadow Box" (much) with SPEED and POWER -- and don't use weights for long periods of shadow boxing unless you lie on your back (so gravity will stop the upward motion.).

Shadow Boxing should be used for PERFECTING YOUR FORM and not for practicing speed or power.

Use the heavy bag for punching with speed and power. The BAG will stop your punch, rather than your own muscles and joints.

When you Shadow Box there are precisely two ways to STOP YOUR PUNCH, and both are WRONG:

  1. Slowing your arm before it reaches full extension by tightening your flexor -- this just trains you to tighten the very muscles that should be totally relaxed (e.g., biceps on a jab.) -- it trains you to SLOW your punch.
  2. Allowing your elbow to snap to full extension at high speed -- this just damages your elbow, if you do it constantly.

NOTE: Not saying you can NEVER shadow box fast or hard (like for brief warmups at a fight) but don't do it a LOT and CERTAINLY NOT FOR LONG PERSIODS EVERY DAY.

Let the HEAVY BAG STOP YOUR PUNCHES -- or your OPPONENT :)

The optimum punch transfers ALL of the momentum into the TARGET -- nothing is returned to the puncher except the hand.

Punch from as close as possible -- this may not cause you to move your hand faster, but it will allow the punch to ARRIVE more quickly and thus is "faster punching".

What the heck does this mean though? Move your body and align yourself to bring your punching tools (e.g., fists) CLOSER to your target and unleash the punch from closer range.

This may not quite make sense without being there to show you, but it is a critical idea to highly efficient hitting: Move your body to get the tool in position.

Not only is this a FASTER way to punch, it is more likely to fool your opponent (you can change angle of your punches and even reach targets that seem unreachable without such movement of your body); your punches are less likely to be intercepted, and it is easier to penetrate his defense.

EDIT: A correct caution was offered by one comment: Hitting from close can allow the defender to "jam" you punch at times (e.g., by moving INTO the punch before it gains speed), so this is a small oversimplification - if the idea is to hit faster, then being close is a key component however.

Further, once we talk about generating power they are another 20 items to discuss - hitting from close is extremely important for many power punches (especially hooks) - and in those punches the power isn't coming from a long movement of your arm as in a jab but rather from a controlled and carefully timed chain of movements from your feet through your hips spine torso and shoulders: the arms just connect the power to the opponent. (This is a whole other subject, closely related but just as open to analysis which I have posted on several boxing and MA forums.)

Maybe most importantly it is also more likely that you will HIT what you are aiming to hit -- he has less time to move and since there is less distance to cover you have a much better opportunity to be accurate. (Think of throwing darts from 1 foot away rather than 10.) Frequently I hit from as close as 1 to 5 INCHES. The Guided Chaos people seem to know the most about THIS idea, but boxing champ Manny Pacquiao does it amazingly well.

Hit from where your hands are -- Not necessarily from your formal cocked or stance position.

Boxers are trained to (always) return their hands to the ready position, both as a guard and as a means of preparing the "next punch". This is good as far as it goes, but frequently boxing training ignores the fact that your hands won't always be in the correct position.

Hit from where your hands are. This ties in with both "Shortest Distance between 2 points" and "Punch from as close as possible."

Be careful here: Boxing coaches are CORRECT that you should return your hands to guard AS A DEFAULT.

But great boxers will also hit from where ever their hands happen to be -- and by moving their body to position them rather than trying to "throw the punch around the opponents blocks".

Again, boxing champ Manny Pacquiao does the extremely well.

Multiple punches -- This is more than just the idea of practicing to punch as fast as you can or to hit from where your hands happen to be, but also the idea of programming yourself to throw combinations automatically and without thought.

Another approach to multiple punches is that 3 "light relaxed punches" can be thrown faster than 2 "big powerful punches" and that is certainly a method to be faster.

Remember the "next punch" doesn't have to win the fight -- it merely has to setup the NEXT PUNCH AFTER THAT.

Small punches for small, ever increasing effects can win on their own, or can set up the "Big Final Knockout Punch."

Learn to retract your arm at the earliest PROPER moment and at the fastest possible speed -- This is TIMING issue first and a technique issue as well.

Timing -- use the Sight and Feeling of CONTACT on the heavy bag to immediately SWITCH from extensor to flexor (e.g., triceps to biceps) -- if you mentally start retracting at the moment of impact by the time the signal reaches your arm and the arm starts retracting, the ENERGY Is ALL DUMPED INTO THE TARGET.

Not only is this the optimum way to DELIVER POWER, it is the fastest way to complete the ENTIRE PUNCH (out and back.)

You want the TARGET to STOP YOUR punch and not YOUR muscles nor YOUR elbow joint.

However you want to be retracting at the moment the arm "stops".

This takes practice and conscious work to learn to TURN ON FLEXOR at exactly the moment the fist STOPS due to the energy dump (impact) into the target

Note: You will occasionally miss or he will duck and dodge and you will stop your arm on the "elbow joint" but you aren't going to do that OFTEN so it isn't serious.

EDIT: However, remember for practicing on the bag, the key point is: Don't stop the punch with your own muscles or joints - the bag should do ALL of the stopping. The feel of touching the bag is only going to tell you when to MENTALLY START the retraction, the hand will keep moving until the target stops the forward motion - so by the time the signal gets from your brain to the muscles, and they begin to reverse the bag will have done all of the stopping for you.

Done this way, it's not only faster (you aren't slowing it down), more efficient (uses fewer resources, O2 and ATP), but it also dumps ALL of the energy into the target. Ouch!

One trick I use for my jab: Send it out with my upper and lower arm directly in line with the path to the target (the opponent has more trouble seeing it coming if it is moving straight at him, it's harder to block, and travels the least distance.

My fist turns over in the classic "snap" (which doesn't do what most people think) at the target impact -- from palm towards inside to palm down.

BUT I leave the fist palm down as the retraction starts.

Here's the trick: As my elbow begins to bend on the return it moves a LITTLE to my outside (ONLY ON THE WAY BACK) and at that moment when the shoulder gains leverage to rotate the upper arm down I YANK OR SLAM my elbow DOWN to my ribs and side.

The YANKING down hard is done with LATS and muscles under the arm and not (just) the biceps.

These muscles are BIG AND STRONG and NOT directly in opposition to the triceps and front deltoid (which send the punch outward.)

This greatly improved the speed of the retraction and my timing of it. It is also possible to BOUNCE the arm off your side to STRIKE AGAIN (and AGAIN.)

It doesn't really bounce since that would take your arm offline on the next outward punch but it does give a CLEAN NEUROLOGICAL SIGNAL to start the next punch and doesn't require a "tight biceps" as much as other methods.

Edit: Another issue, stay away from overly hard heavy bags unless/until you have your punch perfected (e.g., the old style canvas filled with sawdust and rocks or something). Hitting a bag that is too hard (and you should be wrapped and gloved) teaches the boxer to stop his punches short yet again.

The ideal bad is as close to a human as possible - water fill bags are somewhat better but the best I have seen was a combo: water bladder inside leather covered foam case with baffles to keep the water distributed. Neither to sloppy nor too hard.

The best punching practice is actually on humans but you have to find a partner who knows how to take punches & is willing to let you practice, usually in exchange for you taking punches for the partner - that's difficult to do (also another post to write someday.)

--
HerbM
Student of striking efficiency


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