Boxing power, speed, and endurance rank amongst the areas of strength and conditioning fraught with the most bro science. There are many opinions and not many good scientific resources. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that each fighter has a different style, as well as different strengths and weaknesses that change the very nature of the questions being asked. In a study this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the topic of punching acceleration was covered.
Both power and accuracy are affected by acceleration, so it’s clearly an important factor. Since the force of the punch relates to its speed at contact, how hard a hit is depends on the speed you can attain during the punch. However, as any good coach will tell you, it doesn’t matter how hard a punch is if it doesn’t land. Being able to accelerate a punch can improve accuracy by getting the punch to the target before the opponent’s defenses go up.
However, a punch is a complex technique, and there are many different kinds. The variables that alter the acceleration of a punch are close to infinite, but we can still know a few things about the basic mechanisms. For example, the distance a punch can travel will affect the time available to accelerate it. The power and strength of the upper and lower body are also important factors.
In the study, the researchers looked at karate athletes. Unlike other striking sports, the karate competitions based scoring on contact, rather than impact. In other words, a knockout punch wasn’t something the athletes regularly sought, so the pure impact of their strikes was less important overall than it would be for a boxer or kickboxer. However, their punch acceleration was key.
The athletes had their punches measured across four conditions. There were two distances used during the study. One was fixed at a distance of one meter from the target, and the other was chosen by the athlete. There were also two goal conditions. The first goal condition was to attempt the highest speed possible. The second was to achieve the greatest impact, which was something the athletes were not used to. Several tests were also performed to measure upper and lower body strength and power.
The researchers discovered that lower body power as observed during a counter-movement jump, as well as both upper and lower body dynamic strength, were all good predictors of punching acceleration. The researchers also found that the highest accelerations were achieved when the athletes used a self-selected distance and had an impact goal. That means the athletes achieved higher acceleration by trying to hit hard than they did by trying to hit fast.
The researchers recommended that well-designed strength and conditioning programs focusing on lower body strength and power and upper body strength might be the best for improving punching acceleration. When in training, the focus should be on transferring lower body power into the upper body as quickly as possible. Athletes should also focus on high-impact striking during their training.
1. Irineu Loturco, et. al., “Predicting Punching Acceleration from Selected Strength and Power Variables in Elite Karate Athletes: A Multiple Regression Analysis,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000329
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