Creating A More Powerful Punch

I received an email yesterday asking about how to develop a more powerful punch, and in answering it I thought it would be helpful for my readers to see what my views are on developing a more powerful punch.

Flexible and Relaxed

First off, I believe that flexibility and relaxation are two of the most under-rated points of power punching. The usual idea is that a punch is supposed to be hard, and it is, but it doesn’t have to be hard for the entire trip from you to your opponent. In fact, punching in this manner leads to early tiring, sore muscles and slower speeds. If your arm is stiff and your rotational force (from your hips) is tight you’re going to have difficulty developing a truly strong punch.

So the first thing to do is to work not on your muscles but on your flexibility, especially in your waist and spine. Basic stretches and twists should do the trick after a relatively short amount of time. As always with stretching, don’t slam into the stretch; rather, move slowly into it, breathing in time to the movements and really feeling the muscles expanding and contracting. Do it mindfully, and not only will you become more flexible but also more relaxed in your movements.

That brings us to the second point – relaxation. Relaxed movement is as much a mental as a physical thing. You need to have an awareness of how you hold your body and where you typically keep your tension. For many fighters this is in the shoulders. Make a concentrated effort to watch your shoulders during training and sparring sessions; enlist the help of teachers and fellow students to alert you when you’re too tight.

Root and Weight Transfer

A strong punch starts not in the fist nor even in the shoulders, but in the feet. Your goal is to push off of the ground with your rear foot, transfer that push through the hips, waist and spine and have the gathered force transmitted through the shoulder and down the arm into the fist.

That’s a long trip for a simple punch – why even bother? Why not just shoot the arm out, bang, boom, done?

Well, that might be how you throw your jabs, but it isn’t how you develop knock-out power.

You have to develop root, a firm connection with the ground, else you have nothing to push off from. This is where we find a major difference in technique between external and internal arts. Styles such as Taijiquan demand that you stay flat-footed throughout the entire technique, especially during contact with the target, whereas external arts such as boxing use a lifted and pivoted heel to push off. Regardless of how your style dictates you use your power-transfer foot you have to maximize its efficiency through, once again, mindful training and observation.


Muscles are actually the most limiting factor in creating a powerful punch. They are also the most Yin/Yang element of punching: the more muscle you have the more effort it takes to move that muscle and the slower it will move (relatively speaking, of course). There is also the matter of how long it takes to develop bigger muscles versus how long it takes to learn better technique. Muscles take months – technique can be learned in 5 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all in favor of strength training in moderation. Just don’t go to the extremes of competitive bodybuilding in the hopes of developing a killer punch, because it isn’t going to happen. Functional strength is what you’re shooting for, not mass or cut – that’s just appearance. And how do we develop functional strength?

By training what we’re going to use it for.

You’ll develop enough muscle just by practicing on a heavy bag and through sparring – don’t try to become the next Mr. Olympia.

Coil and Shoulder Extension

Coiling, the act of winding-up the hips, waist, legs and arms, is a vital technique to learn for making your punches more powerful. Boxing has a good amount of coil in their power techniques, starting from the push-off of the foot to the extension of the shoulder during the actual strike. Most Eastern martial arts place a heavy emphasis on coiling but not as much (if any) on extending the shoulder. Internal arts usually do not teach any shoulder extension at all, choosing instead to remain within the “bubble” of space around the body that is seen as being centered and balanced. This makes sense as arts such as Taijiquan are designed for closer combat ranges than boxing and therefore have different technique.

Once again flexibility comes into play in the practice of coiling. You need to possess a supple spine, relaxed shoulders and strong yet flexed legs. Keeping the rear (driving) leg bent allows a spring action to help drive the punch through its target; the spine, waist and hips transfer that power from the legs to the arms, and the relaxed shoulders  allow a whipping motion (again, more emphasized in internal arts but applicable to external ones as well).

Putting It All Together

So what do you need to develop ground-shaking, powerful punches?

You need proper technique, just enough muscle and a lot of flexibility. And of course, practice – loads of it.

If you concentrate on your punching form I guarantee that you’ll see far greater results in your punches than if you blindly pump iron in the mistaken belief that bigger is always better. Bruce Lee was a relatively small person but could generate incredible amounts of power in his punches. Why? Technique. Flexibility. And knowledge of what worked and what did not.

Good training and good luck!

Martial Arts

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