One of the most important things for self-defence is being able to hit hard. A fast hard punch or strike should be on everyone’s list of things to achieve. Sometimes in competition sparring we sacrifice power for speed and because of the rules of some competitions we continually have to pull punches. To counteract this we need to spend time developing power. Not the power for breaking, but power on the move. For this we need to spend time on the heavy bag and also pad work with a partner. Below are some tips to develop power in strikes.
All movement and power is about structure, structure starts with a foundation. A good solid foundation means that you can produce maximum power. Your stance should be low enough to give you a good strong root, i.e. if you punch something you shouldn’t fall backwards, and also be dynamic enough for movement. This is maybe different for each person according to weight and size so some time should be spent doing moving and punching drills. Practice punching on the move at different heights, closing distance and exiting to find that balance between power and stability.
Sometimes we can get in to the habit of playing for a heavy touch rather than a strike. One of the big differences between the two is the alignment of the arms. If we are going for a heavy touch we can ignore good solid alignment to a point. When you start developing power, however, good alignment can make all the difference.
For me when I am practicing hard punching I pay particular attention to my elbows. They need to be right behind my fist, forming a good line. They shouldn’t be flaring in straight punches or dropping on hooks. Take some time to practice air punching and getting some muscle memory to get used to the feeling of where your elbows should be. It should be the feel of strong structure that can take pressure the on the end of your fist without collapsing.
Relaxation is often talked about when practicing punching. The instructor tells the student to relax, the students shoulders drop a little bit and then away they go. Whereas this is a good start there is so much more to relaxation.
Maybe it is because people are so tense generally, that even a little dropping of the shoulders feels like we are relaxed. But what about the rest of your body, the large muscles in your core and legs also need to relax to let you produce as much power through your body as you can.
The best method I have come across for relaxation is the standing mediation from the Chinese internal martial arts. There is not enough space here to fully describe this practice but basically it involves holding a position for a length of time, usually people aim for between 20-40 mins, and relaxing your body into that position. Through this we get a kind of ‘active’ relaxation.
From there you can try moving in that ‘active relaxed’ mode, similar to taiji. You can do your patterns in this way or just shadow box. Then try to bring that relaxed movement in your pad work. You should find that your strikes feel more powerful and heavier. Also your short range strikes, elbow, knees, etc. will be stronger and need less wind up.
For a punch to be hard you need to put your body weight behind it. The part of your body that is responsible for moving you weight is your hips. There are three main ways to move your hips for punching, these are: up and down, pivoting from the centre, and pivoting from the side. My preference is pivoting from the side for just punching, but if I am pulling and punching I like to pivot from the centre as I get power/body weight going both ways.
Different styles advocate different ways of moving and there are advantages and disadvantages of each. But you need to concentrate on moving from the hips for each. To move from the hips we have to fist locate them and practice that style of movement. As well as relaxation mentioned above, doing large dynamic exercises like ‘tenkan’ from Aikido can help. If necessary you can place your hands on your hips to isolate them in the movement at the beginning and then move to a hip generated punch later
We spend a lot of time tensing up the stomach muscles when we punch, we can help the power of the punch but crunching slightly at the end of the punch. Doesn’t have to be a big movement as you are already in motion but a little crunch at the end can give your punch a good snap at the end and make sure that you have a good amount of tension at the moment of impact as well as activating as many muscle groups of the body as possible.
There are many other things that can help your punching, but these are the things I have felt most useful. It takes time to incorporate each of these ideas into your movements but with working on them and working on the heavy bag you should feel your punches getting tighter and stronger.