Tag Archives: boxing

Packing a punch: Does strength indicate boxing performance?

Every sport has a different “ideal” body type, which is largely dictated by the muscle groups it focuses on training. Swimmers prioritize developing the muscles in their shoulders and backs, which allows them to propel themselves through the water with their arms. On the other hand, runners prioritize the hamstrings and quads in their legs, which allows them to generate greater force when pushing off of the ground. So, what is the ideal body type for boxing? Strength is clearly important when punching an opponent, but is it even the most important factor in boxing performance? Should either upper- or lower-body strength be prioritized over the other?

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Photo by Bradley Popkin for Men’s Journal.

The overall goal in boxing is to either knock out your opponent with a single punch or land more punches in the scoring area than your opponent. One of the best ways to achieve the latter is by wearing down your opponent with powerful strikes to reduce their ability to retaliate. Therefore, hitting your opponent, and hitting them hard, is crucial within the sport of boxing. 

First, let’s take a look at upper-body strength. Boxers execute punches by using muscular force to accelerate their arms, so it is easy to assume that arm strength is the most important factor in punch performance. However, this may not be the case. One of the most common upper-body strength exercises is the bench press, and research has shown that there is no significant correlation between the maximum weight a boxer can bench press and the force they deliver in a punch. While this may be surprising, the relationship between upper-body strength and punching actually comes down to speed rather than force. Based on data from both professional and elite amateur boxers, the maximum speed at which a boxer can bench press is indicative of improved punch performance. More specifically, professional boxers showed a strong relationship between the maximum velocity of their bench press and maximum punch velocity of their rear, or dominant, arm. 

If upper-body strength does not indicate punch force, then does lower-body strength? A study of amateur boxers found a positive correlation between maximum punch force and lower-body strength measures, including countermovement jump (see video below) and isometric midthigh pull. In contrast to the upper-body exercises, the maximum force generated in lower-body exercises is more important for increasing maximum punch force than the speed at which the exercise is completed.

Plot of countermovement jump force in Newtons versus punch force in Newtons. The data has a correlation of 0.683 and a p-value of less than 0.001. Plot of isometric midthigh pull force in Newtons versus punch force in Newtons. The data has a correlation of 0.680 and a p-value of less than 0.001.
Plots showing a strong, positive correlation between punch force and the lower-body strength exercises, countermovement jump, CMJ, (left) and isometric midthigh pull, IMTP, (right). Adapted from “Relationships Between Punch Impact Force and Upper- and Lower-Body Muscular Strength and Power in Highly Trained Amateur Boxers” by Emily C. Dunn, et al.
Video of how to execute the countermovement jump test by Training & Testing.
Kinetic Chain: Force is generated from the floor and transferred from foot to fist. Leg force, hip and torso rotation are key. Arrows show movement of force from foot, through the body, to fist.
Graphic of Kinetic Chain in a boxer from Boxing News.

When executing a punch, a boxer gains forward momentum by pushing off of the ground with their legs. Through a kinetic chain, force moves through a boxer’s body from the floor to the foot, then through the legs and torso, and finally, to the arm and hand. This phenomenon is what explains why lower-body force is crucial to a boxer’s maximum punch force. 

So, what does this all mean? How should boxers train in order to improve their punching performance? Most importantly, boxers should focus on their lower-body strength, as it is the most direct indicator of maximum punch force. While lower-body strength should be a primary training goal, exercising muscles within the upper-body, specifically while focusing on the speed of the movements, will also likely improve overall punch performance. We now know that developing strength is clearly beneficial in improving a boxer’s punch; however, brute force alone does not win a fight. Boxers should develop correct boxing technique through methods such as those suggested in this article, which will allow them to implement their new strength in the most effective manner.    

For additional information on the impact of strength on athletic performance click here and here.

Punch like a nerd: Utilizing Biomechanics in Boxing Form

Why we punch and how we do it

You and I are living creatures. Every living creature on Earth has some means of self-preservation, and while society and technology have advanced humans far beyond the norms of the animal kingdom, deep down at our core is the self-preserving instinct known as “fight or flight”. When the moment arises that flight is not possible, that unarmed self-defense is the only option, a human will most likely throw a punch. Unless you are trained in a combat sport or a style of self-defense, that punch will likely be inefficient and ineffective. I’m here to break down, with biomechanics, the most effective way to throw that punch.

This diagram shows 4 main punches in boxing. This blog will focus mainly on the cross, hook, and uppercut. Photo from neilarey.com

In boxing, that sport that deals with punching a good bit, there are three main types of punches: straight (jab/cross), hook, and uppercut. As pictured above, the three motions have varying paths traveled by the fist and they engage different muscles in different ways.

“Hold on a minute, why not throw a karate chop or a big ol’ open hand slap?” A study was done to answer this question, where untrained men and women hit a target with an open hand, a karate chop and a closed fist. For each of the techniques they calculated the effective mass, which measures the impact the target experiences. The results showed that while the open hand slap and karate chop had similar effective masses, the closed fist punch had an effective mass that was more than double the other techniques. So, unless you’re a black belt in karate with a mean karate chop, let’s stick to punching if the need arises.

Which punch to utilize

Now that you have decided that the first step is to clench your fist and rear up for a punch, how exactly do you do that? Biomechanical studies have shown for low-level boxers the cross, which is a straight punch with the dominant hand, generates noticeably more punching force. When elite level boxers such as Olympic athletes are observed, however, all three techniques produce extremely similar punching forces. This suggests that for the average untrained human, the most effective and efficient punch to use is going to be the cross.

While it is not the most scientific diagram, this graphic gives some biomechanically sound tips on how to throw an effective straight cross. Photo from The Art of Manliness.

But why is the straight cross generating more force in amateur boxers, and how can elite boxers generate high forces with the other techniques? It’s all answered by biomechanics.

Each punch is unique in how force is generated due to the motion of our bodies and the muscles each motion uses. For example, elite level boxers generate much more of their punching force from extension of their back leg and the extension of their elbow when throwing the cross. This is similar to how a baseball pitcher generates force by driving off the mound with their back leg in their throwing motion. When throwing hooks and uppercuts, elite boxers tend to utilize their hip rotation much more than lower-level boxers, who rely on their shoulder motion. All of this leads to the fact that while you’re throwing your fist at a target, most of the power comes from your waist and legs, so mixing a leg day into your workout schedule could be beneficial.

Sources and Further Reading

Will Removing Headgear Make Boxing Safer?

Our brains are made of a very soft material but luckily our skulls provide the brain protection from the outside world. However, during violent movements the brain is free to move inside the skull and collide with the skull. This impact can cause injury to the brain, known as a concussion, that can lead to various symptoms depending on severity. A 2014 paper by McIntosh et al. researched the biomechanics of concussions for Australian football players. Their research showed that a linear acceleration of 88.5 g to the head results in a 75% likelihood of a concussion. A g is the unit of acceleration and a single g is equivalent to the force of gravity at the Earth’s surface.

A very serious long-term effect of brain injury is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy known as CTE. Additional reading on CTE can be found here. Proper care must be taken to ensure the long-term health of contact sport athletes. Some contact sports utilize protective equipment such as helmets or mouth guards. However, the world of amateur boxing went a very different route to prevent brain injuries. An article by the New York Times reviews the International Boxing Association’s (A.I.B.A.) decision to remove headgear from international, male boxing competitions. In 2016, Olympic boxers entered the ring without headgear for the first time since 1984 according to the article. Apparently, this seemingly counterintuitive decision makes boxing safer. A cross-sectional study by the A.I.B.A. Medical Commission found there were more stoppages, caused by hard hits to the head, in fights with headgear. In fact, the data suggests that boxing without headgear lowers the chance of a stopped fight by 43%.

The A.I.B.A. claims that headgear did little to prevent brain injuries, however, there is counter research that refutes the A.I.B.A.’s claim. For example, a study by McIntosh and Patton researched the capability of A.I.B.A.-approved headgear to protect against injury. A glove was mounted to a driver and a Hybrid III head was used to record the head accelerations at different contact points and speeds. According to this study, head accelerations were significantly reduced by the headgear.

Boxing glove on piston delivering punch to a crash test dummy head
Modified from McIntosh & Patton, British Journal of Sports Medicine 2015

Headgear by no means prevents all concussions, for example, when the glove speed reached 8.34 m/s in the previously mentioned McIntosh and Patton study. Without headgear, the head experienced 133 g from a punch to the side of the head and 131 g from a punch to the front center of the head. With headgear, the head experienced 86 g from the lateral punch and 88 g from a punch to the front center of the head. The results showed there is a chance those with headgear could develop a concussion. However, without headgear, a concussion is guaranteed.

Headgear will not prevent all concussions but it can significantly decrease the chances of getting one. At some point, the force will surpass the protective capability of the headgear. Both sides of the argument present interesting and compelling data. In short, boxing is a contact sport. There will most likely always be a chance the athletes could develop brain injury.  In order to ensure the safety of the athletes, it is important to make decisions based on their health with definitive proof it protects them. The video below shows different sides to the debate.