WHAT YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PUNCHING POWER AND SPEED!
The Punch is a key component of Karate…
It can be used to cause physical damage, develop tactical advantage or score points.
This article is for every style of Karate:
- WKF Rules
- Self-Defence Karate
- Etc… (because Science is everywhere and can help every style or organization to improve their quality)
Punching is a complex movement that involves the movement of the arm, trunk, and legs. But too many Karatekas are focused, mostly, on the arms when the primary contributor to an effective punch is the lower body! This has been scientifically demonstrated by Filimonov et al., 37 years ago… And we can see this in the practice and teachings of several Karate Masters.
This clearly shows us that Tradition has great things and also nonsense things… And science is a great filter to maintain and potentiate what Traditional Karate does right and to stop what is just someone’s personal illusion or interest.
CONTRIBUTORS TO PUNCHING FORCE
The Gyaku-Zuki, for example, can be divided into three crucial phases (Lenetsky et al, 2013):
- The drive off the ground by the legs
- The rotation of the trunk
- The contribution from the arm musculature into the target
Filimonov et al. (1983) analyzed the punching ability of 120 boxers. And observed that boxers with more experience had a greater contribution from their legs to the punch when compared with arms and trunk.
These were the numbers:
- Experienced Boxers – 36.8% of leg contribution
- Intermediate Boxers – 32.2%
- Novice Boxers – 16.5% (less than a half)
Do you want to see more very interesting numbers? Filimonov et al (1983) also divided the participants in the study by “Knockout Artists” (great name!), “Players” and “Speedsters”. And the numbers of leg contribution were these:
- Knockout Artists – 38.6%
- Players – 32.8%
- Speedsters – 32.5%
“Players” and “Speedsters” depended more on trunk rotation. This alerts you to the priorities in your training plans, depending on your Karate style. If you are Full-Contact Karate Sensei, you should give special attention to leg strength and technique, but if you are a WKF Rules Coach, it’s important to develop good training plans for the trunk!
ATTENTION: regardless of your Karate style, legs, trunk, and arms are always important! What science shows us is that you can give a little more importance to some of these contributors, depending on your main goals.
Like baseball, the legs highly contribute to hand velocity during a punch.
When we look to other sports and movements like Shot Put, Javelin Throw or overhead throwing, all of them have scientific evidence that legs are highly correlated to arm power and speed.
Think about this: in Kata, when you execute a Zuki-Waza a little after you step your feet on the ground, you feel more power! In fighting, we may have to sacrifice punching power due to tactical reasons… you may want to reach your target faster and that doesn’t depend only on power. But that’s another story.
If you want to punch as stronger as you can, you need to make a previous step to support it.
But leg contribution is also important if you punch without moving, because of Ground Reaction Forces.
WHAT TYPES OF EXERCISES SHOULD YOU DO?
We continue to see power training focusing mostly in vertical direction exercises. Exercises like squats, vertical jumps, Olympic weightlifting variations… And these types of exercise have an important role, BUT…
… BUT in punching, you need Ground Reaction Forces in both vertical and horizontal directions. You can use exercises as jumps with horizontal displacements (ex. plyometrics), throws or resistance tubing attached to your trunk.
Cesari and Bertucco (2008) also confirmed this in a specific study about Karate.
So, remember that both types of training direction – Horizontal and Vertical – are important for punching power and speed. Punching is a movement that involves rotation of the pelvis, trunk, and shoulder. On these motions, you need horizontal and vertical forces.
LET’S GO TO SOME PRACTICAL RECOMMENDATIONS
Factor 1 – Lower Body Strength and Power
Factor 2 – Upper Body Strength and Power
First of all, you know that punching is an extremely dynamic movement that occurs over a very short period of time! You need to take this into consideration when planning your classes…
If you want to have Elite Athletes in your Dojo, you must develop their Explosive Strength, for example! High Loads and Little Repetitions. Yes, the method should not always be punching hundreds of times in every class…This is great for Endurance Strength, but not to Explosive punches!
Then, you have Ballistic training, where you ask your athletes to make the exercises as quickly as they can but with light external loads. We are talking about medicine ball throwing for the upper body, for example. Or you can use only their own body weight in other types of exercises.
And what about Ballistic exercises for legs? Remember: vertical direction and horizontal direction. You can ask your athletes to jump to a plyo box (vertical direction). Or you can ask your athletes to make a horizontal jump with a speed vest.
When your Karate athletes enter in the pre-competition phase, your focus should be on continued power and speed development but in a more sport-specific context.
You can also use Post-Activation Potentiation (PAP) along with strength training to take more advantage of the training.
THE THIRD FACTOR: CORE STABILITY
You should focus much more on lumbar stability! Most of Karate coaches overemphasize trunk mobility, with 90% of the abdominal training being based on trunk flexion (linear or crossed).
But why should you change your habits? Health and Performance!
Let’s start with Performance…
More lumbar stability allows your Karate students a more effective transmission of Ground Reaction Forces through their lower body and into their upper body.
The rotational forces of a punch are huge and can injure your students’ lumbar spine!! Use a lot of stabilizing exercises for Core training rather than dynamic exercises.
And you want that your students’ Core is able to maintain this stabilization through a complete tournament, combat, grading exam, etc., right? So focus on Core endurance and fatigue resistance. Always progressively and with programs adapted to the level, age, and conditions of your Karate classes…
REST PERIODS ARE CRUCIAL
Karate and other Martial Arts’s and Combat Sports’ Coaches love Circuit Training!
It’s all right if you want to train Endurance, for example. But your Karate students need longer rest periods to develop maximal power and speed!
A lower rest period between exercises will result in greater fatigue and don’t allow them to stimulate their muscles with the proper intensity in the next sets. If you want them to improve maximal Ground Reaction Forces, longer rest periods are needed to allow bioenergetic restoration. Only this way they can execute true maximal efforts.
What you want, in this case, is a neuromuscular stimulus. Not a metabolic stimulus…
I hope this article was helpful for your work and passion as a Karate Sensei!
Please help us share this knowledge. Share it on Facebook and join us on the road of taking Science to all Dojos in the World!!
P.S. – It is very important to ensure that when training for strength and power, the appropriate number of repetitions, loads, and rest periods are used! Also ensure that you adapt these variables to your classes’ levels, ages and conditions…