The Secrets of Punching Power

Punching power has been analyzed, analyzed and analyzed again and it seems there are nearly as many theories as there are studies in what makes a punch truly powerful, ranging from Ki energy to unlocking the usage of fascia (Some are obviously more compelling and based in reality than others). While the wide range of possible punches, and the various styles used to deliver them, may have quite a bit to do with the disparity - the truth may be that there is no one single path or style that can be deemed the "best" way to deliver a devastating punch.

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With that said there are some universal truths that cannot be ignored. We will go into each of these with more detail shortly, but for now here is a quick summary:

The Kinetic Link

or said otherwise, the ability to focus your entire body into a single movement and point of impact.

The Impulse-Momentum Relationship.

Basically the Newtonian physics of (Mass x Velocity) and (Force x Time) - for right now let's just simplify it to (Strength of punch x Speed of punch)

The Timing of the Punch.

Using your opponent's momentum to add strength to your attack.

Bone and Joint Structure.

I’ve read this best summarized as the difference between hitting a ball with a solid bat, or hitting a ball with a broken bat.

 

Obviously, some of these realities overlap and run together, but it is easier to wrap your head around them when they are broken into separate concepts.

  1. Kinetically Linking the Body

Nerdist.com and Popular Mechanics had some great articles (here and here) discussing the kinetic linking of the body and how it is tied to the physical structure of the brain. It is something you learn and develop over time - and your brain and body adapt to it. It is the link that both Tim Linecum and Bruce Lee share - The learned ability to focus your entire body into a single point of pressure.

The Popular Mechanics article does a great job in summarizing this concept using Bruce’s famous one-inch-punch example:

“Because the punch happens over such a short amount of time, Lee has to synchronize each segment of the jab … Lee must layer his movements so that each period of peak acceleration follows the last one instantly. So coordination is key. And that's where the neuroscience comes in.”

Scientists compared the punches of general athletes versus those of martial artists. While it was evident that the martial artists were hitting harder - the reasoning was a bit surprising.

It was not simply overall body strength or even the speed of the strikes that accounted for the disparity - it was found that attacks that maximized the peak acceleration of multiple muscle groups together accounted for the increase in power. This creates the maximum possible mass in the punch at the highest velocity (more on that in a minute).

Apparently, this is level of interbody coordination  is directly related to the development of white matter in the supplementary motor cortex. Luckily, this white matter can be developed over many years of training and practice.

2. The Impulse-Momentum Relationship.

We just discussed how maximizing the velocity of multiple muscle groups together makes for a powerful strike, and that leads directly into some Newtonian laws.

I am not enough of an egg-head to fully explain the science going into this, but I can summarize it in a way that is relevant to our topic. Most of us are at least vaguely aware of Newton's Second Law of Motion, which can be summarized as:

“The acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object. “

Or more simply (Force = Mass x Acceleration)

When one wants to find the overall “Work” of a punch - aka the net force delivered they must figure out both the initial and final kinetic energy. Rather than go into this here, I’m just going to skip straight to the part that is relevant to our topic - just know there are a bunch of mathematical formulas that all run into one another (For example, the Acceleration in that original formula can be expressed as [Velocity divided by Time]).

If you want the in depth version of all the math check it out here.

Once you are done getting all mathematician wizard with it, the ending result when dealing with the overall power of a punch looks like this:

Kinetic Energy (KE) = 1/2 mass x velocity^2

This means the overall speed (velocity) of the punch is much more important than the mass (since it is the factor being squared) but any significant decrease in mass will also greatly decrease the power of the punch - Otherwise a fast job with no body weight behind it would simply be the most powerful punch.

So for greater punching power you must:

  1. Maximize the weight(mass) behind your punch

  2. Even more importantly, maximize the speed (or velocity) of the punch.

You maximize the mass by engaging your whole body in the punch,

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  • Follow Through with the punch

  • Engage the Shoulder, Hips, and Legs

and like Bruce Lee, the faster you can engage the whole body the greater the velocity of that mass will be.

3. The Timing of the Punch

Hitting your opponent as his head moves forward will add the momentum of his head movement into the power of your strike.

Bruce Lee named his style (or more specifically, his philosophy) Jeet Kune Do - the way of the intercepting fist. Part of the reasoning behind this name was his belief in the effectiveness of using stop hits and of striking your opponents as they commit motion to a strike.

Hitting your opponent as he moves into the strike provides a number of tactical benefits - not least of all is that it can greatly increase the overall power and effectiveness of your attack. You can think of it like the difference between running a car into a wall or a head-on collision. The power generated from two masses moving into one another will always be greater.

Timing your punch so it lands as your opponents head moves into it, such as hitting him with an uppercut as he lowers his head to duck - will reduce his heads ability to roll with the punch (thus absorbing more damage) and will add the velocity and mass of his head to that punching equation we talked about in point #2.

4. Bone Structure

Your muscles may help deliver the blow, but it is the bones and joints that create and absorb the impact. Solidifying the joints and having proper alignment in the limb will reduce “breaking points” along the pathway of power deliverance. Some give in your arm at the moment of impact will lessen the amount of energy that is transferred into your opponent. It is like that broken bat analogy, the ball will still be knocked forward, but a good amount of energy that should have been delivered into the ball will be lost back into the bat.

The correct joint alignment will significantly increase the effectiveness of a punch and will also protect your joints from injury while striking as well. For example, having your wrist collapse during a punch will drastically weaken the punch damage as well as very likely injuring your wrist.

A Quick Conversation About “Snapping” the Punch.

As a side note, let's address the snapping action of the punch, i.e. quickly returning your hand back to your body as soon as you make contact.  This is an entirely debatable point, but I’ll direct you to an article on it I found interesting. I was personally taught to deliver the majority of my punches in snapping motion (not only for damage, but also to aid defense) and I can say that generally, specifically in a street fight, is it the smarter way to fight. However, for the sake of this article, we are only addressing power. Here is the article that made me question the common lesson: http://www.powerdojo.com/the-science-of-knockout-power/

(I also want to note that the Popular Mechanics article I cited earlier directly contradicts the following statements. Take that for what you will.)

According to Eric Wong there, the snapback adding power into the punch a sort of semi-myth. Although a shorter impact time will compress the power of the punch into a shorter period - pulling the fist back generally reduces the velocity of the punch. Obviously, in a punch like a hook, the snapback is built into the punch itself - but the belief in a snapping jab causing more jostling on the head than a punch that continues forward seems not to be true. The brain bounce you are looking for occurs at the moment of impact - reducing the velocity of the punch at the moment of impact does nothing more to further the damage - and may actually reduce overall punching velocity through the motion. While it does aid in a quick defense, Eric Wong argues it may be more of a hindrance than a boon to striking damage.

Keep in mind that returning the hands quickly, especially in a non-gloved fight will ultimately be more important than maximizing the power of every blow. This is just food for thought.