The term punch ‘snap’ is often thrown around in boxing circles.
This term will have different meanings for different people, however, it tends to relate to a prominent sense of impact at the end range of a punch.
Within the scientific research, this has been referred to as ‘effective mass’, and denotes the ability to maximise the ‘mass in motion’ i.e the punching arm during a punching action.
This is a desirable ability for many boxers as it can differentiate between performance level (elite vs sub-elite competitors).
With this in mind, the content of the current article will discuss:
- The science behind the ‘snap’ of a punch.
- How we apply the science to our training methods at Boxing Science.
- An outline of the 10 best exercises to improve the snap and impact of your punches.
SCIENCE BEHIND THE SNAP
The snap of a punch is directly related to the speed at which we can move the punching arm.
This involves the integration of all the aspects of the kinetic chain to transfer force efficiently and effectively from foot to fist.
Another influential factor on punch snap is muscle activation and the ability to contract or relax the appropriate muscle groups at the correct time.
Research by Mcgill and colleagues (1), highlights the importance of muscle activation patterns during striking actions.
The authors observed two distinct phases at which muscle activity increased during a striking action in elite mixed martial artists.
The first phase occurs on initiation of the movement i.e when initial separation between the limb and proximal structure occurs.
The second phase of heightened muscle activity occurs on impact where the muscles of the lower body, trunk, shoulder, elbow, hand and wrist essentially stiffen up to maximise punch impact.
Between these two phases is a period of notable muscle relaxation.
The ability to relax the punching arm is essential to maximise momentum and speed prior to impact.
Combine this with the ability to ‘stiffen’ up the necessary muscles groups and we have ourselves a prominent punch ‘snap’.
Is this related to overall mass?
An obvious assumption to make is that heavier limbs can generate more momentum and, subsequently, higher levels of stiffness.
Whilst the easiest way to improve momentum is to increase mass, the generation of stiffness at the end range of punch or striking action isn’t necessarily dependent on overall mass (2).
Similarly, the momentum of the punching arm is not solely determined by velocity or hand speed.
Though higher hand speed is preferable, the distinguishing factor between impactful and less impactful strikes is the ability to generate as much tension on impact as possible.
Considering this, the term ‘effective mass’ has been introduced to define this ability and can be used as a measure of performance level, with higher skilled boxers imparting more momentum on various objects compared to their less skilled counterparts (Smith & Hamill, 1986).
APPLYING THE SCIENCE TO PRACTICE
As coaches, it is important that we are aware of the mechanisms that underpin punching snap but we must also strive to apply these findings in our training, using purposeful training strategies.
Whilst we can extensively outline the S&C methods that can contribute to improved punching snap, we are conscious that the bulk of the improvement in this phenomenon is primarily derived from technical training and repetitively practicing the punching action.
With that said, we can implement certain training strategies to compliment our technical practice and ultimately enhance punch performance.
These training strategies include increasing maximal strength, availing of accommodating resistance methods, targeting core tension and using punch specific isometric hold variations.
INCREASING MAXIMAL STRENGTH
We are major proponents of improving boxer’s maximal strength levels.
This is because boxers are well accustomed to light loaded, high velocity movements but struggle at higher loads.
This means that they are limiting their potential to maximise rate of force development and muscular power, both of which are key contributors to the punching action.
In terms of promoting stiffness and improving effective mass, maximal strength also has a role to play.
From a practical perspective exposure to heavy loaded (85-95% 1RM) back squats and deadlifts require substantial tension to be generated through the core.
This frequent exposure to such high levels of tension will improve mass around the trunk and contribute to higher levels of stiffness at the end range of punches.
Furthermore, maximal strength training has been previously shown to improve lower limb stiffness i.e the ability to resist excessive deformation when exposed to a given force (4) and is also a considered a proxy for limb stiffness in general (5).
Along with the standard maximal strength lifts we will also use partial range variations such as Anderson squats and deadlifts from blocks.
Partial range lifts offer a great way to really overload the core often with loads exceeding 100% 1RM whilst minimising any inherent injury risk associated with such high loads.
These partial range lifts can also enable boxers to adopt much stronger lifting positions and generate greater levels of tension due to the decreased range of motion in comparison to full ROM lifts.
Though we consider improving maximal strength a high priority within our training programs, exposing new boxers on the program to these heavy loads immediately is neither safe or effective in the long-term.
As such we coach these athletes through a strength training journey and gradually progress them towards maximal loads, read more here.
Accommodating resistance is widely used by strength and conditioning practitioners and is considered an advanced strength training method.
This involves adding resistance, most commonly in the form of bands or chains, to traditional strength exercises such as the bench press, back squat and deadlift.
For more accommodating resistance click here.
Whilst employed in many sporting settings, particularly rugby, to enhance strength and power, accommodating resistance may also have a unique benefit to boxing.
Firstly, accommodating resistance will force the boxer to generate as much momentum as possible throughout the entire concentric (upward) phase of the movement.
This will help boxers overcome sticking points during near maximally loaded lifts, which can often be an issue with combat sport athletes due to their limited strength training backgrounds.
Overcoming such sticking points will help these athletes lift heavier loads and derive more potent strength training adaptations that will contribute to enhanced rate of force development and muscular power.
Secondly, the use of accommodating resistance manipulates the length tension relationship of a given movement where the target muscle groups are forced to display maximal levels of tension throughout the concentric range of motion.
This essentially means that as the upward phase of a movement is performed the exercise essentially becomes harder, forcing the athlete to consciously generate as much tension as possible.
Whilst traditional lifts without bands are an excellent means of developing high levels of maximal strength, a limitation that is commonly associated with these movements when aiming to improve muscular power characteristics is the presence of a deceleration phase.
As such, accommodating resistance is a viable option to address this potential limitation when seeking improvements in muscular power and to expose the athlete to high levels of muscle tension throughout the full ROM.
Repeated exposure to this heightened tension towards the end point of a lift can potentially transfer to increased tension of the lower body, trunk, shoulder and elbow musculature at the end range of a punch.
As mentioned previously, maximal strength can contribute to the amount of core tension that an athlete is exposed to in a training week.
However, the total volume of maximal strength we perform with our athletes is relatively low.
This is because we want to avoid any unnecessary gains in muscle mass that may impair the boxer’s ability to make weight or even disrupt his/her functionality and conditioning in the ring.
Additionally, we want to limit the volume of maximal strength training we expose our boxers to due to the high training loads these athletes must endure throughout training camp.
High volumes of maximal loads can be extremely difficult to tolerate for athletes with a low strength training background and therefore it is important that we expose boxers to these high loads sparingly.
Considering the above, we can supplement maximal strength training with direct core work to impart sufficient tension on this region and promote trunk mass development which is a major contributor to punch impact.
To enhance our boxers ability to generate sufficient tension through the core at the end range of a punch the main type of core exercises we program are isometric hold variations.
With these isometric holds it is essential to put the athlete in the position that he/she can place as much tension on the core as possible.
As you’ll see below we won’t often prescribe the standard plank as a ‘go to’ here.
This is because boxers will likely recruit their shoulder and arm muscles in an attempt to keep their hips and torso off the ground by any means possible.
This will essentially take the emphasis away from the core region, defeating the purpose of the exercise and potentially exacerbating current issues with shoulder mobility.
The hold variations in our program will target the core as a whole as well as isolating certain areas of the core, particularly the obliques due to the role they play in combination and power combination.
For more information around the obliques and their role in boxing performance read our article on the topic here.
Considering the hand is the point of contact between the object and the body that has accelerated the punching arm, it is important to consider aspects of training we can use to maximise the strength and stiffness potential around the hand.
Additionally hand fractures are quite common among boxers due to the impact associated with punching opponent.
Improving grip strength can be an injury prevention mechanism as it will improve the stability of the hand and decrease deformation of this structure on contact.
From an effective mass standpoint, the structure and integrity of the hand will have a significant impact on the degree of force transfer.
A weak fist on contact will increase the chances of force dissipation and ultimately decrease punch impact along with increasing the risk of injury.
Grip strength related exercises for boxers should focus on the rapid and smooth relaxation/contraction of the muscles around the hand.
This is because boxers will often retain their guard with an open fist before turning over their hand and clenching their fist to deliver a punishing blow.
With this in mind we need to think about training the hand and wrist musculature to rapidly contract and stiffen up, similar to a punching action.
Whilst general strength training means are necessary to increase our athlete’s force production capabilities, we need to use training strategies that allow us to bridge the gap between general and specific training modalities.
Punch specific isometric holds are a great way to encourage transfer of strength and power gains to the punching action.
We will use a variety of these holds, focusing on different punch techniques to promote stiffness and tension throughout the kinetic chain and using different planes of motion.
BOXING SCIENCE’S 10 BEST EXERCISES TO IMPROVE PUNCH ‘SNAP’
So, as we can see improving punch snap requires the integration of multiple strength training methods across a training camp.
With that said, and in no particular order here’s our top 10 exercises that will improve your punching snap!
- TRAP BAR DEADLIFT WITH BANDS
The trap bar deadlift is a staple exercise in our programs, particularly during maximal strength phases.
We prefer this to the conventional deadlift as it allows boxers to adopt a much more shoulder friendly position as well as enabling them to maintain a stronger posture throughout the lift.
This places our athletes in the best position possible to lift the heaviest loads possible which is the overriding aim of max strength phases.
Adding bands to this exercise is a great way to get the most out of the concentric portion of the lift and reinforce the concept of maintaining tension throughout the ROM.
The main coaching point to takeaway form this demonstration is maintaining tension throughout and resists the band from forceful pulling you down to the floor at the top of the repetition.
The added speed and rate of force development we can obtain from the use of bands makes this a fantastic exercise to perform during strength-speed phases.
3-5 Reps x 3-5 Sets.
2. BANDED FLOOR PRESS
Floor pressing is a great horizontal pressing movement for boxers as we can load this exercise without being overly concerned with the amount of strain through the shoulder joint.
The addition of bands wills also heighten tricep muscle activation.
This will help with driving through sticking points of upper body lifts and with elbow extension at the end range of punches, contributing to increased stiffness.
The triceps can often be an underdeveloped muscle group among boxers due to the relaxation phase in between stages of heightened muscle activity.
Overloading this muscle group with exercises such as the banded floor press will help preventing elbow joint irritation and maximising punch impact.
With this exercise it’s important to cue the athlete to really drive through that sticking point.
We also need to think about creating a stable base from which to press from at the bottom of each repetition. This involves pinning the lower back against the floor and keeping the stomach tense throughout.
Finally, the athlete should pause at the bottom of each rep rather than bouncing off the floor. This will help with improving rate of force development and maximising tricep activation.
Similar to the trap bar deadlift with bands, the floor press is a great option during strength speed phases.
It may also be used as a teaching tool with lighter loads for athletes who struggle to overcome the sticking point of certain lifts.
3-5 Reps x 3-5 Sets.
3. SUPINE CORE HOLDS
The first of the core exercises in this list, supine core holds promote maximal engagement of the anterior core without forcing spinal flexion on the athlete.
Isometric holds such as these will help develop strength endurance in the core region and improve the athletes ability to create a strong brace during heavy compound lifts.
We can progress this by raising our hands which will alter the length-tension relationship of the core muscles or we can add load to increase the amount of tension going through the core.
These hold variations are usually performed for between 20-40s for 3 sets and they usually feature at the beginning of the core training journey to establish solid foundations for future training phases.
4. PALLOF WALL HOLDS
This pallor variation is an effective exercise to directly target the obliques.
The obliques are an essential muscle group for transferring rotational force from foot fist during hook and combination punches.
We tend not to use the side plank for this purpose as boxers will preferentially recruit their strong shoulder muscles, taking tension away from the obliques.
Similar to Pallof press we want to maintain a strong posture throughout and avoid shrugging the shoulders.
It is also important to note that these are submaximal holds, approximately 70-80% of a maximal voluntary contraction.
Perform 3 Reps of 3-5 second holds for 3-4 Sets.
5. MANUAL PALLOF RESISTANCE HOLDS
As a progression from the pallof wall holds, we can incorporate some manual resistance.
The main advantage of these variations is that we can derive some proprioception benefit which will help increase core tension when throwing a variety of shots in the ring.
Adopting a kneeling position such as the one demonstrated in the exercise is a great way to intensify the level of tension through the core region as support from the lower body is eliminated.
Rapid changes in the direction that the force is applied will require rapid adjustments by the core to maintain tension and prevent the torso from leaning forwards or sidewards into lateral flexion.
Proprioception work may be performed for an allocated period of time such as 15-30s where there are constant changes in the direction of force.
We usually perform 3-4 Sets.
An added advantage of these holds is they can be easily performed prior to boxing sessions or as part of the warm up prior to bouts to really fire up the core, reinforcing effective punch technique.
6. PINCH GRABS
Plate pinch grabs are one of the main exercises we use to improve the hand and wrist’s ability to contract rapidly from a previously relaxed state.
As mentioned previously, this is an important function for boxing given the frequency at which such a contraction sequence is performed in the ring.
This should be a fluid movement with a smooth transition to each rep from the last.
Compared to stationary hand and wrist exercises this variation is a great way to really emphasise the ‘open-close’/relax-contract function of the hand in boxing.
We are also able to achieve significant posterior shoulder recruitment during this exercise which will help improve kinetic chain sequencing at the end range of a punch when looking to develop high levels of stiffness.
8-10 reps each side x 3-4 sets.
7. FARMER WALKS/HOLDS
Farmers walks and holds are great exercises from which we can achieve a range of benefits including grip strength, anti-lateral flexion, posterior shoulder stability and anti-rotation.
Overloading the muscles of the hand, forearm and posterior shoulder using hold variations will contribute massively to improved stiffness of the punching arm at end ranges.
We usually hold this position for between 20-30 seconds.
We can progress this to a walk which will further challenge the core’s ability to make adjustments and maintain stability of the torso and lower body.
A key technique point that is often overlooked with farmers walks is to hold the dumbbell or kettlebell slightly away from the body. This will help emphasise the lateral stabilisers and allow for greater posterior shoulder recruitment.
We usually perform farmers walks for 10-20m on each side for a total of 3-4 sets.
8. REVERSE BARBELL CURLS
Reverse barbell curls really target the eccentric strength of the wrist.
Eccentric strength of the wrist and forearm is essential for optimising hand stiffness on impact.
Controlling the lowering portion of a reverse barbell curl will keep the wrist firm when throwing a punch and, subsequently, provide a solid base of support for the hand on impact.
From a coaching perspective it is important to cue the athlete to avoid breaking of the wrist at any stage of the movement.
Also, setting up against a wall or squat rack will reduce the likelihood of swinging the barbell.
10-12 Reps x 3-4 sets.
9. LANDMINE PUNCH W/ISO HOLD
The landmine punch with iso hold is one of the main punch specific exercises that we incorporate into our programs.
We usually program these during speed-strength and taper phases as we can achieve acute neuromuscular adaptations that will benefit punch impact on fight night.
This exercise represents an effective means of overloading the end range of a punching action.
Encouraging the athlete to resist against the downward force on the bar at the apex of the movement will promote engagement of the shoulder, trunk and hip muscle groups to generate maximal tension at end ranges.
To maintain intent and technical quality we usually prescribe lower volumes for punch specific exercises.
3-5 Reps each side x 3-4 sets.
10. MANUAL RESISTANCE PUNCH HOLD
Our final exercise on this list is the manual resistance punch hold.
The main advantage of this variation of the punch hold is that we can provide specific resistance against a variety of punching actions including hooks and uppercuts which isn’t possible with a barbell.
Another advantage of these punch hold variations is that we can perform these prior to pad work in training or before a fight to really fire up the core and glutes which will help optimise force transfer from foot to fist in the ring.
Perform these for period of 20-30s changing the angle/punching motion every 3-5 seconds. Perform for 3-4 Sets.
- McGill, S.M., Chaimberg, J.D., Frost, D.M. and Fenwick, C.M., 2010. Evidence of a double peak in muscle activation to enhance strike speed and force: an example with elite mixed martial arts fighters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(2), pp.348-357.
2. Neto, O.P., Magini, M. and Saba, M.M., 2007. The role of effective mass and hand speed in the performance of kung fu athletes compared with nonpractitioners. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 23(2), pp.139-148.
3. Smith, P.K. and Hamill, J., 1986. The effect of punching glove type and skill level on momentum-transfer. Journal of Human Movement Studies, 12(3), pp.153-161.
4. Cormie, P., McGuigan, M.R. and Newton, R.U., 2010. Changes in the eccentric phase contribute to improved stretch-shorten cycle performance after training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 42(9), pp.1731-1744.
5. Pearson, S.J. and McMahon, J., 2012. Lower limb mechanical properties. Sports medicine, 42(11), pp.929-940.