Why you should improve your strength to increase your knockout power

Would you rather fight someone with zero technique, but has the power of a crocodile bite or would you rather fight someone who has the technique of the legendary boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, but has the power of a two-year-old toddler? Most of you, even non-fighters, will choose the technician with zero power for one simple reason. There is no reason to be afraid of someone who fights but has close to no power. After all, we’re not scared of the Malaria mosquito, but rather of the power of the venom it contains and what it can do to us.

“I really love doing strength and conditioning, because I’m feeling stronger, I’m getting faster, I get power[ful].” – Edson Barboza, UFC fighter

When a fight ends with a knockout, the fighter, and the audience is satisfied. There are few things more spectacular than a knockout. And to top it all off, it is the ultimate form of entertainment when it comes to martial arts. While a knockout punch is a combination of several elements, such as technique, distance, velocity, accuracy, timing, fighting IQ, and the element of surprise. One of the underestimated elements is strength and power.

The importance of strength can not be underestimated in any sport, let alone in martial arts. After all, at the root of movement, we find strength. The effectiveness of a technique lies in its ability to apply force to an opponent, whether it is a chokehold or a right hook to the body. It is all about how much damage you can bring to the opponent and get the win. 

Somewhere in history, a fallacy was brought into the world that training with weights is counterproductive because it would make someone slower and bulkier. This could not be farther from the truth. The key lies in understanding strength and understanding what the athlete needs for his or her sport. You would not train a boxer exactly the same as a wrestler. If you do, the yielded results will do no good to the athlete, even worse they might harm the athlete’s performance. In that case, it is easy to blame the strength training and not the coach.

“There was a small article in the newspaper saying how Michael was tired of taking the physical abuse from [them],” Grover recalls. “He wanted to start a strength and conditioning program, but he was afraid of lifting weights, because he wasn’t sure what the effect on his game would be. He [Michael] said he would try it out for 30 days, and it turned into 15 years. Those 15 years of one-on-one training helped produce the greatest basketball player of all time.” – Tim Grover

However, the world of science is gaining momentum in finding a correlation between strength exercises and punching and kicking power in martial arts. In several studies, the researchers found a correlation in specifically lower-limb strength and punching power. This makes perfect sense since punching is done by a rotating movement which is initiated by the feet and ends in the fist. This is also known as the kinetic chain. And as with any chain, if one of the links is not working at its full capacity the entire chain will suffer. 

If we take a look at the science behind a punch we see that impulse-momentum is where it all starts. These can be broken down into force x time (rapid force production) and mass x velocity (moving mass quickly). This means we can improve punching power by increasing mass, i.e. gaining weight. Since fighters are restricted to their weight classes, this way of increasing power becomes obsolete. This is also the reason why a featherweight can not compare to the power of a heavyweight. 

According to a study done in 1985, it took a professional boxer about 100 milliseconds to start and finish a punch. This means that the time to produce force is limited. This also explains why increasing the rate of force production (RFD) is important for fighters. The ability to produce a lot of force as quickly as possible determines how hard you can punch. And, more importantly, one of the determining factors of RFD is the maximal strength of a person. This means that the stronger an athlete is the more likely it is that the athlete can produce force rapidly.

“Players that are deconditioned and lack appropriate strength levels are most susceptible to [knee] injuries.” – Mark Asanovich

Another key factor in a punch is the ability to reverse it. After all, It does no good to leave the arm extended after a punch as the opponent often tends to hit back. In strength terms, this is called reversal strength, i.e. the ability to reverse during a movement. Maximal strength also hugely determines the athlete’s ability to reverse motion. When sports commentators talk about the ‘snappiness’ of a punch, they actually mean the reversal strength the athlete displayed when executing a punch.

This means that in order to punch harder and have the ability to knock someone out a fighter should work on increasing his or her maximal strength, rate of force production, and explosive strength. Lastly, the fighter works on the ability to maintain as much of his or her strength as the rounds go on. This is known as strength endurance. 

 “Strength is never a weakness” – Louie Simmons

The author has found through his own research with training fighters of various fighting disciplines that if develops hip strength, both maximal strength and strength endurance, in combination with increasing explosive strength, the punching and kicking power improve of a fighter.

By developing a stronger fighter everyone wins. The fighter wins because he or she will gain strength, get faster, be more explosive, recover better, mitigate injuries, have more confidence, punch harder, overall be in better shape, and last but not least, hit his opponent to the canvas. The audience wins because the probability of witnessing a knockout has increased. The matchmaker now has a better opportunity to make better fights which in turn attracts a bigger audience which results in a bigger turnover.


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Author: Sanjay Soekhoe

Sanjay Soekhoe is a professional strength and conditioning coach and boxing coach. Currently, he trains athletes in various disciplines. He is one of the few Westside Barbell certified coaches in the world and the first in the Netherlands.