Punching Body Mechanics and Movement Patterns
I love using Muay Thai, geared towards fitness, in my fitness practice. There are over 80 Cardio Muay Thai combos in my Push Ups and Pizza program, and for good reason – it’s awesome for fitness. At the time of writing this (10/16/20) I’m about a week into being certified as a conditioning coach with a focus on MMA / mud run / first responder athletes. There’s a section specifically about the biomechanics of movement and how tension plays a large factor in your efficiency of movement patterns so my brain started tying that to the mechanics of throwing a punch.
Tension and Relaxation
Before even throwing a punch (and I should probably spend way more time on this concept with people in person, like days upon days of only drilling this piece) we need to understand the concept of tension and relaxation. Pavel of StrongFirst does an excellent job of stressing tension and relaxation in stretching, bodyweight training, barbell training, and kettlebell training (with videos and certifications.) He worked with Matt Brown on tension and relaxation techniques surrounding throwing a punch as well.
So we need to understand how to properly create tension when we want it in the body and how to properly relax as well. Tight muscles are tense. We need them in a relaxed state so they’re not pulling funny on other muscles and causing issues. Self myofascial release (foam rolling, lacrosse balls, the Pso-Rite #ad, etc, etc), massage, and physical therapy all help with this.
Once you can create tension and relaxation when needed you’re almost ready to throw a punch. When the arm is swinging through the air it needs to be relaxed. A relaxed state creates speed. Before impact it needs to be tense. Like a sledgehammer making contact.
Lower Body Mechanics
The funny thing about boxers and MMA fighters is that they tend to have a few postural issues – anterior pelvic tilt (which causes issues with the low back and the hip flexors) and poor shoulder / neck mobility. Ironically these are the same issues office workers and long distance drivers suffer from. Leaving those to correctives found in other blog posts on this site, let’s look at the body as a collective structure. Your low body is very strong as it holds the rest of you up when gravity is being a pain in the neck.
You know that saying “lift with your legs, not your back.” It’s because you have a lot of power in your legs. You can probably deadlift close to your bodyweight regardless of how often you practice the exercise (granted proper movement mechanics are learned before attempting.) So if the legs are so powerful why would you only punch with your arms? You wouldn’t.
Place your arms at your sides and twist at your mid section from side to side. Let your arms swing. As your arms get up around chest level from swinging make a fist. Guess what movement you’re working. That’s right, you’re currently throwing a hook. If you throw in a slight squatting movement going deeper on one side than the other you now have the makings of an uppercut.
Bringing the shoulders into it
The shoulders are very unstable in your every day human. The hunching from driving and typing are bad. Rotating at the hips while keeping the shoulders loose (until the point of impact at which point you tense up) should somewhat reduce the repetitive stress potential of causing a shoulder injury.
It’s the twisting movement and tension that should somewhat protect. If you’re only throwing the punch from your shoulder (or worse, just your arm) without any sort of lower body engagement, then you’re setting yourself up for injury.
Let’s say you want to throw a right punch (and you’re right handed.) If you rotate your body so your left shoulder is forward you’ve now created tension almost all the way down the right side of your body. When you spin back to center (or past center so your right shoulder is now forward) you’ve essentially let a rubber band shoot out of the rubber band gun at full throttle.
Please let me know in the comments if I missed anything or if anything seems unclear regarding total body mechanics surrounding a punch. It’s not just your shoulder or your arm. It’s your whole body. Those little weight shifts and rotations allow you to build and release tension.