Being a successful combat athlete takes a combination of speed, agility, quickness and power, all of which need to be developed for you to become truly competitive. For instance, you can be as fast greased lightening and harder to hit than confetti in a windstorm, but without a powerful and effective punch you're a no more formidable opponent than a house fly.
This is because buzzing and annoying your competition may eventually wear them down, though if your punch only has the power of a flyswatter won't win you many bouts. Plus, your competitor isn't the only one being worn down, and you will become more hittable as fatigue sets and you become slower.
And, if your opponent has plenty of punching pop, this spells disaster for your chances of winning bouts.
The good news is that punching power is not something you either have or don't have, and there are ways to increase yours.
And, as with most aspects of the boxing game, it takes some knowledge, time and practice.
From Flyswatter to Sledgehammer: Avoiding Injury
To start, along with improving your punching power you need to strengthen your fists and wrists to avoid injury. Think of this as if you were modifying a car to race. Yes, you can simply build up the engine to produce tons of power, though it won't do much good unless you also modify the suspension and running gear to handle the extra oomph. Likewise, developing punching power without strengthening your wrists and hands is a sure recipe for injury.
To strengthen your hands, use rice in a bucket or tub and dig through it using your fingertips and their strength to push through. You can also do drills involving punching through water or sandbags, though doing daily "tub-of-rice" drills are typically easiest equipment-wise and will deliver good results.
You can also suspend a weight from a line placed at the centre of a shoulder-width bar held directly in front of you at shoulder height and arm's length which is then twisted raise and lower the weight. Be prepared though, as this will not only induce the burn in your hands and wrists, but in your forearms and shoulders as well! Yes, this one is intense, but effective.
You can also get in the habit of carrying a squeeze-grip or rubber ball to use whenever you feel like, such as while driving or thinking through a work problem.
The Mechanics and Technique of Punching Power
Next, while strengthening your muscles will improve your punching power to a degree, establishing the correct mechanics will accomplish far more. This means involving your hips, shoulders, feet, core and release to deliver fast, hard, solid punches.
To demonstrate, let's look at a cricket player's swing. You'll notice that even though a player may have muscles on-top-of muscles, an "all arms" swing won't generate the bat-speed necessary to be competitive. This is because power starts from the ground up and uses the mechanical force of rotating hips and shoulders to engage much stronger muscles and generate bat-speed.
Likewise, if you punch without engaging your core and lower body, your punches will be slow and lack power. Instead, you need good strong legs and core muscles and a solid stance to "push" from. This means rolling up on your back foot to rotate your hips, torso and shoulders into the punch.
But it doesn't stop there, since there is one more crucial factor in creating punching force: the release. This involves essentially using released tension to generate power, which may be a hard concept to understand at first since it involves relaxation rather than force for it to work.
Again, let's look at a cricket batsman who remains relaxed until the bowler delivers the ball. At this point, the batter cocks their hips while pulling their hands back to create tension, which is then released along with the rotation of the hips and core to drive the bat forward, much like winding up a spring and releasing it. For a boxing punch, this means tensing up and "becoming a rock" of stored energy just before relaxing into a controlled release. Yes, we know it sounds confusing, but you'll get it.
Once the punch is delivered, impact integrity upon contact must also be employed. This involves re-tensioning the punch for an instant as it is delivered so it holds its integrity while you try to "punch through" the target. Yes, this "tense-relax-tense again" approach may seem complicated, and as a beginner you probably won't master the release or timing of your punching integrity for some time. However, be patient, work with your trainer, keep at it and know that your work will all pay off and result in stronger, faster, harder punches.
One of the best ways to learn this is by focusing on form and technique with slowed-down shadow boxing or sparring drills with a partner. Remember too that a common mistake which beginner's make is trying to use force rather than relaxation to drive the punch, which is perhaps the toughest part of learning this. Once you feel you have overcome this though, you are on your way to changing your nickname from "The Flyswatter" to "The Sledgehammer."
Exercises to Increase Punching Power
Finally, while strengthening your muscles alone won't maximize your punching power, it is nonetheless part of the equation. However, remember that one of your best tools for increasing your punching power is the same one which helps you your footwork, balance, combinations and nearly every other aspect of your boxing game: shadow boxing.
Doing slow, deliberate shadow boxing drills that are progressively sped-up while maintaining controlled form can help you develop everything you need to improve your punches. These should be done either in front of a mirror or with a trainer to watch your form so that correct muscle memory is established.
So far as other muscle-strengthening exercises, you can also do:
In fact, nearly any strengthening exercises you perform during your weight training, plyometric and static workouts can help your punching power. However, your focus needs to be on form and technique first, rather than relying on additional muscle strength to power your punches.
Having all the Tools
Developing punching power may seem no more complicated that hitting the weights and adding muscle, though as with nearly all aspects of the boxing game, things aren't so simple. In fact, a "don't force it, get a bigger hammer" approach will do little for your punching power, and can even prove detrimental to it.
However, by concentrating your punch training on form, mechanics and technique, you can successfully improve your punching power and add one more tool to your arsenal: a HAMMER!
Good luck to your competitors at that point—they'll need it.