Source: Johan Walkter Bantz

A sport founded on speed, agility, and explosive power – boasting the finest athletes throughout the generations. From slick boxers like Muhammed Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson, to one punch killers like Mike Tyson and Anthony Joshua: fans of the sport have been blessed to watch the highest level of athleticism. This is the backbone of boxing’s claim to the 2nd most popular sport amongst young people in 2020. Technique and precision may captivate the minds of the boxing obsessed, butit’s the brutal knockouts that bring in the millions of casual viewers that watch the sport at the highest level. This article looks to break down some of the contributing factors that allow boxers to use and showcase this power.

Whilst the muscular size of Anthony Joshua and George Foreman may suggest that sheer strength is the contributing factor to power, knockouts coming from the long slender frames of boxers like Deontay Wilder and Tommy Hearn have proved to be some of the most devastating the sport has seen. This is due to the main, underlying variables of velocity production, force production, utilisation of elastic energy via a stretch shortening cycle and finally, technique. The athlete’s ability to produce high amounts of force over a short period of time with efficient transfer of energy ensures devastating knockouts.

Force and velocity will always go hand in hand when training athletes: a program focused on just one aspect has been proven to limit the power production available. Heavy compound lifts allow for an increase in force production, alongside plyometric exercises to aid the improvement of velocity production. However, force and velocity do not need to be trained separately. Olympic lift variations have been shown to allow for a high velocity movement at a higher intensity than most velocity training allows. Most velocity training must be performed at intensities within 50% of the athletes 1 rep max, whilst Olympic variations allows for intensities of >60% of the 1 rep max. Furthermore, the use of ballistic training (throwing or jumping) prevents the deceleration phase of traditional movement holding back the full production of force and velocity, and it is therefore also an essential part of any successful power production program. It has also been shown that boxers with a higher lower limb strength are able to produce a higher punching power, so strength exercises that focus on strength in the lower extremities must be implemented throughout a training camp.

Any mechanical or neurophysiological functions that alter the force or velocity production can be targeted to enhance power. The stretch shortening cycle does just this, and therefore effective utilisation of this is essential. It is the ‘pre-stretch’ or ‘countermovement’ prior to the desired movement. Within the rhythm of a punch, during the eccentric or pre-stretch phase the loaded muscle causes a stretch of the tendons, this causes a store of elastic energy. Then, during the concentric phase of the movement this elastic energy is released allowing for an increase in power. Like most variables, this can be trained through exercises such as plyometric exercises. Furthermore, it has been shown that stronger athletes are able to load the tendon with a greater force and therefore produce a higher store of energy to be transferred into a faster and stronger movement.

As many would assume, technique and experience are also key factors in a fighter’s ability to produce maximal force. Punching muscles work together in relaxing and contracting simultaneously to allow for maximal velocity, for example: as the arm extends, the bicep must relax whilst the triceps contracts. Technique training improves the relationship between this contraction and relaxation. This relationship has been shown to be stronger in more experienced boxers. Furthermore, technique and experience allow for a greater utilisation of muscle activation. During a punch, a boxer has two peaks of muscle activation. One before the punch is thrown and again when the punch lands. Activation before allows for a greater stability through the body to produce momentum through the muscle, allowing for a relaxation phase and therefore greater velocity. The second peak causes contraction of appropriate muscles to create stiffness and increase the effective mass behind the punch, thus increasing the force behind the punch.

Power has always been one of the most popular aspects of boxing, from a viewer and athletes’ standpoint. However, many don’t realise the intricacies behind producing such power to send an opponent crashing to the canvas. There is of course, more to cover on this topic, but this article introduces and highlights some of the basic themes behind power production and how you as an athlete can train to achieve this effectively.

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