Every fighter trains. Every fighter hits the gym and gives it their all for hours upon hours. Every punching workout is intense and focused. The punching muscles are targeted using a variety of angles with drill after drill. Often, strength training is added. Bench press and triceps pressing movements are included, since these exercises build strength and endurance in the muscles which are doing the punching. It sounds simple enough, right? However, there is a huge part of the punching process which is being neglected, even by fighters at the highest levels: The Punching Recovery Muscles.
When you punch a bag, you are bounced back. Your fists are repelled after every punch. Even though this might be such a slight push, it is enough to help you develop positive momentum in the “punch reverse” direction. This is the part of the punching process in which your fists are pulled back, so that you can deliver the next punch. Many fighters just take this part for granted, overlooking the fact that the punch recovery is actually HALF of the punching process. Their hands have to travel just as far BACK to the starting position – even further when a punch misses.
Now, when training with a bag, when the push-back is a given, many fighters don’t notice the amount of energy needed to pull a punch back to the starting position. This is likely because they don’t miss much, when hitting a bag. The bag just sits there. In real life, however, their opponent will very much be moving around, dodging and deflecting punches. Not only will the fighter have to put on the brakes and stop a punch, he will then need to muster the energy to pull the hands back to the starting punch (and possibly a defensive) position. This requires a lot of energy, and many fighters don’t realize how much energy until they get into the ring.
The solution is simple and obvious. You should be training your “punch recovery” muscles with the same intensity and attention as you train your punching muscles. Once you realize that the “holstering” of a punch, returning it to starting position, is just as important as the punch itself, you can make adjustments to your training protocols to ensure you are training these muscles in an effective manner.
There are two ways you can target your punch recovery muscles. The first is to employ shadowboxing in your training regimen. There is no bounce back from a bag when you shadow box. You are 100% responsible for delivering the punch, stopping the punch, and returning your hand to the starting position. Many fighters toss shadowboxing to the side in favor of more bag work – but it does serve some serious function in the punching recovery process. Put on your gloves, and practice punching with full speed. You’ll quickly see you have a little work to do in building the recovery muscles.
The other approach is strength training. The back, shoulders, and upper rear lat (back) muscles are the groups which pull a punch back to the starting position. Many fighters focus on chest and triceps exercises to deliver the punch, but forget the usefulness of these exercises for pulling that punch back. Once the fight starts, the imbalance becomes obvious as their punch arrives fast and hard, but is slow and off track on the way back to starting position.
Body weight pull-ups are an ideal movement for adding this muscular strength and endurance. Keep the repetition range high – in the 12 to 20 reps per set range. You aren’t trying to become big and thick, you’re trying to condition your back muscles to pull back faster in a more deliberate manner to the starting position. You can use the lat pull-down bar if you don’t have the strength to complete body weight pull-ups, but focus upon achieving that strength quickly. Always pull to the front, not the back. Behind-the-neck pull-ups have wrecked many a rotator cuff- don’t let yours be one of them!
Compliment pull-ups with cable and machine work also. Seated military presses are great for strengthening the overall shoulders. Cable and dumbbell side raises target the side deltoids. Bent-over 45 degree dumbbell raises specifically target the rear deltoids (a key area for development for pulling punch power). Use various Hammer Strength, Nautilus and other gym machines to deliver more cable and pulley work to force you to pull, pull, pull that weight from every angle imaginable.
Above all, work hard to instill in your training that sense of balance when working on punching power. Yes, it is highly important for your punches to be precise, fast, and powerful. But your punch recovery must be equally deliberate, so your training should reflect this as well. Good luck!