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Since being told that biceps are bad for punching speed, I've toned down the amount of pull-ups I do, and switched to a wide grip with palms facing away to emphasize the lats more than the biceps. Now I'm worried whether lats are also bad for punching speed...

I've also heard that triceps-training exercises like push-ups are good, particularly if you can do them plyometrically (i.e. with a "hop" at the top).

What other exercises are good, or bad, for punching and kicking speed? Any suggestions would be appreciated, though I would prefer exercises that can be done at home (e.g. calisthenics). I would also accept answers to the slightly different question "what muscles are good/bad to train", without recommending particular exercises.

EDIT: Thanks for the many responses. One thing that would be greatly appreciated are some suggestions of exercises for training kick speed, since nobody has commented on that yet.

EDIT #2: As has been commented below, speed and accuracy are more a matter of muscle coordination than muscle strength. However, I was thinking of starting martial arts classes in the summer, so I'm hoping to get exercise tips, to better direct my workouts until then.

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I studied Wing Tsun Kung Fu for a while, and there was an emphasis on strengthening the lats and using them to generate force. –  Greg Mar 12 '11 at 1:30
    
you might want to look at different ways to punch (I like wing chun chain punch technique - it's really fast and powerful) –  Steve Veller Mar 12 '11 at 13:35
    
I remember when learning Shotokan style that emphasis was on the retraction of the punch (it should be twice as fast as the extension). Accuracy + Speed = Power is what our formula was. There was also mention of doing exercises that encouraged 'muscle twitch' (Sensai's own term, used as a denotation?) where the idea was to train the muscles using quick contractions, like instead of hard and heavy squats, try leaping up onto an object (like a park bench) and back to the ground. –  user423 Mar 12 '11 at 16:43
    
"biceps are bad for punching speed" - this is a major misinformation, you should smack whoever told you that. Arms play a minor role in the delivery of the punch, most of it is your feet and body. –  Alex B Apr 13 '11 at 23:56
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8 Answers 8

up vote 5 down vote accepted

First - don't focus on single muscles - muscles do not work independent from each other. A punch is a combination of shoulder, lats, delts (I don't think biceps really come into play-at least in a major way). The biggest inhibitor to speed is muscle tension, if you feel yourself tensing while delivery, you're slowing yourself down. Plyometric pushups (clapping pushups) are great, band resistance training is good (rows, presses), but what I would think is the #1 way to improve speed and strength is using a heavy bag....one last bit of advice: it's not speed that's important, it's timing.

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Just a note: Biceps would not be involved in the punching arm, but using the opposite arm for reaction force would use the biceps. –  JohnP Jul 18 '12 at 21:27
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Don't underestimate the importance of just exercising your technique for increasing speed. Often the problem is not so much how fast can you throw your hand forward, but how fast can you do it correctly, with the proper rhythm, form etc. That's what makes a correct quick punch difficult to do. It's not so much the muscle contraction, it's that there are many things that need to happen all at once.

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Agreed. That's how 100-lb Chinese seniors can punch through concrete blocks. –  Matthew Read Mar 12 '11 at 4:00
    
Thanks for the tip. I'm thinking of starting classes in some strike-based martial art in the summer, so I'll be sure to think of this then. In the meantime, I'm looking to get some exercise pointers so I could direct my winter/spring workouts constructively. –  SuperElectric Mar 12 '11 at 22:39
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Executing a correct kick takes some time to master. I would be more worried about mobility than anything else. Start stretching. Also you can try exercising by lifting (and holding) your legs up, either in front of you (knee up, as high as you can) or to your side. Training core muscles is also important. Don't forget cardio. In other words, just a regular and complete training routine :) –  Alex Florescu Mar 13 '11 at 3:05
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My sensei has always taught me that speed and power are in the technique. If you get the technique down, the rest will come. He also taught me that all my power comes from the core--or body.

Both your punches and your kicks originate in your hips, and the rest of your muscles support it. That's how you can generate enough power to break a board only 3" away from your fist.

With the way I've been taught, any time I increase my core strength, I'm increasing the speed and power with which I can deliver both a punch and a kick. Concentrate on your technique/form and the rest will follow.

Speed comes from knowing the technique so well you don't even have to think about it. It just happens. When you've trained your body to react to a strike a certain way, you can block and counter it without active thought. It's that edge that makes you fast. And if your body knows what to do without thinking, the timing also comes more naturally.

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Clap push-ups

In this exercise you assume the push-up position, then performs a push-up in an explosive manner, launching your upper body off the ground to a height where the participant has time to clap their hands together then place their hands back on the ground in the original start position. In this exercise the participant continues to perform repetitions until there is a loss in technique.

Power push-ups from a kneeling position

In this exercise the participant kneels on the ground with their body vertical and their spine in the neutral position, the participant then falls forwards (keeping the spine in the neutral position) placing their hands on the ground in the push-up position, then explosively performs a push-up, pushing their body back to the original start position.In this exercise the participant keeps performing repetitions until the participant can no longer push themselves back to the start position or until there is a loss in technique.

Bench-Press throw

In this exercise the participant sets up a Smith-Machine as if to do a regular Bench-Press, the participant then unlocks the bar and lowers the bar to the chest at a rapid pace then explosively pushes the bar into the air (and out of the hands), attempting to achieve as much height with the bar as possible, then catching the bar. Increasing the weight of the bar will result in a loss of speed and height, each time you increase the weight of the bar, your 2 main objectives will be to work on the speed component and work towards achieving the same height reached with the previous lighter weight. If the weight is too heavy there will be a noticeable loss in speed, height and technique.

Horizontal push-press

In this exercise the participant holds a BB at chest height while standing in a shoulder-width stance.

1) The participant then explosively drives the BB horizontally while at the same time driving the left foot forwards and the right foot backwards into a fighting stance.

2) The participant then explosively pulls the bar back into the chest while at the same time explosively returning the feet to a shoulder-width stance.

3) The participant again explosively drives the bar horizontally this time the right foot is driven forwards and the left foot is driven backwards into a fighting stance.

4) This sequence is repeated again and again

In this exercise the participant either works for maximal reps (power endurance), stopping when there is a loss in technique, or works towards a set rep range. Increasing the weight of the BB will result in a loss in speed, the participant will also find it harder to be able to continually keep the bar at chest height as gravity is constantly pulling the bar in a downwards direction. Each time you increase the weight of the BB your objective will be to work on the speed component while keeping immaculate technique, if the additional weight is too heavy, there will be a noticeable loss in speed and technique

Measuring your power out put

Throwing a shot put in the same manner in which you would throw a punch is a great means to measure your punching power, if the distance that you are throwing the shot put is increasing and you are still able to hold good form, then your punching power must also be increasing. Throwing a shot put in the same manner in which you would throw a punch is also a great exercise to develop your maximal power in the same manner you would use a 1RM in the gym for strength training. In this exercise the participant adopts an orthodox-fighting stance and holds the shot put in their right hand, resting the shot put against their cheek. The participant then explosively throws the shot put as if they were throwing a right cross from a standing position, rotating their upper body anti-clockwise, throwing their right shoulder forwards while pulling their left shoulder backwards. It is important that the technique used to throw the shot put is the same as the technique used to throw a right cross. To keep the exercise simplistic and effective, keep your feet stationary and don’t use any unnecessary momentum to assist you in throwing the shot put. The same exercise is then repeated off the opposite side of the body, using the left hand to throw the shot put as if throwing a left cross from a southpaw fighting stance.

Shot puts come in a range of sizes going from 2kg to 8kg in 1kg increments. Start with a 2kg shot put which is approximately six times the weight of a 12- oz boxing glove, as the 2kg shot put is considerably heavier than a 12oz boxing glove, there will be a considerable loss of speed at which the shot put is thrown compared to the speed at which a right cross is thrown with a 12oz boxing glove on. Initially your objective is to work on the speed component while keeping immaculate technique, if the speed at which you throw the shot put increases then your throwing distance will increase which inturn means that your power output has also increased. Each time you go onto a heavier shot put, your training goal will be to work towards achieving the same distance thrown with the previous lighter shot put, if the shot put is too heavy there will be a noticeable loss in technique and speed and distance.

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The serratus anterior is the muscle directly responsible for punching.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c6/Serratus_anterior.png/250px-Serratus_anterior.png

Wikipedia:

The serratus anterior is occasionally called the "big swing muscle" or "boxer's muscle" because it is largely responsible for the protraction of the scapula — that is, the pulling of the scapula forward and around the rib cage that occurs when someone throws a punch.

You can increase the strength of the serratus anterior by doing pullovers.

I agree with some of other responses, saying that other muscles are indirectly related to punching. The tricep and chest are probably also just as important as the serratus anterior.

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Another good way to increase speed is to do whatever sequence of punching/striking moves you normally do with hand weights, slowly. Remove weights and do it as fast as you can. Hand weights back on, slow. Off, quick. Do that three times and you'll be amazed at the change.

Note: We did this in my martial arts class yesterday, and it made a dramatic improvement in speed.

Another Note: I would think that this same technique would be effective with a sequence of kicking exercises as well.

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No exercise is "bad" for punching speed. You may not want to add additional mass since fighting in a higher weight class is less than awesome, but bicep exercise will not inhibit you punching speed. You will want to focus on training your fast twitch muscle my doing exercise that are focussed on delving power as quickly as possible. Think explosive type pll ups where you clap your hands or medicine ball throws where you try to throw it as far as possible.

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+1 No bad exercises or muscles. If you get "half" of your body a lot stronger than the other that can cause a lot of problems because of strength imbalance. Also, are you only punching once? Think about it. You want to be able to pull your hand back quickly as well so you can connect with another punch. –  Alex Florescu Mar 12 '11 at 2:04
    
Having more mass in your biceps contributes nothing to your punching speed since it's not an extensor muscle, and the law of inertia states that it would require more energy to move the extra mass, thus for the same energy output you will punch slower. Can you provide a source that says otherwise? –  Matthew Read Mar 12 '11 at 3:19
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I will assume that we are discussing a speed jab since for anything else,so much of the body goes into it that this becomes irrelevant. Think about the muscles involved in a simple fast jab and consider the mass of your biceps and how much it actually gets moved. Do you really think that will matter? And again, in a serious discussion about punches, recoiling (bringing your arm back) is just as important as the punch forward. You might have a super fast jab, but if your arm doesn't come back instantly, you'll get punched in the face or you won't be able to quickly connect with the next punch. –  Alex Florescu Mar 12 '11 at 4:37
    
@anothem I'm not claiming it would be a big effect, just that saying no exercise can possibly be bad is patently false. And given the size of some people's biceps, I'm quite sure it can matter. –  Matthew Read Mar 12 '11 at 6:49
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You're looking at a very narrow aspect of the picture. No it doesn't matter, as long as you train all your muscles. If you overtrain your biceps then of course there's a problem. You are wrong about the mechanics of the punch, the only time it comes from the hands exclusively is during the speed jab or similar, otherwise it's always a full-body motion. Further more, the bicep is most active in uppercuts and hooks. The biceps contracts and stabilizes your arm when you actually make contact. It is hugely important in bringing your arm back and so, for speed. –  Alex Florescu Mar 12 '11 at 14:33
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I would like to add to the first in the list:

You are one muscle, with many fibers, learn to use them, move around with them, focus them, strengthen that focus then find out about switching foci. After that, speed comes with knowing that your body learns by doing.

Disclaimer:
But build up your workouts to that point first, don't just jump into the speed part of martial arts.

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Maybe I get something wrong here, but "You are one muscle" sounds utterly wrong. –  Baarn Nov 2 '12 at 22:10
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