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Power Up Your Punch

There's a good chance the first offensive technique you learned in the dojo was the punch. You found that, with a slight rotation of the hips and a snap of the arm, you could create a blow that possessed fight-ending power. Now, as part of your never-ending quest to improve your effectiveness, it's time to examine ways you can boost your punching power.


Much of your power for the punch comes from your legs and is transferred to your upper body via hip rotation. However, that's not the entire story. You also must invest in exercises designed to enhance the musculature directly involved in the punch—specifically, the pectoralis major and triceps.

The pecs are the primary muscles that move the upper arms (humerus) forward. The triceps are responsible for straightening your arms at the elbow. When you engage both groups, your arms extend powerfully in front of your torso. Add some technique, and you get a potent punch.

You can train the muscle groups individually, or you can develop them together. I prefer the latter option because it activates the shoulders and the elbows in a way that's more relevant for martial artists. By the way, this type of exercise—one that targets multiple muscle groups by activating multiple joints of the body—is called a compound-movement exercise.

—Ian Lauer, CSCS, ianlauer.com

What: Barbell Bench Press

WHY: The granddaddy of chest-developing exercises, it also strengthens the triceps. Some martial artists may argue that push-ups are superior, but push-ups are limited by your bodyweight (unless you have a partner). In contrast, the barbell enables you to move as much weight as you can handle.

HOW: Lie flat on your back on a weight bench with your eyes aimed at the barbell. Some arch in your lower back is OK, but don't let it be excessive. Keep your feet flat and pressed against the floor. Leave your hips on the bench for the duration of the lift. Once you're in position, lift the barbell off the rack so it's over your shoulders. Inhale and lower the bar in a controlled fashion. Once it touches your chest, press it back to the start position while exhaling.

PRO NOTES: First—if you have shoulder issues, avoid lowering the barbell to your chest. Second—working with lighter weights and more reps will improve endurance and conditioning, whereas lifting heavier weights for fewer reps will improve power.

HOW MANY: 3 sets of 10 reps for beginners; 5 sets of 15, 12, 10, 8 and 6 reps for intermediates; and 8 sets of 15, 12, 10, 5, 5, 10, 12, 15 reps for advanced weightlifters. Perform once or twice a week.

What: Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

WHY: This exercise is very similar to the punch. You can benefit from it even if you use considerably less weight—many people use between 20 and 35 percent of the amount they use for the barbell bench press.

You're probably thinking, If I bench-press 200 pounds, why wouldn't I dumbbell-bench-press 100 pounds in each hand? First, lifting dumbbells requires more control—and consequently activates various stabilizer muscles because it's a constant balancing act. For that reason, you have less power to funnel into simply pressing the weight.

Second, because the weight is held in only one hand at a time, the exercise presents a significant challenge to the musculature of the entire body, which struggles to maintain balance and position. This causes a massive increase in abdominal, lower-back and glute activation. The best part is, these are the same muscles that power the punch.

HOW: Lie on a bench as described above but with a dumbbell in one hand. Start with it at the side of your body just below your shoulder. Hold it in the neutral position, which means your palm is facing your torso. Exhale and press the weight up, keeping it above your shoulder while you pronate your palm—if you were standing, it would face your feet, just like it does with the punch. Inhale as you lower it back to the start position.

HOW MANY: 3 sets of 10 reps per arm for beginners; 5 sets of 15, 12, 10, 8 and 6 reps per arm for intermediates; and 8 sets of 15, 12, 10, 5, 5, 10, 12 and 15 reps per arm for advanced weightlifters. Perform once or twice a week.

Power Up Your Punch

There's a good chance the first offensive technique you learned in the dojo was the punch. You found that, with a slight rotation of the hips and a snap of the arm, you could create a blow that possessed fight-ending power. Now, as part of your never-ending quest to improve your effectiveness, it's time to examine ways you can boost your punching power.

Much of your power for the punch comes from your legs and is transferred to your upper body via hip rotation. However, that's not the entire story. You also must invest in exercises designed to enhance the musculature directly involved in the punch—specifically, the pectoralis major and triceps.

The pecs are the primary muscles that move the upper arms (humerus) forward. The triceps are responsible for straightening your arms at the elbow. When you engage both groups, your arms extend powerfully in front of your torso. Add some technique, and you get a potent punch.

You can train the muscle groups individually, or you can develop them together. I prefer the latter option because it activates the shoulders and the elbows in a way that's more relevant for martial artists. By the way, this type of exercise—one that targets multiple muscle groups by activating multiple joints of the body—is called a compound-movement exercise.

—Ian Lauer, CSCS, ianlauer.com

What: Barbell Bench Press

WHY: The granddaddy of chest-developing exercises, it also strengthens the triceps. Some martial artists may argue that push-ups are superior, but push-ups are limited by your bodyweight (unless you have a partner). In contrast, the barbell enables you to move as much weight as you can handle.

HOW: Lie flat on your back on a weight bench with your eyes aimed at the barbell. Some arch in your lower back is OK, but don't let it be excessive. Keep your feet flat and pressed against the floor. Leave your hips on the bench for the duration of the lift. Once you're in position, lift the barbell off the rack so it's over your shoulders. Inhale and lower the bar in a controlled fashion. Once it touches your chest, press it back to the start position while exhaling.

PRO NOTES: First—if you have shoulder issues, avoid lowering the barbell to your chest. Second—working with lighter weights and more reps will improve endurance and conditioning, whereas lifting heavier weights for fewer reps will improve power.

HOW MANY: 3 sets of 10 reps for beginners; 5 sets of 15, 12, 10, 8 and 6 reps for intermediates; and 8 sets of 15, 12, 10, 5, 5, 10, 12, 15 reps for advanced weightlifters. Perform once or twice a week.

What: Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

WHY: This exercise is very similar to the punch. You can benefit from it even if you use considerably less weight—many people use between 20 and 35 percent of the amount they use for the barbell bench press.

You're probably thinking, If I bench-press 200 pounds, why wouldn't I dumbbell-bench-press 100 pounds in each hand? First, lifting dumbbells requires more control—and consequently activates various stabilizer muscles because it's a constant balancing act. For that reason, you have less power to funnel into simply pressing the weight.

Second, because the weight is held in only one hand at a time, the exercise presents a significant challenge to the musculature of the entire body, which struggles to maintain balance and position. This causes a massive increase in abdominal, lower-back and glute activation. The best part is, these are the same muscles that power the punch.

HOW: Lie on a bench as described above but with a dumbbell in one hand. Start with it at the side of your body just below your shoulder. Hold it in the neutral position, which means your palm is facing your torso. Exhale and press the weight up, keeping it above your shoulder while you pronate your palm—if you were standing, it would face your feet, just like it does with the punch. Inhale as you lower it back to the start position.

HOW MANY: 3 sets of 10 reps per arm for beginners; 5 sets of 15, 12, 10, 8 and 6 reps per arm for intermediates; and 8 sets of 15, 12, 10, 5, 5, 10, 12 and 15 reps per arm for advanced weightlifters. Perform once or twice a week.

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