Landing a punch on someone in boxing obviously ends with your fist, but it starts a long time before that. The punch has travelled from the balls of your feet, through your calf muscles, through your hamstrings, through the rotation of your hips powered by your abdominal muscles and back. Only then does it get to your arms as it continues to be powered by the rotation of your shoulder, through your biceps and triceps before eventually travelling through your fist and hopefully onto your opponent.
The key questions remain, how important is each part of the body in your punch and more, how much muscle, if any, do you need to carry that power throughout your body? A lot goes into your punch, but how much of that you need to focus on is important to know. Equally important is to know the balance between technique and muscle and the relationship between muscle and force.
How Important Are Muscles?
Clearly muscles are important as there’s a reason that you see all boxers working on them to various degrees. In boxing though, it’s often a lot more about what they can do rather than how big they are.
I remember a fight that happened between Jeff Lacy and Joe Calzaghe in 2006. Calzaghe was the undefeated champion, but wasn’t given much hope against an opponent that was dubbed as a mini Mike Tyson. Lacy was muscle bound and had a string of impressive knockouts. A lot of people, especially the Americans following Lacy, thought that he blow Calzaghe away with his power.
It isn’t the first time that people expected muscle to win, and it won’t be the last. As anyone who remembers the fight will know, what happened as an absolute boxing clinic from Calzaghe. He used his far superior boxing ability to completely dominate Lacy from the first round until the last.
So what lesson does that teach us? Well it shows that boxing ability is far more important than muscles, so working on your skills should be the priority. Does it show us that you don’t need any muscle? Well no, not really. The punches thrown by Calzaghe, while not devastating, were heavy and relentless. If he wasn’t hurting him, then Lacy would have just kept walking through him and maybe would have found that shot. Also, a very few fighters have the incredible ability of Calzaghe, and when you have a more even fight, muscle become more important.
Clearly the weight that you’re fighting at is an important factor as well. That Calzaghe fight was at super-middleweight, where the balance between muscles and ability is about level.
When you’re at the likes of bantamweight, the need for muscle is very small as you’re simply very unlikely to be able to knock anyone clean out. At heavyweight the importance is clearly a lot bigger. Deontay Wilder isn’t the best boxer in the world, far from it, but due to his size and the violence of his punches, he has gotten away with it.
So clearly muscles are important, but only to a point. In order to win a boxing match at the highest level, you need a lot more. Every fighter will be looking for that base level of muscle so that they can hurt their opponent and keep them on the back foot. What muscles are important in delivering that power is often misunderstood.
Which Upper Body Muscles Are Used For Punching
The temptation is to have huge biceps, not only does it make you more powerful, but many think they look good. In order to throw a punch quickly and with power, they are clearly important. They should however be in context with the muscle in the rest of your body and the weight you want to fight at. There is no point having huge biceps if you have a weak shoulder and a weak core. Equally there is no point having huge biceps if you’re fighting at a lower weight.
You want to make sure you have a strong core, as it’s important for a few reasons in boxing. You’ll get punched in the body quite a lot and having strong muscles in that region will help you repel any attacks and take them a lot letter. Your core is also important for overall balance and poise.
Balance is hugely important as you want your centre of gravity to be strong and stable. If it is then you’ll be able to move your feet a lot more effectively and avoid attacks a lot more easily. Those core muscles are also important in being able to throw a punch as well as they are the bridge between the rotation of your hips and your shoulders.
Those shoulder muscles are vital for speed and carrying your power through your punch. In order to apply force you need to have a solid foundation on which to power from. Just like in order to jump high you need solid ground to jump from, in order for that arm to deliver a devastating punch, it needs a strong shoulder muscle to be the foundation for it.
Your ‘lat’ muscles also form a part of that core and are essential for carrying that power throughout your body. When you first start boxing training, your body can be very sore and the day after you expect that it might be your arms or legs that would have taken the brunt of the work, but in fact a lot of the time it will be your lats which is the shortened name for that back muscles that are just under your shoulders. Part of the reason they can be sore is that they don’t just play a huge role in punching, but also in bringing your arms back to your body.
Not only do your lat muscles play a vital part in pushing your arm forward, they perhaps play an even greater role in pulling your arms back. In training you will rarely be throwing a full punch that misses. Even in sparring the effect isn’t quite the same as you aren’t fighting as hard. In an actual fight there will be times where you throw a punch at full power that misses, as soon as it does you need to pull that arm back to you as quickly as possible. Your lat muscle is responsible for that. Not only do you need to work on your back for punching power, but also to make sure that your arms don’t get too tired during a fight.
To understand how your body throws a punch, imagine sitting down with your shoulders pinned to the back of a chair and throwing a punch. Just using your arms isn’t very powerful. Now lean forward and allow your shoulder to rotate, a bit more powerful. Then if you stand up in a boxing stance, and rotate your hips as well, it’ll be a lot more powerful. That’s how your whole body works for a punch.
The arm muscles are important though, and will need to be worked on. You’ll want to make sure they are lean and toned, and not big and bulky. They should match your body weight and size and be powerful, but without slowing you down. To gauge the perfect body type to throw a hard punch, you only need to look at the likes of Gennady Golovkin. He doesn’t have massive arm muscles, but they are big enough and perfect for his body size. You could go to your local gym and see numerous people with arms bigger than Golovkin, but not of them would be able to throw a punch as hard as him.
Key Upper Body Muscles
- Rotator cuff muscles (shoulder)
- Latissimus dorsi (lats)
Which Leg Muscles Should You Focus On?
The legs are equally as important as the arms in throwing a punch, but everyone has a decent level of leg muscles anyway, as humans naturally use their legs a lot more than they do their arms. With your leg muscles, the importance once again is in a balance between speed and strength. You want to be able to explosively push off from your legs when you’re throwing a punch. That explosive power is best worked upon with short powerlifting or sprint cycling.
The legs are possibly the most underrated part of throwing a punch, but as I said before, try throwing a punch from a chair and seeing how powerful it is. It won’t be half as powerful as legs are the starting point from carrying momentum through a punch and giving your body that foundation to work from. If you want to throw a devastating punch, then you need to make sure that your legs are strong.
In order to throw a punch correctly you need to pivot from your feet and pushing off from your back foot and rotating your body through the punch. You want to make sure that your calf and quad muscles are strong and able to generate that explosive power.
If you look at most boxers legs, then you’ll see that most don’t have huge muscles and that is due to the fact that muscle is heavy and requires a lot of oxygen. It’s more efficient to use that oxygen in other areas of your body and the natural size of your legs are most likely significant enough already.
There is no need to expand on your natural leg size, but instead focus on developing the muscle that you already have. That lack of size shouldn’t be taken for lack of strength those as boxers will have very lean muscle that can provide great speed through the body, without taking up many resources.
Key Leg Muscles
- Various hip muscles
- Quad muscles
The Most Important Muscles Used In Boxing
The most important muscles to a boxer though, is also the most important muscle to every human being, and that’s your heart. That’s not a metaphorical, getting up from the canvas heart; I mean literally your heart. Fitness is by far the most important thing in boxing and your heart being able to pump more oxygenated blood around your body is vital in competing in the ring. In order for your heart to do that, you need a higher level of fitness.
The fitter you are, the faster your heart will beat when you’re doing exercise. On the flip side, the fitter you are the slower your heart will beat when you’re at rest. This will means that your body gains efficiency with the oxygen used. If you’re fit, your heart will beat faster as your lungs will cope when you desperately need that oxygen and at rest it knows it doesn’t have to work as hard as your lungs could easily provide that oxygen if needed. Fitness it the most boring part of the sport, but it’s the most vital.
Boxing fitness is preferred as it gets your body used to that type of motion, so intense sparring and pad/bag work is the best to improve your fitness, but any type of intense cardio will help get you through a fight. You want to find an exercise that will raise your heartbeat and mimic what your body will go through. HIIT training is great for this as it stands for high intensity interval training. In a fight your body goes through high intensity in various intervals, so this will prepare you for a fight.
It doesn’t matter how big your arms are if you gas out after two rounds, in order to be able to throw with power, you have to have the energy to do it. It’s not sexy or glamorous, but that hard work outside the ring will give you those glory moments inside of it.
You have seen plenty of fights where one fighter may be winning in the early rounds, but then tires and can’t keep up with the pace. The greatest example of this was in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight between Muhammed Ali and George Foreman in 1974 where Foreman went into the fight as the huge favourite. He was 40-0 and known for his brutal knockouts, Ali was slightly past his best and was expected to lose.
Famously Ali sat back in the early rounds with his ‘rope-a-dope’ tactic where he relentlessly took Foreman’s huge shots on his gloves and his arms. As he did, Foreman tired and began to run out of steam. As soon as Ali saw that his opponent was slowing down, he struck and landed a series of clinical shots which knocked out the great Foreman.
It was an example of how an underdog can make use of the physical stress of a boxing match and use it to their advantage. It doesn’t really matter if your opponent is better than you if you fight smart and beat him in heart muscle. In that fight, Foreman was expected to use his superior muscles to knock his opponent out, but he couldn’t use it. By boxing smart and having an incredible level of fitness, Ali was able to use his muscle to land the crucial blows. In order to use your muscles to throw a great punch you have to be good enough to use it and you have to be fit enough to use it.
Best Workouts For Boxers
- Jog and sprint running
- Infinite push-ups with rest intervals
- Infinite burpees with rest intervals
- Sprint cycling/spinning classes
What To Focus On?
So presuming you are already working on being fitter than ever, what other muscles should you put the most focus on? As we’ve already covered, a punch requires the use of nearly all of the main muscles in your body, but some muscles used in punching are more important than others. Firstly you should look at your own body and look at where your weaknesses are.
If you already have big, strong arms, then it might be best to work on your core or developing power in your legs. Likewise, if you’ve done plenty of cycling in your life, then you may want to build up that arm muscles.
If there were one set of muscles that holds that power above all others, then it would be the upper arm muscles that carry the speed of that arm. In order to build that muscle you will want to develop it using quicker motion, rather than a long bench press. The reason for that is you need to train like a fight.
In a boxing ring, you’d never push away your opponent slowly like you would with a bench press, so why would you lift weights like that? That kind of bench pressing would create muscle if you need it, but doing activities like press-ups will build up that arm and shoulder muscle in a way that is much more related to fighting.
If you want to build up muscle considerably, then the traditional method of weightlifting would be fine for a time, but this will develop slower muscles. There is also the consideration that big muscles will slow you down. While you want to be powerful, you don’t want to be slow. That’s why doing exercises like push ups and pull ups are generally preferred as they develop muscle in a much leaner way, and won’t take away any of your speed.
If you’re looking for workouts in the gym, then using battle ropes, rope machines and resistance bands can be a great help. Again, they will develop muscles and give you strength without adding unwanted muscles mass. Battle ropes and rope machines not only work your muscles, but they also are great cardio workouts so you can increase your fitness at the same time.
With your leg and core muscles, they need to be strong and developed. Activities like sit up and burpees are great for developing core muscles and balances. Sprint interval cycling or taking spinning class will help build muscles in your legs whilst also building fitness as well.
The reality. The bigger something is, the slower it moves. If you have huge muscles, you won’t be able to move them very quickly and therefore you won’t be able to punch very hard. Who had the bigger biceps, Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder? It’s clear to see that it’s Joshua who has the bigger muscles. Who’s KO’d a much bigger percentage of his opponents? That’d be Wilder. There’s no point in having mass without speed, equally there’s no point having speed without mass. A balance has to be struck.
The Reality Of It
If you want to throw as hard as you possibly can, then you want to make sure that your body is strong in all areas. We all have seen those bodybuilding types in the gym who only work on their arms, they’d be useless in the boxing match. The first place to start would be wherever your weaknesses are, build them up so that your body has all-round strength.
You can’t transfer that power without the correct technique, having your feet in the correct position and rotating your body through a punch will give you the greatest power. There will be times where you have to punch off balance, or not in the perfect form, but if you want to throw a power punch then you’ll want to save that energy for when you’re in the right position.
Finally, there is no point building all that muscles if you’re exhausted after a round. As mentioned a lot, your whole body goes into a power punch, and therefore it takes up a whole load of energy. If you want to carry your power through the rounds, then it requires a huge level of fitness as boxing is a lot more than just trying to knock someone out with one punch.
So you want to throw a punch as hard as possible? Well as you see the answers aren’t pretty and it takes hard work. As with any sport, if you want to do something powerfully, then you have to do it with the right technique. That glory moment in the ring comes from a lot of hard work, both mentally and physically, outside of it.