There’s a popular misconception that lifting HEAVY weights could increase punching power. Every month I see endless emails, forums, and websites full of fighters trying to rationalize the benefits of weights for fighting. Not surprisingly, many are written by guys with limited fighting experience. Weight training CAN build powerful muscles but won’t guarantee you powerful punches.
I’ll give you 5 reasons why…
My experience with weights
As a teenager, I lifted weights for all sorts of reasons — functional & aesthetic. In middle school, I lifted weights to impress the girls (it didn’t work, by the way). In high school, I followed an explosive weight training routine in track & field to increase my sprinting power. After track & field, I spent 5 years in powerlifting developing my strength and power through intense weight training. It was during my powerlifting phase that I discovered boxing.
I TOO, thought my powerlifting background would give me an advantage in boxing. If lifting weights made me a more powerful lifter, shouldn’t it make me a more powerful puncher as well? I heard about old school boxers staying away from weights but I refused to give up my self-proclaimed “advantage”. When comparing myself to other beginners, I could see that I was stronger than all of them. My boxing trainer and all the pro boxers in the gym told me to stop lifting weights. They all challenged my theories stressing that weights would make me slow and stiff, and get tired faster. They told me the back-in-the-days boxing champions never lifted weights. Yet still, I resisted. I couldn’t understand how a power exercise could ever be dentrimental to a power-sport!
The turning point came when I started losing sparring matches against faster, skinnier guys. They carried a slender build but hit so much harder than me! I kept thinking their technique was better or that maybe I hadn’t been boxing long enough. I finally got sick of losing and decided to obey my trainer’s every word. I stopped lifting weights among other things and within weeks, I was punching faster and harder. What shocked me was that I wasn’t only punching harder, my boxing skill had also improved. Looking back, I can see clearly that lifting weights really held me back. It makes a lot of sense when you understand punching technique.
Why Lifting Weights Won’t Increase Punching Power
REASON #1 – Punching is a snapping motion, NOT a pushing motion
Lifting weights is a PUSHING MOTION.
You exert as much force as possible, as consistently as possible, to lift the heaviest weight you can. During a pushing motion, the object is moved by you first establishing contact and exerting force over a relatively extended period of time.
The natural progression of lifting weights is to lift heavier. Of course, everyone tries to lift fast but once they’re able to lift something, the next step is to lift HEAVIER. Speed is not the focus, strength is. Unfortunately many beginner fighters falsely believe punching to be the same pushing motion. These beginners think the goal of punching is to push their fist with as much force as possible to penetrate their opponent as hard as possible.
Examples of sports with PUSHING motions (all of these also have snapping motions):
Punching is a SNAPPING MOTION.
A snapping motion is to exert as much force as possible in the least amount of time. With a snapping motion, you accelerate your hand towards the object and then use the IMPACT of that acceleration to exert force.
Suppose you want to punch fast. The goal would be to explode on your opponent with the fastest punch possible and make contact with your opponent with the shortest amount of time. A punch is not a push, it’s a quick explosion, an accelerated force that reaches maximum power upon contact. When lifting weights, you can take a few seconds to exert your strength. When punching an opponent, you don’t have this luxury of time–he has to feel your power right when you touch him. Your fist must SNAP upon impact and return quickly so you can throw other punches or go back on defense. The speed requirement of punching increases the explosive damage your opponent feels. Lifting weights has far less emphasis on speed, which costs you EXPLOSIVE power.
Examples of sports with SNAPPING motions:
- baseball (hitting, not throwing)
Pushing vs Snapping
The main difference between a pushing motion and a snapping motion is the amount of contact time made and the consistency of energy committed. Compare the bodies of these different types of athletes. If weightlifting improved snapping movements, wouldn’t professional volleyball players be lifting weights so they could spike the ball harder? If weightlifters had punching advantages, they would all be strong punchers, right?
Pushing definitely allows you to move heavier objects because you have more time to apply force. Snapping allows you to apply more explosive force (damage) because you have the freedom to accelerate. You could say that pushing is like throwing a baseball, whereas snapping is like spiking a volleyball. Both are powerful movements but punching is definitely more like snapping than pushing.
REASON #2 – Powerful Punches Require Relaxation, NOT Strong Muscles
Many fighters don’t know how to punch…
When you don’t know how to punch, all your punches become pushes. Without the proper technique, all you can do is use your strength and power. This is why lifting weights actually helped me punch harder as a beginner. But the difference was only marginal, I was maybe 20% more powerful at best. Learning proper technique maybe tripled my power.
So how DO you punch?
I won’t go into specifics right now but here are some simple concepts:
- Punching power (damage caused) = acceleration (hand speed) x force (muscle strength & body weight)
- You punch harder by using committing more speed and more force.
How do you increase power WITHOUT using more energy?
Now here’s the trick to punching RIDICULOUSLY HARD. There are 2 ways to accelerate more force into your opponent. One common way is to spend more energy. It’s logical, it works, but is it effective? NOPE! Using more energy increases your punching power but it doesn’t increase the explosion effect. It feels like a harder push and it doesn’t give your punches that *BANG!* effect.
The OTHER way (the only way) to generate explosive force, is to DECREASE the “weight” so that your punch travels faster. Then you add the weight at the very end of the punch when it lands—this makes your punches faster and use less energy! So what is “the weight” and how do you decrease it? The weight in this case is the TENSION in your body! The more tense and the heavier your body is, the heavier your punching weight becomes. You decrease this weight by RELAXING YOUR BODY as you punch, allowing your punching weight to accelerate freely towards your opponent. Right before your punch lands is when your foot finishes the pivot, your hip rotates, and the shoulders turn over to form the punch. In this final moment, you need only a short compact contraction to SNAP your entire body (like a rubberband) into one unified explosive punch. The better you are at relaxing your body, the more powerful you will be!
Relax to aid the snap
The relaxing motion is a critical aspect of punching power.
Relax the body by letting go of your muscles. This relaxing motion, this “release” of your body allows your punch to accelerate faster creating a far more devastating explosion when you finally add weight. If you think about it: the punching motion is relaxing your fist as much as possible towards your opponent, leaving only the final moment of impact for your muscle contraction. Learn how to exert force through relaxation and you will have mastered 99% of your punching technique.
Now of course, relaxing your body doesn’t mean letting your body flop all over the place. Use proper punching form to relax your body INTO the motion of the punch. Then contract all your muscles simultaneously at the very end to finally add weight to the punch. Mastering this split-second timing of punching with your entire body all at once, is what makes the punch incredibly powerful. (Increasing your muscle power is useless if you can’t get your body to hit all at once.)
An explosive punch is 99.99% snap, and 0.01% push.
Lifting weights will not train you to relax and only makes your body slow during the contraction phase of the punch. If you’re so use to exerting force over a period of several seconds, how will you be able to exert maximum force in only a split second? The simple answer is that you can’t (or you won’t be as good at it).
Proper punching requires snapping movement (exerting maximum force in the shortest time possible). Unfortunately, most fighters are only taught the proper punching form, which is easy to teach because you can see it. Technique on the other hand, has to be felt and has to be taught. It’s a special skill requiring a combination of timing and visualization. Now you understand why an old skillful boxer can still punch harder than a young athletic kid. It’s because he’s mastered the timing of relaxing his body and then contracting his muscles in the right moment to deliver the explosive power.
Beginner punchers increase power through effort.
Skilled punchers increase power through relaxation.
REASON #3 – Lifting Weights Can Decrease Your Muscle Relaxation Capacity
This is where the old school arguments against weights come in. I’m sure you’ve heard them all before.
- makes you slow
- makes you stiff
- makes you tire out faster
Is it true? Well, let’s think about the extremes. Suppose I was to compare two guys– one being a weightlifter and the other being a dancer. How might their bodies look differently? How might their bodies move differently? Which body do you think would better mimic the movements of a boxer?
In my case the old school arguments were true. Powerlifting limited my speed and endurance, while making me “stiff”. I didn’t feel disadvantaged against other beginners but against experienced fighters, they were all MUCH faster and punched harder with more endurance. They didn’t use any weights and begged me to do the same.
Suppose you don’t care about being slower or having less endurance. You should still consider the chances that lifting weights might HAMPER your relaxation capacity and thus your power punching ability. Even a slight decrease in speed can make the difference between a landed punch and a missed punch. Being more powerful isn’t worth it if you can’t sustain that power for a whole 3 rounds.
The Real Problem with Weights and Fighting
I don’t truly believe that lifting weights makes you stiff. Maybe it just promotes the wrong attitude in beginner athletes. Most people only know how to move powerfully by straining their muscles instead of relaxing. Relaxing for power is a very foreign concept and takes time to practice. The real risk of lifting weights is that you never learn how to move powerfully by relaxing.
Weight lifting doesn’t teach you how to relax,
and doesn’t help you practice that type of movement.
REASON #4 – The Weight Behind Your Punches Is NOT Your Muscle
Lifting weights generates force PURELY from your muscles. Punching generates force by converting your body weight’s gravitational into forward impact. Of course, you could try and generate punching power using your muscle but everybody knows that’s inefficient use of energy. I’d rather drop my 145lb frame 100 times each round then to try and generate 145lbs of force with every punch through my muscles…you get what I’m saying?
The force behind your punches is generately mostly from your body weight. Your muscles’ role in punching power is to make your body weight heavier AND DIRECT THE FORCE into your opponent. Your muscles don’t have to generate any punching force, they simply tighten your body into a compact “weight” and direct this weight into your opponent.
Imagine if you wanted to punch the ground. Instead of punching the ground directly, you drop a weight a mid-air, and use your muscles to SLAP that weight making it drop faster to the ground. So instead of using your muscles to punch your opponent, you’re using your muscles to snap your body to punch your opponent.
Alternative visualization: imagine that you want you cannonball jump into the water and make a big splash. You can be as powerfully muscular as you want, but your body weight doesn’t change and that splash stays relatively the same. Your ability to relax determines how high you can jump. Your muscle power and technique determines how tight you can squeeze yourself into a compact cannonball. My point is: muscle power alone can’t punch harder than your body weight.
REASON #5 – Punching Power Doesn’t Guarantee Damage Delivered
Punching Power vs Damaged Delivered
The amount of damage delivered is determined by:
- muscle power (conditioning)
- technique (skill)
- angle (skill)
- accuracy (skill)
- timing (skill)
Boxing is a punching contest, not a power contest.
Having powerful muscles doesn’t guarantee a great punch. You’ve got to have skill. You need technique, angle, accuracy, and timing. Beginners rely on raw power during slugfests, but experienced fighters generate far more power using SKILLS!
Your skills make up more of your FUNCTIONAL punching power than anything else. I can punch 3 times harder than when I first started boxing, and I’m sure it’s not because I’m 3 times stronger. If I only had a limited number of hours to workout, I’d be prioritizing my skill development. Boxing is a skill sport so you need skills to be able to use your power. Unless you’re only interested in showing off on the heavy bag, you need skills to use your power in fights.
Try hitting the double-end bag with your hardest punches and use that as an indicator of your functional punching power. If you can’t hit the moving bag with your power, you probably won’t be able to hit a live opponent either. Good opponents move more like double-end bags than heavy bags.
Is it IMPOSSIBLE to Lift Weights for Boxing?
I’m not saying you can’t ever lift weights for boxing.
I’m only saying: “lifting heavy weights will not increase punching power”.
There are dozens of great uses for weights. There are nice exercises for targeting different muscle groups. You can build your support muscles with small dumbbells. You can work on specific muscle groups that are otherwise difficult to target with calisthenics (bodyweight exercises).
The key to any effective exercise, weightlifting or not, is to develop functional boxing conditioning. Whatever exercise you do, make sure it translates into better boxing ability—this can mean an increase in physical capacity or an increase in motor control or even muscle support (reduce chance of injury). Look carefully at the bodies of most boxers. If your exercises make your body look different, you might be developing the wrong physique for boxing.
NOTE: those of you wondering if it’s a good idea to shadowbox at high speed while holding dumbbells–it’s a bad idea. It hurts your joints and doesn’t make you much faster or stronger. That exercise is usually done by the pros using slow movements to build support muscle (not punching speed/power).
Lifting Weights Can Affect Your Fighting Ability
I wrote this article because I’ve tried dozen ways to adapt weight lifting for boxing. A part of me always searches for every possible advantage and I really thought I had it in being a powerlifter. I was humbled by so many “weaker” and less-built punchers that I had no choice but to accept the truth. There will always be someone who thinks they’re beyond the rules (me included). There will always be someone who thinks they’re so special that their body and “special training” can overcome simple facts about boxing. The worst part about training incorrectly is waking up one day to realize you’re holding back your progress.
The truth is, boxing is a fast movement type of sport. Boxing requires quick snapping movements and many of them. A single fight can have hundreds of quick snappy movements in all sorts of directions. Lifting weights is a relatively slow movement using a relatively limited range of motion, making it less effective for boxing training. Even if lifting weights did increase your punching power, you’re still better off developing your punching skills. You have to workout like a boxer if you want to be a boxer.
Boxing is thousands of years old and weights are not a new invention. If weight-training had a place in boxing training, there would have been a mainstream use for them by now. There is nothing new about the concept of using resistance training to develop power. You can give it a new name or switch the loads and reps around but there is nothing new about it. Every single dedicated athlete is always looking for new ways to improve their body and you can bet that heavy weights would have become mainstream by now had it really been that effective.
I am aware of recent boxers weight-training but none that achieved the levels of physicality and skill as the old timers did. The overwhelming majority of trained boxers and coaches are still against weight lifting. The exceptions to this rule are few and far between. I’ve been to a bagillion gyms and seen hundreds of pros work out. To this day, I have never seen ANY of them using heavy weights. I beg you to go to the best boxing gym you can find, ask the head coach about weights and see what he says.
*** I’ve come to realize a lot of people are in heated disagreement with me over this article. And to you guys, I have only this to say: THE REASON WHY I DON’T NEED TO LIFT HEAVY WEIGHTS is because I have damn good punching technique. I am by far the hardest p4p puncher in my gym and I don’t touch a single weight. I don’t train like the average boxer, I don’t think like the average boxer, and I sure as hell don’t punch like the average boxer. In fact, I could stop training for a whole year and still punch harder than most boxers.
The reason why some people punch harder with weights is because their technique sucks. If you don’t know how to use your body weight, then sure…doing things like strengthening your muscles and trying to push your fist through your opponent might help. Telling me you need weights to punch harder is like saying you need a swim suit to swim fast. I don’t dispute that weights MIGHT make me punch harder…but the truth is, I already punch damn hard just as it is right now.
But please, do your homework and don’t just listen to me. Go ask top trainers like Freddie Roach or Roger Mayweather on how much effect weight lifting has on punching power. Talk to somebody that’s been in the game for over 20, 30, 40 years. If you want to dismiss their EXPERIENCE as being “old-school” or “old fashion”, well then by all means do so at your loss. I listen to the trainers with the best fighters.
- CHECK OUT THE UPDATE!: Why Lifting Weights Won’t Increase Punching Power – PART 2