How To Increase Punching Speed Using The Right Weight Gloves

Training in heavier gloves has long been thought to improve strength and therefore punching speed – once you return to regular weight gloves. Others swear by shadow boxing with dumbbells and resistance bands also feature highly in the list of exercises used to increase punch speed.

Having been asked about adding resistance to punching practice to increase punch speed, I thought I’d share my thoughts…

General to Specific

All strength and conditioning training should follow a progression from general movements, to sport specific movements. When it comes loading up actual Muay Thai techniques themselves, you can’t get much more specific than that. BUT a word of caution, too much load will distort your finely tuned technique and heavy repetitions will anchor wonky form and bad habits!

So how much extra resistance is too much?

I take my lead from research into baseball pitching with various weight balls… which I believe, in the absence of punching specific research, the skill of throwing a ball is representative of throwing a punch too.

The optimum weight balls for developing maximum throwing speed was +/- 20% of the weight of the ball used in competition. So for a fighter competing in 10oz gloves… training in 12oz (+20%) to 8oz (-20%) gloves matches these demands perfectly. If you fight in 8oz gloves, then 10oz and 6oz gloves will do the trick. At the other end of the spectrum, if you fight in 12oz gloves then 10oz and 14oz gloves should be your choice.

Heavier than 20% over your competition weight will affect your punching technique – you can’t throw a heavy ball the same way as a lighter ball.
Lighter than 20% under your competition weight will change your punching style too – you can’t throw a screwed up ball of paper in the same way you would a tennis ball.

I’d also make the point that true max speed punch training should be done on the pads and bags, rather than in sparring. Trying to hit your training partners full bore in lighter gloves is NOT cool – there’s less padding protecting your partner from your knuckles.

It should be obvious by now that punching with heavy dumbbells or against resistance bands are likely to do more harm than good. In fact, resistance bands exert more resistance as you stretch them to punch, slowing your arm as it extends. That’s the opposite of the acceleration you get while throwing a real punch – you’re training to slow-down as you extend your punch!

But back to the gloves, why heavier and lighter than competition ones?

The heavier gloves develop greater force production (strength), albeit at a slightly slower rate than needed, whereas the lighter gloves train the muscles to contract at faster rate than possible with a regular weight glove.
The combination of increased force AND increased contractile speed, with highly specific skill rehearsal, makes for the fastest possible hand speed. And the +/- 20% loading ensures that the force and speed transfers to real punch performance and doesn’t sabotage punching skill.

You can go heavier in more general movements (not punching), because that won’t confuse your punching skill. And then at the other end of the extreme, experiment with +/- 20% weight gloves while punching with the maximum speed possible.

So build the general strength and power needed to boost up your punches, and fine tune that power with UNDER and OVERSPEED skill practice – but get the load right or risk spoiling your technique rather than improving it.

9 Comments

  1. shawn mann April 18, 2015 at 6:23 pm - Reply

    This article is great!
    What about shadow boxing without gloves? would it be more optimal with a -20% or should I continue without gloves?

    • DonHeatrick April 19, 2015 at 6:58 pm - Reply

      Glad you’ve got something from it Shawn.
      Shadow boxing without gloves won’t be as effective for developing max speed with your regular competition glove weight, as using a -20% glove. It’s not as specific to your competition load and technique.

  2. Lehlend May 23, 2015 at 12:21 am - Reply

    Hello Don. I love what you’re doing, blending the current research behind strength and conditioning with the traditional beauty and brutality of muay thai.

    When i was young and possessed questionable punching technique, i too had a coach who made me shadow box with #5 DBs. At the time i could not understand it, but my technique and speed was improved. I am very familiar with the research suggesting weighted movement does not help to improve speed in non weighted sport specific ballistic movements, so i could not explain why my technique/speed was improved. Lately i have read the works from Pavel and others regarding irradiation. If you’re not familiar, the concept suggests that if you squeeze a muscle group tight enough, surrounding muscle groups will contribute. So, in making a tighter fist, the shoulder tightens. Tightening of the shoulder causes the lats/rhomboids to activate. And ultimately activate the “core” thus connecting the shoulders to the hips (serape effect). I’ll come back to this.

    I recently purchased a pair of boon thai boxing gloves and quickly realized they need a little breaking in. The stiffness of the material causes me to make a tighter fist, and thus improved my shadow boxing technique. I had a revelation… I don’t believe jt was the weight in my hands that had originally helped my technique, i believe it was linking the body through irradiation (tightening my fist to bear the weight of the DB) that improved/synchronized the movement/contraction through the kinetic chain.

    Furthermore, research on western boxing shows that almost all punches thrown after a missed punch are also misssed (can’t recall the stats). This would suggest the eccentric loading (recoil from a missed punch) is to much for boxers to properly manage. So i believe (please tell me your thoughts) that the strengthening of anti rotation caused by shadow boxing with weights could contribute to greater rotational speed (concentric and eccentric). Although there are better ways to train this attribute without clouding up your punching technique with weights.

    There are not many coaches in the community using current research, so it would be a breath of fresh air to hear your thoughts on this.

    Lehlend

    • DonHeatrick May 23, 2015 at 4:34 pm - Reply

      Hi Lehland, fascinating stuff – thanks for posting. :)

      I’m familiar with muscle irradiation, and first came across the concept reading Pavel Tsatsouline’s The Naked Warrior. It’s an effective principle for any athlete, but I feel it’s particularly useful to martial artists. Although, I think most people tend to use too much tension – firing antagonist muscles when trying to move explosively, and although increasing stability they slow down and consume more energy (driving with the brake on). I think in dynamic applications, muscle irradiation is a very skilful process demanding the right balance of tension and relaxation. Training explosive lifts in the gym helps fast track this sensitivity – you have to feel it, as thinking about it is too slow.

      Punching with dumbbells may not contribute ideally to punch mechanics or punch speed, but that’s not to say there aren’t other benefits to be had from its practice. Although I would argue that there are other training options that would give the same benefits without risking punching skill pollution. I hadn’t considered the squeezing of the fist to hold onto the dumbbell, that’s of course exactly how we want the fist to behave when landing a punch – good call! That kind of ‘intelligent grip’ is something that I like to develop with kettlebells and clubbells. You don’t want to be crushing it with a death-grip the whole time, just squeezing when you need too.

      I hadn’t heard the statistic regarding missed punches before either. Interesting. Without delving into it, it strikes me that the body is protecting against potential hyperextension of the joints by limiting the output of agonist muscles. It’s the reason why fighters must balance the strength on both sides of the joints, not just focusing on prime movers (agonists). An analogy I like is that of a sports car with terrible brakes. It may be capable of accelerating to a high top speed, but with inadequate brakes it will have to go slowly into a corner or it will over shoot the road. Strong brakes would mean braking could be left as late as possible and maximum speed can be applied right up to the corner. If your antagonists are as strong as the agonist muscles then you too will brake late, ensuring maximum speed and power over a greater joint range.

      The same applies to anti-rotation core training. The stronger and stiffer you can make your body, the more force you’ll be capable of transmitting – if you can master the timing skill too. As you’ve said, there are better ways of developing this without potentially clouding up your punching technique. I also think there are more joint friendly ways too. Now over the age of 40-yrs, I’ve a few issues that have caught up with me from training practices in the past, that didn’t seem to have any ill effects at the time. It’s something I try to pass on, to save pointless wear and tear when there’s better ways of safely achieving the same or a better training effect.

      Thanks for contributing Lehland, lots of food for thought there – it’s given me another area of research to get stuck into when I get a chance. :)

      • Anthony P. July 15, 2017 at 10:04 am - Reply

        I agree with u when it come down 2 bands but as for the weighted gloves or dumbbells i training i have to disagree i noticed not only have my punches but my kicks have gotten faster because i used weights on them as i trained my trainer in muay thai had me using dumbbells but nothing crazy just 3lbs i dont think having 3 to 5 pounds extra would be a problem when u train

        • Don Heatrick July 15, 2017 at 10:30 am - Reply

          Thanks for commenting Anthony and sharing your experience.
          A small additional amount of weight will have less negative impact on technique, as will making sure there isn’t a significant volume of weighted repetitions to alter your skilled motor patterns.

          Extra resistance can also make you aware of how you generate force… if done correctly. Although a word of caution, extra resistance added to the striking limb can cause fighters to focus on the striking limb, which isn’t where your speed and power comes from. It’s actually your hips and core.

          I personally only use weighted dumbbell striking for muscular endurance for fighters that struggle to keep their guard up due to lack of local endurance at the shoulders. It’s not particularly effective for increasing punching speed and power. Instead I use explosive heavy lifts, med ball throws, and of course real punching (a general-to-specific continuum)! :)

  3. […] How To Increase Punching Speed Using The Right Weight Gloves […]

  4. Robbins Sports April 25, 2017 at 8:39 am - Reply

    In this article people will know that the heavier gloves develop greater force production or strength, albeit at a slightly slower rate than needed, whereas the lighter gloves train the muscles to contract at faster rate than possible with a regular weight glove. Glad to know this.

    • Don Heatrick April 26, 2017 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      Good summary! And to add that the differences in technique of throwing punches of a different mass should also be considered. So that desirable habits can be reinforced, with appropriate training volume. :)

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