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 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.
Don Heatrick, owner of Heatrick Strength & Conditioning, is a renowned Level 4 Strength and Conditioning coach, Muay Thai coach and former pro Thai boxer from the UK.
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