If you’re doing any kind of martial art that relies on striking, then you know how important it is to punch fast. With over 18 years of martial arts experience, I’ve tried many different systems and I’ve seen a lot of approaches to improving your speed. Some of them are more effective at this than others.
Over the years, I’ve taken what works and incorporated it into my own practice. And in this article, I’m going to focus on the drills that have helped me learn how to punch faster. I’m also going to cover some other important factors that are going to improve your striking speed.
Drills to Improve Punching Speed
The standard way of increasing your punching speed is using a speed bag or working more speed-focused heavy bag drills. And while those methods are great, there’s also a lot to be gained from using more simple drills.
Shadow Boxing with Dumbbells
The moment you put a couple of dumbbells in your hands you’ll feel that your punches are slower. But you might be surprised at how quickly your body will adapt to the extra weight. Especially if you make a conscious effort to think about punching fast.
I’ve found that the best way to do this is to alternate – shadow box for 30-45 seconds while holding the dumbbells, 30-45 seconds without them, then 30-45 seconds with dumbbells again and so on.
While holding the dumbbells, your muscles will work overtime to compensate for the extra weight. In time, your hands will adapt. And once you let go of the dumbbells, you’ll immediately feel an increase in your speed, because your body is now compensating for a weight that isn’t there anymore.
And the more often you do this drill, the increased speed will become the new normal for you.
An added benefit of this exercise is that it raises your shoulder and arm endurance. It also helps you close off your guard and not overextend your punches.
The only caveat with this drill is that I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners – If you don’t have proper form and overextend your arms, you may injure yourself.
In terms of how heavy the dumbbells should be, between 2-5 lbs is the sweet spot for me. If you’re on the heavier side, you could use a heavier set. At the end of the day, it should be something you can feel the weight of, but still be able to maneuver around with.
Shadow Boxing with a Resistance Band
Resistance bands are another great way of improving your punching speed. Just wrap the band around the back of your shoulders and under your arms, and grab the ends with your thumbs. Depending on how long the band is, you can either wrap it slightly under your shoulders or right on top of them. If the resistance band is still too long, you can fold it in half.
Similar to shadow boxing with dumbbells, punching with a resistance band is going to make your punches slower. This is going to make your body compensate for the additional tension, and when you remove the resistance band you’re going to find that your punches are much faster.
One of the advantages of punching with a resistance band is that it puts constant tension on your arm muscles, especially if you fully extend your arm during jabs and crosses.
An added benefit is that it teaches you to pull your arm back right after you punch. This is important not only for punching faster, but also for making sure you aren’t open to counterattacks.
Like the dumbbells, you can alternate between having the band on and off for 30-45 second intervals. Or you can do one round of shadow boxing with the band, followed by one round without it.
Tennis Ball Jab Drill
This next drill is a bit harder to do, but it’s great for speed and hand-eye coordination.
To start, grab a tennis ball in your back hand. Then, bounce the ball and catch it with a jab. Once you’re comfortable with that, try to do a jab under the ball and catch it with a cross. Then, you can try to do a combination of punches before grabbing the ball with a straight punch, uppercut or hook.
You can see a demo of the drill here:
How does this exercise help you? First, it really emphasizes speed – if you let the ball drop before your combination is done, you need to try again until you’re fast enough.
It’s also great for training your accuracy. During a fight, you should always be looking for an opening in your opponent’s guard. And those openings are rarely bigger than the size of a tennis ball (which, incidentally, is about as big as a fist).
And as I already mentioned, the drill is also great for hand-eye coordination which is an essential part of improving punching speed.
No matter what type of training methods you’re using, if speed is in any way important to you, then it’s absolutely vital for you to be relaxed. The more tense you are, the slower you will be.
And this is very difficult! Because the moment you start to stiffen up, you’ll get even more tense. To compensate for this, your natural instinct is to become even more tense until you get this horrible feedback loop of tensing up, because you’re trying to compensate for being tense. All of this leads to your punches being very slow and easy to evade.
The solution to this is to make a conscious effort to be as relaxed as possible when you’re doing drills geared at improving your speed. The moment you start feeling tense, you should stop and relax your arms.
Another important factor is breathing. If you’re looking for power, you should breathe out as you’re striking, so that when your strike is finished you’ve completely exhaled your breath.
But if you’re doing a fast combination, you shouldn’t be breathing out with every single strike. Instead, it’s best to treat the combination as one single punch – have a constant exhalation as your punches are going out. That exhalation should end with the last punch of the combo.
If you’re putting your body weight behind every punch, then every punch will sound like a distinct exhalation. In fact, this is what you see when you watch an experienced fighter do a fast combo.
But if you look closely, you’ll see that they do the entire combination in one single breath.
Having the Right Mindset
Another important thing about punching faster is having the right mindset. When most people want to increase their punching speed, they think about it in terms of making each individual punch faster.
Believe it or not, this is the wrong way of thinking about it. If you’re thinking about each individual punch, you’ll find yourself getting stiffer and stiffer, and your overall punching speed will actually go down.
See, our brain likes to break things down. And when you tell it to make every single punch of a combination faster, that’s exactly what it’s going to try to do. It’s going to focus on the individual punches and neglect the transitions between them. So, you’ll end up with fast punches and very long breaks between them. Because that’s how our brains deal with a set of individual tasks.
Just like with breathing, you should think of the combination as one, single motion. And instead of thinking about individual punches, you should only focus on pulling back the last punch of the combination as quickly as possible. By focusing on the very last move of the combination, your brain will do its absolute best to speed up what came before that last move.
This works for individual punches, as well. For example, when you’re doing a jab, don’t think about throwing it quickly. Instead, focus on pulling it back as quickly as possible. As long as you’re thinking about that, your body will do the rest.
Regardless of what methods you’re using, improving your punching speed is going to take time. And that’s OK! The most important thing is to be patient and have fun with the process.
This article was a collaboration with Velin Dragoev from keenfighter.com