What Type of Fight?
There are some key points to consider when learning how to throw a knockout punch.
Firstly – what is the situation? Is it a street fight? A boxing match. A mixed martial arts (MMA) fight?
All of these have to be taken into consideration separately. Also, a knockout punch is different to punches that are thrown without the aim of a knockout, such as jabs and body shots. Although jabs can in theory knock someone unconscious, they are used as set ups for following punches, and to keep an opponent at a safe distance.
Body punches do not normally knock an opponent out, although they can end a fight via injury to kidneys, liver and ribs. They can do this with one blow (rare) but usually by a sustained onslaught over several rounds. Of course, blows like this delivered to an untrained adversary (e.g. in a self defense situation) can result in sudden incapacitation.
So what punches can potentially result in a KO? And where should they be aimed?
Where to Target Punches
A punch landed anywhere on the head with sufficient force can work. But depending on whether it is a street fight, boxing match or MMA fight, there are limitations in place.
In a street fight, it is not a good idea to land a clenched fist on to any part of the head as it often results in the one striking breaking bones in the hand. People often don’t believe me when I tell them this. But to illustrate the point, imagine hanging a sheep’s head from the ceiling with string. Go ahead and punch it as hard as you can. Well, you would think twice.
It is a solid object for a start. You wouldn’t slam your bare fist into a wall with full force and not expect an injury would you? The bone in the sheep skull is harder than brick believe it or not. And so is the bone in the human skull and surrounding bones of the cheeks and jaw.
For this reason, palm strikes are the method taught in military unarmed combat when attempting to knock an opponent out. These are not punches though and that is the subject of this discussion. So if you find yourself in such a situation, think twice before your knuckles connect with the person’s head! You could come off worse. I’ve seen it happen many a time when I worked as a doorman on the London club scene.
Ok. That deals with the limitations in a street fight. What about boxing and mixed martial arts?
Punching in Competition
In an organised contest, your hands are protected with gloves and wrapping. So hand trauma is not so much an issue – unless you are carrying a pre-existing injury or have a weakness of some kind. The limitations here are down to the rules of competition.
So this means you can’t land your punches on the back of the head, throat, or neck. Anywhere else to the head is fine. The best place is the chin as it is a leverage point. If you throw a punch that causes the head to turn fast you stand a good chance of flooring your opponent. The chin is the obvious choice as it sticks out from the rest of the head. You could go for the temples or cheeks but you won’t get as much leverage. But beggars can’t be choosers, so take whatever chance you get.
Types of Punches
If you want to turn the chin in the horizontal plane i.e. left to right or right to left, then some kind of hook will do the business. To turn the head up, then an uppercut should be used.
But the chin is not the only area that will give you results. Knocking the head back with straight punches works well if they have enough power. As stated above, you can do this with jabs but its not seen often. The Klitschko brothers are the jab experts and have finished many fights with just the left hand. Being 6 foot 8 inches tall with an 80 inch reach is a huge advantage.
But a more devastating punch would be the straight right (or left if you are a southpaw). For most fighters, this is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal. Yes I know hooks can have more speed in their delivery, but body weight transfer is greatest in a straight line.
Compare the weight you could move with a dumbbell bench press (straight path) and the weight you could move with a dumbell flye (arc movement). You can generate more power in the straight path movement. The same principle applies with punches. More on that later.
The straight right can be delivered in a number of ways, ranging from a full body power movement beginning with the feet, and channeling power from the ground through to the hands – down to the classic 1 inch punch popularized by Bruce Lee.
Whichever version is used, the aim is to force the opponent’s head back as fast and as far as possible. Therefore, the punch is delivered with a follow through in mind. This is unlike the jab, which is retracted as quickly as it was extended to get back into guard. With the straight, you want to aim to punch through your adversary and then bring it back.
If you want to land a blow with some real force behind it, you need to incorporate rotational power into the movement. Force emanating from the arm alone will not have the power to do much damage. If you don’t realize how important this principle is, I suggest the following gym experiment:
1. You will need some kind of cable pulley positioned with the handle at shoulder height.
2. Load enough weight to enable you to feel it pulling you back when you grab the handle and perform a punching out to the front movement. Not too much weight though. Enough to handle about 8-12 repetitions.
3. Brace yourself and keep your hips static and push the handle out in front a few times. You will feel your shoulders and triceps doing most of the work. Do 8-12 reps and take a minutes rest.
4. Now I want you to do the same thing but this time swivel your hips first and then as your shoulders start coming forward, release and punch out. Do about 8-12 reps. Then rest a minute.
5. What you will notice is that you can move the handle forward faster and easier. Why? Because involving your hips gives your arms and shoulders a head start. They are not working from a dead start.
6. Next, I want you to involve your feet in the movement. So instead of just rotating your hips, begin by pushing off with the ball of your right foot (if you are throwing a straight right). So now what you should find is that your hips rotate even faster than before, because they get a head start too . The transference to your shoulders and arms is even greater as well.
I hope this explains the importance of rotational power in delivering a knockout punch. You can build this exercise into your training program. Obviously do it for the left and the right sides. Make a note of the weight you use and number of reps.
At the next training session, try and increase either the reps, weight, speed of movement, or a combination of all three. Just keep trying to progress somewhere. Do about 3-5 sets each side. Rest anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes between sets.
If you want to add a conditioning aspect to this exercise, have no more than 15 seconds rest between sets as you swap from left to right. This will increase not only absolute punching power, but your cardio-vascular capacity and muscle endurace too. You need all three to become a well rounded fighter.
You should be able to punch with full force at any point in the fight. If you have not got the muscle endurance and conditioning you will weaken as the fight progresses. This type of training will ensure you have enough gas in the tank.
Heavy Bag Drills
Punch bag training is essential in developing knockout technique. It allows you to simulate landing on a human, and practice combinations of punches. It will increase speed of delivery, muscle endurance and cardio-vascular capacity. Punch bags alone though will not do much to increase your force of delivery. Here’s a quick physics lesson to explain why.
1. Force = mass x acceleration. Heavy bag drills will go some way to increase the acceleration aspect of the equation, but mass, my friend, is down to the meat you got on your bones!
2. Let me illustrate in another way. Imagine you are a linebacker and want to improve your game. Problem is you only weigh 150 lbs.
3. You can practice running into pads all day long, but unless you put some weight on, you’re not going to get far. Running into the pads will only increase your speed.
Weight Training and Diet
So how does this relate to the combat athlete learning how to throw a knockout punch? Well, you have to increase your mass, via resistance training and diet if your goal is to punch with more force. The best resistance exercises to perform would be those that increase strength and size, but also are specific to the movements in a real fight. So the cable exercise above is ideal. But there are plenty of other MMA weight training exercises that you should use.
Reflexes and Accuracy
Its all very well having a powerful punch, but unless you can hit the target, it is useless. Hitting a punch bag is no big deal. But hitting a human being’s head is not so simple. Especially when blows are coming your way at the same time. So what can we do to in terms of fight training to make sure we have a good chance of connecting?
The obvious choice. As close to a real fight as you can get the better- without injury. Save that for competition. How close sparing comes to a real fight scenario depends on several factors. How good is your sparring partner? How hard do you want to spar? Mexican boxers are renowned for sparring hard. So no wonder they produce some the most successful and toughest fighters in the world. You need the right equipment such as headguards, gloves (the bigger the better if you don’t want injuries– 16oz is ideal). If its an overall MMA session then shin guards too. Sparring will help hone the reflexes and should be a foundation of your training. Spar for the same length of time the rounds are in your sport. Usually 3 or 5 minutes.
Double End Bag
This favourite of professional boxers will go a long way in teaching you how to throw a knockout punch. Its a soccer sized ball with 2 ropes that hold it tight to the floor and ceiling. When you hit it, it pings around wildly and fast. This teaches you to hit a rapidly moving target and dodge incoming blows at the same time.
At first you will find yourself missing and being hit. But after a few sessions your brain will start adapting and your reflexes will improve. Its a good cardio workout and will also condition your legs, hips, abs and lower back as it forces you to dodge and weave.
You’ll find that you can see punches coming at you in sparring sessions and a real fight a lot earlier once you’ve gotten to grips with the double end bag. Also, instead of missing the ball as you did in your first few sessions, you will connect accurately because the double end bag improves your co-ordination and anticipation.
Uppercut Training for a Knockout
Knockout by uppercut is a good way to end a match during in-fighting. You might prefer to fight up close or your opponent may be forcing the issue against your will. If you are a rangy tall fighter, then you probably want to maintain distance, use your jab a lot and wait for the right moment to deliver a straight right or hook. But if you are up against a pressure fighter who continually closes down the distance between the two of you, then a good uppercut is key to a KO.
Uppercut bags are the tool you need. The classic one is about 2 times the size of a basketball and hangs from the ceiling. They allow you to get under the target, which you can’t do with a normal heavy bag. There are several types, including hybrids, which are a cross between a conventional heavy bag and an uppercut bag. But to seriously train the uppercut it is best to use the ball shaped bag.
The key to a powerful uppercut is to keep your body tight and to transfer as much of your entire body weight vertically into the movement. A good uppercut should also act as a guard with the forearm coming up in front of you. Beginners tend to throw the punch too far up and away from their bodies. This produces independence of movement between the arm and torso.
This is wrong. It will throw you off balance and there is little transference of power from the rest of the body. So keep things tight and whip the fist up maintaining a chain of control from feet to hands. If you do this you will maintain good defense, a protected face, and guarded ribs. You only have to get as high as the chin for it to work. So depending on the height of your opponent, do not think that the hand has to go much higher than your own chin.
Because of the arc of movement in an uppercut, it is easy to strengthen the musculature involved via cable and dumbbell exercises. To build mass and strength, one arm dumbbell shoulder presses performed with palms facing you, while seated on an incline bench are good. Go as heavy as you can for 3 sets of 5-8 reps. Rest 2 -5 days and try and up the weight and / or reps the next training session. It is not a full range of movement exercise. Keep the shoulders and torso tight to mimic a real uppercut.
To increase speed and endurance, do the same exercise but with a weight you can lift 12-20 times, and do it standing. Again, mimic the uppercut even more now, as you will be on your feet. Power up the dumbbells starting from the feet. Remember to engage the torso, this time trying to transfer your rotational power into upward force.
Overhand Right or Haymaker
For some reason, this punch seems popular among drunk brawlers! I used to see them being thrown every weekend, when I worked on the doors. Wild swinging un-focused lunges. But for the serious combat athlete the Haymaker (usually called the Overhand in MMA) is a legitimate punch and cannot be ignored if you want to find out how to throw a knockout punch from all angles.
This punch enables you to go over your opponents guard and land straight on his head. With skill and timing it can even land on his chin. It is a chambered movement, a bit like a tennis serve. It requires a strong chain of supporting muscles and connective tissue to maintain any effective force on the connection. Care should be taken when launching one as your own guard is opened up to a degree.
I’ve left the best til last, in some respects. Most people when thinking of how to throw a knockout punch will have some kind of hook in mind. Most people can throw a hook pretty fast. A hook can get round the guard of an opponent which is why it is devastating in the right hands.
The problem is, when they connect with the target, there is a loss of transfer of force due to weaknesses in the body. Out of all the punches, hooks rely the most on the power generated via rotation of the torso. If you have not trained specifically to strengthen the chain of connecting ligaments, tendons, and muscles used in this rotational movement, you put yourself at a severe disadvantage.
You can test how weak or strong you are in this area, by attempting a one arm push up. To do this, you need to get into a normal push up position, but spread your feet apart a lot wider and support yourself on one hand or fist. So you should now be spread out like a tripod.
Attempt ONE. A lot of people cannot do one! If you complete one easily it is an indicator of reasonable core strength. But you need to be at a level where you can bang out sets of 20 reps. The one arm push up is a good guide in revealing weaknesses that you have in your torso, shoulder rotator cuffs, and back.
You might be able bench press 405lbs, but if you have weaknesses in your core and supporting ligaments, tendons, etc. you won’t be able to transfer much of your strength into a hook. Throwing hooks to a heavy bag is a start. But it will only go so far in strengthening your weak points because as your arm moves through the air, prior to contact, there is little resistance.
What you need to do is exercise the same plane of movement with cables, weights, and bands. And get this straight – you need to train unilaterally. In other words one arm at a time. Another little experiment for you here.
1. Get a dumbbell that you would normally use to perform a dumbbell chest flye.
2. Lay on a bench or the floor, and do it with just one arm. Notice the pull in your abs and obliques? These are the exact same muscles that are used in rotating the hips.
The major muscles used are:
1. Rectus Abdominis
2. Transverse Abdominus
4. Quadratus Lumborum
5. Erector Spinae
6. Gluteus Maximus
9. Deep External Rotators
These can be most effectively targeted by training one side at a time. When you train with both arms at once, you are equally balanced so it does not put much stress on the the parts of the body used in a rotational movement. Think about it. You don’t throw a hook (or any punch) two hands at once! So be creative and alter your weight training so that it is fight movement specific.
I hope this article has really helped you to understand how to throw a knockout punch and the type of exercises you should incorporate in your mixed martial arts training program.