One reason boxers, kickboxers and MMA fighters have ridiculous punching power is muscle memory. These athletes punch heavy bags, mitts and sparring partners six days per week, hundreds or thousands of times per day, increasing their speed, accuracy and power. Still, there are exercises you can do without a punching bag, boxing trainer or sparring partner present. The overhead press may be one of the best ways to increase punching strength by strengthening the shoulders, lats, traps and core. Overhead presses may be performed with free weights or a barbell.
The most obvious benefit of doing overhead presses is the increase in shoulder strength. Bench presses focus on the chest, while overhead presses isolate the shoulders and traps. While increased shoulder strength will only impact punching power minimally, it will significantly reduce the risk of injury to the joint when punching, since the shoulder will be more stable in its socket.
Lats and Back
Shoulder strength is important for impact resistance, but much of a person's punching power comes from the back, specifically the lats. Overhead presses isolate the lats and force them to work in concert with the shoulder, neck and other back muscles to lift your arms in a straight line. This increased strength in the lats and back translates to big power increases in your punches, especially with hooks and other punches that require you to rotate your body.
To the uneducated, big biceps and shoulders mean big punching power. To the pros, all strikes originate in the core, which is why you will struggle to find many professional fighters without chiseled six-pack abs. The core adds stability and mobility to all body movements. Keeping your stomach tight during overhead presses not only makes the exercise easier, but it also increases abdominal strength, which is converted directly into punching strength.
Light Weight, High Reps
Lifting heavy weights overhead is impressive, but many professional fight trainers will advise against it as a routine. Increasing the weight in an overhead press will result in larger muscles, but bigger is not always better when it comes to punching strength. Punches need to have muscle behind them, but they also need to be fast, and big, bulky muscles could get in the way. Lift about a quarter of your max overhead press weight and increase the reps to get the best results.
As with all weighted exercises, overhead presses should be performed after a liberal stretching and warm-up routine. If you experience severe muscle tightness or any sharp pains in the back, shoulders or neck during the exercise, stop immediately and apply ice and heat to the affected area. If pain persists, seek medical attention before resuming intense physical activity.
Steven Kelliher is an experienced sports writer, technical writer, proofreader and editor based out of the Greater Boston Area. His main area of expertise is in combat sports, as he is a lifelong competitor and active voice in the industry. His interviews with some of the sport's biggest names have appeared on large industry sites such as ESPN.com, as well as his own personal blog.