Why Bodybuilders Can’t Punch – Increase your Punching Power

I know, I know,

MMA Bellends are always sharing stuff on social media about ‘He lifts but he can’t fight’ etc.


So it’s getting old, apologies…but I lifted weights and attempted to be a (very poor) bodybuilder years before doing MMA, so I have had all the ‘bad mechanics’ to overcome, and I’ve just worked a few things out – after 12 years of MMA training, and 2 years of doing JKD before that…I’ve literally just worked this stuff out:

Bench Press – the killer of Punching Technique

Why bench press is bad for punching technique and power

  1. You learn to use the chest & triceps in isolation
  2. You ‘lead with the hand’ when executing any chest movement
  3. You don’t extend the joints fully in order to save your elbows
  4. Your shoulders remain ‘stiff’ in order to stabalise and protect the joint
  5. Force = Mass x Acceleration
  1. “Train movements not Muscles”

So the issue with bodybuilding exercises is that the neuromuscular system learns not to fire any other muscles or movement when engaging the chest and triceps.
This makes it harder to throw a punch which engages the feet, hips, shoulder and then the arm.
To build the ‘pathway’ for punching effectively, you need to keep repeating the movement, not building muscle-strength in isolation.

2. Lead with the Foot Not the Hand – Pushing Vs Punching

In the bench press exercise, the movement is initiated by moving the hands, and so the bar upwards.
To punch with a ‘whipping’ action, you need to move the feet, then the hips, the retract the shoulder in a relaxed state and then finally engage the chest and then extend the elbow.
People who bench press a lot, look stiff because they engage the hand and arm and are not relaxed around the shoulder.
For more on this see the Conor McGregor Punching Power blog post.

Conor Mcgregor Uppercut

The body moves first and then the hand ‘whips’ behind it. The shoulder must be relaxed in order for this to be achieved – another issue with bodybuilders.

3. Joint Extension

Even if you use a light weight and lift explosively, you can’t fully extend your elbow-joint because you’ll injure it. This is why you see boxers shadow boxing and just lightly punching with a whipping motion – adding weight and power would injure the shoulder and elbow joint.
Training using a medicine ball is more effective, as you need to fully extend the elbow and accelerate at the end, not the start of the movement to generate more power. I would not like to take a punch of a shot putter for this reason!

Lack of flexibility can also be an issue, for optimal hook-punch-powder for example, the chest needs to be stretched and extended to generate elastic-recoil energy.
Same goes for the overhand right, look at fatty Roy Nelson torquing his body first then looping the right hand over the top:

I’ll just leave this here:

But then there’s the likes of Yoel Romero and Stipe Miocic who look like national level bodybuilders and hit harder than anyone.

I think if you build strength and muscle, then build explosive power, flexibility and train the specific patterns required for punching power, you’ll hit harder than a non-weightlifter by a significant amount.

If you’re doing weights for MMA – just think about what weights you are doing and how you’re doing them!

As a bonus, I’ve created 2 gifs demonstrating a pushing punch:

Pushing punch. Arm extends first

And a whipping punch

I don’t have a punch bag so had to use the wardrobe! #Improvisation

Admittedly I’m a little stiff around the shoulders still in the punch that’s supposed to be ‘whipping’

If anyone wants to send me a punchbag to review so I don’t have to use the wardrobe next time, I’d appreciate it!

4. Lift Explosively

Force = mass x acceleration

Bodybuilders have the mass but if they don’t train explosively and practice slow and controlled movements, theyll build strength but not power.

Core work and arguably medicine ball exercises and kettlebells can build explosive power quickly.  Olympic lifts are best for explosive hip-extension, but this is only really used in an uppercut, although it’s an important movement in MMA.

Plyometrics are also excellent for developing power and there is some research to suggest that they can also be used to build muscle mass. More information here.

So What’s the answer?

Just to reiterate, I think it’s definitely possible to be a bodybuilder and to punch like a boxer – I just made the title sound controversial to increase click-through.

Keep Shoulders Mobile

There’s bloody loads of shoulder mobility videos on Youtube, but if in doubt with mobility, I always go with the supple-leopard, Kelly Starrett:

Drill boxing More than Bench Press

“We are what we repeatedly do”

If you want to get better at boxing, then your weight training and training in general should centre around this…you can’t get good at throwing punches with a bodybuilding routine.

Look to build explosive fast twitch fibres, rather than big muscles, and refine punching technique with pads, bag-work and medicine ball work.

Get Feedback on Technique

“Practice makes permanent”

Get feedback on your technique from a coach if possible, or just film yourself.  If you look stiff then you probably need to work on your shoulder mobility and relaxing whilst throwing a punch.

Train Whole-Body Movements

To replicate the ‘kinetic chain’ involved in boxing, train whole-body-movements, performed in a standing position when possible.

Force is generated from the floor in boxing and transferred to the fist. Medicine ball slams and ‘shot puts’, lateral throws, cable punches and push press, even squats should help develop ‘functional boxing strength’.

They should also help improve core strength more too. To optimise core-power, you first need to make sure your posture is bob-on. Chances are if you bench press and work at a desk all day you could have anterior-pelvic tilt and rounded shoulders.

Poor posture is a ball-ache to correct, lots of hip flexor and chest stretching is required.

Overeem at his most roided was pretty much unstoppable, so it’s definitely possible


Weight Training for Punching Power

This study  states that there are ‘5 trainable variables when it comes to throwing a right cross:

(a) increase rear leg drive
(b) following the step forward, land with a rigid leg to increase breaking and transmission of forces
(c) increase the stretch-shortening cycle action of the trunk musculature
(d) increase the velocity of the punch
(e) increase the effective mass. it is possible, through appropriate strength and conditioning programming, to target the development of each.

and another scientific study found that only heel/calf strength was correlated with punching power.



For all those people saying that bodybuilders can punch because Mike Tyson could bench 300kg and that Anthony Joshua does weights etc, well yes you’re right, some bodybuilders can punch but not usually as hard as a boxer…and Tyson et al are all boxers not bodybuilders, who do boxing training and weight train specifically for boxing.

Click here to see my post on Strength & Conditioning for Boxing.

About Drew

MMA, Fitness & Marketing enthusiast from North Wales, UK. A Stoic Hippy with no hair. Not to boast but - 1st Class Degree in Sports Science from Loughborough, MSc in Nutrition from the University of Liverpool. 20 years experience of weight & fitness training.
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2 Responses to Why Bodybuilders Can’t Punch – Increase your Punching Power

  1. Garret Rodriguez says:

    This makes sense, so it’s lifting really heavy from weights that slows down the punches not all the muscle.This motivates me to continue putting on muscle mass, with high reps since I’m getting close to my limit on body weight training for low reps.

    • Drew says:

      High reps may help, but also add some whole-body explosive exercises with medicine ball etc. Landmine punches and band exercises too. Mobility exercises for chest and shoulders are a must also

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