Once your fighting skills grow to the intermediate level you’ll reach the point where you want to get your striking to a technically expert level and strengthen your punching muscles.
In this article, I’ll go into some of the anatomies behind the punching muscles, how a punch works, and what you can do if you injure your punching muscle: The Serratus Anterior.
What muscles are used when punching?
The body twists to generate torque and extends the arm to land a punch. The calves, quadriceps, glutes, and hip muscles are used to twist. The shoulder, chest, back, bicep, triceps, and specifically the Serratus Anterior, also known as the boxer’s muscle, are used to extend the arm and punch.
Keep reading to learn more all about the anatomy behind a punch and fixing common problems with it.
The Muscles Used In A Punch
Throwing a punch uses most of the entire body and kinetic chain to do. It uses your legs, glutes, hips, abdominals, obliques, upper back (traps), chest, shoulder, tricep, bicep, forearm, wrist, and even small muscles in the hand.
Most beginners to Boxing think that punches come purely from the arms, but it’s entirely false!
To get even more specific, to deliver a punch you use:
- Your glutes tighten and extend the hip forward
- The quadriceps tighten or loosen (depending on the punch) to move your feet
- The obliques control torso rotation and send the energy upward and towards your arm
- The deltoids raise your arm
- The serratus anterior extends your arm away from your shoulder and ribcage
- The tricep provides extension for your arm
- The finger extensors in your forearm tighten to stabilize the wrist
- And your finger flexors also tighten to close the fist and provide stability at impact
So there you have it, in a nutshell, you use a ton of muscles to complete the full movement required to make a punch – both big and small.
Where Does Punching Power Come From?
A fighter’s punching power comes mostly from technique instead of muscles. It is from generating torque energy and moving it through their entire body. The energy originates from the placing of the foot and slight twisting of the entire body to move that energy up through the body and out of the fist upon impact.
So what are the muscles used in Boxing? Let’s start to look in more detail at the anatomy of the fighter.
If you were to imagine or look at a boxer making a punch with a strong technique, you will easily notice that it is a full-body action to deliver the punch.
The movement almost always begins from the feet. The feet twist, usually coupled with a short step, to generate torque and grounding the foot to deliver the generated power upwards.
Next, the upper leg, and hip, will move (sometimes twisting) and push toward the opponent in order to deliver that kinetic energy in the intended direction.
As the energy reaches the center of the body (abdomen and trunk) the upper body and shoulder move with the final twisting or direction towards the opponent.
Underground Boxing Conditioning System
By James De Lacy from Sweet Science Of Fighting
A complete systematic strategy for understanding everything about getting into shape for Boxing. You’ll learn how to maximize your gas tank for Boxing, gather automatic calculations for testing yourself and optimize and analyze every step of your progress!
And ultimately, the shoulder moves away from the ribcage and the arm extends to hit the target and transfer all that power and energy. For an ideal strike, the fighter needs to turn their fist over to deliver the maximum impact from the punch.
What I’ve described above is largely relatable to the standard cross (rear fist punch) from Boxing. There is a whole range of strikes and the techniques differ between the strike itself and each martial art.
If you want to get a perfect power then working on the perfect technique is your first point of action. Watch videos of the greatest fighters and how they apply different punches with footwork, positioning, speed, and perfect technique to deliver the best blow.
It’s not all about muscles, but a lot about how you punch.
This knowledge can make you much more effective in practicing at home without equipment like shadow boxing. Visualizing an opponent and throwing well-formed punches have a huge influence on your brain-body connection.
What Muscles Generate Punching Power?
The whole body needs to work in tandem to create the power for a punch. Particular muscles that generate most influence on the power is the lats in the back and smaller functional muscles, the Serratus Posterior and Serratus Anterior.
Does Punching Power Come From The Legs?
The foot, calves, quads, glutes, and hips all play an important part in the power of a punch, but the power doesn’t all come from the legs but from a full-body motion. The power begins in the legs but must be correctly transferred through the body to deliver the punch.
How To Make The Punching Muscles Stronger
Punching uses a variety of muscles in the body to land the perfect punch, as we now know. But how do we make them actually stronger?
Well, here’s the thing. There are a variety of muscles used in punching but that means that it’s too difficult, or not worthwhile, to try and focus on individual muscles that are used.
Generating punching power and making those muscles used stronger mostly comes from actually practicing to punch. Improving your technique allows you to have more efficient power transfer, and the nature of punching is going to put your muscles under stress to make them become more durable and stronger.
You might not see massive muscle gains in your arms from just punching but I can tell you that since I started punching on a regular basis, the top of my shoulders became much more rounded and pronounced without training them much in any other way. It seems to me it was an effect of regular striking practice and putting those muscles under stress.
When trying to increase your punching power, measuring the force output over time can be very useful.
Sometimes you can do this just by self-analysing your performance with boxing gloves on the heavy bag, or you can consider a more advanced tool that literally analyzes the force you can punch with:
Our Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5
Boxing Strength Tester by IRGMRIE
You can place this device on the wall using sticky velcro and measure your punching power every day.
Even when I was at the height of my Boxing and Muay Thai classes 5 times a week (ouch) and I had lost a ton of body fat, my shoulders became even more pronounced and rounded. Not big, but definitely more defined and rounded. These are just my particular genes that those parts developed on their own. Each person’s body type is going to be very different.
All that being said, my muscles never have increased in considerable size unless I was actually training with increasingly heavier weights.
The same is true in developing overall strength, and most importantly to this article, increasing punching power.
The power of a punch comes from such a wide combination of factors and elements of burst power, strength in extended mobility range, and reflex response speed, that trying to focus on smaller individual muscles is unlikely to produce many positive results at all for the boxer trying to get that power punch.
It is instead in the pursuit of overall strength improvements where punching power is improved.
Here lies the problem with any boxers and fight enthusiasts:
They are often very well versed in outputting their strength at a high volume with little time under tension or load. They are able to demonstrate their potential in this area easily.
But when they are challenged to output strength under a heavy load and in low volume they will struggle because they simply have not explored their maximal strength in this area.
In order for a fighter to maximize their strength potential, they need to have stressed their muscle fibers in different capacities. That means not only pushing their strength to the max of their low-load endurance but also to the maximum of their high-load power output.
Boxers should lift heavy weights and try to become as strong as they can at their desired weight to see their greatest potential and ultimately produce the most powerful punch!
All that being said, below is a few exercises you can use to improve the strength and muscle fibers of areas that are often used in punching.
Muscles To Train For Punching Power
To improve your punching endurance and power, it’s important to train the key muscles that are used to deliver the punch. One of those key muscle groups is the “lats” (latissimus dorsi) which should be strengthened.
But also lesser-known intermediary muscles in the back, such as the Serratus Posterior and Serratus Anterior, should be considered.
These are the Boxing muscles worked the most in throwing a punch and you need to keep them mobile and free from inflammation or injury.
It’s a very common issue for the Serratus Anterior, AKA “The Boxer’s Muscle”, to become over-worked and cause strain and pain in the shoulder, rib cage, and back. Resulting in being unable to train or perform at your best.
Best Exercise For Punching Power
In my opinion, the humble bodyweight row is the best exercise to strengthen your back, and lats, and create incredible control of movement in the shoulder to be able to deliver punching power.
To increase overall strength in the lats and other important muscles of the back, the simple bodyweight row is a great way to safely increase your strength ability over time.
Increasing strength in the back with this exercise will give you a lot of stamina and control in some of the key muscles used in landing a punch, like the Lattimus Dorsi, which is necessary for twisting and extending your punch range of motion in a safe way.
To do the bodyweight row, with a barbell rack:
- Place the barbell holders on the rack to approximately a foot below hip height and then place a barbell onto the rack
- Facing away from the rack, sit down and shuffle underneath the barbell, and lay flat on the ground
- Position yourself so the barbell is across your chest, the same way you would have it with a bench press
- You should be able to grab onto the bar from laying on the floor with your arms fully extended; if you can’t, lower the barbell position
- Extend your feet out onto your hells about hip-width apart whilst engaging the barbell to begin the exercise
- Exhale as you pull yourself directly upwards towards the bar; try to touch the bar with your chest by squeezing your shoulder blades together; this will fully engage all your muscles needed for the movement
- Lower yourself slowly, and repeat 5 times for a total of 3 sets (3×5)
For many people this can be really challenging to get to 5 repetitions, so do as many as you can in one set without breaks and count that as one set.
If that’s still too hard, you can make it easier by creating a higher-than-horizontal angle for the bar. You can bring the barbell higher, which creates a more angled position for the rows and becomes much easier. Start where it’s manageable to get to 5 repetitions, and as you get stronger start lowering the barbell again.
Does Punching A Bag Build Muscle?
Any punching workout will help you to build levels of muscle, particularly along your bicep, chest, and shoulder muscles. Moreover, the muscles will build up a lot of endurance as they become more efficient at withstanding impact for longer periods.
If you like to train on the heavy bag then you will start to see more muscle definition after a while, but you’re not going to become a bodybuilder lookalike anytime soon.
In fact, if you’re only doing boxing training then you’ll likely notice muscle definition simply because of dropping a lot of excess body fat. Fighters tend to have a really low body fat percentage, not just because they have to hit a weight for a fight but because boxing or fighter training is extremely demanding on the body for both strength and cardiovascular endurance.
The more fight training you do, the fitter you’ll get, but the more body fat you will burn. And sometimes that can even be burning muscle – so it is a difficult balance if you want to get hench!
If you really want to build actual muscle, you need a strength program to get you there. Doing weights in an 8-12 rep range usually gives the most benefits for building muscle.
The Boxer’s Muscle: Serratus Anterior
The Serratus Anterior is commonly called the boxer’s muscle. It is the muscle inside your shoulder blade that wraps around your rib cage to connect underneath your pec minor. It’s called the boxer’s muscle because it is heavily used in the action of making a punch as it controls your ability to extend the shoulder joint away from the ribcage.
The boxer’s muscle is what gives you that extra couple of inches to land your punch!
Sadly, this highly in-demand muscle gets overused. And I would know all about it because I have a consistent ongoing problem with it myself.
I’ve worked with osteopaths, physiotherapists, and even Yoga teachers to aid me with this repetitive problem and I’ve been taught a few tricks that help to relieve the ongoing injury for the most part.
Here are a few things I’ve learned…
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and have zero qualifications in this area. What I am about to discuss is my personal experience only, and you should seek out a medical professional before trying any of the following exercises.
How Do You Fix A Weak Serratus Anterior?
Release pressure on the boxer’s muscle by putting your thumb inside your armpit and pulling your shoulder down. If you have soreness here in the Serratus Anterior, you’ll feel it right away.
Using your thumb, keep searching around for any sore points in here and apply enough pressure to release the tightness. Pushing up might find the right spot, but what works even better is pronouncing the boxer’s muscle by bringing your shoulder down around your thumb.
You might even find more tender spots around your ribs and to the lats in the back. Keep moving your thumb around, looking for any soreness or tightness. You’ll know when you find it as they feel like they light up like a Christmas tree!
Whenever you feel some noticeable tension, try this out first. And when you get to a stage where you’ve got the most out of using your thumb to do it, you can upgrade to using the top end of a broomstick.
The curved wooden point of a broomstick handle allows you to get even deeper into the medial head of the boxer’s muscle and release the tension there.
Be careful with this, take it slowly and see how you get on. If it’s too intense, you could wrap a small towel around the end to give a much more cushioned point of contact.
With these tricks, you should be able to work out this small muscle to relieve tension and allow you to keep training. But it isn’t going to be a permanent fix, there are likely many more long-standing imbalances at play and you should find an expert to help you improve things like postural muscles and boxing technique (bad technique = more injury-prone).
I went to see a specialist osteopath and physiotherapist when my boxer’s muscle issue was too painful to deal with on my own, and his first action was to lie me on the table and begin acupuncture therapy.
I can’t lie to you and say that it was a comfortable experience, but it was the one I needed.
I was very sore for a few days after, but then all pain and discomfort completely lifted as the muscles restored. The boxer’s muscle pain had gone away and now I just had to keep on top of the injury to make sure it didn’t come back with force.
Fix The Boxer’s Muscle With Thoracic Mobility
After seeing my specialist and enduring acupuncture, he advised me to research Yoga practices that would improve my upper spine mobility.
It turns out I have a pretty stiff upper thoracic spine. It probably comes from the countless hours I spend at a laptop writing MMA Hive content!
I decided to hire a few private sessions with a Yoga teacher from my MMA gym. She detailed to me how the spine is the most important collection of bones in our body and when they aren’t functioning correctly, injuries and pain is often spread across the rest of the back and throughout the body.
She agreed that my thoracic mobility issues were likely causing other parts of my body to work ineffectively and end with an injury.
She did a few tests with me to understand the severity of my spine mobility and gave me a few exercises to do regularly. The primary one was to use a foam roller (or even just a towel) to complete some upper spine backbends in very small increments.
Our Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5
321 STRONG Foam Roller
When stretching the upper thoracic spine, working your way up to using a strong roller like this one is the goal for resolving thoracic problems.
I place the foam roller (or similar object) first along the middle part of my shoulder blades whilst laying on my back on the floor. Then put my hands on the back of my head and extend my shoulders (by using that Serratus Anterior) away so I’m pointing my elbows to the ceiling.
It’s important to try and keep the elbows pointing at the ceiling at an equal distance apart and not allow the neck to bend back as it should be with a neutral spine. You should also tuck the tailbone slightly (like curling your butt under) to stop yourself from bending any of the rest of the lower spine and instead focus on this one area of work.
Then the challenge is to breathe very slowly and deeply, especially on the out-breath, and make micro-movements to bend backward keeping everything else in position as I described. When starting out, use something a bit squishy like a rolled-up towel or yoga mat.
It should take at least 20 micro-movements to bend backward, breathing out each time, before your back reaches the ground.
As this whole action gets easier you can increase the intensity by using foam rollers which increases the challenge to bend backward to reach the floor.
The stiff material applies more pressure into the muscle of your back and the added height increases the range of the bend which makes it more difficult.
I highly recommend that, if you’re suffering from boxer muscle pain, you should do your own research to understand better the involvement of thoracic and trunk (twisting) mobility and its impact on the Serratus Anterior. You will be doing yourself a great favor to remain as injury-free as possible.
So there you have it, by now you should understand how you can get the most punching power possible. You should have also learned a few tricks to improve your boxer’s muscle should you find yourself with problems in the Serratus Anterior!
I hope that my personal experiences in these have helped you become a stronger fighter and a powerful puncher.
- Learn the best serratus anterior exercises – The Prehab Guys
Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.