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What Muscles Are Used When Punching? (Explained!)

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 boxer’s muscle, are used to extend the arm and punch.

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.

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.

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.

Punching stance with joints anatomy

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.

Landing a punch with joints anatomy

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.

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.

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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.

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It’s not all about muscles, but a lot about how you punch.

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 (You Can’t!)

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 that affect 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.

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.

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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.

Related: Do MMA Fighters Lift Weights?

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!

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.

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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.

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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 and 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.

A diagram of where the Serratus Anterior is located in the body

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.

How to find the Serratus Anterior muscle with your thumb

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.

Push your shoulder down around your thumb to find a sore Serratus Anterior muscle

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!

Move the thumb around the ribs and into the lats to find more sore spots

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.

Use the end of a broom handle for an advanced Serratus Anterior release

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.

Push the shoulder down around the broom handle for an intense muscle release

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.

Use a small towel to soften the contact against the Serratus Anterior

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).

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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.

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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.

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.

Start the thoracic spine stretch with a yoga mat or towel

It’s important to try and keep the elbows pointing at the ceiling at an equal distance apart and not allowing 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 focusing on this one area of work.

Make micro movements to rotate the thoracic spine backwards whilst breathing deeply

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.

A stiff foam roller gives an extra challenge on the thoracic stretch

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.

A foam roller adds much more intensity to the thoracic stretch

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.

Conclusion

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.

Further Reading

About the Author

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Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe is a passionate mixed martial artist in training, having studied Boxing, Muay Thai, and BJJ at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club.

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