Speed kills. This expression, overused in sports, is still fairly apt when applied to a fighter’s punch. For pros, the quicker the delivery, the more power in the package. For amateurs, a faster punch means a cleaner point scored. Unfortunately, there is minimal that can be done to substantially increase your natural hand speed. However, a well-conditioned body combined with quickened reflexes and good technique can make your punching smoother and, indeed, faster. With some proper training you could be feeding your opponent shots that she will have to eat.
Using the Body
When approaching the task of punching faster you might think you need to start with your arms, but this isn’t especially true. When you stand before a heavy bag and throw punches using just your arms, you can generate only a moderate amount of force. To throw a snappier straight or a crisper cross there are numerous muscles groups that will come into play before the arms add their contribution. Even a solid jab gets most of its power from what you put behind it.
Your entire torso and hips should be involved in throwing power punches. Add a little thrust from the shoulder and some twist at your waist and you’ll begin to pitch a faster, more wicked punch. You want your whole body to be a power plant for your punches, so it’s a good idea to get in the weight room and get some all-over muscle.
Conditioning for Explosiveness
With any kind of weight training, and really, most training you do as a fighter, you should be focused on explosive movement. And yes, girly, you should be doing some weight training. And no, lifting weights will not make you too bulky or slow you down. In fact, just the opposite: weight training will give you a leaner build and the explosive power you seek.
Boxing is more than upper/lower body. It's a whole body sport. That means, besides your arms and legs, you've got your chest, shoulders, back... and please don’t forget about your glutes! Your posterior muscles are among the largest and strongest muscles in your body and they play an important role in generating power and doing pretty much anything involved in athletics. So just get over it already and pick up some dumbbells.
Kettlebells and medicine balls are also great tools for fighters looking to build explosive power. And when you’re conditioning for combustion (trademark!) don’t just swing through the motions. You’ll want to generate a burst of power through the initial portion of each rep and then maintain control as you return to the starting position. In this way you’re both developing muscles to create force and building stability in your core. Always use good form. In other words, use your muscles to do the work and not a lot of sloppy body english.
Besides good punch technique and good physical fitness, you can also work on some other fundamentals to give your punches more snap, crackle and pop! Foremost is to develop efficient breathing for fighting. By optimizing your breathing you’re optimizing your capacity to perform. Read about it here. By the way, if you're training for competition, you might try including your mouthguard during drills to help you learn to time your breaths and also to breathe through your nose.
Additionally, having good hand-eye coordination coupled with timing will make you a snappier puncher. Mastering these skills together will help reduce lag time in initiating a punch by sharpening up your reflexes. To work on these you can battle the double-end bag or practice on focus mitts with a partner. As you get good at fast reflex fighting, your punching becomes fluid and more assured. And a sure punch is a fast punch.
Fallacy of Speed Bag Training
There are both supporters and detractors of the speed bag and its value in fight training. Honestly, we’re not proponents of the speed bag and believe the name is misleading. This popular apparatus can be fun to use and perhaps useful for developing shoulder endurance, but ultimately it’s riding a bike with your arms. If you watch someone masterfully using the speed bag you can see that their hands and arms are moving in a pretty limited circular range, and relatively slowly; it is the bag itself that is traveling with great speed. In fact, the better you get at the speed bag the less movement you’ll need to perform. Additionally, most of the motion used in speed bag training comes from moving the shoulder up and down, which is not proper form for punching. Therefore you don’t gain anything technically functional and you certainly don’t gain punching speed.
Likewise, using heavier gloves on the heavy bag or holding dumbbells for shadowboxing will not do much to increase your punching power in any significant way. Again, this kind of “enhanced” training will do far more to build arm endurance than it will to increase speed. How do we know this? Science.
In the end, your training should not focus so much on trying to achieve faster hand speed and instead emphasize creating power behind every punch. Once you develop a fighting physique and masterful technique you will become a fire-spitting, smoke-belching fighting machine.