Understanding Physics to Improve Power and Explosiveness

A basic understanding of physics can lead to an improvement in athletic performance.  One concept from physics that is especially relevant to boxers and other combat sports participants is "power."  The colloquial term for power in the context of sports is "explosiveness."  Power is defined as the rate at which work is done.  For example, if you watch Mike Tyson's boxing matches from early in his career you will see explosiveness or power in action.  The ability to quickly apply enough force to knock someone out before they knew what hit them is "power."  It requires strength and speed.  

What is Work?

In physics, work is defined as force times the distance an object travels. 

For example, if I lift a heavy weight from the ground to over my head I am working.  If I am a defensive lineman and I push an offensive tackle who is trying to get to my quarterback 10 yards back, I am working.  Work requires strength.  The bigger the object or person I am trying to move or knock out in the case of boxing, the more force or strength I need to apply.  However, it is not enough to simply be strong enough to deliver a hard punch when boxing.  The punch must be delivered quickly before your opponent has a chance to evade, block, or parry it.  That is where velocity or speed comes into play.

What is Velocity?

Velocity is very similar to speed.  In physics, the definition of velocity includes both speed and direction.  Direction makes a difference. 

For example, a straight punch may move your opponent's head backwards, while a hook punch may move your opponent's head sideways.  This is good information to have to plan for follow-up punches.  As mentioned earlier, power is defined as the rate at which work is done or work per unit of time.  However, in physics, power can also be defined as force times velocity.  In this case, force is the strength applied and velocity is the speed and direction at which the force is applied.  

How to Train for Power

Now that our brief review of physics is done, the more important question is how can an athlete improve power or explosiveness? 

It is obvious from the various definitions of power that you need strength and speed.  Of course, you could train those two attributes separately.  For example, you can improve your strength by lifting weights.  You can also do various drills and exercises to increase your hand or foot speed. 

However, it is much more efficient and appropriate to train strength and speed simultaneously. This is where plyometric exercises come in.

When I train my athletes, I use a number of plyometric exercises for the lower body and the upper body.  

Medicine ball tosses and slams are great plyometric exercise for the upper body.  Of course, these movements should be done with speed.  Kettlebell swings are also good plyometric moves as well.  Plyometric exercises for the legs include squat jumps, broad jumps, and box jumps.  To add more resistance, you can do these jumps wearing a weighted vest.  For boxers, it is important to be able to close the gap quickly which require explosiveness in your legs and to deliver quick hard punches which require explosiveness in your core and upper body.  

Final Thoughts

I often hear folks debate on whether strength or speed is the most important attribute in combat sports.  If your goal is stalk and knock out your opponent with a single punch, then strength may be all you need.  If you want to win a boxing match on points with quick punches that do little damage, then speed may be your best friend.  However, if you want to overwhelm your opponent and knock them out in the first round of a boxing match like a young Mike Tyson, then you need power or explosiveness.  The best way to develop power is to train for both strength and speed.  


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