Tag Archives: striking

Shoulder Stabilziation for Striking: are you Focusing on the Right Muscles?

When considering upper body striking, martial artists tend to focus on the pectoral, triceps and deltoid muscle groups, and the glenohumeral (GH) joint, which is the most obvious shoulder joint. The GH joint consists of the humerus and the glenoid fossa of the scapula (the “socket” of the shoulder blade). Since this joint is essentially like a ball resting on a shallow dish, and not a deep socket like the hip joint, ligaments and the attached muscles provide most of the stability. There are also three other joints in the shoulder complex that play important roles in maintaining stability for the GH joint, with the scapulothoracic being most prone to abuse in combative training. This joint is formed by the fibrous connection of the scapula to the posterior torso wall, which allows the scapula to glide and rotate as the GH joint requires.

The serratus  anterior and the trapezius provide the ability to adduct (pull close to the ribcage), retract, depress, and upwardly or downwardly rotate the scapulae.  They maintain alignment of the glenoid fossa  with the head of the humerus.  A strong, reasonably flexible rotator cuff group is important, but the trapezius needs to be able to provide rotation and stabilization so that the GH joint stays centered and the rotator cuff isn’t impinged. The trapezius and serratus need to work synergistically with the GH joint movers. Striking in general requires the same coupling of scapular and humeral actions that has been reported for other overhand actions  (Kibler, et. al., 2007) such as the tennis serve.

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A Brief Discussion on the Relativity of Skills

Ed. Note: while the examples used in the piece below relate to punching and recreational/athletic MA training, the concepts can easily be applied to all other fighting skills and situations in which they might be used.

How many ways are there to skin a cat? Or in this case, throw a punch? Among both novice and experts (and “experts”), it can seem as if there is a “right” way to perform a fighting skill, yet variations are to be found from style to style,  from individual to individual, and even from moment to moment within the same encounter. The Q & A below came out of a discussion with martial artist and CSCS Daniel Ramos (fellow ATSU Human Movement Science alum).

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Random Training Notes 16: Heavy Bag Tips

  • Move the bag where you want it to go, don’t stay flat-footed or let it move you
  • Hit it as it approaches and as it moves away
  • Karate etc. folks: forget the stances and think about mobility, forget the pull back unless there is something to actually grab
  • Work the bag at different ranges and heights. Think about 3-5 strike combinations that move up and down the bag at face and torso heights
  • Explore close range hooks, uppercuts, elbows and knees. Your vocabulary can include more than straight punches or swings
  • Avoid throwing swings- get close enough for hooks to stay tight, or be far enough that you can extend the arm 3/4 before impact
  • Explore hitting the bag at non-optimal ranges and angles to simulate non-optimal conditions
  • After each strike return to a guard that allows you to protect your face. Be watchful of the tendency to drop the hands after strikes
  • Strike ballistically. Let the shoulders move faster than the hips. Motivate the strike from the shoulder, don’t tie it to the slower movement of the torso
  • When going for impact, a higher-pitched ‘smack’ is a good sign, dull thuds are a sign of lower velocity
  • Follow through is important, but do not adopt the habit of pushing into the bag
  • A good round kick should fold the bag, not just bump into it
  • Front kicks may land with more force if you use the heel instead of the ball of the foot
  • If you train with a group that questions the need to ever hit things, spend some time hitting the bag and see how you do. All the air-punching in the world doesn’t do much for teaching one how to hit hard. Somewhere along the way this became a controversial idea in some circles
  • If you train on the bag hard and heavy quite frequently, consider giving your arms and shoulders a break by incorporating 1-2 week recovery periods and investing time into regular stretching for the pectorals, biceps, triceps, lats, trapezius, rhomboids and rotator cuff muscles

Related posts and info:

Getting More Out of Your Heavy Bag

Power Hitting Training Tips

Rotator Cuff Injury Prevention Tips

Another Dead Makiwara, pt. 2

RIP, Ude Makiwara 1.0. Felled by a roundhouse kick in the prime of life. I put this thing in the ground roughly four years ago, and aside from the fungal growth around the bottom  it held up pretty well.  I learned more from this thing about how to actually hit than from anything else. Fortunately, I just happen to have a fresh log on hand for 2.0…

Random Training Notes 13

When training combinations on a heavy bag or pad, or working combos in sparring, pay close attention to what your hands and arms do immediately following and between strikes. A few tendencies are very common:

  • dropping the hand to waist height in between strikes with a bent elbow
  • pulling the hands all the way past the lateral line behind the body
  • letting the entire arm hang straight at the waist

These are common habits, especially among people who are new to training, bag work or successive sparring. People who train in arts that emphasize a “pullback” motion in tandem with every strike are especially prone to it, and it’s a habit that should be discouraged. I understand the utility of a pullback to create a force-couple with the target, but it is absolutely useless unless something is actually being grasped and pulled back- keep the other hand near your face, where it can serve a purpose (keeping your face from being rearranged).

Ideally, you want to train in the habit of returning the hands to a guard that covers the face following each strike. I prefer a higher guard, but the happy medium between people’s personal preferences is one that places the hands someplace between the chin and temple. If this is something that you or a student has a hard time doing, try the following strategies:

  • Adopt the habit of keeping your thumbs or palms in contact with your temples. You may not prefer a guard that is quite this high, but the tactile feedback of the thumb contact often works better than repeated verbal coaching about the location of the hands. Once you begin returning naturally to this position, thumb/skin contact with the temples is no longer necessary.
  • Put your bag near a mirror (or a mirror near your bag) so that you can watch what your hands do.
  • Ask a trusted training partner to slap you lightly in the face when your hands drop during a drill. Touching may get the idea across, but a few light slaps will provide quite a bit more motivation to keep your guard up between strikes.
  • Take a resistance cable or band with moderate tension and wrap it across your upper back, in line with the shoulders. Grasp the handles at roughly chin height. As you strike the bag (lightly) the cable will produce higher tension, providing an external motivation to return them to your face as opposed to dropping. Don’t let the tension cause your elbows to flare too wide from the body.

Random Training Notes 11

Striking is the act of fitting a weapon to a target. Availability of targets may change very quickly, availability of weapons may change very quickly.  Learning to recognize these changes and adapt to them requires more time spent striking targets that are moving unpredictably and changing range than targets moving predictably or not moving at all. The speed and intensity of these activities should be varied to emphasize different attributes: tracking/accuracy, reaction time, fluidity, and power. Tracking, fluidity and reaction time are more important than focusing exclusively on power.  Reflection on which changes in target and range present the most difficulty is vital.

Linked Study: How Boxers Decide to Punch a Target: Emergent Behavior in Nonlinear Dynamical Movement Systems

How Boxers Decide to Punch a Target: Emergent Behavior in Nonlinear Dynamical Movement Systems

Hitting a moving target is one of the most inherently athletic skills that I can think of, and it’s an absolutely vital element in a martial artists’ tool box.  I’m a strong advocate of the “hands off” approach of giving a student the conditions in which to explore range and which weapons to apply at different- and changing- ranges. Light moving targets, stationary targets, heavy moving targets and sparring all play an important role.

I’m amazed at how many conversations I’ve had with earnest karate/TMA people wherein they insist that distancing, timing, impact force management and the selection of the appropriate weapon (strike/technique) are best learned with minimal- or no- bag and target work. While some “traditional” martial artists insist that learning how to effectively hit something takes years to develop and master, it’s painfully obvious that a novice student can develop considerable skill in far less time if he or she is allowed to experience feedback instead of endless, abstract technical instruction. Several findings of the study provide insight into why this is so:

By allowing novice boxers
during the basic training sessions, when the
heavy bag practice is mostly used, to explore the
whole spectrum of constraints enabled by each
combination of parameters, they would learn
how to adjust emergent motor solutions to the
hitting task which are specific to their individual
organismic constraints. Once these efficient
coordination patterns have been established with
the heavy bag, learners could move to the task of
hitting moving opponents during light sparring…

…Novice boxers are able to discover and exploit
the scaled performer – target distance region that
affords maximization of the unpredictability (H),
diversity (S) and the efficiency ratio (E) of their
punching actions…

…Spontaneous emergence of boxer – boxer
coordinative states and strategic positioning as a
consequence of boxers’ perception of essential
interacting constraints points to the possibility
that practice should be less loaded with verbal
instructions from the coach to impose decisions.
Rather, practice could be directed towards
creating a variety of learning situations (by
manipulating the dynamics’ constraints) in
which trainees would themselves explore,
discover and thus adapt to the information …