In a previous article I talked about power generation, or more specifically, some of the biomechanics involved in delivering a powerful strike. In this article, I’d like to suggest that biomechanical technique is only half the story when it comes to hitting hard.
Technique is important, but what’s even more important for a strike to reach its full potential, is explosiveness. You must be able to load up your strike with explosive energy, and reload it just as quick, repeating the process as many times as you have to, something that Steve Morris calls the “Uzi Effect”, likening the process to the rapid and continuous firing of a submachine gun.
For a strike to be truely effective, you must also be able to engage this process at the drop of a hat, without any preparedness whatsoever. There is no time in fighting to ready yourself. There is no cocking of the gun before you shoot. You just shoot. That’s it.
There is definitely an art to throwing a great strike, one that is effortless and devastating at the same time, and this aspect is often lost on those who try to reduce striking (or any other technique for that matter) to simple mechanics without any consideration for the deeper aspects that go into it.
It’s almost ironic that the martial arts are called such, for they spend more time teaching people how to move like robots, how to perform in an unnatural manner, instead of stressing natural movement and unique personal input from the practitioner (the art). The same thing exists in self protection, where every technique is boiled down to simple mechanics, but with a bit more emphasis on mindset and “violent intent”.
When technique is stressed above all else, you turn a person into a robot, one who can perform moves that are identical to the ones in the instruction manual. This kind of learning goes against the very personal nature of real learning. In real learning you do not simply copy what someone else is doing, but instead you express the specific movements in your own way. Learning a technique should therefore not just be a process of replication. It should also be about creating as much energy as possible from nothing, and efficiently and explosively directing that energy to a very precise area outside of yourself, which in this case would be your opponent. You can’t learn to do that just by concentrating on technique alone. Or as athletics coach Vernon Gambetta puts it in an article from his excellent Functional Path Training Blog:
The body is so efficient and remarkable in it’s ability to solve complex movement problems. It just never ceases to surprise me, in many ways it is predictably unpredictable in it’s ability to adapt. The body is not a machine constructed of interchangeable parts, it a kinetic chain consisting of interdependent links that work in harmony to reduce and produce force in reaction to gravity and the ground. In coaching to refine human motion we must stress connections, linkages, coordination and rhythm. This allows the body to work it’s magic, produce the poetry of motion that allows it to self organize and solve complex movement problems. The human body has the remarkable ability to produce finely tuned movements that in the initial stages of learning appear uncoordinated and disjointed but through error detection and subsequent correction discard what does not work and refine and perfect what does work. So coaching is learning to guide, to direct and sometimes to stay out of the way and allow the wisdom of the body take over and be confident in our guidance.
There are also other factors that you must consider if you want to increase the explosiveness of your strikes. Let’s look at those other factors now.
Internal And External Focus
Where you put your focus as you do a strike is important. If you over-obsess about your technique and your focus is largely on the mechanics of your strike, where you are concentrating on getting the moves right, then you are focusing internally, and your strike will not flow as it should, which also means it won’t be very explosive either.
Another important point to bear in mind is that pausing to think about what you are about to do, and keeping your main focus on just your movements, you are giving your Golgi Tendon Organs time to perform their inhibitory function, which will result in less muscle contraction, which obviously will affect the explosiveness of your strike.
To overcome this you should switch to a more external focus with your strike. In otherwards, your focus should be on the effect you want your strike to have. If want to hit your opponent hard in the head, then that’s what your concentration should be on– the target in front of you.
Having such an external focus takes your focus out of yourself and on to your opponent, allowing your movements to be much more fluid and natural. Your focus is only on hitting your opponent however hard, not on how you are going to do that.
You can test this approach yourself. Simply strike a focus pad or bag with your focus on the movements of what you are doing. You may find yourself almost locking up slightly, over controlling and pulling the strike. Your movements will feel unnatural and lacking in spontaneity. Now put your focus only on the pad and hitting it as hard as you can. Give no thought to your movements, on whether you are doing them right or wrong. Just do. You should find your strikes to be much more explosive and spontaneous. You may also be surprised at how much more impact you can generate with your strike.
It doesn’t matter that your technique is not exactly as you’ve been taught it by someone else. It’s the effect of a movement that is important, not the movement itself. Measure your techniques in terms of effectiveness, not in terms of some biomechanical or aesthetic ideal.
Rate coding refers to the frequency that your brain sends messages telling a muscle to contract. The faster the frequency the greater the intensity of any given muscular contraction.
Rate coding appears to be highly related to the excitability of the central nervous system (CNS). A highly excited CNS can produce greater force at a faster rate due to the positive impact on rate coding.
This factor is also known as the Psycho Factor because it is inherently influenced by the psychological state. To have a positive impact on rate coding that will increase the explosiveness and power of your strike, you must be able to excite your CNS enough, which means you must be able to psych yourself up at a seconds notice, without any build up at all.
Adrenaline will obviously do the job of exciting your CNS and improving rate coding, which is why you are always faster, stronger and more powerful when adrenaline or nervous energy is in your system.
You can’t really rely on an outside stimulus to trigger excitement in your nervous system however. You must be able to excite your own CNS at will, to generate explosive power and energy from nothing.
How naturally excitable your CNS is, is actually one of those intangible factors that separate why some people seem to be able to really fly and others struggle. The natural high flyers have a CNS that is simply more excitable and as such they are able to more readily turn on their muscles and generate power.
To improve rate coding you can practice an exercise called the Stimulation Method. Here you perform one exercise to really activate or excite the CNS. You then follow it up with an exercise to take advantage of the CNS excitability, which temporarily boosts rate coding. Gradually your body becomes more sensitive to the neural discharges from your CNS and learns to accept a new level of force as being normal for a particular movement. For striking purposes, you could therefore practice throwing a medicine ball or performing the striking movement with a dumbbell first of all, to excite the CNS, before training the strike without weight, taking advantage of the boost in rate coding.
Obviously relaxation is going to play a role here, as it does in most other aspects of training. It stands to reason that the more relaxed your muscles are before you fire them, the more explosive you are going to be.
Learning to stay relaxed will also aid in helping to reduce the reflex action of the Golgi Tendon Organ, which I mentioned earlier.
The same goes for your mind. Learn to stay mentally relaxed as well.
Exercises To Improve Explosiveness
Plyometric exercises are good for building up power and explosive force in the body, with exercises like clapping push ups or sit-ups while throwing a medicine ball.
You can also throw a medicine ball at the wall as hard as you can to develop power, making sure to keep the movements similar to when you are striking.
Also practice just exploding into your strike every time you do it, especially in an internal sense.
It’s all about exciting the CNS, and to do that you need as much emotional content behind what you do as possible. Fill your strikes with hate, anger or whatever emotion or emotions most drive you. Every time you practice a strike you are not just practicing, you are engaging an opponent. Thinking in this way will help you explode into the strike more.
Do your own research on this and find out what works for you.