What are the most important fighting muscles? I will explain the roles of each muscle for fighting and how they are used during boxing.
Everybody knows that training a muscle is an advantage compared to not training it. If boxing was that simple, then training the entire body would give you the ultimate physical advantage, right? The problem is that nobody has the time to workout every single muscle. Many of your smaller muscles offer only a slight advantage if at all.
Much of the physical aspects of boxing such as balance, power, and movement will come from your lower body. The more technical aspects of boxing such as accuracy, defense, and landing punches will typically come from your upper body. Depending on what you feel your style needs, the most it is up to you to decide whether to focus on more power, or handspeed, endurance, or all of it.
The key to effective boxing training is understanding how your muscles are used in boxing and to be able to decide how to train them to best fit that purpose. Smart athletes will know that certain muscles should definitely be given priority over the others.
By “legs”, I’m referring specifically to the quads and the calf muscles. This is something that should be ingrained into anybody ever wanting to learn how to do anything powerful with their body. ALL power comes from the ground, nowhere else! Because your legs are connected to the ground, they are most responsible for pushing off the ground to generate power throughout your body. Your legs also happen to be the biggest muscles in your body, which is why all proper boxing punches are typically thrown with the legs pivoting and rotating.
Again, the legs generate the most power! Not the chest and definitely not the triceps. If you look carefully at many of the most dynamic and complete punches or boxers in history, you will see that they have great legs more often than great arms or big chests. Look very carefully at the typical boxer’s body and you won’t find over-developed pecs or huge triceps. Marcos Maidana, Manny Pacquiao, Thomas Hearns, Julian Jackson, and Felix Trinidad are some names of guys that immediately come to mind. These guys did not have big upper-bodies but they carried HUGE power in their fists. Even Mike Tyson, as dynamic a puncher as he was, was still more muscular at his legs than his arms!
Hips (Balance & Lower Body Core)
The hips hold your lower body and legs together. They also generate a huge amount of power by pivoting your whole body when you need. Another important function is that your hips have to do with how well you are balanced. Since your hips are very close to your body’s center-of-gravity, stronger hips would mean that you have better control of your balance. I shouldn’t have to stress that balance is definitely one of the most important factors in boxing. Balance essentially determines the effectiveness and efficiency of your offense, defense, movement, and overal fighting ability!
You can also think of your hips as your body weight. By using the muscles in your leg to move your hips with every punch, you will be able to put your entire body weight into each punch maximizing its power.
Abs (Frontal Body Core & Snap)
The abdominal muscles are a very powerful set of muscles that hold your whole body together. Every limb in your body generates a certain amount of power individually but it is your abs that allow you to combine the force generated by every limb into one total force. Simply put, your abs allow you to connect the force generated by all your limbs into one powerful punch. Some bodybuilders bulk up to improve their body mass and strength. Of course, you have the choice to either adopt the dirty bulk or clean bulk, as both have their own benefits. However you build your mass, the abdominal muscles help you breathe and allow you to take frontal body shots.
Back (Rear Body Core & Punch Recovery)
The back also funtions as a total body core muscle by holding your body together and combining the power generated by all your limbs. Another little known (BUT VERY IMPORTANT) fact is that the back helps a lot in punch recovery–which is the speed of how fast you can pull your hand back after a punch.
Many fighters are too busy building the front of their upper body through push-ups and punching at the heavybag but very few of them focus on building up the back of the upper body like the rear shoulders and the back. I’m going to explain something very important, when you spend all your time hitting the heavy bag, you may not realize that the heavy bag is bouncing your hand back at you on the recovery phase. By neglecting to workout your back and rear shoulder muscles, you will have weaker punch recovery muscles. The moment you start missing punches during a real fight, your arms will tire very quickly because your gloves become very heavy as you have to pull your punches back with your own muscles instead of having them bounced back at you.
Shoulders (Arm Endurance)
The shoulders are most important for punch endurance. Yes, the shoulders do generate power and snap for the punches but to me, they are most important for endurance. Typically when boxers’ arms become too tired to punch or hold up to defend their head, it is usually because the shoulders that are tired! Think about it: when your arms get tired, it is usually always the shoulder that is the first part of the arm to get tired. From a physical standpoint, it makes sense since it’s a relatively small muscle on the edge of the arm that has to hold up the entire arm. From a physics standpoint, it’s not hard to see why the shoulder can get tired so fast.
So if you want to be able to throw more punches and hold your hands up for a longer amount of time, you better start training your shoulders for endurance. Don’t worry about making the shoulders stronger, they only add small amounts of punching power compared to the leg muscles.
Arms (Power Delivery, Speed & Snap)
The arms are all about power delivery! By power delivery, I mean that the arm’s most important boxing function is to connect the power to the opponent. The arm is not responsible for generating power, that’s what you have your legs for. All your arms need to do is to connect the power generated by your body to your opponent!
So all your arms really need to do is to just reach out and touch your opponent, nothing else! Now that you realize your arms are meant for connecting punches and NOT generating power, you’ll see that it’s more important to have fast arms than powerful arms. Fast arms give you that speed and snap. The speed helps you sneak that punch past your opponent’s defense. The snap helps you recover that arm quickly to defend yourself after punching.
More specifically, the triceps are for speed of straight punches. The biceps are for the speed and snap of your hooks and uppercuts. Don’t try to bulk up your arms for power, keep them lean and fast so you can get those fast punches and fast combinations in! Let the lower body add power and the arms add speed.
Chest (Upper Body Core)
The chest muscles are your upper body core muscles. Their most important functions are to connect your shoulders, arms, and lats into one combined force. They also generate the most punching power out of your upper body muscles.
The neck is for punch resistance. You’ll see many fighters strengthening their neck so that their head doesn’t get whip-lashed and left in a more vulnerable angled position when it gets hit by punches. The forearm muscles are for tightening your fist harder when you punch. A tighter fist means your hand will hit with a more solid punch. At the same time, a tighter fist means your hand is less likely to be injured since the bones don’t have much room to move around and get misaligned.