We’ve all seen Hollywood movies with Jean Claude Van Damme where he gets punched in his rock-hard abs as a part of his core conditioning workout. Today I will explain why people punch their abs, does it actually works, and if so, how to use it correctly.
As a whole, punching your abs during sit-ups does work because it helps to increase peak muscle activation. It also helps to create a mind-muscle connection, which is focusing on using the specific muscle to further increase muscle activity. However, this exercise does not lead to strength or fat loss.
I will also show you an example of a punching abs workout that can induce muscle failure much faster than regular situps, crunches, or planks.
What Does Punching Your Abs Mean?
Punching abs is a technique where you or your training partner is hitting your core muscles during the abdominal exercise (e.g. sit-ups or planks). During this exercise, the person who receives the punch is required to brace the abdominal muscles and stiffens the spine in order to “take a punch”.
The idea behind this technique is to increase muscle activation and “feel” the muscles that are working. I often use this exercise with my beginner clients to help them improve their mind-muscle connection.
What is the mind-muscle connection? Overall, the mind-muscle connection works by consciously and deliberately thinking about moving a targeted muscle while contracting it at the same time.
This body awareness technique helps to engage muscles that you work on and tune out from the environmental noise and distractions of the gym that can compromise your workout.
For example, some of my novice lifters have a hard time “engaging” muscles during exercise with normal cues like “get tight”, “squeeze your abs”, or “tight your core”.
If the person doesn’t know how to engage or brace their core muscles during daily activities, exercise, or sports, this can potentially lead to injury.
Just imagine lifting a heavy box from the floor, picking up your grandkids, or placing the luggage in the overhead compartment in the aircraft, without keeping your abs engaged.
Core stability and abdominal muscle activity are essential for proper load balance within the spine, pelvis, and kinetic chain.
Punching abs not only help to ensure we’re targeting the right muscle but also improves voluntary isometric contraction and be able to create that stiffness in the abdominal area.
Why Do Boxers Punch Their Abs?
Have you ever wondered why boxers punch themselves?
In combat sports and martial arts, you can see that hitting your stomach muscles is a regular part of a workout. It is not uncommon to see boxers or kickboxers deliberately punching each other in the stomach with almost peak force.
Why do boxers punch their abs? Overall, boxers punch their abs because it helps with rapid peak activation of the muscle, which leads to muscle fatigue and better training adaptations. It is also used as part of the core conditioning workout where fighters learn how to block the punch from the opponent.
Several professional boxers use this type of workout in their training so they don’t get knocked down in a real fight.
In combat sports, punching abs comes with a couple of benefits, depending on your either striking or receiving the punch:
- Receiving the punch helps to build up the resilience and condition the core musculature to become less fragile when taking the hits in the fight (you will take hits in the fight, why not get used to that during the training).
- Striking the punch into someone’s abs creates ballistic torso contraction, which means it also trains your core muscles. Firstly, preparing for a punch creates abdominal stability, whereas delivering a punch requires spinal mobility.
Does hitting your abs make them harder? Overall, hitting your abs does help with peak muscle activation, but it does not make them harder. Nevertheless, regular training with a partner who is hitting your stomach can help you prepare for the upcoming fight.
How To Punch Your Abs For Boxing
In general, the best way to use punching abs in the workout routine is with a partner. Your workout partner can use padded mitts or gloves to reduce the impact of the punches on your stomach, yet still, induce desired conditioning effects.
Here you have step-by-step instructions on how to punch your abs in the workout.
- Use a training partner or a “spotter” – Make sure you communicate and give clear instructions to your training buddy on how many reps and sets you’re willing to do and how hard you expect them to hit.
- Use padded boxing gloves or kicking pads – Instead of using bare hands, ask your training partner to use Thai pads where they can hold the pad more comfortably.
- Choose 3 to 4 abdominal exercises – When you combine an ab workout with punches, try to select three different types of exercises that challenge your abs in different planes of motion (e.g. hanging from the bar, doing situps on the floor, holding isometric plank position).
- Perform exercises without external load – Punching your abs will induce muscle fatigue much faster than regular bodyweight exercise. For beginners, do not use additional weight but just your body weight.
- Focus on endurance, not hypertrophy – Punching your abs is not a strength or hypertrophy exercise. It works by creating an isometric contraction in the core musculature, which means it’s better to be used with multiple repetitions (25+ reps) as an endurance or conditioning workout.
- Do not overdo – The idea behind punching abs for core conditioning is to perform multiple reps of the abdominal exercise (e.g. sit up or crunch) and strike on the core area in between each repetition. This means one strike for one sit-up. Do not make multiple punches in the stomach at the same time.
Here you can see the Ab punching workout video from Shane Fazen where he demonstrates how to punch your belly muscles as a part of the core conditioning workout for MMA fighters and boxers (it’s impressive).
As you can see, Shane’s training partner did not use peak force while punching his stomach. She also used Thai pads (instead of bare hands) because of the comfort.
NOTE: Punching someone in the abdominal wall muscles (rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and transverse abdominis) can lead to temporary respiratory paralysis, especially when done with peak force.
What Happens If You Punch Your Abs?
As a whole, if you punch your abs the body activates the core musculature in order to stiffen the area and protect it from the blow. It also increases your attentional focus on the exercise, which helps to increase your body awareness.
Here’s how it works:
- Punching your abs leads to abdominal bracing, which is a voluntary core isometric contraction. Isometric contraction means muscles are activated without changes in the external length.
- Isometric core contraction allows creating stiffness in the spine, restricts spine displacement, and helps to transfer power from the lower to the upper body.
Is punching your abs effective? Overall, punching your abs is an effective way to enhance muscle activity via isometric contraction and stabilize the spine against perturbation from external load and movement. This training mode does stimulate muscle adaptations, including hypertrophy and strength gains, but is not as effective as shortening or lengthening.
In short, punching your abs help indirectly to strengthen your abs by inducing muscle failure faster (as long as you do core exercise at the same time).
However, the act of punching your stomach does not have any benefits or hypertrophy or fat loss benefits. Also, punching your abs does make them bigger, or smaller.
Does Punching Your Abs Build Muscle?
Is it possible that a few punches in the belly give you cheese grater summer abs?
As a whole, punching your abs does build muscle and can induce skeletal muscle adaptations because it enhances isometric contraction that leads to faster muscle failure. However, for optimal strength and hypertrophy, it has to be done with sufficient intensity, frequency, and duration.
Dr. Danny Lum, an expert on isometric strength training from Singapore Sports Institute, documented how isometric strength training impacts muscle building and strength gains (Lum, 2019).
According to the author, for maximum hypertrophy results (muscle building), isometric training should be performed at:
- 70–75% of maximum voluntary contraction.
- Sustained contraction of 3–30 seconds per repetition.
- Total contraction duration of 80–150 seconds per session.
- Minimum 36 sessions.
This means when someone is punching your abs during sit-ups or reverse crunches, you need to keep your belly engaged at an intensity level of 7 out of 10 throughout all training session, and you need to keep your abs engaged without any rest.
That’s super hard.
On the other hand, results for strength have shown that isometric training should be performed at:
- 80–100% of maximum voluntary contraction.
- Sustained contraction of 1–5 seconds per repetition.
- Total contraction duration of 30–90 seconds per session.
- Adopting multiple joint angles or targeted joint angles.
What about burning fat? You cannot get abs from getting punched in the belly. Punching abs works by creating isometric contraction, which is helpful to induce muscle failure but does not add significantly to overall abdominal strength development or reduction of body fat.
Is Punching Abs A Good Workout?
As a whole, punching abs is a good workout to improve the ability to contract the torso muscles very quickly.
Abdominal bracing while preparing for a punch requires rapid stiffening of the abdominal muscles, which is useful not only to stabilize the spine but also to increase strength and power during trunk and hip extension movements.
A good example of spinal stability and core mobility is when a golfer develops swing speed. Core muscles are the center of the body and allow for kinetic chain transfer, which is the transition of the force to the extremities.
Overall, it is not bad to punch abs during the workout. In fact, it is a great way to enhance muscle activity and induce muscle failure faster. It is also useful body awareness and mind-muscle connection exercise that helps not only to rapidly brace the abdominal muscles during the workout but also in other daily activities.