It is common for beginner martial artists to feel some pain in the elbow when punching. Luckily, it will only take a few adjustments to fix this.
How do you punch without hurting your elbow? First, make a proper closed fist. Then get your stance right so you are firmly balanced on the ground, pay attention to your upper body position, make sure the punch connects properly and then return to the right position.
Bag work will certainly help you get a perfect punching technique. Let’s look at just that now.
Why Does My Elbow Hurt When I Punch?
Many people hear about how much power is in a kick and automatically assume that fighters can’t punch as hard as that and they’d be right. However, that doesn’t mean that a punch is without force and, in fact, a punch can deliver an incredible wallop.
According to LiveScience, a boxer can unleash up to 5,000 Newtons of force on someone in a single punch. To put that in context, you’d need to stand 5 x 100 Kg men (or women) on each other’s shoulders to exert that much force on the earth.
Can you imagine 5 x 100 Kg people stood on exactly the same point on your face? It’d hurt, right?
Well, this is also why your elbow can end up hurting when you are punching. If you can unleash all that force, you have to build it up first and the place you build it up is in your arm. If the punch connects badly, instead of releasing the force into your opponent – you release it into your own body.
This can result in injuries to your hands, wrists, shoulders and, of course, your elbows and over time, you may find that repetitive blows can cause your elbow to hurt each time that you punch.
Why Does My Elbow Hurt When I Punch And Miss My Target?
This is a little easier to explain. Gently raise your arm to full extension, then lay it back down by your side. Now, do this again and do it as fast as you can. Can you feel the speed and power involved in your body?
That’s the power in your punches (plus a bit more assuming that you’ve been trained to punch) and that means the power has to go somewhere. When you miss an opponent, that power ends up trapped in the arm and it puts strain on your joints (elbows, shoulders, wrists) and the tendons and ligaments which connect them to the muscle gets strained too.
How To Throw An Effective Punch Without Hurting Your Elbow?
The good news is that you don’t have to hurt yourself when you throw a punch and that your elbow can be completely pain-free. However, you do have to learn to punch effectively – if you don’t do that then you will find that, over time, things get worse and not better.
Probably, the easiest way to learn to punch properly is to work with a qualified boxing coach. They will be able to walk you through exactly what you need to do and offer you feedback on what’s going wrong. As boxing is focused entirely on striking, boxers are the best punchers in the martial arts world.
If that option is not open to you for any reason, here’s a quick guide to throwing an effective punch. Of course, it really does help to work with someone on developing the perfect punch, it can be hard to tell when you’re not doing things quite correctly.
Making A Fist
Punching begins with the shape of your hand. In theory, there are many different ways to make a solid fist but in practice, many of them are going to get you hurt. Now, it’s fair to say that your fist shape probably won’t make a huge amount of difference to your elbow pain, but you don’t want to swap a sore elbow for broken bones in your hand.
So, you begin by curling your digits into the center of your palm. You then take your thumb and wrap it around the first knuckle on your ring finger. (You may find that you need to push your thumb a bit further across if it’s a particularly long thumb).
You never ever put your thumb inside your fingers. This is a near guarantee that you’re going to hurt yourself. You might find it breaks or worse, you push it out of joint (a dislocation) and trust us, that can really hurt.
Once you have the shape of your fist, you then need to bring the whole thing together. You have to balance the grip you use: too tight and you may find that you interfere with the circulation in your hand, not tight enough and the fist will sort of disintegrate when you hit someone with it.
Attending To the Placement Of Your Feet
If you want to throw a punch, then you have to give yourself a strong base to operate from. Many martial arts instructors will tell you that a lot of force from a punch is found in the way that you stand.
When you have your feet to wide apart, you can’t put enough force into a punch. When you have them too close together, you are very easy to throw off balance and if your punches don’t connect you may find yourself on the floor without even being touched by your opponent.
Now, the exact stance for punching does vary between martial arts, so the best teacher for stance is going to be your martial arts’ instructor. However, a good rule of thumb is simply to square up to the opponent, then take the foot on the dominant half of your body and move it back and set it at an angle of about 30-45 degrees from your body. They should be spaced to feel comfortable and well-balanced.
Then you just need to turn your hip position ever so slightly away from the opponent and you should have your stance.
Now, you also need to think about this when you’re moving around (as most fights aren’t static). You want to come back to this position every time you move if you want to stay in control of your punches.
Setting Your Upper Body Position
The ideal position for the upper body has a very wide difference between martial arts. For example, a Muay Thai fighter will tend to square off when dealing with a fight, whereas a kickboxer or karate practitioner is more likely to turn their shoulders out.
The easiest way to master the right upper body position is with coaching but you can just practice this bit until you feel comfortable too. You can move your shoulder position as you deliver a punch and you should be able to feel how it changes the speed and power of your blow.
As the punch begins, you should keep your forearms as straight as possible and the elbow should start right up against your side. This helps to keep you defended between blows. It also helps you keep the right body position to unload your blow on your opponent.
Unleashing The Punch
A good punch doesn’t waste any effort, and this is definitely good for your elbows, wrists and shoulders. Your punch should not travel out to the sides but, instead, go in a straightforward motion.
Your fist should lash the target and end up back where it started with as little exertion as possible (except for that needed to power the punch).
This also has an advantage in the fight itself, you won’t telegraph your intentions to your opponent and thus, have a better chance of landing your blow and it stops you from getting punched in return because it maximizes your guard.
A punch begins in your hips. You pivot on the back foot and use the momentum to throw your body forward. Don’t overdo it – you don’t want to fall over. Then turn your hips into the movement and straighten your arm towards the opponent.
Bracing Yourself For The Impact Of Your Punch
In nearly every martial art which involves striking, you will be given the opportunity to wrap your hands and wear gloves. This will protect your bones against being broken on impact.
Related article: Here’s Why Martial Artists Wear Hand Wraps & Bandages
If you don’t have this option, you need to be very careful about how your fist connects with your opponent. The objective is to get the first two knuckles to hit the opponent and not the flat of the hand or the other knuckles. You also want to keep everything in as straight a line as possible from your knuckles to your shoulders.
However, what will vary (depending on which martial art you do) is the angle of your fist when it makes contact. Krav Maga, for example, often uses a vertical fist whereas boxing uses horizontal fists. Other martial arts can use other angles.
If this doesn’t matter to you because you’re not studying a martial art – use an angle that feels comfortable to you, that will reduce your chances of injury.
Bringing Your Hand Back Correctly
You don’t drop your hands to your sides in a fight because otherwise, you get punched. You should find that your hands naturally return to a position in front of your face. If they don’t, that’s where they need to end up.
As you do that, you should be looking to reset your whole stance and position prior to unleashing your next blow because otherwise, over the course of a few punches, you will end up badly out of position and your elbow will be hurting all over again.
What Else Can Help With My Punching To Prevent Elbow Pain?
The best way to ensure that you punch in the appropriate and safe way for your elbow is to practice punching, a lot. And there’s one easy way to get that practice:
Heavy Bag Training
Shadow boxing isn’t the best way to learn to punch properly. It can help you develop the speed of movement to punch effectively but you need your punches to connect fully if you want to make sure your punches are well thought out and aren’t going wrong at any stage.
Thus, your elbows will thank you for some heavy bag training. Stay about 4-5 feet in front of the bag, assume your stance at about a 45-degree angle to the bag. Then punch and punch some more.
It really does help if you can get someone to monitor you while you do this to provide instant feedback on your stance, etc. but if that’s not possible – you can use the “good punch checklist” below.
The Good Punch Checklist
It can help to run through some questions in your head (or with a friend/partner) following a punch to see if you’re getting the right kind of punch:
- How did it feel when you punched? Was your arm feeling rigid and tense or did it just feel right?
- How did the punch feel when it connected? Did you feel the punch release its energy into the target or did you glance off or barely connect?
- Did your punch land where you wanted it to?
- Was the punch as powerful as you wanted it to be?
- How did your fist hold up during the punch? Did it open up? Was your thumb in an awkward position? Was your wrist right?
- How does your elbow feel in the aftermath? Are there are any warning signs that you should be heeding?
These questions aren’t a perfect guide, but they can help you think about how you’re punching and get you to pay better attention to the details when punching. You can only get better at something by being honestly critical of your approach and then making an effort to change what’s not working.
What Else Can Cause Pain In My Elbow When Punching?
There are three other reasons that your elbow might be hurting if you’re punching and your stance, etc. seem to be correct. They are low muscle strength, being overweight and over-extending your punches:
Low Muscle Strength In Your Arms
You will, over time, develop muscle strength from punching but if your elbow is in pain – you probably don’t want to make it worse. So, if you feel your arm muscles might be a bit on the light side, you should consult a personal trainer about a personalized arm workout.
Make sure that they know that you want to develop muscles for fighting and not for bodybuilding, though, body builders’ muscles aren’t an advantage in most martial arts.
This is not fat shaming but if you are overweight, then you are placing additional strain on your joints that they were not meant to bear. This is true of your knees, your ankles, your shoulders, your wrists and your elbows and any other join you can think of.
Regular trips to the gym and a lower calorie diet are the only effective long-term ways to lose weight and you should give some serious thought to losing weight in these circumstances.
Over-extending Your Punch
Over-extending a punch is when your blow lands beyond your effective reach, it can still be a successful punch, but it involves placing too much strain on your joints and especially your elbows. It’s often hard to identify this on your own, over-extended punches really need a coach to work through how to counter your excessive reach.
To punch without hurting your elbow, it is a simple matter of punching more effectively. Easier said than done, but with some training and repetition you’ll get there. In short, make a solid fist, set your body to deliver the blow, punch in a smooth focused motion and return your body to position once the blow lands. You may need to pay some attention to developing muscle strength, keeping your weight under control and ensure you don’t over-extend your blows too.