If you’ve ever watched a boxing match or, indeed, any kind of martial art where there is a reasonable amount of punching involved, you will have noticed that the fighters tend to exhale as they release a punch and they do so audibly.
Why do fighters breathe out when they punch? Fighters breathe out aloud on time with a punch because it provides a burst of explosive energy. The breath helps to fuel the punch and deliver maximum impact.
However, if it’s not done correctly or it’s done too much – it can actually make the punch weaker and ruin the blow. Over time, poor exhalation technique can exhaust the fighter’s stamina too. Here’s what you need to know.
Why Exhale When Punching?
There is a technique used in boxing and which is now popular in many other martial arts where striking is a primary consideration called “fast breathing”. The theory is pretty simple. You want your punches to land with the maximum level of energy – this is likely to break your opponent down as quickly as possible and allow you to win the fight.
Therefore, you want to give each punch something of a boost when it lands. You can’t get extra energy by eating and drinking while you fight (and even if you could eat or drink, you couldn’t access that energy rapidly enough to make a difference) but you can get energy from the oxygen that you breathe in.
The exhale when punching is designed to harness this energy to land a better, faster, harder punch.
How To Breathe Properly When Throwing A Punch
OK, so now you know that fast breathing is going to give you a little boost when you’re doing something fast in the fight like moving quickly, landing a punch or slipping away from your opponent. If you do it right this kind of fast breathing is brilliant, and it will give you energy but do it wrong and you’re going to end up exhausted.
So, the basics of fast breathing are:
- When you inhale, you do it slowly and through your nose, if at all possible. If the current fight conditions don’t allow this, then you can take a quick inhalation through the nose, instead. You only breathe in through the mouth when you have absolutely no other choice. Your nose cleans and warms the air as it heads down into your lungs and it does this much better than your mouth can too.
- Then when you need that boost, you use your mouth and exhale very quickly in a single burst for each movement you intend to take. So, that might be a quick exhalation as you throw a punch, another as you slip to the side and then a third as you throw another punch.
You should remember that there are always plenty of opportunities to inhale and if you don’t have one right now, you should stay relaxed and seek an opportunity to do so. Inhaling through the mouth is a very bad idea – not just because of the way the nose works with the air but because open mouths lead to broken jaws when you get hit.
When you inhale, you want to try and pull the air down as deeply as possible, you can visualize pulling it into your belly if that helps rather than into your lungs as usual. This ought to give you a higher rate of oxygen absorption and thus, the oxygen will provide you with the energy you need on the exhale.
Fast Breathing Vs Slow Breathing
Fast breathing in this context means exhaling at a greater rate than usual. It does not mean speeding up your entire breathing cycle. You should be inhaling slowly and deeply and then expelling the air in quick, short bursts. If you try to match your inhale to your exhale – this is known as hyperventilating.
Hyperventilating is not good for you and you will quickly become oxygen deficient and that’s going to leave you out of breath and tired. That’s not a good position to be in when you’re fighting.
So, your objective is actually to breathe more slowly overall, but to accelerate your breathing on the outward cycle.
Why Do Fighters Hiss When Punching?
That hissing sound you hear when you watch professional fighters throwing punches? That’s not the sound of someone rapidly emptying their lungs when they throw a punch. It’s actually the sound of a small amount of air being rapidly expelled from the lungs before the fighter clamps down on the flow of air.
You could think of this as akin to sneezing. When you sneeze and you hold your nose, you don’t let out all the air inside you. You just let out a little in a sort of explosive burst from your mouth. That’s exactly what you want to be aiming for with your breathing when punching.
So, the real trick to getting this right is to inhale as much air as you can when you’ve got the luxury to do so but then to use as little of that air as you can when you’re making your explosive movement, that’s going to be when you throw your punch most of the time.
This is why we breathe out through our mouths when utilizing fast breathing in boxing. It’s easy to stop the flow of air from your mouth, you just close your mouth, try breathing out while pinching your nose closed and holding your mouth shut – you can’t do it.
Over time, you will learn to shut off the exhalation with the muscles of your throat, but to begin with – closing your lips gives you a level of instant control.
That means when we talk about fast breathing in fighting the breath pattern is not: BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT, BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT, etc.
But rather it’s BREATHE IN, breathe out, hold, breathe out, hold, breathe out, hold, breathe out, hold, BREATHE IN, breathe out, hold, breathe out, hold, breathe out, hold, breathe out, hold, etc. Every time you BREATH IN you take a big deep breath, but every time you breath out, it’s a short, sharp and shallow exhalation.
Once you master this technique, you may find that for every BREATHE IN moment, you can have 20 or even 30 breathe out moments. That gives you a lot of power when you need it.
If you’re wondering how to use your throat to cut off the exhalation – it’s quite easy, say “AHHHHH” and you’ll find that as you stop saying it – you find the muscle that allows you to cut off an exhalation. Pay attention when you watch fighters in the future, some of them make a noise as they access this technique even now.
This kind of breathing technique is very different from the kind of breathing used by weightlifters and it means that you need to work with a fighting coach if you’re struggling with it, your personal trainer in the gym will almost certainly be better at teaching you to lift than to punch effectively.
The best time to practice breathing as a boxer or fighter is when you’re doing bag work and wearing a mouthpiece. The mouthpiece will help you to remember not to inhale through your mouth because it’s really uncomfortable to do so and it will help you with those short, sharp exhalations that you’re supposed to be making because it can be used to help block the exhale.
So why do fighters breathe out when they punch? Breathing out when punching makes the strike land harder by giving it additional energy. However, it’s important to note that you have to learn to breathe properly for this technique to work – do it wrong and you’ll just be making it harder to fight not easier.
It’s very important for fighters to know when to breathe quickly and went to breathe slowly and to understand that though there is a difference in the speed of breath, that difference is not reflected in the way the air cycles in their system and fast breathing can lead to hyperventilating and total exhaustion over time.