In the second of our 3-part series on enhancing your martial arts skillset, we’re focusing on speed – the amount of time it takes your strike to move from initiation to target. In the first post we explored improving your timing, and next month we’ll pay attention to maintaining good distance i.e. how to move in and out of range without being hit.

In all martial arts disciplines, hand speed is critical. Some people are naturally quick – with a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fiber, advantageous skeletal system, insertion points of muscles and tendons, etc. For the rest of us, the good news is speed can be improved with practice. Doing exercises that develop your fast-twitch muscle fibers, build explosiveness, and improve hand-eye coordination will increase your ability to launch an attack on your opponent without giving them much time to react or respond. In other words, the faster you can punch, the less time your opponent has to stop you, and the more likely you’ll land the shot.

Here are 5 exercises to help increase your hand speed:

  1. Plyometric Push-ups

A plyo push-up adds a ‘jumping’ element to the push-up to make it more explosive. It targets the muscles of your chest, triceps, abs and shoulders and increases strength, speed, and fitness. These push-ups are considered an excellent way to train fast-twitch muscle fibers, which in turn help your hand movements become quick and strong. To perform a plyo push-up, begin in a regular push-up position and slowly lower yourself to the ground. Push up as explosively as you can, clap your hands, and then land softly in the start position.

  1. Punching with weights or resistance bands

Using a light dumbbell when shadowboxing not only builds arm strength and increases your cardio fitness, but it also helps you maximise your punching speed. Your body gets used to the extra weight and when you punch without it, you’ll punch faster than when you started. Make sure you use a light dumbbell as a heavier one might cause your technique to break, and you won’t get the same results.

An alternative to dumbbells is resistance bands, which also increase your punching power, making the muscles harder and stronger and improving your speed over time. Tie the band to an object behind you at chest height and extend the arm into a punch, or wrap the band around your back and use this as your base.

  1. Retraction and deceleration

One of the least acknowledged ways to increase speed is to pull the hand away as quickly as possible. There’s a lot of focus on the strike itself, but slow retraction slows down your overall speed and causes delays when you want to combine techniques. Think about the classic miken-giyakuzuki or jab-cross combination – the giyakuzuki (cross) starts when the mikenzuki (jab) retracts. Speeding up the retraction of the first technique allows the second one to come out faster.

Similarly, another critical factor to train is how fast you bring movements down from top speed to zero. The quicker you can come to a stop, the faster you can move on to the next technique. As a martial artist, you’re constantly challenged to move between acceleration, deceleration, and acceleration again.

  1. Relaxation

A counter-intuitive action every karateka can take to move faster is to relax. Tense muscles act like a brake and slow your movements down. Relax as much of the tension out of your arms as possible, so you can allow them to explode as quickly as possible. Being too relaxed can make it difficult for the movements to be explosive, so there must be a balance between tension and relaxation. Bonus tip: getting angry can tense the muscles and make you slower. 

 5.  Efficiency

Be efficient and economical with your moves. Be aware of parasite movements – like pulling your arm back before striking, or sinking further into the ground before launching. These extra actions take up valuable time you could be using to get across the gap. The more economical you can be, the faster your strike will reach the target.

In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”


Enough said.