Whether you practice karate, krav maga or muay Thai, fast hand speed is critical. Accomplished martial artists can launch numerous attacks in the same amount of time that a beginner throws a single punch. Much of this comes from experience and training. Doing exercises that develop your fast twitch muscle fibers, build explosiveness and improve hand-eye coordination will ensure you're the last man — or woman — standing in a fight.
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Your muscles are made up of two types of muscle fibers: slow twitch and fast twitch. Slow twitch muscle fibers contract slowly and fatigue slowly, coming into play for endurance activities such as running long distances.
Fast twitch muscles are those needed for activities requiring strength, speed and power. Not only do you need quick hands, but you need powerful, strong arms that can strike with force. Plyometric exercises are one of the best ways to train fast twitch muscle fibers.
HOW TO DO IT: Start at the top of a push-up with your shoulders aligned over your wrists and your body in one line from head to heels. Inhale as you bend your elbows out to the sides and lower down until your chest is a few inches from the ground. Exhale as you press into the ground forcefully, exploding up and off your hands. Clap your hands in front of your chest, then land with bent elbows and go right into your next rep.
Resistance Band Punching
Punching against force builds strength and power. Resistance bands apply constant force during this exercise, which over time will improve your speed and explosiveness. When you return to punching without the bands you will immediately be able to feel the difference in speed.
HOW TO DO IT: Anchor a resistance band to an object behind you at about chest height. Face away from the anchor holding one end of the band in each hand. With your fists closed, begin throwing punches as if you are shadowboxing. Gradually increase your speed and and intensity.
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Speed Bag Training
As its name implies, a speed bag teaches you how to react quickly. Punching a speed bag improves hand-eye coordination and timing, so you'll be able to react not only faster but more accurately. Start with the basics and increase the challenge as your skill improves.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand square in front of the speed bag with your feet hip-distance apart. Position yourself just short of arm's distance from the bag. Raise your arms and hands up so your upper arms are just below shoulder level. Keep your hands close to the bag at all times. Begin hitting the bag, making small circles in the air rather than swinging your fists back and forth. Hit slowly until you get the rhythm, then continue to increase your speed.
You probably remember playing this as a kid. Back then, it was fun to test your speed and your ability to outwit your opponent. However, this child's play is an effective way to work on hand-eye coordination and reactive speed for fast hands in martial arts.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand in front of a partner with your arms outstretched, palms up. Have your partner place his hands lightly on top of yours. When he is not suspecting it, quickly pull your palms up and around, trying to slap your partner on the back of the hands before he can move his hands away. After several tries, switch places. Pull your hands away before your partner can slap them.
Read more: Martial Arts Basics