by Thomas Kurz
This article is about errors in punching. The errors I write about are very common. I saw them at every clinic or seminar on stretching and kicking I gave, and I still see them at whatever competitions I happen to visit. You can see these errors on the DVD Clinic on Stretching and Kicking. I also read about injuries caused by those errors in e-mails from my readers or Stadion’s forum members, like the question below.
> First, I must say that your book Stretching Scientifically is all
> one needs for flexibility training. I am not shooting for the splits,
> but it gave me absolutely everything that I need. Second, thank you
> for sharing your expertise in Stadion’s forum.
> I have a problem with my arm muscles that I believe may have been
> caused by “punching air” in Shotokan practice. That was the only
> severe exercise that I did when the pain started, about 2 years ago.
> I experience pain on the inner surface of the elbow joint. I think
> that the brachioradialis is the source of the pain. I also have
> some pain on the lateral surface of the forearm–the extensors.
> I have tried laying off the punching for a few months, and that
> brought some relief, but the problem doesn’t go away. I tried various
> forms of heat application–no appreciable change. An exercise
> physiologist told me to try curls with weights.
> Curls do not hurt more than any light load movement. (Biceps in good
> shape.) Nothing but punching seems to exacerbate the problem. I
> don’t want to try anything without your input….
> 1. What type of injury does this sound like?
> 2. What kind of treatment do you suggest?
> Many thanks for your help,
Knowing the common errors people make when practicing karate punches such as seiken-tsuki (the basic normal-fist punch), my guess is you have repeatedly strained attachments of your elbow flexors. This is typically caused by extending the punching arm too much–making it too straight. The pain in the extensors of the forearm may come from excessive rotation of the fist at the end of the punch.
Muscles traumatized repeatedly by hundreds of incorrect punches may have accumulated scar tissue, which re-tears the muscle fibers when you resume practice.
To help recovery, I would try deep friction massage around and on the problem spots (for why and how, see Management of Common Musculoskeletal Disorders at The Athlete’s Bookshelf.
Basic Normal-Fist Punch—Correct Form
After your arms and forearms are okay, you should learn the correct form of the karate punch:
1. At the end of the punch, your elbow is bent in both the sagittal plane and the transverse plane so your arm and forearm do not form a straight line whether looked at from above or from the side.
2. Also at the end of the punch, your fist is turned less than 90 degrees vertically so the back of your hand is NOT completely horizontal (and the higher the target, the less you turn your fist).
3. The inner surface of the elbow and proximal part of the forearm travel very close to the side of the rib cage. Beginners should exaggerate this to the point of abrading their sides at about the level of the floating ribs. Olive oil prevents abrasions.
4. Your arm and even the forearm are relaxed and your fist is tightened at the impact so the arm is like a rope and the fist like a stone (at the impact).
5. At the beginning of the punch, keep your shoulders relaxed, and don’t let them ride up.
Those five points apply to the arm movements only, since your problem was caused by incorrect arm movements. There is much more to punching than that. I show and explain punching essentials such as these and point out common errors in Clinic on Stretching and Kicking DVD.
If you have any questions on training you can post them at Stadion’s Sports and Martial Arts Training Discussion Forum.