When most martial artists think of speed they usually referring to the ability to strike quickly. While speed is sometimes hard to quantify it is easy to recognise in an athlete. Speed can be broken down into three interlinked components: recognition speed, processing speed and reaction speed. Recognition speed refers to the fighter’s ability to recognise a stimulus such as a punch flying towards the face. The fighter then needs processing speed to process this information and make a decision. Finally reaction speed is needed to perform the blocking technique required. This entire process happens in a fraction of a second but each individual element can be trained separately to improve overall speed.
The most basic focus mitt drill to develop speed is the flash pad drill. This drill is performed by having the pad holder flash the pad up quickly so that the hitter has to respond to the stimulus with the appropriate technique at the appropriate time as fast as possible. The pad is kept in position for the shortest time as possible before the next technique is flashed up. As the person striking increases their reaction speed the time the pad is held up a shortened until it is flashed up for a fraction of a second and the technique is delivered. This drill can be applied to any technique whether it be a kick, punch or takedown.
Once initiation speed is developed it is necessary to work on retraction speed. Getting the hand back to guard or foot back on the ground after a kick is necessary to avoid getting counter struck. It is very common in beginners to see the punch go out quickly but come back slowly. Slow retraction leaves a fighter open to counter punches or kicks. Getting the hand back into position to protect is therefore common sense and fortunately for you this is easy to train on the pads.
Starting with the jab and the cross the pad holder hits back with the other pad quickly as the hitter makes contact with the pad encouraging a quick return to guard. The same method can be applied to kicks. If the pad holder can tap the hitters leg after the kick has landed then retraction speed needs work. MMA students can also use this drill for speeding up their knee strikes and kicks. A slow knee or kick in MMA is very risky as the opponent can catch hold of the leg before it returns the ground and get a takedown. Getting the foot back on the ground quickly will help with defensive footwork or sprawling, Start these drills at half speed to start with until the hitter is comfortable and over a round or two increase to full speed. It can be made more challenging by using combinations of hands and feet or by making the hitter perform a forfeit such as burpees if their retraction speed is too slow.
The most important factor when performing speed drills is to make sure that technique does not start to deteriorate as a result of performing the drill. Fighters trying to strike faster and faster will start to minimise their movements or change their body mechanics to complete the drill as quickly as possible. The pad holder needs to notice when there is any change in the correct performance of the technique and encourages their partner to keep good form at all times.
Speed training should also only be performed when the athlete is fresh, as a tired athlete is rarely a fast athlete. In order to be fast the body needs to be fresh and the nervous system relaxed and ready. When a person is physically or mentally tired the body cannot work at its maximum potential it is best to save speed training for another time.
More Complex Speed drills
It is best to work on simple speed drills first as they do not require as much coordination is more advanced pad drills. That way the fighter can focus on improving speed rather than memorising a difficult combination. On each of these drills the emphasis is on completing the drill as fast as possible with good form and body mechanics. If every technique in the drill is not performed correctly it is not counted. The pad holder has a responsibility to monitor all the techniques performed to make sure they are executed well.
Punching Speed drill 1
This is a very simple drill that requires the fighter to perform 10 straight punches as fast as possible. It is limited to 10 punches as it is very unlikely that a fighter will throw a combination of more than 10 techniques without having to move or cover. Of course it is possible to perform the drill with more punches but at some point a certain number of punches to be performed will force the hitter to pace themselves in order to complete the drill which will slow the techniques down. Better to work on short intense bursts of speed.
Punching Speed drill 2
This drill involves the fighter throwing six hooks. The first hook is a left hook delivered to the body and the subsequent hooks alternating up the body as follows.
- left hook to body
- right hook to body
- left hook to chest
- right hook to chest
- left hook to head
- right hook to head
Each hook needs to be delivered with good technique and rotation of the feet and hips into each punch.
Punching Speed drill 3
The next speed drill focuses on uppercuts. Five uppercuts are performed using the left-hand first and alternating sides. The first uppercut is thrown low to body and following punches work up to head height. The drill is completed by throwing a right cross, left hook, right cross.
Knee Speed drill 1
Speed drill four is all about knees. The pad holder is grabbed in a Thai plumm and the hitter performs six alternating skip knees to the pads. The leg needs to switch back on every knee.
Round Kick Speed drill 1
The last basic speed drill focuses on kicks. Two rebound kicks are performed on the right side followed by two rebound kicks on the left side. One hand needs to be kept up at all times when kicking. The other hand can be used to generate power or assist balance.
Combined Speed Drill
Combine all the drills described above sequentially as fast as possible. The drills are designed so that each one flows into the next fluidly, maximising speed. We use this drill a lot at my Academy and have certain times that this drill has to be performed in as targets for students to aim for:
Average: 20-30 seconds
Good: 15-20 seconds
Excellent: 10-15 seconds
Obviously speed is relative to the person. Everyone knows that smaller lighter people are faster than taller, bigger people (except from some very rare exceptions). The targets above are therefore used by students to compare their speed over the weeks and months and years that they train. There is very little point in comparing two different people especially if they have different body types, ages or abilities.
Intermediate speed drills
Intermediate speed drills involve more technical striking combinations that include mixing various techniques, angles and levels. They are much more challenging than the basic speed drills both physically and mentally. Remembering the order of the techniques and performing them at speed is a real challenge to memory and coordination. The pad holder also will also find these drills more difficult as they have to move the pads quickly into the specified positions. Once again good technique and correct body mechanics needs to be maintained throughout the drills or they are started again.
Intermediate speed drill 1
Intermediate speed drill 2
Intermediate speed drill 3
Intermediate speed drill 3 mixes drill one and two together. This is easier to perform if the double jab on the end of speed drill one is removed leaving the following combination:
This is an intense high energy, high coordination drill that makes the fighter think fast and punch fast. It also makes the pad holder do the same as they have to get the pads moving quickly. The hitter can only punch as fast as the pads are there to be hit. A slow pad holder produces a slow striker.
If this happens the pad holder has to work on developing their ability to move the pads quickly by “shadow padding” i.e. practising holding the pads for the combination in the air whilst the hitter works on the drill on the punchbag. Once both parties are at the same speed the drill can be continued on the pads. There is zero point in a fast striker working with a slow pad holder. Both striker and holder will get frustrated and not enjoy the workout.
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