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The Physics of Celebrity Boxing

Update 2/5/14: 

Rapper DMX has answered the infamous George Zimmerman's call to a celebrity boxing match. They will fight on March 1. Here's a few tips DMX should keep in mind to hold his own in the ring.

The Physics of Boxing

Boxing has a recipe for success and the ingredients include technique, timing and accuracy. With the right technique and timing you can maximize the force you transfer to your opponent. And you can do the most damage with a powerful punch to the right location, and buy yourself extra precious seconds while your opponent recovers.


The amount of power behind a punch depends more on proper technique than muscle strength. It boils down to how much force you can build and how fast you can apply it. To maximize force, you want to add angular and linear momentum to your throws. You achieve this by rotating your body toward your opponent as you deliver a punch. At 43 seconds into the video Mike Tyson overpowers his opponent by rotating his 223-pound body into a single, knock-out punch to the face. (Slow-motion replays start at around 1:10.)

Keep the legs bent.
Credit:Max Talbot-Minkin
Another boxing technique is utilizing your legs. Bending your legs keeps your center of mass low to the ground, making it easier for you to keep your balance when giving and receiving blows. You can also extend your legs as you punch up at an opponent, adding momentum to your explosive delivery. Or you can bend your legs as you punch down toward an opponent, increasing momentum in your fist’s direction of motion.

This last point relates to the important tip of using gravity to your advantage whenever possible. Earth’s gravitational force is always pushing you down, so let it help you push your opponent down in the ring. Either deliver your punches at a downward angle or if punching up, follow a u-shaped path with your fist, swooping downward first to add speed behind your blow, always remembering to keep your legs slightly bent and rotate with the swing.

Now, it would be nice if your opponent just stood there like a mindless scarecrow, but he’ll probably prance around. Therefore, timing is everything! If possible, let your opponent help you to deliver him a more powerful punch by waiting until he’s moving toward you. If, for example, you’re going for his face, the overall velocity and subsequent force that the face feels is greater if it’s moving toward your fist as you make contact than if it’s stationary or moving away from you.

Speaking of punching faces, where’s the best place to land your blow? The chin is actually where you can do some of the most damage. By hitting the chin, you apply a force to one end of the head, which acts like a rotating object. That force creates a torque, and the farther you are from the object’s axis of rotation, the larger the torque that the object experiences.

Vic Darchinyan vs. Eric Barcelona. In the left picture, Barcelona's punch is level with Darchinyan's eyes and therefore less accurate than his direct delivery to the jaw on the right. Credit: Keith Abigail

As a result, the head will rotate more quickly, placing more strain on the neck's muscles and potentially damaging the skull and brain. An upper cut punch, for example, rotates the head upward and backward from a forward-looking position to a ceiling-looking position and can fracture the base of the skull in the process.

One last piece of advice: On the rare occasion when you’re receiving punches instead of throwing them, make sure to roll with the punch. This means that if you know a punch is coming and you cannot dodge it or deflect it with your shoulder or forearm, try to move your head (or body) in the same direction from which the punch is coming. This will reduce the total velocity you experience from the hit and improve your chances and time to recover.


  1. I sense a slight antagonism toward Zimmerman running throughout this piece.

    Frankly, I feel that's not enough. Don't boxers sometimes poop themselves? Can we talk about Zimmerman doing that?

  2. I agree with the first person.


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