The ability to withstand strikes in the midsection is mandatory for every fighter. And the best way to train your endurance is by getting hit again and again. However, contrary to popular belief, getting punched does not result in muscle growth. The strong contraction of the abdominal muscles just before receiving the punch or kick, on the other hand, will toughen them and get them used to be being struck.
Why do fighters do it?
A strong core is essential in every striking discipline. If you crumble from the first serious impact to your gut, there’s no point in entering the ring in the first place. So, even for a gym warrior some toughness in the core is essential. So, in short, fighters subject themselves to punches in the stomach, so they can better withstand them in a fight or when sparring.
I am well aware that training in combat sports entails some form of punishment. This will vary depending on your training objectives and discipline of choice, but taking a beating is unavoidable in boxing, MMA, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and many other sports. But there is one training method that seems even more masochistic than the rest and this is conditioning the abdomen for punishment.
How does it work?
It’s quite simple, actually. The more you get hit in the core, the better conditioning you will have. It’s not just the abs that need to be strong, but the entire core region, which consists of a number of different muscles.
The most frequent targets of strikes are the abdominal muscles—the well-known six-pack and the inside and outside obliques. When receiving controlled strikes, the muscles get damaged and then get rebuilt stronger.
The necessary muscle contraction before and during impact will strengthen the muscles, but the impact itself does not build the muscles in any way. And even for strengthening, most standard ab exercises are far superior. Getting punched in the abs is done with the main purpose of conditioning the muscles so it can withstand punishment, not for building a visible 6 pack.
Aside from the obvious physical adaption to punishment, just as important is the psychological one. Through repetition, the body and mind get accustomed to the sensation of being struck, and the experience becomes less and less stressful. You get used to the process of bracing the muscles just before impact and exhaling at the point of contact. The goal is to ingrain this procedure into the muscle memory, so it becomes automatic. Then in a fight, you don’t have to think about it at all and just let your ingrained instincts take over.
Different methods of conditioning?
Having some variety in training is a must, or things get repetitive. There are a few ways to approach this tedious task, and none of them are pleasant.
Punches and kicks– the most obvious one is to get a partner to continually hit you with punches or kicks. You just stand and endure. There is nothing else to it.
Medicine ball slams– A favorite of boxers of old and new is the good old medicine ball slam. I’ve written more about this type of training here. A partner takes a heavy medicine ball and slams it into your abdomen. This can be done standing or while lying down. Myke Tyson has a famous video demonstrating this:
Sticks Many traditional Eastern martial arts emphasize conditioning muscles and nerves to pain, and using sticks is a popular method in kung fu and Muay Thai. Some modern fighters also use it. An added benefit is that you can do it by yourself, without the “help” of a partner who has to beat you.
Combining building muscle with building endurance
An even better way of doing the condition exercises is by combining them with muscle-building work. This way, you work on two different aspects at the same time.
A popular way of training this way, often seen in Muay Thai, is the pads to the abs exercise. After performing a crunch, a partner slams a Thai pad into the contracted abs. Alternatively, this can be done alone by switching the pad slam with a self-inflicted hand strike.
Leg raises are another popular way to combine the two aspects of ab training. Perform a leg raise from a hanging position, and then have a partner or trainer hit you in the abs with a punch, kick, or a hard object after each one.
The monotonous plank exercise can also be spiced up for added benefits. Again, with the help of partner who will land light kicks on both sides of the body while you “rest” in plank.
Regardless of which method you prefer, body conditioning is something every fighter needs. Start light and gradually increase the power until you start tiring out partners by just absorbing their shots.