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How To Develop A Stronger Jab (Muhammad Ali’s Technique)

In MMA, Boxing, and Muay Thai alike, the jab is one of the most important techniques to use. Most techniques rely on set up through use of the jab, and an effective jab can be significantly damaging. So in this post, I am going to explain the way great fighters have developed a stronger jab.

To develop a stronger jab, you first have to put your body’s momentum behind the punch. As you start to throw your jab, your left shoulder should push forward as your right one moves back, all while you slightly lean into the punch. Your arm should twist inward as you jab. Once you have the body mechanics down, develop forearm strength, as this is one of the most important muscles used in the jab.

There are a lot of small movements that must be performed simultaneously in order to throw a jab. In the rest of the post, I’ll discuss techniques used by famous boxers, as movements and muscles used in the jab, and how to improve them.

How To Strengthen Muscles Used In The Jab

There are many muscles that activate in order to throw a jab. If you want to throw a stronger jab, a good way to do so is by strengthening the actual muscles used in the jab.

As Thomas Hearns (left) throws his jab, we notice that his left shoulder is forward, his arm is fully extended, and that his palm is facing down towards the floor.
As Thomas Hearns (left) throws his jab, we notice that his left shoulder is forward, his arm is fully extended, and that his palm is facing down towards the floor.

The three basic muscular movements that occur when throwing a jab are the shoulder moving forward, the arm extending out, and the inward twisting of the arm. First, I’ll cover the movements themselves and the muscles used, after which I’ll provide the corresponding exercise.

Shoulder Movement (Scapular Protraction)

The first movement is the forward movement of the shoulder you jab with. If you are an orthodox fighter, then this means you jab with your left side (and vice versa for southpaws). Before we start, I want to note that any info about this movement comes from a video about Scapular Protraction made by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

This forward movement of the shoulder is known as protraction (a.k.a extension or abduction) of the scapula, and there are two major muscles that are involved with this protraction.

The scapula is the winged bone you have in your back, and is the main bone involved in shoulder movement.
The scapula is the winged bone you have in your back, and is the main bone involved in shoulder movement.

The first muscle is the Serratus Anterior, which is a broad muscle that runs along the side of the chest, under the armpit. This muscle is the most active muscle in the protraction of the scapula. Although a big part of the Serratus Anterior is covered by another muscle (Latissimus Dorsi) you can still get a glimpse of it on a well trained body, such as on Manny Pacquiao below.

Circled in red you can see a few fibers of the Anterior Serratus, although most of it is covered by another muscle.
Circled in red you can see a few fibers of the Anterior Serratus, although most of it is covered by another muscle.

The second muscle used in shoulder protraction is the Pectoralis Minor, which mostly assists the Serratus Anterior. The Pectoralis Minor is located under the Pectoralis Major, which is basically the larger, more visible part of your chest. Because of this, we can’t see the Pectoralis Minor on someone’s body, but you can see it in the image below.

The Pectoralis Minor is just above the Serratus Anterior, but is covered by the Pectoralis Major.
The Pectoralis Minor is just above the Serratus Anterior, but is covered by the Pectoralis Major.

Arm Extension

The second important movement is arm extension, where you extend your arm out straight in front of you. The main muscle used in the extension of the arms is the Triceps. There isn’t much more to say about the extension because that’s the only muscle used.

The Triceps muscle extends the elbow joint, which is a part of the jab.
The Triceps muscle extends the elbow joint, which is a part of the jab.

However, the extension is also combined with holding the arm up in front of you, which uses muscles in the shoulder. The muscle holding your arm up is the Deltoid.

The Deltoid muscle gets activated as you raise the arm up.
The Deltoid muscle gets activated as you raise the arm up.

Twisting The Arm (Pronation)

The twist of the wrist (a.k.a. Pronation) is the final part of the jab, although it usually happens as you extend your arm. Since forearm is made up of a lot of small muscles, it uses most of them in this movement, especially because all the muscles are used when you close the hand into a fist to punch. However, the two main ones involved in twisting are the Pronator Teres and Pronator Quadratus, shown below.

The Pronator muscles are used to twist the palm downwards (towards the floor)
The Pronator muscles are used to twist the palm downwards (towards the floor)

Exercises To Strengthen Jab Muscles

Alright, so now we know the muscles involved with the shoulder movement, arm extension, and twisting of the jab. So how do we strengthen these muscles? Well first, think of the way these muscles are activated while throwing the jab.

Because these muscles move the shoulder forward when they activate, we need an exercise that causes more strain on them when you try to move your shoulder forward. A prime example of this is the basic push up.

The push up works various upper body muscles, with the Pectoralis Minor and the Serratus Anterior included. It also works the Triceps and forearm muscles. Focus on the pushing motion, and round out your shoulders at the top for maximum effect.

Pushing the Scapula out (left) and then retracting it repeatedly (right) will work your Serratus Anterior.
Pushing the Scapula out (left) and then retracting it repeatedly (right) will work your Serratus Anterior.

The second exercise is a plank, for the same reason as the push-up. Something you could add to the plank is rounding the shoulders, and then contracting them, and then repeating that process, as it will work the Serratus Anterior more than a push up would.

The last exercise (and probably the best) is punching with a band. This means attaching one end of the band to a pole, and holding the other end of it with your jabbing hand. Then, you just jab as you usually would with the added resistance of the band.

There are some bands made specifically for boxing, such as the Title Boxing Resistance Band (link to Amazon). It’s a pretty useful tool and at a very good price, especially when considering the value it provides when training.

You can also hold both ends of the band, just make sure it is tight enough to cause resistance.
You can also hold both ends of the band, just make sure it is tight enough to cause resistance.

All these exercises and techniques can be done on your own at home. If you want to learn more about how to learn boxing on your own, check out a post I wrote called Is It Possible To Learn Boxing On Your Own? In the post I go over the pros and cons of training at home as a beginner.

How To Drive Power From The Ground

A lot of the power put into a jab comes from the ground. When you lean into a jab, your back foot punches off of the ground to provide you that push, which you can then whip into the punch.

In order to understand this concept better, think of a Superman Punch. A Superman Punch is when a fighter literally jumps off of their back leg, and punches with their power hand (right hand for orthodox). Former UFC Champion Georges St. Pierre has used the superman punch effectivley during his career, and you can see on of his punches below.

GSP (right) lands his left hand on BJ Penn with a Superman Punch.
GSP (right) lands his left hand on BJ Penn with a Superman Punch.

The reason I’m explaining the superman punch is because you can incorporate the same idea into your jab. Now, that doesn’t mean you should make an exaggerated jump each time you throw a jab.

But when you do want to throw a strong jab, focus on generating power in the same way a superman punch would, from the ground. This can be done by slightly bouncing into your jab as you move around. A person who did this brilliantly was the late and great boxer, Muhammad Ali.

When fighting, Muhammad Ali’s quote “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” describes him perfectly. He would gracefully jump around the ring while avoiding punches and landing his own. But the way he made his jab powerful was by timing it off of his unorthodox movement.

Muhammad Ali lands a jab as he circles around his opponent.
Muhammad Ali lands a jab as he circles around his opponent.

The gif above is basically the story of every one of Ali’s jabs. Look at his feet just as he throws the jab. He kind of hops with both feet as he throws it, while leaning forward a bit. It works the same way as a superman punch, except it is more subtle and doesn’t leave you as exposed.

He also separates his feet when he throws it. Since he leans forward into his jab and he bounces it off of his back foot, he needs to move his front foot forward to be able to move back after throwing the jab.

Ali’s approach to throwing the jab is a good way to keep your opponent at bay with a strong jab. Focusing on timing your jabs off of your movements is a great way to make you jab stronger.

How To Throw Your Jab With Body Momentum

One of the most important parts of the jab is putting your body into it. This is similar to the breakdown of Muhammad Ali’s jab, except that in this section, I’m going to talk about the small motions performed by the whole body during a jab, and not just the legs.

So as we know, when you throw a jab, you should bounce and lean into it for maximum power. But in order for the jab to receive the power from your bounce, you have to know how to transfer it from your legs into your hand.

Being able to transfer the energy in this way may seem very natural to some people, especially if you’re athletic. This is because the energy transfer involved with throwing a baseball or a football is similar to throwing a jab. But if this doesn’t come naturally to you, then this is how you do it.

This image shows the basic components of a jab.
This image shows the basic components of a jab.

You have to first think about the jab in sequence. For example, you can’t extend your hand before you push your shoulder forward, because then the energy gets lost in the shoulder. Think of your body like a whip, and the jab is the crack of the whip.

So as we know, the jab starts at the foot and travels to the hips. There is a very slight rotation of the hips, used to direct the energy to your lead shoulder. From the orthodox stance, the left side of your hip swivels to the right, and vice versa for your right side.

Then the same thing happens to your shoulders. Your right shoulder gets pulled back and the left shoulder should be pointed straight at your opponent. At this point, you should be leaning forward slightly and the only thing left to do is pop out your arm. All these movements are very slight and barely noticeable.

A great way to determine if you are transferring the power correctly is to try Bruce Lee’s infamous one inch punch. Simple extend your fingers towards the heavy bag, and close your fist into the punch and see how strong it is. The one inch punch is primarily driven by energy transfer, as there is no impact (it’s basically a push). That’s why it’s a good way to test your jab.

Bruce Lee's infamous one-inch punch.
Bruce Lee’s infamous one-inch punch.

Practice the movements involved with the jab on a heavy bag. On a heavy bag you will be able to see the difference in power as you adjust the mechanics of your punch.

How The Best Fighters Throw Strong Jabs

talk about bruce lee, muhammad ali, deontay wilder, mcgregor, gsp

There are many fighters that have jabs that are extraordinarily effective. A couple of them we have already talked about, such as Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali. Two more fighters with great jabbing technique are Deontay Wilder, and Conor McGregor.

Deontay Wilder

Deontay Wilder is currently the WBC Heavyweight boxing champion, and with good reason. Deontay Wilder has extraordinary knockout power, winning 40 of his 42 fights by knockout. He also has an interesting jab.

WBC Champion Deontay Wilder (right) crouches into his jab, seen here hitting Tyson Fury (Lineal Champion)
WBC Champion Deontay Wilder (right) crouches into his jab, seen here hitting Tyson Fury (Lineal Champion)

Instead of bouncing into his jab, Deontay Wilder is more often seen crouching into his jab. In the image above, you can see Wilder is clearly lower while throwing his jab, even though both men are 6’7.

The reason Wilder can generate power while lowering himself is because of his stature. Wilder is very tall, even for a heavyweight. As he crouches, he widens his stance, making his base stronger and less movable than if he were in a tight stance. Since he sits down on the jab, it is easier to follow through without having to pull the jab back, as the ground absorbs the impact.

Conor McGregor

McGregor is a former two weight UFC Champion, and is one of the best boxers in MMA. He is known for his crisp strikes and power. He also has a jab that is less defensive. In order to generate more power in his jab, Conor sacrifices the defensive maneuver of keeping his left hand up, which you can see below.

Instead of protecting his head with his left hand, Conor (right) pulls it back for added momentum.
Instead of protecting his head with his left hand, Conor (right) pulls it back for added momentum.

Pulling back his left hand does two things. First, it allows him to flatten his stance, with both shoulder inline pointing at his opponent. And second, the left hand creates momentum for him to pull himself back after the jab, meaning he can lean into it further.

Conclusion

There are a lot of ways to create a stronger jab. One simple way is to just become stronger. But you can gain a lot more from focusing on the movement of the jab. Bouncing, crouching, and adding momentum into your jab are all good ways to develop a strong jab.

If you found these tips useful, checkout the Training Tips page, which has helpful articles on MMA and Boxing.

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