by Al Alvir
The couple of sports science shows aired on TV – namely Sports Science and Fight Science – are filled with intriguing concepts and some seemingly high-tech devices but miss on some key aspects of science and striking science. The shows sell laymen, including me, some pristine numbers in language we easily understand without the proper responsibility of providing solid factors – dependent variables, independent variables, controlled variables, etc. Whatever the jargon is, notice that they don’t test and re-test the data, and some of the experiments seem fishy.
When we see that James Toney threw a punch with 1200 lbs. of force, Randy Couture, a 1000 lb. punch, Lucia Rijker, a 900 lb. punch, Cain Velasquez, a 2300 lb. punch, and Ricky Hatton, a 3300 lb. punch (tested by a Dr. Li and Biosense Medical LTD and later noted to only be 885 lbs. of force), we may think it is as clear-cut as men stepping on a scale right out of the shower. But upon a little perspective of watching fights and seeing these guys and gal punch, some of us should become a bit skeptical of the science these shows proclaim. First and foremost, there are numerous ways, with varying power, to throw every punch.
Second, although SAFO Group has no resident physicist, I could throw a bunch of variables that we aren’t privy to in the shows – I guess it’s for the shows’ watchability. Max force, kinetic energy, velocity, momentum, acceleration, impulse-momentum theorem, collision time, Newton’s second law, are all somewhat missing.
In boxing and mma, it’s “collision” that counts, not force per se (max force is more important). It’s snap, or impulse (specifically, the impulse-momentum theorem), that separates the punchers from guys with just heavy arms who can register high numbers in pounds of force. This is why punchers all learn the dynamic of popping the shoulder (and twisting the wrist to a lesser, but still important, extent) producing snap. Not to say that the fighters who register high numbers in force can’t register high numbers in an impulse-momentum theorem, but measuring force cannot be enough. The impulse-momentum theorem is arguably the best way to really measure knockout power. These science shows may be selling a sensationalized and flawed experiment even if force was the right measurement. The “force,” however, seems inauthentic. I had suspected that if the fighters sat on the dummies that were used to test their power, the equipment would register their weight in force. It would be akin to pushing punches, as many beginners practice with the belief that it provides more power. According to practical science, Fight Science data is bogus. The laws of Physics do not rely solely on impact biomechanics, as the show relies, but by factors of “size and form of target (measuring punch or kick) sponginess and extremity.” This is impossible to do accurately. Perhaps that’s why limited data is sold on dumb shows. Power and the power to concuss may be more irrelevant than anyone has hypothesized.
In striking, especially punching, scientists fail to understand that strikes have a point of snap – the emphasis at impact – trying to shake the opponent’s brain as much as possible. Perhaps it is scientists’ lack of understanding of punching that keeps them testing the wrong things and making false comparisons. Some of the “heaviest hands” considered in boxing history may have relatively low knockouts to land ratios (MotionFACT™ promises to provide that data).
Follow-through in punching misrepresents power. Follow-through may send someone’s head farther, but it doesn’t directly translate into concussive power in regards to jolt. Fighters need to snap at the target; although follow-through can make-up for some snap, it is the least efficient way to punch. Besides telegraphing, it is compensation for something that can be done without so much need for momentum. And what follow-through are we talking about? If you’re thinking of a couple inches behind the target, you may understand punching better than others (I consider that to be “at” the target). But it’s reasonable to consider, for arguments sake and in this study, that follow-through means continuing through the target as if it were a ball being sent as far as possible. Follow-through may register and provide more weight, but that is not enough of a test. Force, therefore, is not enough. Boxers train snap, acting as a sort of “recoil” (although not literally) rather than the “crumple” (akin to follow-through) in which car engineers aim for in their designs. The crumpling of cars makes it safer for passengers because there is less change in momentum and the cars are stabilized. The idea is that these physics translate into concussive power; you don’t want your strike stabilizing someone’s head (unless you actually crumple the person’s head, and that’s highly unlikely). This is one hypothesis as to why knees may register so high in “pounds” of force, but produce fewer knockouts than one may presume (although knees observably land a relatively low number of times to the head in fights, as they are relatively easy to defend – the data of knees effectiveness for concussing needs further inquiry). As for punches, what do you follow-through to if you are hitting an immovable object? You’d probably want to transfer energy, not absorb it. The point is that a fighter’s goal is to transfer the most amount of force IN THE LEAST AMOUNT OF CONTACT TIME.
At Biosense Medical LTD, where they tested Ricky Hatton’s punch and compared it to their data of Premier League Footballers (soccer players), the data showed that a 140 lb. Ricky Hatton punched twice as hard as the soccer players’ average power kick (approx. 400 lbs. of force). If you, like the people of Fight Science, believe that data translates into how you should fancy being hit in the face, you’ve either never been punched or never been kicked – that’s science for ya.
So, when you’re watching one of these grand shows, keep in mind that their science is flawed science… irresponsible, myth-making, and definitely not “sweet.”
*We maintain that Fight Science and Sports Science may know what they’re doing, but they’re selling a product that they need to make tangible even though it misses the mark. Don’t believe everything you see on tv.