Relax your shoulders. No matter what martial arts style you practice, this is an important tip. Shoulder relaxation is vital, whether you are blocking, striking or grappling. Holding tension in the shoulders wastes energy and slows you down.
This is one of the hardest skills to learn. Many adults – men especially – unconsciously carry a lot of tension in the shoulders. It’s a product of the stress of modern living. We’re going around with perpetually hunched shoulders, as if expecting to be attacked at any moment. And we’re doing it without even being aware.
What we see in martial arts beginners is that they want to use their upper-body muscles – the pecs, triceps and shoulders – to “push” their strikes. This is counterproductive, as the resulting tension in the muscles actually slows down the punch. Consider that the body’s muscles work in opposition to each other. The triceps extend the arm, and the biceps retract it. If your muscles are tense, the biceps will be working to slow your punch down even as you throw it.
Similarly, the shoulder is composed of the anterior, lateral and posterior deltoid muscles. The anterior deltoid contributes to pushing motions, while the posterior deltoid aids in pulling. If the shoulders are tense then you are trying to push and pull at the same time.
To top it off, the shoulders in particular consist mainly of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are designed for endurance, not speed.
We solve this conundrum by taking muscle power out of the equation. True punching power is generated through a combination of footwork, body weight, leg and core strength, hip rotation and relaxation.
These principles can take years to master. Relaxation, however, is something you can begin on right away, and the first step is to relax your shoulders.
Bruce Lee exemplified this attitude. He was so incredibly fast because he was totally relaxed.
If you’re having trouble with this, focus first on your breathing. Take deep, slow breaths. As you exhale, imagine all the tension in your shoulders draining out with the breath. Do this repeatedly throughout the day, even when doing simple tasks like eating or using your phone.
During training, pause periodically to slow your breathing and release the tension in your shoulders. I think you’ll find yourself able to move, block and strike much faster than before.