The Science Behind a Punch

This article shows proof that Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao, although lacking in formal education, also knows his physics. How some important factors in the sport of boxing such as speed, fist-mass, technique, and even the gloves used affect the effectiveness of a punch are also comprehensively discussed in this piece.

If you take a closer look, the explanation above isn’t really meant to make any exact calculations. Rather, its primary purpose is to show a scientific proof that mass(or weight) and speed are determining factors on how much damage a punch can inflict. Of course you can argue technique and all other factors you can think of. Using the right technique, a boxer can use as much body weight as he can in throwing his punch or he could just sit on his punches or throw arm punches that are much quicker but with less weight, thus, less damage, but the bottom line is still speed and weight (mass).

Now let’s consider adding more variables like defense, gloves used, and technique in throwing the punch. The latter two are factors that the one throwing the punch can control while defense is one thing that the person taking the punch can do to minimize the damage. Here the concept of the change in momentum comes into play.

Remember that we are no longer considering a stationary target and the cushion on the gloves also becomes an additional variable to consider. This therefore becomes a topic about collision, which suggests that it is no longer enough to consider force, or momentum, but the whole impulse-momentum equation given by the equation below

            integral of Fdt = integral of dp

where F is the force, dt is the time derivative and dp is the derivative of momentum.

If we assume that the force is constant throughout the collision event (from the moment the glove first touches the target to the moment the glove first leaves the target), the above equation simplifies to

Δp = F Δt         or         F = Δp/Δt

To give a more vivid example, let me borrow an example given by my good friend nbajr2003 of Pacland. Consider two identical eggs dropped from the same height. One falls on concrete floor while the other falls on a pond. in which case does the egg break?

In both cases, the egg’s change in momentum is the same. They are dropped from the same height, so they both have the same zero initial speeds, and the same speeds just before impact with the ground or the lake. However, the force is applied much more gradually in the second case than in the first case. As a result, the egg breaks in the first case and not in the second case. In boxing, the cushion in the gloves serves to prolong the application of that force, to lessen the damage on the puncher’s knuckles. This is probably the reason why pound for pound king Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao prefers to use the Cleto Reyes gloves because of its less padding, which, based on the above explanations, translates to more damage inflicted by his punches than when he uses a glove with more padding like the Everlast or Winning gloves. Pacquiao, though probably lacking in formal education, certainly knows his physics!

Now let’s consider the defensive capability of the one receiving the punch. Good defensive boxers lessen the impact of their opponent’s punches by moving their heads backward against a straight punch or turning their head sideways in the same direction as a hook they will receive. Usually when they don’t see the punch, they get caught while moving their heads opposite the direction of the punch. Here, the punch is more devastating and usually result to a knockout.

Now going back to F = Δp/Δt, if a boxer can create a potent combination of a greater change in momentum at a lesser amount of time, then that would correspond to greater force, and greater damage!

I hope I didn’t confuse you more.

Comments are highly appreciated. You can email them to  Follow me on twitter reylan_l

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14 Responses to “The Science Behind a Punch”
  1. The Milkman Says...

    On October 14, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    good stuff, thanks.

  2. waydomot Says...

    On December 6, 2009 at 10:42 am

    he he he…

    maayo ni waydomot!

    keep it up!

  3. jc Says...

    On January 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm


  4. xcvz Says...

    On January 27, 2010 at 6:23 am

    nosebleed times 2

  5. boxing fan Says...

    On January 27, 2010 at 7:38 am

    nose and mouth bleed… (with eyes out)

  6. Joie Schmidt Says...

    On February 7, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Very interesting.



    -Liane Schmidt.

  7. Akoito Says...

    On March 15, 2010 at 2:23 am

    Every time Pacman got an uppercut to clottey, his head looks like to snap back, was it his defensive mecahnism to lessen the impact of the blow?

  8. Reylan Loberternos Says...

    On March 15, 2010 at 7:08 am

    I’m not sure if you can attribute it to some sort of defensive mechanism. Perhaps, it was more of a reaction rather than prevention, considering that Pacquiao didn’t see it coming. But the concept still applies, though. Had Pacquiao not snapped his head backwards, the impact of those uppercuts would have been more devastating, as his head (or face, in particular) would have absorbed the magnitude of those punches.

  9. lyzirk Says...

    On September 2, 2010 at 8:58 am

    mao d.i kaw d.i ni sir????/eheheheheheh….weeeeeehhhhhh……….

    ….mao ni aku e.answer u man ni gpa.asynment…


    …….go sir!

  10. pacfan Says...

    On October 19, 2010 at 4:43 am

    Everything in your body must be conditioned to deliver a powerful punch , synchronizing everything from your brain to your muscles but without a base or a foundation how you lunch it effectively, hope there will be no problem in manny’s feet.

  11. Chris Says...

    On October 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    You can calculate the amount of force with F = ma where m is mass and a is acceleration. If the punch is thrown at an increasing velocity (acceleration) than the velocity isn\’t constant. So if you must take the derivative of the velocity to get the acceleration. I am just confused about the F = delta(p)*delta(t), is that the same equation as F = ma ?

  12. Reylan Loberternos Says...

    On December 15, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    Chris, I understand your confusion… Fnet=ma is Newton’s second law which suggests that in the presence of a net force, an acceleration is produced, which is directly proportional to and in the same direction as the net force, but inversely proportional to the mass of the body. We are speaking of a net force (summation or vector sum of all forces), involving many forces, when we’re using the above equation. It’s the acceleration produced by the net force, and not the acceleration producing the net force.

    On the other hand, F=dp/dt deals with a singular force…. and the change in momentum with respect to time is producing the force, and not the other way around.

    I hope this has cleared some confusion, somehow.

  13. hswest Says...

    On January 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    do you think you can email me more info on this topic im doing a paper on it

  14. Chris Says...

    On February 3, 2011 at 3:59 am

    Thank you Reylan, this does make sense now.

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