The overhand punch, also known as a downward punch in some traditional martial arts, is a linear punching technique that strikes the target using a downward angle. It is mechanically similar to a jab or a straight punch, but is designed to flank the target by utilizing a horizontal elbow position instead of a vertical one. This helps its user to strike the opponent around or above their raised guard. And in some cases, the horizontal position of the elbow helps prevent your overhand punch from being obstructed or jammed by your opponent’s arms.
How to Overhand (or Downward Punch)
The overhand can be throw with both the rear and lead arms, and can be utilized effectively from any variation of a squared or side stance. It is most powerful at mid to long range, but can still be quite useful in close range and in the clinch. Make sure you understand how to properly make a fist and strike with it before attempting to practice this technique. We’ll start with a variation in a squared stance with a middle guard using the rear arm.
While in a neutral (squared) stance make sure your chin is lowered, your shoulders are raised to cover your chin level, your elbows are mostly in at your sides, and your fists (your guard) are raised to at least cheekbone level. Your rear fist should cover your chin, and your lead fist should be just slightly more forward than your rear fist. Your palms should be facing each other for this variation.
First, simultaneously shift your rear hip and rear shoulder forward and raise your punching elbow up so that your fist, shoulder, and elbow are all about the same height. Raising your elbow up will also place your fist in a horizontal position. Note that the higher up you raise your punching elbow during this step, the more extreme the downward angle of the punch will become.
Next, while keeping your punching elbow up, extend your fist outward from your shoulder to your target. You’ll notice the angle of approach will be slightly different than that of a normal straight punch, but just like with a straight punch there should still be a slight bend in your elbow at full extension to avoid hyperextending your arm. Your strike should be extended outward from the shoulder in a shotput motion, not via a flick of the elbow.
Finally, make sure there is still some bend left in your arm as you make contact with your target. This will ensure you still have room to drive your punch through your target after impact. After the strike, immediately return your punching arm back to its original guard position.
Mirror the last 3 steps when using the opposite hand.
Common Overhand Punch Mistakes
Hyperextending the elbow joint by locking the arm out too far when punching. This also happens to people when they are flicking their punches out from the elbow, instead of shotputting their punches from the shoulder in a straight line.
Retracting the punch before you’ve sufficiently penetrated through your target (aka flicky punch). A flicky punch is only acceptable when the goal is to use it for a purpose other than striking the target with significant force.
Failure to rotate the hips and shift the hip forward when punching. Forgetting this step will cut your range short and ultimately limit the maximum potential force of the strike.
Failure to raise the elbow high enough. Make this mistake and you may end up clashing forearms with your opponent and having your punch obstructed by their raised guard when attempting to flank your target with an overhand. Remember, if you feel you need to create a more extreme angle of approach, raise your punching elbow higher than your fist and shoulder. You may also lean slightly to the outside during step 2 to help raise your elbow up and turn your shoulder over before you extend your punch.
Drills and Exercises for the Overhand
Traditional push ups
Press exercises (dumbbell press, bench press, etc)
Slow-motion repitition drills in the air (punch the air slowly while carefully concentrating on technique)
Heavy bag work. Practice striking the bag from close, medium, and long range.
Mitt work for range & speed. Make sure your pad holder is forcing you to maximize your range, instead of him/her meeting you halfway with the mitt.
Controlled partner drills where your partner stands with a raised guard and you slowly try to punch around it or above it using an overhand.
Note: there a numerous ways to throw an overhand from a variety of stances and guards. The way I am describing the downward punch in this article is not the only way you should ever throw one. Instead, think of this as a starting variation for those new to martial arts training.