I have a problem that I can not seem to fix: When I throw a punch I raise my shoulders along unconsciously.

At the beginning I thought it was because of shoulders tension and with practice the problem will be solved. Fast-forward 5 years and I am still having the same problem. My teacher always points out this mistake during the training, and when I ask how I should solve it, he doesn't have the answers. I made some researches in the internet, but all the hits are about being tense when throwing a punch.

How can I stop my shoulders from rising?

By the way, I do kung-fu (wushu). Raising the shoulders when punching is frown upon.

  • 1
    Welcome to the site. I edited your question slightly to make it more readable. I added a wushu tag, please feel free to expend it. Jan 9, 2018 at 7:48
  • It is also same in Chen Tai chi. The punch should be the done without raising the shoulders and it must be fast and effective. A difficult combination. Needs hip flexibility and good posture, but I cannot explain how. I would also appreciate a structured answer.
    – Endery
    Jan 9, 2018 at 9:05
  • @Sardathrion Thanks! +1 for the wushu tag. I wanted to add it but could not because of lack of reputations.
    – Lazy Ninja
    Jan 9, 2018 at 9:08
  • Feel free to edit the tag to add some more information on it. Jan 9, 2018 at 9:28
  • I feel like this is an impossible to answer question without at least a video. Generally, lifting of the shoulders would be because of tension and that would make them slower - If your (presumably high grade) instructor has been unable to solve it, then perhaps it is a physical issue for which seeking physio would be best?
    – Collett89
    Jan 9, 2018 at 13:58

3 Answers 3


It is true that we'd need a video of your performance of a punch - only then can earnest troubleshooting begin.

That your instructor allowed you to go 5 years, and not once provide guidance on how to stop it, raises a serious red flag as to the effectiveness of the instructor. Raising shoulders is a beginner's mistake, and most will correct it in due time. For them, it's all in technique. It is the same for you, except now you have to fight habit. Whatever you are told to do to correct, it will feel unnatural to you, because you are so used to the bad habit: this is one of a myriad reasons why finding a good instructor is so critical.

As to lifting the shoulders, that is not necessarily a wrong thing to do. For a beginner, I'd say yes - don't do it. But boxers do it, and have good reason to cradle the head into the shoulders. The technique there is related to the sport, the rules, and the equipment, and so probably doesn't apply to you. You can certainly use the shoulders to block or deflect as a boxer does, but you should first learn to do it without cradling.

When my students do this, it's almost always tension: they are told to punch, and so, they think they have to punch as hard as they can, so, their body internally winds up (resulting in the shoulder lift). To help them get out of this habit, I always tell them that for them, they should never think about punching hard. Hard punches come from speed, and with speed comes time and patience. So, they should think "less power". It takes a few tries, some even go though a phase of almost slow-motion punches; eventually, they get it.

For you, perhaps you'll need two trainers to help you break the habit. Have one hold targets (or use a punching bag); the other stands behind you with either their hands on your shoulders, or with elephant ear targets on your shoulders. This will help remind you to keep your shoulders down, and to slow down, and to relax.

Next up is the hips. Are you fully turning your punching side hip into the punch? Doing so can lead to over committing your body into the punch, but too little can make you look like a rigid robot, and neither will help you. You should rotate your hips, which will facilitate torso rotation which will facilitate shoulders moving slightly forward.

Next up is the head. In this case, rather than thinking to keep your shoulders down, rather, think about keeping your head up. This change in focus may help to lower the shoulders.

Next up is the chin. With chin tucked, as many beginners do, that will inevitably lead to shoulders rising. Keep your chin up. But not so high that you end up reaching for a target. Your head should be perfectly balanced on the shoulders. If you used no muscles to move or secure your head motionless, then, that is the position your head - and chin - needs to be.

Also with the chin: take note of where your nose and chin point. If your head is cocked ear-to-shoulder, it means you are reaching. If you focused on keeping the chin and nose always pointing toward the target, and not cocking the head to one side, that should help keep the shoulders down.

Last up is the brain. People lift shoulders for psychological reasons - usually fear and anger. It is less likely you are feeling anger, but fear is possible. Some people freeze when it comes even to friendly sparring. If you like to spar, this is probably not your problem, and if you've been at it for 5 years, it's very doubtful this is your problem. But the rest of your body will be telling: do your feet move in a haphazard way? Are you always moving back? Do you gallop a lot? Do you crouch your torso behind your guard? If any of these is a "yes", then you might have a psychological problem to sparring. If this is the case, relaxation is key. But telling people to relax is not helpful: most get it. They just don't have the means to relax, and there are many. Think that you're not there to win matches; you're expected to take hits and not be afraid of them. You should be taking hits. So accept them. Even invite them. Get the body to stop thinking "OMG! OMG! OMG!" and start to think "lets move with purpose". Think "sway". Think ballroom "dancing". Just relax. Take hits, and invite them. Your partner is not there to hurt or intimidate you. And work with your partner and tell him or her this: you're working on body relaxation, so, don't expect much.

  • Thank you for the detail answer. You are right the newbies at the beginning all seem to have the same problem. But after couple of months they correct the problem, leaving me the only guy still raising shoulders when punching. I once thought it could be a physical problem but my instructor told me it is unlikely because I get my shoulders in the right position when I am warned. We are taught to use our hips for speed and power. Maybe I am not doing it right. One of the top students always tell me it could be because I always tend to put too much power on my punches.
    – Lazy Ninja
    Jan 10, 2018 at 1:47
  • The drills are not working. Now I am trying to increase my shoulders flexibility to see it could help. As for my instructor, he has raised lots of champions in Japan. And some of his students are often chosen to represent Japan in Asia competitions.
    – Lazy Ninja
    Jan 10, 2018 at 1:49
  • Shoulder flexibility is important, but it will not fix this. Without a video of you doing a punch, it isn't feasible to tell you what you need to do. All we can do is give generic advice and hope that something will be beneficial to you. As to your instructor, he may be producing good fighters elsewhere, but he's pretty much given up on you. That doesn't make him a good instructor, it makes him arrogant. So kudos to him for his champs, but shame on him for not being a worthy instructor. If all he does is cherry pick his students, then his character and accomplishments are in doubt.
    – Andrew Jay
    Jan 10, 2018 at 15:07

Practice while looking at yourself in a mirror. It may take a bit before the artificial-ness of the situation wears off and your natural tendencies take over again. Also (or alternatively) consider making video recordings of your practice sessions.

Being able to see yourself performing the action which you are being called out on is very important to understanding exactly what you are doing wrong. The mirror gives you immediate feedback, and a video recording can offer angles of view you might not otherwise see. If you can match what you are seeing to the sensations you are feeling when you perform the action (i.e. raising your shoulders), you will be better able to internalize exactly what is happening mechanically. Later, you will know that when you feel a certain way, you are moving/behaving in the manner you previously observed and can take corrective action without visual feedback.

  • Unfortunately we don't have a mirror at our training place. Maybe I should try it at home. Thanks. I do sometimes record myself. I watch my mates, and videos online but still can not figure out why.
    – Lazy Ninja
    Jan 10, 2018 at 1:31

I'll echo the point that some video or even photos of you punching would give us a lot more to go on.

Also, some exercises:

  • practicing punching with a vertical fist (your knuckles vertical, your fingers horizontal, radius over the ulna) until you get your shoulders sorted, as a horizontal punch (in which you turn the fist palm-downwards) more easily sees the shoulders lift as the forearm rotates

  • try some pushups with your fists in vertical punch position: below your arm pits, next to your ribs, in close to the body with the elbows going straight up behind you and not out to the sides: that will help you get used to expressing power (into the ground) with your arms in optimal alignment and your shoulders held tightly down into their sockets (try "lifting" your shoulders towards your ears and moving your hands further towards your head and you'll feel less powerful and comfortable in your pushups)

  • similarly, practice low body blows (the left-arm liver shot's particularly useful) into a heavy bag using a similar arm/shoulder position to your push-ups - try to have the strike arcing slightly upwards during impact, pushed up by the rotation of your hips and your legs extending rather than pulling upwards with your shoulders

    • you could practice this low body punch movement slowly while holding a dumbbell: just lock the elbow angle in and lift with the legs as you rotate: relax the shoulders so there's minimal effort from them to raise the weight
  • try hitting a heavy bag hard with with a front-hand palm strike (just above your elbow height, still palm vertical - radius above the ulna so your thumb is upward - as it's less likely to bend your wrist back nastily than striking with the palm horizontal) out of a "back" / L-stance with no back-swing of the striking-side shoulder, elbow, or hand. Just start with your hand about 10cm forward of your body, front foot facing forward, back foot mainly forward, with a similar torso position starting just slightly squarer and ending slightly more closed than this but striking hand kept in close throughout: twitch the front knee then hips forwards and around, letting that jerk the striking-side shoulder forward, instantly expressing shock through the palm: aim for a sharp, explosive contact and don't bother pushing through the target after the initial impact; if you lift the shoulder you'll find you have little power and feel very uncomfortable; with practice, you should be able to lift a bag of your own weight so it's not hanging by it's straps/chain and snap it backward

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