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Heavy bag workout for fitness and fighting

Heavybag workouts get you fit in a functional waySo you want a good heavy bag workout?  Here are our recommendations for beginners.  This workout plan is simple and to the point: it uses the heavy bag to give you the foundations for fighting fitness.

I’m starting with the assumption that you don’t know how to throw effective combinations on the punching bag.  If you know how to put punches together and incorporate defense into your offense, you don’t need this sort of step-by-step exercise plan.

However, if you are experienced with the heavy bag but think there’s something you’re missing, it is a good idea to take a step back and give this plan a shot.  Perhaps your skill set has holes that need to be filled.

A round-based plan

Don’t just hit the bag until you can’t hold your arms up anymore.  I want you to follow an interval training plan.

And guess what?  Boxing  already encourages interval-based workouts.  And so do other combat sports like MMA or Muay Thai. That’s right: the rounds used in fighting and training are timed intervals.

Use an interval timer to get the most from your heavybag workoutInterval training is superior because you work out at a higher level of intensity.  Straight-line workouts have no built-in recovery time, and you end up working out at a lower overall level of intensity.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you measure the work performed, interval training is more intense.

Most people have no plans to fight in an organized boxing or martial arts competition.  They just want fitness and casual self-defense training.  Nevertheless, these folks are better off using round-based interval training rather than a less-structured approach to working out.

And of course, if you think you might spar or fight in a gym, you need to train the way you plan to fight.  And that means using rounds.

Type

Round Length

Rest Period

Muay Thai 3 minutes 2 minutes
Pro Boxing 3 minutes 1 minute
Amateur Boxing 2 minutes 1 minute
MMA 5 minutes 1 minute

 

I suggest you use 3-minute rounds and 1-minute rest periods between rounds.  Feel free to modify things if you fight or spar in an organized setting where they pick the round length for you.  Either way, keep the intensity level fairly high during rounds and train your recovery ability in the rest interval.

Basic punches on the heavy bag

The way to get good is to prioritize during your training sessions.  Going into things without a plan is futile.  You need to know what to do, and when to do it.  And I’m going to tell you how to go about it.

You’re going to devote one round to each punch.  To increase training and recovery, divide your techniques into two or three variations per round.

red arrowStart with one round each of the jab, straight right, left hook, and uppercuts.  This gives you a good, 15-minute workout.  As you get fitter, add rounds and increase the punch rate.

If you’re already in great shape and this workout is easy, add some calisthenics or GPP exercises during the one-minute ‘rest’ periods between rounds.  Or use your jump rope.

Do this sort of workout two or three times per week.  Bag work is hard on the body, so pace yourself and make sure to get your rest days.

Jabs

Jabs are important.  Practice your jabs on the heavy bag until it feels like the front of your shoulder is on fire.  Shoulder fatigue limits your ability to train, so it’s important that you get your lead shoulder in tip-top shape.

Unfortunately, there’s no real secret to getting your shoulders in shape.  Basically, it just comes down to working it hard and often.  Eventually, you’ll get in shape.

  1. Start with one minute of basic, eye-level jabs with footwork circling left around the heavy bag.  Throw in some double-jabs or jab on the fly.
  2. Continue with a minute of jabs and double-jabs circling right.
  3. Finish with a minute of double jabs with random footwork.
  4. Optional: Throw some jabs to the body with good technique.

Straight right (or right cross)

I prefer the term straight right hand over the term right cross, but many people use the two expressions interchangeably.  Whatever you call it, this is your most important power punch.  It’s a straight punch without any swinging or hooking component.

Your straight right should make the heavy bag jump.  This is your fast, accurate, knockout punch and it lands with a lot of pop.

  1. Start with one minute of eye-level straight rights, with maximum power and perfect technique.
  2. Spend the second minute alternating between straight rights to the head and to the body, always with perfect technique.  Remember to bend the knees and drop down for the body punches; don’t just punch downwards.
  3. Double up on the straight right.
  4. Optional: Throw the 1-1-2 combination, consisting of a double-jab followed by the right hand.

With all these variations, feel free to lead with a jab, especially when your fitness levels allow you to increase the intensity.

Left Hook

The left hook isn’t easy.  I suggest taking it slow at first.  Don’t try to throw your left hooks with full power.  Work on technique first, and when you get your technique dialed in, the power will be there.

  1. In the first minute of the round, throw isolated left hooks.  Concentrate on technique and proper footwork.  Pretend you’re slipping a straight punch, and counter with a perfect left hook to the head.
  2. During minute 2, throw from close, clinching range.  Press your right shoulder against the bag and lean in.  Push the bag like you’d push an opponent.  Then, step back and land the left hook before the bag swings forward towards you.  As the swinging bag slows, clinch with it and push it forward again.  This is a good self-defense move.
  3. In the 3rd minute, lead with the straight right then finish with the left hook.  You’ll need to concentrate on your footwork because these punches have different ranges.  The right is a short right hand; it’s just there to set up your left hook.
  4. Optional: Use the 1-2-3 combination if you are comfortable with the technique.

Uppercuts

You can isolate the right and left uppercuts if you’d like.  But I think it’s better to use them together in the same round.  For the most part, you’ll throw flurries on the heavy bag.

It’s counterproductive to throw head-level uppercuts on a typical punching bag.  Instead, throw body shots because they’re great for conditioning.

When you feel like your uppercuts are effective, get right up next to the bag and get physical with it.  Push it around like it’s an opponent on the ropes.

  • In the first minute use the left uppercut, working on technique.
  • Then, in the 2nd, throw the right uppercut.
  • Finally, use both uppercuts together in combinations.  Start with the left uppercut, follow with the right, and end your combinations with a left hook.  Increase the number of uppercuts in multiples of two, always ending with the left hook.  For example, throw four uppercuts followed by a left hook for a total of 5 punches in the combo.
  • Optional: Throw a 2-punch combo consisting of the right uppercut followed by the left hook to the head.

Remember to MOVE after your punches

Don’t just finish a combination then stand there huffing and puffing.  Always move after you finish your punches or combinations.

You should practice 4 things after landing a combo on the bag:

  1. Step to the left
  2. Step to the right
  3. Step back
  4. Duck

You will feel awkward at first — especially if you don’t have training in how to move effectively during a fight.  But you have to keep moving to avoid getting hit.

Make your own round-based training drills

Don’t limit yourself to the drills I suggest above.  Now that you get the picture, design your own training round.  Incorporate the punches, combinations, and skills that you want to work on.

Other punches and strikes isolated on the heavy bag

The right hook and the overhand right are  powerful punches that work well during conditioning workouts.  They are less valuable if you practice punching for sparring or self-defense.

Open-hand strikes are also valuable, especially if you want to work the bag without wrapping your hands and wearing padded gloves.  Be sure to start at half-power when striking the bag without hand-wraps.  Injuries take only a moment to occur, but they can literally set you back for a month or more.

Turn a jab or a straight right into a palm-heel strike.  This variation is effective, but you lose a bit of range.  This is useful for self-defense, but it’s dangerous and not recommended during sparring or competition (because of the risk of poking your partner’s eyes).

The left hook also works well as a palm-heel strike.  It almost becomes a slap.

You can also throw groin-level uppercuts with an open hand.

Finally, try throwing elbow strikes for self-defense training.  Remember to push against and ‘clinch’ the bag first.  Always wear elbow pads so you don’t get abrasions and bruises.

The heavy bag is heavy

That sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  The reason we use the heavy bag (rather than the punch mitts) is to punch against resistance.  The heavy bag is for conditioning and toughening yourself up.  Shadow boxing and mitt work is where you learn perfect technique and fancy combinations.

heavybag lungeWhen you work the bag, don’t be afraid to get right up in its face and muscle it around:

  • Push it with your shoulder, take a step back, and unload a short combination with power.
  • Set it swinging, then whack it so hard it stops in its tracks.
  • Pick it up and throw it over your shoulder for squats or lunges during GPP workouts.
  • Slam it, jump on it, and ground and pound until it begs for mercy.

There is no subtlety to heavy bag training.

Think of a punching bag workout as a long-term addition to your fitness regimen. You can’t throw all you have at the heavy bag the very first time, that’s a recipe for injury.  Commit yourself to working up to full intensity over a period of months.

For fighting and self-defense, or if you just want to work out as efficiently as possible, make sure you learn proper punching technique.

Above all, have fun, burn off some aggression in a socially-acceptable way, and condition your body so you can face unpredictable situations with confidence.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

paul August 1, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Just picked up a heavy bag and looking to establish a workout routine.
This was helpful info, especially the part about open-hand strikes.
What kind of wraps would you suggest? Also, what kind of gloves? This is a supplement to my workout with weights.
Thanks!

Reply

admin August 6, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Typical handwraps are 180 inches. Lots of people like the elasticized “Mexican” handwraps, but the plain cotton version is fine. I keep meaning to write a definitive ‘handwrap’ article, but I never seem to get around to it.

Other than that, pick up a cheap pair of $15 boxing gloves to use as bag gloves. Most folks use heavy gloves (15 ounces) during training, but you can use whatever weight you prefer. Lighter gloves will slow the rate at which you get fatigued; heavier gloves slow your handspeed down a bit. Be sure to get gloves with velcro closures. The old lace-up style are more trouble than they’re worth.

Reply

Jake January 6, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Thanks for the info. I am looking for something to keep me intrested in working out other than running and wieghts. With the info you gave this seems like a awesome alternative.

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Gav January 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I went back to the gym yesterday after putting on 15lbs over Xmas. I hate machines, wandered through the gym and it was full of people with new years resolutions crowding the place out. In the empty studio was a lonely heavy bag, speedball and some sort of fixed pad against the wall. I borrowed some gloves and gave the heavy back a good going over. I had no idea what to do, but I loved it!

These tips are pretty good, I’ve done a bit of kung fu in the past, but had no idea where to start with a solo routine (done nothing for 8 years), so you’ve given me the basics of a routine for twice a week in addition to other workouts I’m going to be doing. Printed out and I’m memorizing, thanks!

PS why don’t you get an Amazon associates account and link to where people could buy a heavy bag, or gloves etc? It could make you a few $$ too…

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Gav January 9, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Oh, and I was going to say, I was giving the bag a good push and using the backswing to practice a bit of swaying defence too. If you wanted to write an article on that too, that would be awesome.

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Gil January 27, 2012 at 3:54 pm

I actually lucked out since a friend was cleaning out his garage and offered me a 100 lb heavy bag Neddless to say, I snatched it right away. I couldn;t hang it from the ceiling in the garage, but instead was able to hang it from a stand that I built. Once I get the proper wraps and gloves, I’m going to get to work.

Gav..I’m glad you enjoy hitting the bag. I used to do the “traditional” gym workout, ie weights, but got bored to tears. Boxing workouts are fun, stimulating and challenging. This is simply the best routine i’ve done and you will not get bored.

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Zara August 7, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Your articles are great and very helpful, you clearly know your stuff. Boxing is excellent: I’m not into competition so I only train martial-arts for self-defense, fitness and fun and boxing’s a big part of the system I train in. To me boxing combo’s and defenses form the basis of offense and defense: few techniques are so fast and effective as a cross or left hook and the exercises and sparring are just fun to do (I especially love mitt-work which we do frequently in our training). Thanks for the info!

What do you think about standing heavy bags? I live in an appartement so I can’t hang a bag from the ceiling but I wonder if they’re as good as the traditional hanging bag. I’ve also heard great things about the BOB heavy bag (life like punching bag) but it’s expensive and I’m not sure whether it’s worth the extra bucks. The main advantage seems to be that it offers the possibility of training accurate target placement (including the uppercut to the chin) and we do use alot of other techniques (karate chop, hammerfist, groinhits…) besides the classic boxing punches.

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Baus Keefe November 3, 2012 at 5:14 pm

The tips on this page are great! Thanks alot for sharing them. I will use these as I do my workouts; especially the 4 things to do after hitting the bag you mentioned…thanks!

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Andrei May 30, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Hi there. First of all thank you for all the advice on this site, they are really helpul for us amatuer boxers (well, maybe not for amateur as well).

Can you help me sort something out? I’ve bought a heavy bag recently 40 kg, and it’s a brand you’ve never never heard of, cause I’m in Europe. Well, at first the heavy bag was really hard on the surface all around, but since I started training with it, it got soft on the places where I hit the bag.
Is it supposed to be like this, or professional punching bags are designed to be hard, to be most effective for training?

Thank you very much.

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