Bag work is one of the most physically demanding additions to any workout routine. It’s an all-rounder activity, one that requires coordination, stamina, aerobic endurance, balance, and strength.
With heavy bag training, no body part is spared; it targets your upper body, lower body, and core. Moreover, it benefits not only physical strength but also mental health, with evidence of improved confidence, mood, and concentration.
In this article, I’ll discuss the biggest benefits of punching a punching bag for exercise. I’ve also included some helpful tips on how to keep safe when punching bag so that you get started on the right foot.
Let’s dive in!
Your balance and hand-eye coordination improve during drills such as throwing hooks while circling the bag and transferring your weight from one foot to the other.
Heavy bag training can boost your reaction time. It utilizes the relationship of the feet (footwork) and the hands (punching), which trains you to coordinate both to execute explosive movements while staying balanced.
Another great benefit of punching a punching bag is that it strengthens bones and ligaments.
It’s proven that bones get stronger when “stressed” by physical activity.
Every time you hit a heavy bag, your bones fracture on a very microscopic level and then repair themselves. This process is called remodeling, i.e., the building and tearing down of bone tissue. Much like any resistance training damages your muscles and they rebuild stronger, your bones also get stronger when they are damaged.
Bones are made of two parts: the outer thin layer called cortical bone and the inner spongy layer called cancellous bone.
The cortical bone makes up 80% of the bone’s strength. Impact training increases cortical bone density to protect it from further damage.
Using a punching bag benefits your cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance.
Boxing spares no part of the body, especially when you add kicks into the equation. It strengthens both the upper and lower body, as well as the core.
The rhythmic movement, coupled with the task of punching a 50 to 100-pound bag, trains your heart to work more efficiently to keep up with the activity. Just try alternating jabs (left, right, left, right) for 60 seconds straight. You’ll see how fast your heart gets going.
This combination of physical activity helps:
- Increase stamina
- Lower resting heart rate
- Control and reduce blood pressure
- Prevent stroke
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Avoid diabetes
- Increase muscular endurance
- Increases accuracy
- And too many other things to list here.
If nothing else, hitting a punching bag provides no shortage of stress relief. It increases the production of the feel-good neurotransmitter endorphins, which can temporarily relieve stress and release anger. It also helps relieve muscle tension which often comes with stress.
As you continue to punch, you’ll find yourself focusing more and more on the task right in front of you. This is an opportunity for you to get your attention off of things inside your own mind and put your attention outside of you.
Sometimes a thought gets stuck in your head and you can’t get your attention off of it. Try hitting a bag and you’ll see what I mean.
When done regularly, punching bag workouts can effectively relieve the tension, anger, anxiety, and mild depression that often go hand-in-hand with stress. This positive effect can boost your confidence levels and improve the overall quality of your sleep.
In addition to having a direct effect on your stress levels, punching bag training can also promote other improvements to your health. It can:
- Strengthen immunity, thereby decreasing the risk of infection and illness
- Regulate blood circulation
- Improve metabolism
- Lower blood pressure
- Control weight
- Boost energy
- Boost good cholesterol
- And so many more things that I can’t possibly list out here
That depends on where you’re starting. A bodybuilder will not benefit from this since they’ve usually got a lot of muscle already. But if you’re just starting out with exercise, you may see some muscle gain.
Heavy bag training engages the muscles in the shoulders, arms, back, chest, core, and legs, making it an effective full-body workout.
That said, punching a bag isn’t enough to build significant muscle mass. Building muscle requires high levels of metabolic stress and mechanical tension, which is often acquired through resistance training.
As such, this type of workout should be combined with other forms of resistance training and a proper nutrition plan that supports muscle growth and recovery.
Throwing punches into a punching bag provides ample benefits to your mental and physical health, but only if done right. If you’re not careful, you can get friction burns, bruised hands, or worse, a fractured wrist.
Remember: boxing is a full-body workout, a combination of strength and cardio. To effectively reap its advantages, you need to learn how to use your entire body when hitting a punch, not just your hands and arms. It takes lots of coordination and practice, so it’s not the easiest to master. Don’t be too harsh on yourself if you don’t get it right the first few times.
Here’s how to safely punch a punching bag:
To properly use the bag, you need to have a sound understanding of footwork and stance.
If you’re right-handed, start by taking on an orthodox fighting stance:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- With your right leg, take a step back and maintain a staggered stance.
- Turn your right foot 45 degrees and bend your knees to help you move more quickly.
- Put your hands up close to your chin and position your elbows as close to your ribs.
If you’re left-handed, take a southpaw stance. The southpaw stance uses the same technique as the orthodox stance, with the only exception being that your left foot is placed behind your right.
Punch the bag instead of pushing it. Don’t let it swing. If the bag is swinging, you’re not hitting hard enough. Focus on the center of the bag instead of the surface. You need to time your shots to stop the bag as it swings toward you after a punch.
Don’t let the bag’s weight support your balance. Stand on your own feet and rely on your own balance. Don’t depend on the bag to keep you on your feet. If you do, you’ll go stumbling forward the moment it disappears.
When delivering a punch, keep your feet on the ground to increase your balance and punching power. Don’t throw a punch with your feet lifted as doing so can put you off balance.
Moreover, don’t over-commit to your punches. Punch lighter to tighten your defense and increase recovery time.
Also, bend your knees so your center of gravity moves with you. This not only increases punching power but also provides more fluid mobility. Bending your knees in a fighting stance causes your center of gravity to dip slightly lower, giving you more stability.
One of the earliest mistakes beginners make when using the punching bag is forgetting about footwork. Proper footwork is as crucial as proper stance.
Good footwork puts you in a position to land hard punches on your opponent and keeps you away from upcoming attacks. It also keeps you balanced as you move around, making it harder to knock you down.
There are several ways to strike a punching bag. Depending on your method, you can use your hands, feet, elbows, knees, and shins. The basic fundamental strikes of MMA are as follows:
- Jab: a straight punch with your lead hand. The punch is thrown straight off of your chin to the bag in front of you.
- Cross: a power punch that’s thrown from your backhand, with your hip turned into the shot.
- Front hook: a punch performed with a 90-degree bend in your elbow.
- Push kick: a straight kicking technique utilized to gain maximum advantage.
- Elbow Strike: a strike with the point of the elbow, the upper arm nearest to the elbow, or the forearm nearest to the elbow. It utilizes the same footwork as the punching footwork, except with the addition of the spinning elbow.
- Knee Strike: the most powerful kick you can generate. To do this kick, move your hips in a forward motion and stretch your arms in the same direction as your knee. Direct your kick inwards to achieve the desired effect.
Nate Bower, personal trainer and boxing instructor, showcases the most effective way to train your footwork and strike in his HIIT Workout video. He uses a combination of multiple techniques to maximize your training.
The general guideline from multiple sources and coaches I’ve been with is to forcefully exhale with each punch.
Use this breathing technique between rounds or during a cool-down routine:
- Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, filling your lungs. Push the air you’ve inhaled into your belly.
- Hold your breath for four seconds without inhaling or exhaling.
- When the time is up, relax your jaw and exhale through your mouth for four seconds.
- Wait another four seconds and repeat from 30 to 60 seconds.
Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or a professional, wraps and gloves are recommended during heavy bag training. Wraps and gloves protect your hands and wrists during impact, reducing the risk of injury. They also act as a shock absorber for your hands, keeping your hands from getting bruised and callused.
That said, wraps and gloves aren’t strictly mandatory. With the right technique, you can punch a bag with bare knuckles without sustaining injury. Just make sure to monitor the condition of your hands throughout the training. Take note of any pain that may indicate bruising or fracture.