I was recently contacted by a martial arts practitioner who said that they didn’t have the space to hang a punch bag in their apartment but they did have a solid brick wall in one of their rooms. They asked if it would be a good idea to practise their striking techniques by hitting the wall.
Their reasoning was that it would help to develop their accuracy. They planned on drawing an outline of a figure in chalk on the wall and would strike at the various vulnerable points on the body such as the floating ribs, the throat, groin etc. By placing these targets on the wall they believe they would improve the number of strikes they landed on target.
They also saw it as a way to condition their knuckles.
In Kung Fu, iron bone training is a way of systematically conditioning the skeletal system so that it becomes stronger over time. This is done by repeatedly hitting the different bones of the body over an extended period of time.
For instance, a fighter might tap his shins repeatedly with a wooden stick everyday for several months. This is done rigorously but not so much that you crack the bones of the body.
The idea is that this type of training causes microscopic damage to the bone and when it recovers, the body overcompensates and the bone grows back stronger. I’ve written about this type of training before here.
It was this iron bone training idea that prompted the martial artist who contracted me to consider this type of training.
Whilst, on the surface, these seem like sensible reasons to incorporate punching a wall into your training, there are a number of reasons why I don’t think this would be a good idea.
You’re likely to injure yourself punching a wall
The first is that there’s no give in the wall. When you hit a punch bag, the force of the strike is absorbed into the bag and, assuming you’ve hit it hard enough, the bag will swing away from you. Indeed, the way the bag swings and the speed of its movement is a good indication as to how effective your punching or kicking technique is.
When you hit a wall, instead of the force being absorbed by the wall, it is reflected back to you. The shock wave from the impact will travel back up through your fist, wrist, elbow and shoulder. It’s likely to injure the weakest link in this chain, which is usually the bones in the hand, which are some of the weakest in the entire human body.
This makes punching a wall a potentially dangerous activity. If nothing else you’re likely to end up with grazed and damaged knuckles. Even if you decided to wear hand wraps and thick padded gloves, there’s a further reason why hitting a wall wouldn’t be a good idea.
You’ll develop poor technique
As the wall doesn’t yield, you can’t punch through it. An experienced boxer training on a heavy bag won’t aim for the surface of the bagt, they’ll be looking to strike through the object itself, to penetrate the target. This is how you really transfer the power of the technique and cause the maximum amount of damage.
However, when you train using a brick wall, you can’t penetrate the target because it’s a solid structure. With a heavy bag, the bag will move backwards allowing you to make deep, penetrating attacks. This isn’t the case with a solid wall.
If you get into the habit of training using a brick wall as a punching target, then you’ll develop very sloppy technique. All your punches will be like slaps: only landing on the surface and lacking in penetrating power.
You can’t practise certain techniques
A brick wall is a vertical flat surface and is,essentially, two dimensional. The human body is three dimensional, and can be struck by a host of different techniques which simply cannot be performed using a brick wall.
For instance, take the upper cut to the chin. This can only really be practised on a special type of heavy bag or a human shaped punching bag (which I’m a big fan of – see my article here). There needs to be a protruding “chin” to strike in order to hone this technique. The flat surface of a brick wall simply doesn’t provide this.
The same is true for the hook to the body. The punch should attack the side of your opponent’s rib cage. If you’re facing a brick wall there is no side to it and therefore you can’t practise this technique.
Can’t attack at different angles
When you use a heavy bag, you can develop your foot work by moving around the bag and striking it at different angles. This is one of the things that makes it such a useful tool: as the bag swings away from you, you can pivot in order to continue the attack with another technique.
With a brick wall, there’s no movement and the vertical surface means your limited in the number of angles you can start your techniques from.
You’ll wreck your gloves
If you think that wearing gloves when punching a wall is the way to go then also remember that this is a sure fire way to ruin your gloves. Bricks are abrasive in nature and effectively what you’ll be doing is rubbing them repeatedly against sandpaper. This will quickly wear through any leather or vinyl surface.
In contrast, heavy bags offer a smooth punching surface on which to practise which means that your gloves will last a great deal longer.
There is a method you can use to improve your technique using a brick wall. This involves you pressing into the wall with your fist as though you are punching it. The idea is that you can find and eliminate the weak points in your punching chain. This is explained in the following video:
If you’re limited in terms of space and cannot install a heavy bag, then there are some viable alternatives.
The first might be to shadow box. This is essentially sparring against an imaginary opponent. Whilst you won’t develop power in your punches if you practise in this way, you will develop your footwork and coordination if you practise it properly. It’s also a pretty good cardiovascular workout if you do it properly. Shadow boxing is a tried and tested training technique of most boxing champions so it’s well work giving it a go.
Another alternative would be to use a makawari (such as the one here on Amazon). This is a square, padded surface which you can attach to the wall. It’s popular as a karate training tool and helps to condition the fist. It’s sprung so you are able to hit it with some force without injuring yourself.
Finally, there are also wall bags (see here on Amazon for some examples), which can be attached to the wall. These are typically made from a very durable canvas and are padded, allowing you to strike them with some force. They’re a good way to practise your punching and striking techniques.
I hope I’ve outlined some of the reasons why it’s not a good idea to practise your striking techniques on a brick wall. Whilst it may seem like a good idea, you’re more likely to end up injuring yourself, and what’s more, your technique will suffer.
Even if you don’t have room to install a punch bag, there are other training devices you can incorporate into your routine in order to make yourself a better fighter.