So you’ve either just joined a boxing gym or you’ve purchased a heavy bag for your home gym. You’re full of enthusiasm and can’t wait to start working out to re-enact one of the training scenes from Rocky. Well that’s at least how I felt when my punching bag arrived in the mail as the latest addition to my home gym.
The benefits of training with a punching bag
The reason why I purchased a punching bag,was that I knew I would reap a multitude of benefits from this single training method.
I knew that using a heavy bag would develop my cardio-vascular endurance. If used correctly, it’s a full body workout which would develop both my upper and lower body. Indeed, when I started I was dripping with sweat and breathing heavily after only a few minutes.
I also knew that my overall coordination would improve. To throw an effective punch, you need to utilise the power of the entire body. Your feet initiate the punch by driving from the floor; the force travel upwards and is enhanced by the rotation of your hips and upper torso; your pectorals and shoulder muscles channel this energy down into your arm, and it’s released when you make contact with the bag.
This orchestra of movement taken time to perfect and each of the moving components must work in harmony in order to be able to generate a powerful punch. Having a heavy bag to practise on would enable me to develop this power.
I also knew that having a heavy bag would provide a key source of stress relief for me. After a hard day at the office, there’s nothing like unleashing any frustrations you might have on a heavy bag.
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How often should I hit the heavy bag?
Before I started I was sensible enough to do a little bit of research as to the best way to go about training with a heavy bag. One thing I was particularly cautious of was developing an overuse injury.
These can occur when you subject your body to a repetitive stress over an extended period of time. I therefore decided to proceed with an element of caution.
It’s very difficult to prescribe how regularly someone should train using a heavy bag. Each of us will hit the bag with varying degrees of intensity, we have different levels of recuperability and the robustness of our bodies varies between individuals.
However, there are some underlying principles we can bear in mind when training on a heavy bag:
Listen to your body. Your own body will provide you with feedback regarding how it is responding to the training you’re subjecting it to. Be mindful of any niggling aches or soreness in any of your muscles or joints. These can be a sign that you’re either training too intensely or too regularly. I experienced these quite early on when I started training with the heavy bag. Whenever I experienced these types of niggles, I knew it was time to take a break from the heavy bag.
It’s far better to take a week or so off from the heavy bag to allow your body to rest and recover than to continue training and run the risk of an overuse injury which could mean that you’re out of action for several weeks.
Cycle your intensity. If you train everyday, it doesn’t mean you have to go flat out, trying to hit the bag as hard as you can, on every single session. You can cycle your intensity, meaning that some days you will train lighter where you’re using less force to hit the bag. Perhaps on these lighter days your focus on your technique and accuracy. On other days you may want to work on your power, where you hit the mag using more force. The point is that you can vary your intensity throughout the week.
Use good technique. Ensure that you are hitting the bag using the correct technique. Whenever you punch, you forearm, wrist and fist should be in a straight line. If you hit the bag with your wrist slightly bent, then you’re asking for an injury, particularly if you hit the bag with some force. Never just mindlessly hit the bag as this type of injury is likely to happen when you’re not concentrating.
Also ensure that you wrap your thumb on the outside of your fingers. I’ve seen lots of people wrap their fingers round their thumb when punching. This is a sure fire way to end up with a broken thumb.
Invest in the right equipment. There’s a reason why professional boxers spend the time wrapping up their hands before putting on a pair of boxing gloves. The boxing wraps help to keep the wrist supported whilst also providing some extra padding for the knuckles. I like these ones on Amazon which provide really good wrist support.
It’s also worthwhile investing in a decent pair of punching gloves. Many punching bag gloves are just too thin to provide adequate protection, especially if you’re training everyday. I like to use gloves with plenty of padding with good thumb protection (such as these on Amazon). It’s the padding that helps to absorb some of the shock from hitting the bag and it’s this shock that can, overtime, lead to injuries; hence the importance of using a decent pair of gloves.
As a beginner, I found the following video extremely useful and incorporated the training plan of working out for 3 minutes, having a 1 minute rest, and then repeating the cycle for a total of 5 times.
Is it OK to hit the punching bag everyday? You can train everyday provided you listen to your body, cycle your intensity, use good technique and invest in the right equipment. If you follow these principles you’ll enjoy all the benefits of working out with a heavy bag.
It’s important to remember that using a heavy bag is only one part of your training. As a martial arts practitioner, I’m interested in improving my level of skill in an actual combat situation. To misquote Bruce Lee: “punch bags don’t hit back”.
You can spend hours practising on a heavy bag but this won’t necessary make you a better fighter. You need to experience the adrenaline dump you get when you step into the ring with someone. You also need to learn how to block and defend yourself.
Hitting a heavy bag is therefore only one part of the puzzle but it’s a great way to establish a good foundation. I would suggest you focus on technique, speed, power and then duration, in that order, when training on a heavy bag as this is perhaps the surest way of making progress.