So, you’ve decided to take up home training, are about to go get the equipment to do this and need to know the basics. Good news is, we’ve got you covered.
Equipment & safety
You can check out our other guide here for buying a heavy bag but if you want two quick recommendations, we recommend a Fairtex extra large bag for those who can mount a ceiling or wall bracket, or a Century Bob for those only able to have a free-standing bag. Make sure to fill the bag with the correct material, or ensure that there is enough foam around the filling. Bags with sand or grain that goes hard obviously present a danger to the health of your hands. We wouldn’t recommend punching a wall, so we can’t recommend punching a rock-hard bag!
Likewise, you can check out our guide for buying boxing gloves but if you’re in a hurry for those as well, 12 oz Fairtex Muay Thai Boxing Gloves BGV-1 will do the job for almost anyone looking to smash that bag.
Wrap your hands properly. Unwrapped hands and wrists are significantly more susceptible to injury without the additional support from the sustained stress received during a heavy bag session. There are a whole host of video tutorials showing different ways to put wraps on and all of them have their merits. Providing every inch of your hands and wrist are significantly padded and covered, you should be in good stead to put your gloves on.
Make sure to stretch out before and after a bag work out. Any great workout can put immense strain on your body.
Dynamic stretching like leg swings and arm swings are great to warm up. Stretching your chest, neck and back with spinal rolls before doing bag work is also a good idea. Finally, before beginning, do some box squats to relieve tension in the hamstrings and lumbar muscles. This tension can be quite high in those who spend a lot of time stationary, along with taller folk.
Here’s a good routine for boxing bag warmup:
- 3 minutes of skipping rope
- 30 seconds of jumping jacks
- 30 seconds of high knee run
- Circles: neck, shoulders, arms, upper body, hips, legs
- 10 squats, 10 pushups
- Leg swings and stretching
- 3 minutes of shadow boxing
Alternatively, you could go for a 20 minute run and then do just the circles.
Feet Position and Movement
Your feet position and movement will depend on a number of things. The primary thing is your martial art and the style of fighter you are. If you have been to a martial arts class before then more than likely your instructor has given you a common stance to use.
If you are a boxer, the orthodox stance is to spread your feet about shoulder-width apart, with your left foot forward. Those who are left-handed (southpaw) will stand with their right foot forward instead. Some boxing stances benefit from your feet being in a “12” and “3” position, with the back foot being more horizontal and parallel to the bag. Bend your knees to give you more power, balance and mobility. When it comes to sparring, having your knees bent will allow you to absorb more impact, so it is good to practice now. Your hips should be relaxed and heavy, thereby granting you more balance and power, whilst your weight should rest on the balls of your feet, enabling you to move around the bag quicker. Typically, the lead hand will be up by the temple, whilst the rear hand will cover part of your jaw and chin.
If you are a Muay Thai boxer, (Nak Muay) you will be a lot more square to your opponent than a boxer. If you are turned away from your opponent you leave a lot more openings and eliminate the efficacy of your punches and kicks due to the additional movements and turns you’d need to make. Keep your hands up and chin tucked in, along with your elbows in at the sides. Traditional stances often call on the fighter to have both hands by their temples, with their palms facing out to enable throwing elbows and blocking them significantly easier.
With both stances, avoid being flat footed. Aim to be light on your feet with your back heel lifted from the ground for more fluid motion. This is for both getting in range to throw your strikes and getting out of range when you would be expecting to be on the receiving end of your opponents. Do not criss-cross your feet as this will make you easy to be knocked down or swept, whilst preventing you from your normal offensive options.
Do not take large steps. When moving forward, push off with your back foot first. To move backwards, push off with your front. When striking the bag, aim to move with it, in the same way that you would move with an opponent.
How to Punch
Once you are in your preferred fighting stance, you can begin to throw punches at the bag.
The first step is the most obvious one: making a fist.
With your hands wrapped and your gloves on, making a fist should be fairly obvious. Clench your fingers so that your thumb falls behind your index and middle fingers. You should be strike the bag with these two fingers. Keep your wrist locked and aligned with your forearm, allowing you to drop your wrist a fraction to create a level pane stretching from knuckles to elbow. This gives more support to your wrist and should allow you to throw with more power.
Power comes from your hips and legs, so you will benefit from being able to pivot. Use your back foot and turn your knee to start the punch. With your back foot still on the ground, lift your heel and in one motion, turn your foot and knee towards the bag, allowing your leg to dip as you do. This should ultimately give you enough torque to strike the bag with force. Remember to step forward before you begin this process so that you are in striking range.
When you strike the bag, remember to exhale when the hand comes out. Stay relaxed and inhale through your nose. Also remember to bring your hand straight back to your guard, to get you into the habit of protecting your head in real fights, whether in the ring, cage or street.
Different Types of Punches
The Jab, or “one” is typically the weakest, yet fastest and most important punch in a fighter’s arsenal. This is a straight punch with your lead hand. If you are a regular pugilist, start in your stance with your fists closed and by your nose, keeping the back heel lifted, fists closed and fingertips facing your chin. With your hips in place, throw your lead hand out with your knuckles twisted and that your fingertips face the floor. As you punch, keep your rear hand, tucked and ready. The rear hand should always be protecting your chin and body, whilst being kept ready to throw the follow up strike: the cross.
A Cross is a strong straight punch thrown from the rear hand. As it is the more dominant hand, it typically has more power than the jab as it has more time to accelerate gain torque before it connects. In your stance, with your weight primarily onto the front foot and your knees bent, keep your fists closed with fingertips facing your chin. When you punch, turn your hand so that your fingertips face the floor, as it would with a jab. Pivot on the ball of your rear foot and turn your hips forward. As you would with any punch, bring your hand and hips to the starting position. As an old coach said to me, don’t stand and admire your work, that’s how you would get cracked.
Hook – Hooks can be thrown with either the left or the right hand and is one of the most dangerous strikes in all martial arts. Although it is a great punch, fighters debate whether a hook should be thrown with the palm flat to the ground, or facing into the body. From your stance, with your fists closed, throw your arm out with the elbow bent to a right angle, keep your forearm straight out in front of you so that it is parallel with your shoulders. Some fighters prefer to keep their knuckles facing the sky, others prefer it to be facing their target. The punch should stop in front of your face without pushing too far beyond it, so if the bag is in motion, try to time your strike so that the bag is moving towards you rather than away from you. As with before, keep your other hand in a protective stance.
Uppercut – Uppercuts require you to get closer to your bag, but can be absolutely devastating when they land. As per usual, start in your regular stance, but ensure that you are close enough to your target. Bend your knee slightly and dip your shoulder of the side you aim to punch with. Pivot on the ball of your rear foot, turn your knee and hip forward as right hand moves upwards. Ensure that your elbow is bent and your fingertips facing you as you strike the bag. If your bag were another fighter, you’d be aiming for their chin. Return your right hand to your starting position as you would with the other punches.
If you are doing some bag work, it is good to work on your form first with some shadowboxing. You can practice those punches without connecting with anything as a good way to get relaxed and release tension, adding in movement to practice defenses. After 5-10 minutes of shadowboxing, it’s important to get those pre bag work out stretches in before you get to the fun stuff. Depending on your stamina and level of experience, you might do any where between six rounds and twelve. Following a well-chosen plan like one on the Heavy Bag Pro app can be a great start.
The well known “one-two” is the most basic combo. A jab, followed by a cross is a critically important combination to learn as on its own it can be truly devastating when it lands flush on the nose and chin and it also starts as the first two punches in other combinations. Following it up with a lead hook for instance will often catch the opponent who is defending the front of their face in response to straight punches.
Alternatively, other combinations start with hooks – lead hook, rear cross and lead hook can be great for those with smart footwork, who aims to step to the outside of their opponents lead foot. Or, for power punchers, rear cross, lead hook, rear cross can put a lot of stress on an opponent.
There are some great boxing programmes such as “Effective boxing combos starting with a jab” on the HeavybagPro app. This 12 round routine is great for developing your understanding of distance by using your jab as a measuring stick. The more you practice these combos, the more you will build up muscle memory, so that one punch flows off of the other. There are also routines for kickboxers to work in kicks with their punches and routines for Nak Muays to build elbows and knees on top of those.
When you are done with the work out, make sure to do some static stretches, to cool down and help release the tension in your muscles. Yoga exercises like cobra, upward facing dog, downward facing dog, cat-cow, and child pose will do magic – these relieve tension from most of your muscles. Stretch your arms (biceps and triceps) and legs and you are done. 3 minutes of very relaxed shadow boxing at the very end would be a nice finisher as well.
The benefits of doing heavy bag work as a beginning fighter are fairly obvious. The bag acts as a great training tool to build stamina, practice form, develop power with punches and build muscle memory. Not to mention its cathartic nature is stress relieving and a lot of fun. Despite this fun element, it is best to build up patterns of strikes which will serve you well either in the ring, should you choose to be just a boxer, a kickboxer or a Muay Thai boxer. This is another place where Heavy Bag Pro can come into play, particularly as it gives you options to diversify the types of training rounds you’ll do. Perhaps you want to do a five round easy-fast-knockout, with emphasis on crosses and big hooks, or you want a longer, 13 round Muay Thai focused work out like the Thai Classic Routine, the app has you covered.