Whack. Whack. Whack. Kick.
I missed that feeling a lot during the lockdown months which followed the outbreak of COVID19 in 2020. There is just something deeply satisfying about striking something rhythmically and continuously. Something that can absorb the physical manifestation of your frustrations. Those of you reading this who have tried it out will almost certainly instantly agree. Whether you’ve come from a martial arts background, or just decided to slap the punch bag you walked past on the way to the elliptical bike, you will undoubtedly have gotten a buzz out of it; it is the definition of a fun solo work out.
Surely though, you’d think there are other benefits than just mindless thrashing of a leather sack, right?
Well you’d be right.
Let’s talk about those benefits.
If you have had some basic lessons in boxing, or Muay Thai you may already know how to throw a punch, kick, knee or elbow. With a punch bag you can build on this existing knowledge. Make sure that you keep good form with every strike, and remember to return to your guard, or fighting stance immediately after throwing them. When you come to your next sparring or pad work class, you should see the benefits, with your muscle memory enhanced, your strikes should come out quicker and slicker than before.
Power and Speed
In addition to the technique improvements, bag work should provide a massive boost to your power and speed, as key muscle groups are given a serious work out. Your back, chest, arms and waist are all worked, along with your legs which twist and turn to generate power through the upper body when punches are thrown. Your legs will have worked even harder when kicks are thrown, with the spring-like movement and skipping on the spot providing a lot of muscle development. Straight punches such as jabs and rear crosses will in particular develop your shoulders and chest. Hooks and uppercuts will give more strength to your arms and back muscles.
All of this muscle development should facilitate you to hit harder than before, but whilst it is fun to step in and throw enormous hooks, remember to work on speed as well. Throw quick combinations, with strikes following each other in speedy succession. Once again, this will help strengthen your muscle memory and perhaps even your reflex speed.
Cardiovascular and Endurance Development
It should come as no surprise that when working these muscle groups, you will also challenge your cardio-respiratory system. Moving around the bag, while shifting body position and causing weight transference is an aerobic work out in itself. Adding mean-spirited punches to this will bring an anaerobic dimension to the equation.
The longer the rounds are and the higher the intensity, the greater the aerobic workout. As this there will be fewer rest periods, this will save time. However, this is something that you should take your time with. Don’t rush into overdoing the workout as it may lead to injury or prolonged fatigue.
If it’s your first time having a full bag workout session, you may find yourself completely exhausted. Bag work in itself is a high intensity interval training (HIIT) routine, which will get your heart working at 70 to 90% of its maximum rate. This is a fantastic rate to burn fat, build muscle and provide overall tone to your physique.
Additionally, if you have put a good deal of effort into any HIIT session, you should feel the benefits of what is referred to as the “after burn” effect, where the body burns calories continuously for up to twenty four hours after the workout is completed.
An hour of bag work will typically burn between 700-1100 calories, which is significant enough to precipitate weight loss.
Brain and Coordination
Smashing the bag might seem like it requires little more than brute strength, but boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai, when practiced correctly requires total concentration. Even after throwing all-out combinations, your brain is still active, as you move around the bag, consider your next move and shift your weight from one foot to the other.
Working the bag will develop your hand-eye-coordination, which has a tremendous role in your motor skills. If your hand-eye coordination improves, your reflex and reaction time will follow suit. A good reaction time is part of having a better physical condition in general, particularly as you age and your sense of balance deteriorates. This coordination goes hand in hand with the enhanced core stability repeated bag work provides.
My first ever Muay Thai coach described the art to be akin to opening a cupboard and catching the object which falls out before it smashes on the floor or countertop and ever since, I have felt an increase in my coordination and reaction speed. Real, or imagined, it’s nice to believe that bag work has played a part in this perceived improvement. I definitely think I have broken less glass spice containers since
Mental Stress Relieved
There’s a lot to be said about that zen-like focus one can gain whilst striking a punch bag. To box well, you need to be completely focused with what you are doing, deliberately oblivious to the outside world. This allows you to avert daily stresses, to give you a fresh perspective in order to handle problems more effectively.
Beyond that though, physical activity is known to reduce stress. Stress is the body’s response to danger. Although it occurs naturally, it is meant to be felt in serious situations and emergencies only, rather than on a daily basis. Chronic stress can cause inflammation, depression and disrupt your sleep, so any steps to relieve stress are highly important. Striking a bag can provide valuable catharsis, as a physical and metaphorical expression of deep emotions.
Runners buzz off of what is sometimes referred to as a ‘runner’s high’ and boxers will experience a similar phenomenon. As you throw strikes and combo off into the target, your brain increases its production of endorphins, stimulating the neurotransmitters to create feel-good thoughts. Punching and kicking help to reduce muscle tension that can build when you are stressed. As the punching continues, you may forget the things which cause you stress, helping you to overcome negativity and stress. Smacking the heavy bag may not erase these ill feelings, but it can help you cope with feelings of resentment and aggression.
Self Confidence and Mindfulness
Alongside this stress-relief, martial arts can help to make you feel stronger mentally, instilling you with the fighting spirit which enables you to deal with life’s challenges. That bag workout can grant you a sense of achievement, leading to improved confidence and self-esteem. The mental skills you garner from the workout can translate to the world outside of the gym. Understanding movement, finding your style of doing things and mastering your defence can help both in the workplace and in the social circles you find yourself in. Learning what your own personal triggers, limitations and boundaries is an important way of honing the proper tools to deal with daily stresses.
Martial arts are a great way to learn more about yourself. You will begin to realize how your brain works and reacts as you develop your fighting style. When performed correctly, a boxing workout is a lot more tactical than throwing random punches. When those jabs, uppercuts, crosses and hooks are put into sequence, it becomes much like a dance, or a “moving meditation”. Rhythmic, physical movements can silence all the unnecessary chatter our brains generate, allowing you to walk away from the bag with a quiet, recentred mind.
The Heavy Bag Pro app can give you great combinations to focus on as you strike the bag, thereby improving your focus on singular tasks and allowing you to work on your muscle memory comfortably.
It is best to start with some shadowboxing, followed by some dynamic stretches to loosen up joints and pump blood into important places before beginning on one of the great programmes.
If you are new to the sport, then perhaps it is best to start with shorter programmes, such as the five round “Easy-Fast-Knockout” boxing workout, or the eight round “Short but effective K1 combos of 3-4 elements” Muay Thai work out. For those with more experience and stamina, they may benefit more from the thirteen round “Thai Classics” routine, or the twelve round “Effective boxing combos starting with a jab”. Remember to do some static stretches afterwards to wind down and ensure good muscle health and posture for the days which follow.
Provided you have the space and the equipment, a great hour long work out would consist of the following:
- 10 min – Shadowboxing and skipping rope
- 5 min – Dynamic Stretching
- 31 min – “Short but effective K1 combos of 3-4 elements” Heavy Bag Pro routine
- 20 push-ups, 20 squats, and 50 crunches
- 7 min – Cool down and static stretching