The heavy bag, also known as a punching bag, is a tremendous piece of training equipment. This tried and tested boxing tool has shaped many champions in the ring, and continues to be an important part of any boxing studio. Formerly reserved for boxers or MMA fighters, this classic and effective piece of equipment has crept into mainstream fitness centers, and proves to offer a high intensity boxing workout for those who take advantage of it.
So, what is a heavy bag anyway, and why is it so important?
The exciting sport of boxing dates all the way back to the ancient Olympic Games. Boxers were trained essentially as if they were soldiers preparing for war. There was very little sophistication in the sport, and fighters boxed bare-handed, which often led to the death of an opponent. The sport was brutal. In fact, one of the earliest boxers named Eurydamas was known for his fierceness in the ring, and was reported to have swallowed his own teeth during a match rather than admit that he had been severely injured - yikes!
By the beginning of the first century A.D., however, boxing was forbidden, and wouldn’t be seen again in the world of sports until the 18th century in Great Britain. James Figg was the first recorded English boxing champ, fighting in the early part of the 1700s. Jack Broughton was the next champion following Figg, and was considered a master of blocking and hitting on the retreat. In 1743, Broughton changed the sport forever and created a very much needed boxing code of conduct called the London Prize ring rules. In addition, Broughton also devised special gloves called "mufflers," so fighters wouldn’t so easily injure their hands.
As time went on, boxing was further refined by the establishment of the Queensberry Rules, which were created under the sponsorship of another boxing patron, Josh Sholto Douglas, the eighth Marquess of Queensberry. Some of the rules are:
To this day, it is uncertain as to when punching bag workouts became a staple of the boxer’s training regiment, but the first heavy bag patent was registered to Simon D. Kehoe in 1872. Since then, the heavy bag has been quintessential to the world of boxing, and is one of the most effective tools used to train - but what exactly is it?
At first glance, the heavy bag may look a little intimidating to some. It is a familiar fixture in classic films like Rocky where we see our protagonists using the bag to unload power punches in impressive punch combinations. In its essence, a heavy bag is a sturdy bag designed to be punched repeatedly. They are usually cylindrical and filled with various materials like sand or sawdust. The more material you have, the firmer and heavier your bag will be. While the most obvious benefit of the heavy bag is a chance to practice your right hook and jab-cross, it carries a variety of other benefits as well!
Heavy bag workouts can help to improve technique, provide strength training for power, build better balance and coordination, and even reduce stress.
Improves Boxing Technique
One of the most apparent benefits of hitting the heavy bag is that it improves your boxing technique. Many people are under the impression that boxing is all about who can best throw punches, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, punching power is important, but boxing is also about executing each movement with proper form and precision. Throwing some straight punches while maintaining good form will not only improve your punches overall, but your body movement and overall performance as well. In fact, unlike shadowboxing, a heavy bag workout allows you to experience the force of impact with each and every punch you throw, making it an ideal way to improve one’s boxing technique.
Improves Strength and Power
Heavy bag workouts are great for strength training and enhancing power because it focuses on building as many muscles as possible. The muscles in your upper body like your arms, chest, back, and shoulders, as well as your lower body's legs and even your core are all engaged during a heavy bag training session, making it an extremely effective full-body workout. With a heavy bag, you can practice punching and kicking with the greatest possible force, which can improve your strength and power over time.
Builds Your Endurance
If you have ever given a heavy bag workout 100% maximum effort, then you know firsthand it is no easy feat. This extra challenge to give it your all will push you beyond the boundaries of your cardio comfort zone, which will build up your endurance as you train. The more you push past your limits, the more you will be able to endure. Whether you are in the ring sparring with a partner or simply taking the stairs instead of the elevator, you will notice the impacts on your endurance from heavy bag training over time.
Improved Coordination, Balance, and Stability
If you have ever watched someone during a heavy bag workout, you may have noticed that they are never just standing still. When training, boxers move around the bag and incorporate footwork into their workout routines. Footwork drills like circling the bag while throwing a left hook will help to improve both your balance and coordination. Staying fast on your toes and making the effort to transfer your weight from one foot to the other while also moving around is an excellent way to build stability and balance.
In addition, it’s not just your body that is working during a heavy bag workout. While throwing punches and delivering kicks, the bag comes back suddenly and unexpectedly. For this reason, it is important to remain attentive and alert, which improves sensory-motor coordination and your reaction time.
Everyone experiences a little bit of stress from time to time ,and if yoga isn’t your thing, boxing is a great alternative! Heavy bag workouts provide similar benefits to martial arts in that they can improve your mood, help you release anger, and even relieve stress. In fact, it is a form of both physiological and mental stress relief.
Physically, exercise and increased heart rate promotes the production of neurohormones like vasopressin and norepinephrine, which is associated with heightened cognitive function along with improved mood.
Mentally, hitting the heavy bag acts as a symbolic release of stress when you imagine the bag as a representation of everything and anything that causes you trouble or anxiety.
Believe it or not, chronic stress can take a huge toll on your body and can even lead to serious health problems such as:
High amounts of the hormone cortisol are released in the body during times of stress. This hormone increases appetite and can affect your sleep, cognition, and energy levels. In today’s busy world full of chaos, it is imperative to have healthy methods of releasing your worries, and heavy bag workouts can do just that!
Wrap Your Hands
It goes without saying that wrapping your hands properly before sparring with a partner is crucial. However, what many don’t realize is that wrapping your hands during a heavy bag workout is as equally as important. Give yourself sufficient time before you start training to put on your hand wraps and secure your gloves. Punching bags are heavy, and if your hands and wrists are not properly secure, you will be at risk for injury.
Warm Up First
Like with any sport or exercise, it is important to warm up before you start. Begin with a 2 to 3 minute round of light punching while circling the bag. This will help to get your muscles ready for those punches, and help you to hone in on your form as well.
Proper breathing is imperative to your heavy bag workout. Inhaling during a resting motion and exhaling during exertion will allow oxygen to flow through your body to fuel your working and tiring muscles.
Train With Proper Technique
Although many heavy bag workouts are focused on speed and power, it’s important to remember that proper technique comes first. Power and speed tend to improve with practice and time, but technique is something that needs to be focused on from the start. If you don’t have proper technique, you will be at a much greater risk for injury, and might find that staying balanced is much more of a challenge.
Exercising with a heavy bag comes with many benefits. It helps to improve technique, increase strength and power, build better balance and coordination, and even reduce stress. If you are looking for a great way to get in shape and improve your overall health, we highly suggest giving a heavy bag workout a try - we know you won’t regret it!