The Heavy Bag – 5 Rules to Hit By!

by Fran on December 10, 2012

A few months ago, I published a boxing training article entitled Shadow Boxing - 7 Tips for Success. In that article I provided a bunch tips to help you get the most out of your shadow boxing sessions. More than anything else I wanted that article to demonstrate the importance of not taking shadow boxing for granted, to avoid "going through the motions." This article seeks to achieve a similar goal, instead focusing on the heavy bag.

If you are a long time user of the site, then you'll know that this is not the first article that I have produced on the subject of the heavy bag. Firstly there was the article Buying a Heavy Bag - What to Know. In that article I offered some insights into how to spend you money wisely when purchasing a piece of 'hitting equipment'. I even covered the gimmicky 'Boxing Bob' dummy and discussed it's place in the average boxing gym.

Following on from that article was the popular Old Man Hits a Heavy Bag, a video article in which I managed to persuade an over-the-hill ex-boxer to see if he could last a single round in the presence of a viciously inanimate object in the form of an angled heavy bag. Before you check out the tips below, it might be worth having a quick review of those two articles just to refresh your knowledge of the wondrous stress-reliever that is the heavy bag.

Before We Start - The Main Heavy Bag Rule

Just before we get going I need to offer a real and serious warning. The majority of heavy bags by definition are packed quite tightly. This means that they are fairly solid objects. Before you begin hitting a heavy bag there is a crucial rule that you should never, ever forget; protect your hands.

I hate to see boxers hit a bag without hand protection. Even if your average boxer is just passing by the bag it's very difficult it seems for them to resist the urge to pop off a quick combination.  Many promising careers have been extinguished because of a boxer succumbing to hand injuries, so looking after your hands should be one of your highest priorities.

Kick boxers may toughen their shins for perfectly sensible reasons. MMA fighters and other martial artists may take the view that they need to toughen their hands. Boxers, in my opinion, punch much harder than the combatants in either of those sports.  Consequently the forces travelling through the hands are much greater and require key measures to be taken to protect against those forces.

For advice on hand protection there are two articles that you should check out. Firstly the video article on Boxing Hand Wraps and secondly the article on Buying Boxing Gloves - What to Know. Check these out because quite simply if you do not take protection of your hands seriously then you should no more be hitting the heavy bag than you should be punching a brick wall.

The Heavy Bag - 5 Simple Tips for Success

OK, let's look at the 5 MyBoxingCoach rules for getting the most from your rounds on the heavy bag.

Rule #1 - Avoid excessive swinging of the bag

To be fair this is something that real novices tend to look to achieve. More experienced boxers simply don't need to do so. The bag swinging all over the place is not a sign that you are hitting hard. It is a sign that you possess a rudimentary understanding of the principles of kinetic energy and momentum. Excessive swinging is the result of constantly hitting the bag as it moves away so that the swinging becomes more and more pronounced. You need to be able to time your shots to stop the bag dead as it swings back toward you after your first salvo of punches, which leads me neatly onto the 2nd rule.

Rule #2 - Develop your timing and range-finding

This comes in the form of 2 types of action. Firstly, if the bag is swinging you should often aim to maintain a consistent distance between you and it. For example, maintain long-range by coinciding your footwork in and out with the swing of the bag. You should at all times be able to land long range punches (from the jab to the right cross and and other long range punches. In the absence of regular sparring this is a fantastic way to get your feel for range.  Check out the article on Fight Tactics - Boxing Range Finding for more on range.

To develop your timing on the heavy bag, and by that I mean your punch timing, stay relaxed and look to control the swing of the bag by landing crisp punches both as the bag swings towards.Look to hit occasionally as the bag swings away from you (accepting the point of Rule #1). If you land a shot as an object is coming toward you (in this instance there heavy bag, but other times it could be a very aggressive opponent) you massively increase the power of the punch by adding the opponent's mass to the shot (check out the article on improving punching power for more on this. This is the art of timing the punch.

If the object is moving away, generating the same level of power is more difficult but is no less something that you should aim for. To nail this you need to carefully time your footwork in with your punch and the movement of the object. This is discussed at and demonstrated at length in the Boxing Training Foundation.  It's a key skill to develop if you want to be an effective front foot fighter.  And remember, as a fighter you need never be more than a few centimeters out of range so developing that sense down to the millimetre pays.

Rule #3 - Don't push me!

Pushing a bag (or opponent) is a really bad habit to develop. If you constantly push the heavy bag then this is very likely to transfer into your sparring and fighting. Of course pushing an opponent is a foul (even in the professional ranks and especially in the amateur ranks) and the referee will intervene. But there is a potential result that is far worse than a telling off by the referee.

If you push an opponent, your arms move away from the guard position (stance). This is potentially catastrophic in terms of defence and leaves you wide open to left hooks and right hooks, the chosen weapons of the knockout artist. A boxer takes risks, it's part of the business. What is not part of the business is exposing yourself to unnecessary risk. Pushing the opponent and exposing your chin definitely constitutes unnecessary risk.

Rule #4 - Don't lean on me either!

Under no circumstances ever should you depend upon a bag, an opponent or indeed the ropes of the ring to keep you on your feet. If you lean on a heavy bag you are relying on that bag to stay where it is in order for you to maintain your balance. If that bag suddenly disappeared then you would go stumbling forward like a drunken fool. Stand on your own feet, rely on YOU to maintain YOUR balance.

This is different from standing at close range and using the double arm block and other defensive blocks to maintain physical contact with the opponent. That is the art of infighting and is the realm of really experienced and clever boxers. They ensure that at all times they can defend and attack and are not reliant on the opponent to assist them in achieving this.

Rule #5 - Maintain your discipline

The final rule is simple; maintain discipline throughout the round. This is not only the principle of maintaining your form through the execution of the skills, but it is also the principle of working through to the end of the round. Don't fall into the trap of hammering the bag for 30 seconds and then standing around panting like a dog for the next 2 minutes. This is totally counter-productive. Work all the way through the round and then take your rest. This will toughen you both physically and mentally and is one of the keys to successful boxing.

So there you have it, 5 simple rules to help you succeed when working the heavy bag during your boxing training. The heavy bag is such a fantastic piece of equipment that has genuinely stood the test of time in what is the toughest of sports. Work it well and work it hard and you will reap the rewards. As always, comments and questions are welcome below.

Cheers

Fran

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Bryan October 17, 2013 at 12:13 am

I have two everlast bags one is on chains which is 60 lbs mainly for body shots and placement. The other bag is 100lbs and hangs hard with limited swing and it allows me to demonstrate stance, improvement of positions and whatnot. I box 3 days a week with 3 days of strength conditioning for strength. Use hand wraps and gloves when going hard on either bags is crucial for avoidance of injury.

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Jake September 11, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Awesome article. I see people working out incorrectly with heavy bags all the time and it drives me nuts.

One of the biggest issues I have is when people push the bag without realizing it. As you said this really opens people up to getting hit if they were training with a real person.

Another issue is when a bag swings too much. Usually this is either from poor technique or the bag isn’t heavy enough for the person hitting it. I generally try and make sure people are using the right weight when training with a heavy bag to avoid this issue.

Anyway, thanks for the good article. Already forwarded on to several people I know.

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BK Jackson April 29, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Thanks for the info on the swinging bag. I kickbox 3X a week on the heavy bag and it drives me NUTS that the bag swings like crazy on my punches. I kept thinking “Why don’t they make these like the double end bag–with attachments on top and bottom!?”

I like to hit the bag with all I’ve got (I box for stress relief) but I knew I couldn’t be hitting it THAT much harder then anyone else.

So now I know how to fix it (well, after lots of practice). But I wish someone at the gym had pointed out the reason. That would’ve saved me from having to reach out and stop the bag umpteen zillion times in the last 6 months.

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Fran May 2, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Excellent. The simple things work I guess BK; stop the bag by hammering home punches! Happy days 🙂

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Paul Smith December 28, 2012 at 2:24 am

I hope to do us both proud coach!

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Paul Smith December 24, 2012 at 2:50 am

I actually attended my first live boxing matches a couple of weeks ago. There were 6 bouts for a women and children shelter in my hometown. A female friend of ours was a participant, as well as the mayor and other business and media professionals. It was great fun and I won an auction for an additional one year membership to my boxing gym, which happened to be a sponsor of the charity event. Long story short, the owner of the gym said “next year – you’re in” to me. 🙂

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Fran December 27, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Sounds like something to aim for Paul. Sounds like a very worthy event, and let’s face it, there’s gotta be a bit of you that ponders “I wonder how I’d react and perform?” My own view is that you’d do great. Let’s see what transpires eh 🙂

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Paul Smith December 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Fantastic article with really great tips here Fran! Your ‘Old Man Hits A Heavybag’ video is an inspirational favourite of mine and reminds me of how much of this sport is mental as well as physical. It’s a tough game this ‘boxing’ and thankfully the heavybag doesn’t hit back. I must acknowledge that this article’s lessons are full of harsh truths and awesome referrals that will definitely help improve my skill though.

Thanks.

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Ivan December 12, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Hi Fran,
you mentioned the hard and soft variations of the heavy bag and I think both are very important. With a solid hard bag you have to punch correctly or you’ll learn the hard way. A tight fist and knuckle-elbow-shoulder alignment are necessary to avoid injury. The hard bag sort of mimics the impact of a head shot on your hand and you learn to ‘ration’ your power, applying enough force to make it a big shot and holding something back if necessary to avoid hand injury.

Soft bags are tricky, they can tire you faster but are very useful especially for training body shots. The elusive torso of a well trained opponent will be hard to hit and when you do, make it count. A body shot is quite different than a head shot – a good head shot can be a bad body shot and vice-versa.

The hard and the soft bags are a must for every gym, but the best speed bag is the opponents head gear and the best heavy bag – his body.

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Fran December 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Hey Ivan

I hope that you are well

In the gym, we have 11 pieces of heavy hitting equipment. 2 Maize Bags, 2 wall pad systems and the rest heavy bags of varying shapes and sizes. As a boxer you have your favourite, but as you rightly point out mixing it up is vital.

What I particularly like is the final sentence. You can never beat the real thing and often we simply have to ‘make do’ with the old faithful heavy bag!

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Karl December 11, 2012 at 3:55 am

Hi Fran,

A few things I’ve learned about heavy bags that I would like to share with your readers…

1) Just as you say, bags can be packed quite tightly. Even though the bag may feel “safe” be aware that some may still have hard spots that feel like concrete (usually near the bottom but not always). It’s become a habit of mine to lightly punch a new bag about 20 times before I work on it. I never throw power shots until I know the texture of a bag.

2) Bags are different sizes for a reason. A big bag can mimic the big lumbering opponent which you need to work around, and the little bag can mimic a smaller fighter that can be pushed around. Everyone has a favourite bag, but you have to force yourself to use a variety.

3) As you say, new people get a kick out of making the bag swing wildly. Not only is this giving people a false sense of power, it’s also dangerous in a crowded gym. It’s even dangerous to yourself if your not careful. People may not realize that those steel hooks holding up the bag wear out over time. Go ahead readers, look at the hooks in your gym, you’ll see that lots of the steel is worn down. Once or twice a year one of our bags will drop like an overripe apricot. Usually when someone has got the thing swinging wildly! You don’t want it landing on someone’s knee!!

4) Exceptions to the “swing” rule/guideline (for me anyway) is a bag with a very long chain (like 10 feet or more). You’ll see these in some gyms with high ceilings. The long chain is deliberate because the bag doesn’t really swing wildly, instead it drifts around the floor covering a wide circular area. You have to chase it because if you waited for it to swing back you’d be waiting forever. I find these are very challenging bags.

5) A bag is a big target, but that’s no reason to zone out and punch blindly. We tape rings around our bags to represent head level and body level. Your target is no longer “the bag”. It’s something small and specific. It’s also good practice to pick a letter in the logo and make it your target. It will spin around and move away which forces you to follow it, thus developing footwork.

6) You can work on power shots under pressure by knocking the bag back with a punch and then taking the center. Own the center for 20 or 30 seconds. The bag will want to swing back to vertical and your job is to keep knocking it back with power shots. Keeping a heavy bag in the air like that is a real workout. When you’re done you have a chance to work on sidestepping an opponent that’s rushing you. Don’t ever stop the bag with your hands and walk away. Pivot away properly.

7) Further to point 3. When you’re really hitting with power the bag doesn’t swing at all, it jumps up vertically. Try to make the bag hop every once in awhile with a cross.

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Fran December 11, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Wonderful stuff Karl.

I’m convinced that readers get as much and often more out of the comments than the actual article. Number 6 is a murderous work out. Number 5 is a subtle point and is well worth putting in place.

Great contribution mate, as always. Thanks and all the very best to you for the upcoming festive period.

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Michelle December 10, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Hello there,
I have been working at the heavy bag for some time now and I don’t seem to be getting any better. My hits are powerful or so my coach says but after 30 seconds of hitting the bag I have to stop because I get light headed. I’m not swinging the bag either all my punches are quick and they stun the bag.
Also when I’m doing mitt work with a partner after one round I’m exhausted and unable to continue because I feel like I’m going to pass out. I have once because my coach told me to keep going and that I’d be alright. I’m not running at all could that be it? What do you think I need to work on so I can stay longer in the ring?
I have been going to a boxing class for about a year now and my endurance is that of a corpse. lol Any suggestions?
-Thank you so much! 🙂

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Karl December 11, 2012 at 4:06 am

Hope it’s ok if I give my 2 cents.

If you were brand new to exercise I would say you can expect this sort of thing until you achieve a certain level of fitness, but this usually only takes about a month and you said you’ve been going for a year! I’d suggest visiting your doctor and having your blood pressure checked. If you stand up quickly from a laying position do you feel light headed? In any case, a doctor can easily check this and prescribe medication if required.

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Michelle December 16, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Thank you so much Karl, I really appreciate it 🙂
I am definitely going to get a check up to see whats going on. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.

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Fran December 11, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Hi Michelle

Karl has given you an option that I think you should investigate further. It’s the light-headed thing that makes me agree with Karl in this as your first course of action. On the general question of running, every one of us coaches can spot when a boxer isn’t doing the necessary road work. Get into a varied running regime, at least 2 nights a week. 2 or 3 milers coupled in with some sprinting and interval running (for anaerobic fitness). In short, running is what gives a boxer the stamina to work anaerobically for periods of the round.

Thanks for the question good luck with improving your staying power.

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Michelle December 16, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Thanks Fran! Your advice is very helpful 🙂

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Fran December 16, 2012 at 10:37 pm

You are welcome Michelle. Best of luck.

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