How to Use a Punching Bag

How to use a punching bagcorrectly is of great interest to people who study all forms of martial arts training including: boxing, kickboxing, karate, reality based self defense, and mixed martial arts (MMA).

Heavy bag training is also popular among people who just want to stay in shape and add a new and exciting dimension to their fitness program. Most people are attracted to the punching bag for some of the following reasons:

  • It shapes and tones your entire body
  • It improves muscular endurance
  • It strengthens your bones, tendons and ligaments
  • It conditions your cardiovascular system
  • It relives stress and helps channel aggressive energy

Best of all, the punching bag is relatively inexpensive and it doesn’t require a lot of room to get a good workout. However, before moving forward, if are truly interested in learning how to get the most of your punching bag workouts and want to learn the correct way to train, please watch my Heavy Bag Training DVD. It’s a small investment that will pay off big dividends!

“Most people take the punching bag for granted and assume it can be used without any formal training. These people are wrong and usually end up learning this the hard way!”

So What is a Punching Bag?

Generally, the term “Punching Bag” often refers to a wide variety of training bags used in boxing and martial arts training but for the purposes of this how-to article, I am specifically referring to the heavy bag.

The heavy bag is the single most important piece of training equipment for karate, boxing, mixed martial arts (MMA) as well as many styles of martial arts. The primary purpose of the punching bag is to develop power in all of your offensive striking techniques:

  • jabs
  • cross punch 
  • hook punches
  • uppercuts
  • shovel hooks
  • elbow strikes
  • knee strikes

Heavy bags are generally cylindrical shaped and approximately forty inches in height. Punching bags are constructed of either top grain leather, heavy canvas or vinyl. The interior of the bag is generally filled with some type of cotton fiber or other material. These bags can weigh anywhere from thirty five to two hundred pounds. However, the average punching bag weighs approximately eighty-five pounds. While punching bags can generally hung from the ceiling, they can also be affixed to a heavy duty stand. 

It’s Not BOB!

Do not confuse the heavy bag with the Body Opponent Bag or BOB. The body opponent bag is an ideal piece of equipment for specialized self-defense training like:

  • Widowmaker razing techniques
  • First strike scenarios
  • Choking techniques 
  • Stick fighting training
  • Ground fighting endurance work
  • Spectator intervention training
  • Edged weapon target orientation
  • Target specificity training

However, when it comes to developing true punching power, the BOB is a poor choice. For example, the head of the body opponent bag is simply too flimsy and cannot withstand the impact of heavy duty power punches. 

Lots to Bags to Choose From

As you can image, there are a wide variety of heavy bags on the market. They come in many different shapes and sizes and each one serves a unique training objective. Some include:

  • The Standard Heavy Bag
  • The Head Hunter Bag
  • The Sharpshooter Bag
  • The Uppercut Bag

For those of you who are interested, you can see these different types of punching bags being demonstrated in my Heavy Bag Training DVD.

Things You Will Need:


You will also need to invest in a few items that will get your training underway. This includes:

  • An instructional Heavy Bag Training DVD or Heavy Bag Training Book
  • A quality heavy bag (with a minimum weight of 100 pounds)
  • A heavy duty hanger or stand that can support the weight of the bag
  • A pair of boxing gloves or bag gloves that will protect your knuckles and hands
  • Hand wraps (this is optional if you need extra protection for your hands)
  • Sufficient space that will allow you to move freely around the bag
  • A timer that will help keep track of your rounds when working out
  • Comfortable and loose fitting clothing

Take Your Time Learning

Let me point out that learning how to use a punching bag is not as easy as you think. It requires proper guidance and a bit of patience from the practitioner. Unfortunately, most people don’t take the time to learn how use a punching bag correctly. Impatiently, they rush out to their local sporting goods store, buy a bag and begin pounding on it without a care in the world.

In most cases, they are punching the bag incorrectly, developing bad habits and possibly running the risk of permanently damaging their elbows, wrists and hands.

Let me be clear, everyone should get proper training before they beging working out on the bag. This warning is especially important to people who are training on the bag for self-defense and personal protection purposes.

The bottom line is you must possess proper punching technique or you are in for a world of hurt. But the good news is you can learn correct punching from a variety of credible sources like:

  • Hands on training
  • Online instruction
  • Instructional DVDs
  • Instructional Books

“Learn to be patient! Take the time to learn the proper way to use a punching bag.”

The Purpose of Using a Punching Bag

The primary purpose of using a Heavy Bag is to develop striking power so it’s no surprise that it’s the number one piece of training equipment used in amateur and professional boxing. In my Contemporary Fighting Arts system, we use the heavy bag exclusively for our Power Punching program. If you would like to learn more, see my Power Punching DVD. While most people use a punching bag primarily for developing punching power, it can also be used for:

  • kicking techniques
  • open hand strikes
  • elbow strikes
  • knee strikes 
  • a variety of other martial arts and self defense techniques.

Besides developing powerful punching and striking techniques, the bag strengthens and conditions your bones and tendons to withstand the force of impacting with a target. Best of all, the punching bag develops aerobic fitness while simultaneously toning most of the muscles in your body including the arms, legs, stomach and back. The punching bag is also known to be a great stress reducer for those who need channel their anger or frustration in a productive manner.

Keep in mind that a quality punching bag is designed to take serious abuse and should absorb the most powerful of blows. Best of all, you can find just about every style of punching bag by simply surfing the internet. Be prepared because it can be a bit overwhelming as there are so many on the market. 

Who Uses the Punching Bag

  • Boxers
  • Mixed martial arts (MMA)
  • Karate practitioners
  • Martial arts students
  • Kick boxers
  • Muay Thai fighters
  • Self defense students
  • Law enforcement students
  • Military personnel
  • Security & bodyguard personnel
  • Fitness enthusiasts
  • Therapy for children and adults

How To Use a Punching Bag

In order to use a punching bag correctly, you will need to understand some important concepts and principles. However, before beginning any type of punching bag workout program, always consult with your personal physician first. What follows are some important punching bag tips that will help accelerate your progress and minimize your chances of injury.

how to use a punching bag

Take your time when working out on the bag– if you are working with the bag for the very first time I strongly urge you to take your time and develop the proper body mechanics of punching before tearing into the bag. It is very easy to get injured when using the punching bag. Punching bag workouts are tough and very demanding. Avoid premature exhaustion by pacing yourself during your workout. Remember, it’s not a race! Enjoy the process of working out with the heavy bag.

Stay balanced – Remember to maintain your balance at all times when punching the bag – never sacrifice your balance for power. Balance is simply a simply a matter of maintaining an even distribution of body weight that enables you to remain upright and steady.

Keep your wrists straight – Punching bags are unforgiving on your body and will certainly test the structural integrity of you punches and blows. Please remember to keep your wrists straight when your fists hit the bag. Learn to gradually build up the force of your blows – a beginner’s wrists are generally too weak to accommodate full force strikes on the punching bag. To learn more, see my how to punch article.

Protect your hands when using the punching bag – Punching bags can be extremely hard on your hands and knuckles. It would be wise of you to invest in a good pair of bag gloves. Keep in mind that while bag gloves are important for protecting your hands when training, every once and awhile, use the punching bag without the gloves.  This will give you a good idea what its like to punch when street fighting.

Don’t tense up when striking the punching bag – When using a punching bag learn to relax and avoid unnecessarily tensing your arm and shoulder muscles.  Muscular tension will throw off the timing of your punches, retard the speed of your blows, kicks and strikes and most certainly wear you out during your heavy bag workout. 

Don’t push the punching bag – Unfortunately, when beginners use a punching bag, they often “push” their blows instead of snapping their punches. However, this common problem can be easily eliminated if you stick to the fundamental body mechanics of proper punching form when hitting the bag. If you’d like to learn more about proper punching form and technique, take a look at my Punching Audio Book.

Watch your punching form – Punching bags often cause fighters to “lose their form” when delivering their blows. Try to be constantly aware of your form when hitting the bag or better yet have a training partner, teacher or coach observe you when working out on the bag. Another suggestion is to video tape yourself using the punching bag. This will give you a good idea of what you are doing in your workouts.

Throw combinations on the punching bag – Punching bags are fantastic for developing punching combinations or compound attacks. Avoid the tendency to just throw single punches and strikes on the bag. When using a punching bag remember to throw combination punches and strikes!

Avoid the latest gimmicks – Every so often, some cleaver marketing company will come up with a trendy gimmick that can be added to your punching bag workouts. Keep your punching bag workouts plain and simple. Beginners should avoid adding hands weights, weighted bag gloves, resistance bands and elevations masks to their workouts.

Hit the punching bag hard – The punching bag is not really designed for punching speed. Its all about developing a knock-out punch or what I refer to as power punching. Remember, to always follow through and aim approximately three inches past your target when hitting the punching bag. See my Punching Power DVD for more information on power punching technique.

Don’t forget about the street – While most people use the punching bag for boxing, kick boxing and MMA training, don’t forget that the punching bag is a fantastic tool for developing practical self defense techniques. You actually have fourteen natural body weapons that can be used in a self defense situation. When properly developed these tools have the capacity to disable, cripple and even kill a criminal adversary in a street fight. Please see my street fighting technique article for more information on this interesting subject.

How to Use Punching Bag Training Methodologies

In my Contemporary Fighting Arts self defense system, I have created three unique punching bag methodologies that you can use on the punching bag. Each methodology is scientifically designed to prepare students for the hard core realities of street self defense.

These punching bag training methodologies include: proficiency training, conditioning training, and street training.  Here is a look at each one:

Proficiency Training: When conducted properly, proficiency training on the punching bag develops speed, power, accuracy, non-telegraphic movement, balance and general motor skill.  The training objective is to sharpen one specific punch at a time by executing it over and over again for a prescribed number of repetitions on the bag.  Each time the punch is executed with good form and at various speeds. Only advanced practitioners can execute punches with their eyes closed to develop a kinesthetic feel for the action.  

Conditioning Training: Conditioning training on the punching bag develops endurance, fluidity, rhythm, distancing, timing, speed, footwork and balance. In most cases, this type of punching bag training requires the student to deliver a variety of combinations on the punching bag for three or four minute rounds separated by thirty second breaks. Like proficiency training, this type of punching bag training can also be performed at various speeds. A good workout consists of at least five rounds on the punching bag.

Street Training: Learning how to use the punching bag is not just limited to boxers, mixed martial artists and fitness enthusiasts. As a matter of fact, you can learn how to use the punching bag for developing your self defense and street fighting skills. Essentially, street training on the punching bag is designed to prepare you for the real thing. Since most self defense situations are explosive and often lasting an average of twenty seconds, you can use the punching bag to prepare for this possible scenario. This means delivering explosive and powerful compound attacks with vicious intent on the punching bag for approximately twenty seconds, resting one minute, and then repeating the process. Street training prepares you for the stress and immediate fatigue of a real self defense situation.

Good luck in your training!

Sammy Franco
Founder & President
Contemporary Fighting Arts

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