Designing A Heavy Bag Workout
Without a doubt, the most common questions I get are about heavy bag workouts. More specifically, how to design a heavy bag workout that will keep your training interesting, provide maximum health and skill benefits and avoid training-related injuries that are far too common when people buy a heavy bag and start pounding away on it without knowing what they are doing?
This post is an excerpt from the “Toughen Up Guide To Heavy Bag Training.” Since I continue to get so many questions about how to design a heavy bag workout, I thought I’d reproduce it on the blog.
Designing A Heavy Bag Workout
Warming Up & Cooling Down
Warming up at the beginning of a heavy bag training and cooling down at the end of it improves your performance, reduces injuries and decreases post-exercise muscle soreness.
Your warm up should consist of some light from of cardio exercise like jumping rope, jogging in place or doing some light “shadow boxing” to get your nervous system firing and increase your body temperature. In recent years, I’ve also included “Joint Mobility” exercises at the beginning of my heavy bag workout as well as in between workouts to keep my joints limber and healthy.
Don’t do extensive, static stretches during your warm up. Too much stretching before the repetitive high-impact of a heavy bag workout can create “slack” in your joints and connective tissues and compromise the stability of your joints. That increases potential of strains and injuries.
A 10 minute warm up should be plenty, just enough to work up a light sweat.
Cooling down at the end of your heavy bag workout is the smartest and safest way to bring your breathing, heart rate and body temperature back down to a resting rate.
Don’t finish a vigorous heavy bag workout and just plunk yourself down on the couch. The cool down will also reduce the levels of lactic acid in your muscles which can cause muscle soreness. This would be a good time to do your more vigorous stretching because your muscles will be thoroughly warmed up and pliable.
Sets And Reps
The set and rep model is one of the simplest ways to structure your heavy bag workout. Decide what skills or combinations you want to work on and how many sets and repetitions you are going to do of each. I have a white board set up in my workout room, to keep track of my numbers without having to interrupt the flow of my workout.
For example, do two sets of 20 straight punches with a one minute rest in between them. Do three sets of 10 round house kicks with each leg. You get the idea. Rest long enough to catch your breath and then move on to the next set.
A time based structure, or “round work” is a great way to structure your heavy bag workouts. Once again, decide in advance what strikes, kicks and combinations that you want to work on and then decide on the length of your work to rest intervals.
Most boxers and kickboxers train for two to three minute rounds with a one minute rest period. However, experiment with your time frames to see what’s best for you and your current level of conditioning.
I highly recommend that you get a timer of some kind to time your intervals. Trying to hit the heavy bag while keeping your eye on the clock just isn’t practical. The device I use, and consider indispensable in my own workouts is the “Gymboss Timer.” It’s cheap, very small and can be set to just about any work-to-rest ratio… They go for about $20 and it is one of the handiest pieces of training equipment that I own. You can find out more about the Gymboss by clicking on this link .
If your goal is fat loss and your cardio vascular health, you can also try shorter, more intense intervals. Protocols such as “Tabata Protocol” and other variations are an excellent way to structure your heavy bag workouts. I found a good post explaining Tabata at: http://www.rosstraining.com/articles/tabataintervals.html to give you a better idea of what it’s all about.
If you are already in good shape or want to get a thorough workout in the shortest time possible, circuit training is another good structure to consider. Circuit training strings a sequence of exercises into a series with minimal or no rest. You move on from the first exercise, to the next then onto the third and so on.
You may chose to complete the entire circuit, take a brief rest to catch your breath and then repeat it.
Activities such as kettlebell swings, burpees, mountain climbers, jumping rope etc. would be good exercises to consider to add into a circuit.
That being said, I’d stay away from exercises that exhaust specific muscle groups when including them in your heavy bag workout. For example, if you incorporated push ups into your heavy bag circuit, you’ll fatigue the muscles in you chest, shoulders and arms to the point that you will not be able to strike the bag with proper form and stability.
I wrote about build ups in the Power Punching Guide. It’s a great way to structure your heavy bag workout, especially if your are relatively new to heavy bag training. Here’s how you do it.
Take a combination that you want to work on and then work on each technique in the combination for a pre-determined number of reps. Then add, the next technique and execute the two-strike combination for the rep range. Then add the third and so on.
For example, you are going to work on a Lead Punch, Cross, Lead Hook, Cross, Round house kick. Start off by throwing 10 lead punches. Then add the cross and throw 10 “one-two combinations.” Then add the hook and throw 10 “one-two-three” combo’s…and so on. The last phase of the drill would be to throw 10 sets of the “Lead-Cross-Hook-Cross-Kick” combination.
If you are working a five-technique combo like the one I’ve described you will have completed 150 technique repetitions by the end of the drill.
You can find an early post on build ups at this link.
Blitz training is a hardcore conditioning and training drill. Don’t try blitz training unless you are already in excellent physical condition and have a rock-solid foundation of striking skills. Also don’t try to incorporate it into every heavy bag workout that you do. You’re body will need recovery time in between sessions.
A “blitz” is an intense, rapid-fire barrage of strike and or kicks that continues for a predetermined period of time or repetitions.
This training is excellent for “lactic threshold training,” to build stamina, burn body fat etc.
This training is also an excellent psychological drill to develop mental tenacity and a “never-give-up mindset” which is a valuable quality in a self-defense encounter.
Intersperse the intensity of blitz heavy bag workouts with lower intensity training such as training with focus mitts to be able to continue training without exposing your body to more intense training before you are ready for it. For a variety of reasons, Focus mitt training is an excellent supplement to your heavy bag workouts.
It’s a great “test” of your skills and conditioning to go all out on the heavy bag every once in while but keep in mind that there are also significant benefits to more moderate heavy bag training as well.
A Note About Ambidextrous Training
I am a strong advocate of training both sides of the body equally. You should not have a “weak side” and a “strong side” as far as your combative skills are concerned.
If you are conducting your heavy bag workouts primarily for health and fitness, consider doing your drills with both sides… meaning you do your drill with your left side forward and your right side back (traditional) and then again, with your right side forward and your left side back (southpaw).
This will essentially double the volume of your heavy bag workouts, reduce the probability of muscular imbalances and will make you more versatile in a a combative situation (you can’t always pick the direction you are attacked from). You’ll probably surprise yourself by how quickly you can develop your “weak or non-dominant-side” skills and coordination.
If you have any questions about heavy bag workouts or anything to add, please feel free to comment or fire me an email at Randy@ToughenUp.com . Or if you would like to find out more about the Toughen Up Training Guides… you can check them out at http://www.ToughenUp.com .
About Randy LaHaie
I’m the founder of “Protective Strategies,” a training and consulting company providing self-defense and combative fitness solutions to law enforcement, high-risk professionals and private citizens since 1994. I am a retired police officer, court-declared expert in use-of-force and critical incident performance, and a life-long student of self-defense and combative fitness. “My Thing” is to help people incorporate functional and minimalist workout strategies to improve their health, fitness and personal safety.