Get Strong, Hit Hard & Toughen Up!

Focus Mitts For Safer Heavy Bag Training

I hope everyone had a happy and healthy Holiday Season!  I’m just guessing but I’m thinking that many of you might be brainstorming some New Years resolution ideas for 2011.  Maybe working off those turkey dinners and frosty fermented beverages consumed over the holidays?

Here is an email discussion I had recently that might give you some ideas:

Hi Randy,

(My son and I) got ourselves a 100 lb. punching bag.  I am 40 plus and my
son is 20.  We are looking for a good workout program which will teach
us how to hit properly, good exercise , and good stretching/kicking
workouts. Do you have any cd, dvd or vhs videos that would help us to
establish a good workout program?

Thanks for now,


Hi Ronnie,

Thanks for your email and congratulations to you and your son for undertaking heavy bag workouts.  I’m sure you’ll find it to be a fun and effective form of conditioning and a great way to stay in shape.

In answer to your question, I DO have information on heavy bag training (and other aspects of combative training) in written-form in my Toughen Up Training Guides.

I am in the process of a major upgrade to my existing manuals as well as incorporating new content and topics into the series.  I also plan on producing a DVD version of the material in the not-to-distant- future.

In the meantime though, let me throw a couple thoughts about training your way.

“Consider Heavy Bag training as a SUPPLEMENT to training with Focus Pads.”

I’m not sure how familiar you are with focus pads, but in my opinion they are one of the best training methods that you can do to prepare yourself for the rigors of heavy bag training. They are cheap, portable and a lot of fun to train with.

I’m not BASHING the Heavy Bag.

Don’t get me wrong… I love heavy bag training. There are things you can do on a heavy bag that aren’t nearly as practical on focus pads, such as powerful kicks for example.  There’s nothing better than working up a great sweat and the resounding “crack,” of a well placed punch or kicking on a heavy bag.  A heavy bag is  a great investment and an excellent component of a combative workout.

As beneficial as heavy bag training can be though, it’s also easy to get sloppy and put a lot of “unhealthy stress” on your joints, bones and connective tissue.

Properly done heavy bag training is safe. IMPROPERLY done it has a high and probable potential for injuries.  I get a lot of emails from readers about training-related injuries.  Most of them are pertaining to heavy bag training.  The causes of most of THOSE, fall into two categories.

1.   Hitting with improper technique thereby stressing the joints and connective tissue while in compromised positions.

2.  Hitting too hard or too often (or both) before the body has become resilient enough to handle the energy of impact.

Focus Pad Training First.

I recommend focus pad training as the smartest and most effective way to ensure that your heavy bag training ends up as safe and productive as possible.

Because they offer less resistance than a heavy bag hung from the ceiling, there is less impact energy absorbed by your knuckles, tendons and joints.

I use focus pad training with my clients who are new to impact training or for those who want to “clean up” their striking skills.

The fact that the pads must be held in more precise positions and angles requires you to perform cleaner, more strictly executed strikes.

Once you establish solid striking skills on the focus pads, transitioning over to heavy bag training is a piece of cake.

My Impact Training Philosophy:

Here’s a few tips that might help you get on track with your heavy bag workouts:

1.  Establish your striking foundation with focus pads first.

This will do two very important things for you.

First, it will help you establish clean and proper hitting techniques before injuries and bad habits occur.

Secondly, it will prepare your body to withstand greater impact by increasing the “toughness” or resiliency of your hands, shinbones, connective tissues etc. (this usually takes abouty 8 to 10 weeks)

2.  Take advantage of the fact you have a training partner.

A training partner is a terrible thing to waste! 😉  Why get together with a training partner to passively stand by and watch each other take turns on the heavy bag?

Many might disagree, but I consider focus pad training to be a superior form of exercise to hitting a heavy bag.  That is unless you are training for a specific quality such as brute power or high-level conditioning.

That being said, I believe if you have a training partner it’s far more fun and “social” to workout with focus pads.  A little friendly competition motivates you to crank your efforts up a notch and turns your training into a “game” that will increase the enjoyment and consistency of  your workouts.

A heavy bag is a big, stationary, inanimate target.  Focus pads on the other hand involve movement, distance, reflexes and can be organized into a variety reactive drills and games.

Also taking turns holding and hitting the focus pads naturally lends itself to a good work/recovery ratio.  You exert yourself when you’re hitting and rest up when you’re holding. (a perfect format for cardio conditioning and fat burning)

3.  Take advantage of the portability of focus pads.

Just because you are away from the gym should not mean that your training has to suffer.  Focus pads allow you to train any where and if the weather is nice you may prefer to train outdoors.  They’re also a great option if you travel a lot or spend your summers at the cottage.

4.  You should limit the frequency of your Heavy Bag Training

Because of the potential “wear and tear” on your body, you should limit heavy bag training to two or three times a week.  Any more than that places more stress on the body than it can recover from before your next workout.

Remember that “stress” (exercise) is a good thing but only so much as your ability to recover and adapt from it before your next training session.

Because focus pads don’t take the toll on your bones and joints that heavy bag training does, you can use focus pad training more often and as “active recovery” between your heavy bag workouts.

5.  Think of focus pads for speed, technique and reflexes.   Think of the heavy bag for power and high-level conditioning.

I hope I’m not painting a “one-or-the-other” picture here. The truth of the matter is that BOTH of these activities are great and BOTH should be incorporated into your training.

There are things you can do on a heavy bag that aren’t practical on focus pads and vice-versa.

I’m just saying that of the two, focus pads are the best place to focus the majority of your attention; especially if you are realtively new to combative training.  Not that you can’t incorporate BOTH. In fact, you should.

6.  Focus Pads BEFORE Heavy Bag

If you are going to do BOTH focus pad and heavy bag training in the same workout do your focus pad work first.  The emphasis of focus pad training being used for clean, precise hitting, reflexive drills etc. should be done when your mind is fresh and your ability to concentrate is high.

Save your heavy bag work, intended for power and conditioning, to closer to the end of the workout when being physically and mentally “fresh” isn’t as important.

Any way , I hope this post has given you a few things to think about.  I appreciate you reading this and sincerely want you to get on track  with your training.

Take care and best of luck to you and your family in 2011.  If you have any more questions, comments or opinions please don’t hesitate to write me.

Take care, train smart and stay safe,


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.

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