A good yoga sesh or cycling class can certainly feel cathartic, but when it comes to stress-busting, it’s hard to beat letting loose on a punching bag. “When you are using a punching bag, your brain increases production of endorphins, or chemicals that make your body feel good,” says Bryant Reams, a certified personal trainer and instructor at Rumble Boxing and SoulCycle. “It also helps relieve muscle tension, which can build up due to stress. As you continue to punch, you will notice your focus improving and hopefully forget about the reason you are stressed.”
A punching bag workout, also known as a heavy bag workout, is a boxing-style exercise that requires a stuffed heavy bag either hung from the ceiling or held up by a stand. With it, you get the best of both worlds: cardio (with speed) and strength training (with punches). It’s not just a workout for your arms either. A punching bag workout is a total body workout engaging the chest, shoulders, legs, and core.
Ready to punch the stress way? Keep reading to learn about punching bag workout equipment, the right way to warm up your body for this type of workout, and four punching bag workout moves that will make you look and feel like a total knockout (sorry, we had to).
Punching bag workout equipment
The basics required for a punching bag workout include a heavy bag, hand wraps, and boxing gloves to protect your hands and knuckles. There are different bags to choose from, including hanging, sitting, sandbags, and aqua. Reams recommends aqua bags as they absorb the impact while a normal heavy bag reverberates the impact back into the joints.
On your feet, Katie Webb, an ACE-certified trainer and boxing instructor, suggests cross-trainers instead of running or jogging shoes as they allow more lateral movement.
Punching bag workout warm-up
To get your body warmed up before a punching bag workout, look to classic warm-up moves such as jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks, and mountain climbers to ramp up your heart rate. Reams suggests focusing the warm-up on the upper body when it comes to stretching, as that’s where the most movement will come from.
Another pro tip: Incorporating shadowboxing, which is boxing without making contact with the punching bag. According to Webb, it’s another excellent way to warm up the muscles and get comfortable with the stance and form.
Try this 10-minute beginner boxing workout with trainer Michelle Sim to get your blood pumping before turning to the punching bag:
4 Punching bag workout moves
Before diving into a punching bag workout, become familiar with the form and stance. Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart, pointing toward the bag. Then drop the leg of your dominant side back and slightly pivot your body to face one o’clock. “You should essentially be able to draw a straight line from your front toe to your back heel,” Webb says. “Knees should be softly bent, and your weight is evenly distributed. Both fists should be by your face, protecting your chin and elbows at your side.”
To get your jab on from your boxing stance, punch the center of the bag with your non-dominant hand leading with your knuckles. “Your hand/wrist is going to rotate towards the center of your body as you throw the punch, creating more power due to the torque,” Reams says. “Do this for 100 reps, making sure to keep the punches around eye level and the off-hand up to protect your face.”
For the cross, you’ll use your dominant hand and arm. Starting from your boxing stance, “extend your back arm out in front of you, making contact with the bag and rotating your fist slightly inward as it leaves your side,” Webb says. “Return it to your side, making sure to bring your back fist up by your face. Your jab and your cross should ideally be hitting the same spot on the bag.” Reams recommends doing 100 reps of the cross.
To throw a front hook, “make a 90-degree angle at the elbow on your front, arm parallel with the floor, and hit the side of the punching bag by rotating through your waist,” Webb says. “The bag should get in the way of your punch. Mimic this same movement on the opposite side for a back hook. Speed this up into a circuit by performing 20 seconds of a front-and-back hook combination with a second rest in between each pair of hooks.”
Prep for an uppercut by ensuring your knees are bent. You’ll get power from your hips and lower body to push off the ground. “Throw a front uppercut by shifting your weight to your front foot,” Webb says. “Drop your front elbow downward so that it almost touches your front hip. From there, push powerfully upward from your legs to release your punch up and into the bag.” To do a back uppercut, repeat this process on the opposite side. Webb recommends speeding it up into a circuit by alternating quickly between front and back uppercuts for 20 seconds nonstop.
The cool down
You’ve got the punches out. You’re feeling good. (Stress? What stress?) Now, it’s time to cool your body down. Webb’s go-to cool downs incorporate yoga-style stretches. “Child’s pose is a great way to slow your heart rate while also stretching out your shoulders, which take on a lot of impact in heavy bag training,” she says. “Hip flexor and lower back stretches also relieve tension after this type of exercise.”
How to elevate your punching bag workout
Take your heavy bag workout up a level with these pro tips.
- Only make contact with the bag. Try not to move it. “It’s okay if you do move it a bit, but the goal is to strike quickly then defend,” Reams says.
- Keep your knees bent.“Staying low will strengthen your center of gravity and allow you to garner more power in your punches by rotating through your waist,” Webb says.
- Protect your face.“If your fists aren’t throwing a punch, they should always be up by your face,” Webb says.
- Keep moving. “As you become more comfortable with the punches themselves, try to move around the bag and incorporate head movement,” Webb says. “This keeps your heart rate up and you ready for your (imaginary) opponent.”
- Aim for short combos.“Repeating short combos at a high intensity with rests in between are best, rather than trying to put together long combinations,” Webb says.