Heavy bag training may be a challenge for beginners. Today I am going to provide four training tips on the very basics.
There are many websites out there, which give sound advice on heavy bag training for beginners. One may ask, what exactly is unique about the tips that I have to offer? The answer is simple. Not that much. While there are many ways which we can move our bodies and train our bodies to move, there are only so many ways which we can move our bodies and train them to move.
As the saying goes “There is nothing new under the sun”. Every essential training tip for beginners has most likely been covered by someone on one media platform or another. However, I can make a difference by offering tips based on my own training experience and offer advice based on what has worked for me over time, as well as what I have observed has worked for others.
Before commencing it should be noted that training techniques may vary from style to style, and that every system has its unique methods of bag work. For example, a boxer may tuck in his chin, slightly round his back, and plant his feet firmly while attacking a bag with power akin to that of a head on collision.
In contrast, a taekwondo player might keep his upper body upright, maintain a narrower stance while keeping the body light by bouncing on the balls of his feet. He would attack the bag with kicking combinations which at times may not be as powerful as a boxer’s attack but executed with blinding speed and precision (not saying that a taekwondo player’s kicks are not or cannot be as powerful as a boxer’s punches).
My aim is not to give a standard way of using the heavy bag, but to give tips on basic practices which can be useful to all beginners regardless of style.
TRAIN YOUR EYES
In full contact martial arts, the name of the game is getting past your opponent’s defense and “toppling his castle” (knocking him out). In this game of attack and defend, paying attention to your body movement as well as your opponent’s movement is important.
A well-trained martial artist will be able to detect incoming crude punches, poorly executed kicks, or bad attempts at take downs, by reading his/her opponent who may make specific movements prior to executing attacks. These movements are referred to as telegraphing.
Telegraphing may take many forms such as pulling back the arm before releasing a punch, or tensing the body while holding the breath and /or squinting before attacking. Sometimes telegraphing or “telling” can be subtle. I once had a coach who would give a slight nod before stepping in to attack, I never brought it to his attention. He probably still does this and I sincerely hope that one day he gets knocked out because of it.
The eyes can also be the biggest offenders when it comes to telegraphing, and this is one of the flaws that we should attempt to correct very early while training on a heavy bag. Watching the specific point which you intend on striking before striking it may work if your opponent is an inanimate object or a novice. However, bringing this practice to the ring where the opponent is a fighter with some experience may prove to be an awakening jolt.
Somewhere within the elementary stages of training, most, if not all of us fall into a practice of hitting the bag and not entirely paying attention to what we are hitting. The mind can wonder, especially in a case where there is no serious threat. Anyone who goes into live sparring with this habit, quickly learns a valuable lesson. The feel of an opponent’s fist to the face can be a quick and effective remedy for maladapive daydreaming.
An amusing, but useful exercise which can help in remedying “bad eye coordination”, is to give the punching bag eyes. Some people draw them on the bag with chalk or, depending on the material, some are sewn on or taped to the bag. With practice the trainers eyes gradually develop the habit of staying on the target i.e. the bag’s eyes while moving around and striking.
TAKE IT SLOW
Thanks to the laws of physics, a hanging bag swings with each strike. For a beginner it may be challenging getting into a rhythm with a swinging bag, as the movement mimics that of an opponent constantly charging and retreating. For an inexperienced pugilist the ideal way to start would be slowly.
My first experience on a heavy bag came at a Wushu gym. I had been up from the ungodly hour of 4am, being drilled in “rhythmic exercises” until 8am. When the hour of sweet relief finally came, I was told to go and have “fun” with some older, tougher looking students who were coming in at that hour for Sanda (full contact kickboxing and grappling) classes.
During this class, my initial thoughts were that I would either die of exhaustion or get killed by having to spar with the other students, all of whom were jaked and looked like experienced fighters. I was the 120Ib kid who knew rhythmic exercises.
To my surprise I was not burned out or murdered. The exercise that I was assigned was to slowly raise a knee, kick above the height of my head, (a high front snap kick in slow motion) consistently touching the same spot on the bag with the ball of my foot. All of this was to be done without pushing the bag with great force.
Initially, I didn’t fully understand the purpose of this exercise, but gradually I have come to appreciate it. Such an exercise is one of many similar exercises which: 1. Help beginners to understand the importance of establishing striking range, 2. Help develop muscle control and accuracy, and 3. Make it easier to understand the rhythm of the bag by catching it with one strike while it rocks back and forth slowly.
While it is important to develop fast and powerful strikes, It is also important for a beginner to learn the difference between relaxation and tension and use this understanding in order to generate power in his/ her strikes. A novice should also learn proper movement, stance and body position. Slower paced exercises in the early stages of training can help them to grasp these important skills.
To any martial artist, keeping your guard up during a fight or while training for a fight may seem like the most elementary rule, and to some it may hardly be worthy of mention on a list of pointers given that it’s such an obvious rule. Sometimes however we see martial artists on a professional level falling into the trap of letting their guard down while within striking range of their opponent, and paying for it dearly.
Lowering your guard is a mistake that can be easily made, especially when fatigue sets in, because of this it is important to avoid constantly making the mistake of absentmindedly dropping your guard during training as bad habits usually stick. A fighter’s guard should be held up before striking, and after hitting the target, the arm should quickly retract and return to protect the head.
Like everything else, there are exceptions to the rule. The fighting style that a person is trained in, has everything to do with how they fight. A karateka may typically hold a lower guard, protecting the midsection and leaving the head exposed, This may work for a karateka within a sport karate environment, as some styles of karate forbid punches to the head in competition.
There are also cases where a classically trained fighter would eventually develop a unique fighting style. One example being, Muhammad Ali who would sometimes drop his guard while within striking range yet maintain quick body movement and nimble footwork in order to slip away from his opponent’s attacks.
It should be noted that while Muhammad Ali was nimble, he was also able to absorb considerable punishment if and when he needed to. Not everyone is Muhammad Ali and therefore, this skill is not possessed by every fighter.
My earliest memory of sparring is receiving a punch or two to the head during kumite, and my sensie shouting at me not to just stand there. ” You have the whole ring!, move! move!” This lesson became repetitive throughout the years, and the principle proved to be universal to every discipline.
If your opponent is bigger and tougher than you, move around him, and if he is smaller and weaker, steamroll him. Training should be no different. Whether training with a bag or simply shadow boxing, striking in a stationary stance only covers the very basics of practice.
As a martial artist progresses beyond the level of novice, focus on developing body movement and by extension footwork becomes a key element of training, as this determines the effectiveness of his/her offense and defense. Basic footwork drills such as advancing and retreating, shuffling from side to side and moving in a circle, as well as bouncing and/or skipping are all helpful exercises.
For a beginner, training punches with a heavy bag can be an effective way of learning to strike at arms length, while moving from left to right, as well as advancing and retreating while striking. Creating angles by sidestepping before striking the bag is also a useful exercise, as opponents rarely stand still waiting to be struck, and most times finding openings in an opponent’s defense is your only chance of scoring a strike.
Most of all, practicing basic footwork drills without the use of the bag, and then slowly including these movements into your bag work will ultimately prove to be helpful in developing your skill as a martial artist.
There is no substitute for a great teacher or coach, but sometimes, we may have the desire to learn a particular skill and have no one available to teach us. The internet is a universe of information, and there are a wide range of helpful blogs and videos covering topics, however, as a beginner it is important not to get confused and/or lost in the large quantity of tutorials available.
Finding a program which teaches a few basic steps and sticking to this program will ultimately prove to be more beneficial than quickly jumping from one set of instructions to another. Repetition is the key to learning, and repetition of the basics has always been the key to becoming a formidable martial artist.
For more information on the Heavy Bag, and for related products which may be useful, please see my article on Martial Arts Training Bags.
Below is a useful manual which offers more pointers on working the heavy bag.
THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFORMATION
Heavy Bag Bible is a combination of three best selling books, all containing enlightening instructions on using the heavy bag.
BOOK ONE: HEAVY BAG TRAINING – Contains foundational instructions on training with a heavy bag.
BOOK TWO: HEAVY BAG COMBINATIONS – Focuses on developing heavy bag striking combinations.
BOOK THREE: HEAVY BAG WORKOUT – Features a number of workout routines using the heavy bag for boosting physical fitness and combat skills.
The author, Sammy Franco is the founder of Contemporary Fighting Arts (CFA) which he describes as “A dynamic no nonsense system specifically designed to provide efficient and effective methods to avoid, defuse, confront, and neutralize both armed and unarmed attackers.”
Over the years Sammy Franco has directed and produced numerous instructional videos on self defense and has also authored a number of books on reality based self-defense, street fighting, martial arts, combat conditioning, combat psychology, and military strategy.
Whether you are a novice or a seasoned martial artist, this book can be a useful reference and guide, if you are looking to take your heavy bag training to the next level.