To a committed martial artist the hanging heavy bag is an essential piece of training equipment, however, not every martial artist is inclined to have one at home for personal use simply because, not everyone may have the extra space required, and in situations where the required space is available, the task of hanging a heavy bag can be daunting to some.
When I decided to write about punching bags and more specifically the heavy bag, I knew that it would eventually become necessary to discuss in detail the set up process. While I think that this can make an interesting and informative discussion, I would prefer to reserve this topic for a later post, for in my opinion such a topic would be better covered with more than just instruction texts.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of videos online which give quality instruction on how to hang a heavy bag therefore I encourage anyone who is interested in learning the process to view them.
There can be more than one solution to a problem, and the challenge of not being able to hang a heavy bag is not an exception to the rule.
Besides going the technical workman’s route of finding a strong joist or beam, measuring, drilling, and hanging the bag while praying that the supporting structure doesn’t eventually collapse on top of you during an intense workout, there is also the option of buying a heavy bag stand or a heavy bag with a stand. A stand may extend up to 6 feet or more and is usually made of steel. While it would be an additional cost, it would also be a convenience as it eliminates the problem of possibly having to drill a hole in the overhead structure.
Another solution would be to forgo the hanging heavy bag and to go with the freestanding heavy bag. I will discuss the features of the freestanding heavy bag as well as the advantages and disadvantages of owning a freestanding heavy bag.
Freestanding heavy bags typically consist of a hard, round plastic base which can be filled with water or sand, in order to provide an anchor. Based on the design, there may be a flexible spring-loaded neck which gives quick rebound when the bag is struck. Some models however, omit the neck altogether and provide a larger striking surface. The bag itself is covered with polyvinyl or synthetic leather and is stuffed with resistance foam.
The freestanding bag can stand from 4 to 6 feet tall, and in some designs, the neck can be adjusted to suit the height of the striker. As with all other training bags, the weight of the bag vs the weight of the striker should be considered, heavy strikes can topple a standing bag, and a bag which is easy to topple would not be of much use to someone who is looking to push themselves to the limit when training.
Small freestanding bags can weigh about 170Ibs and are ideal for children, Adult sized bags may weigh between 200Ibs to 270Ibs when filled at the base.
Apart from the heavy bag, there are other types of freestanding bags, such as the inflatable bag which is very light in comparison and bounces off the ground then rebounds quickly with every strike, and the reflex bag which is a smaller bag attached to a steel rod with a powerful spring. Training with these bags will help in developing cardio, speed and precision, and while they are very useful pieces of equipment, they are not suitable replacements for the hanging heavy bag, and therefore I will not go into too much detail about them at this time.
EASE OF USE
When comparing freestanding bags to hanging heavy bags, the most obvious advantage of choosing the former over the later may be expressed in one word, easy. Freestanding heavy bags can be tilted and rolled or dragged to any available space in a room or outside. There are no chains, straps or bolts to figure out and there is no need to suspend anything from the ceiling. With an empty base a freestanding bag becomes a fairly light object and can easily be maneuvered in and out of storage.
I first encountered the freestanding bag when visiting a Taekwondo school in the late 90s, and at the time thought that this was a piece of training equipment exclusive to Taekwondo. For a long time I referred to freestanding bags as “Taekwondo bags”.
Taekwondo schools (at least those that I have come across) are usually well-equipped, especially in cases where they are affiliated with reputable international governing bodies which aim to promote and expand the sport. Back then I was in awe of the number of seemingly brand new freestanding bags lined up in a row and on each bag a student kicking vigorously
While having many hanging heavy bags in a row is not impossible, It should be considered that any overhead structure which supports the weight of a hanging bag must be at least three or four times the weight of the bag and therefore a structure holding multiple heavy bags should be a well anchored, heavy-duty one. Some training facilities solve this by building or purchasing a multiple heavy bag rack which is a large steel frame designed to hold rows of heavy bags.
Owning a rack would prove to be an asset to any gym or martial arts school, however, if mobility and space are to be considered, then the freestanding heavy bag would be the more practical option
It should be noted that once the Taekwondo students were through working with the freestanding bags, they simply pushed them back to their respective corners of the room thus creating more space on the floor for the rest of the training session.
Although the freestanding heavy bag can sometimes prove to be the more convenient piece of equipment, it is not without its shortcomings. When it comes to long term use, freestanding bags tend to be less resilient and do not withstand years of use as effectively.
A common area of the freestanding bag which may break down fairly quickly is the neck, which runs from the base to the padded area. The neck of the bag is sometimes adjustable and is made of thick plastic. Over time, as the bag continues to absorb the shock of repeated strikes this plastic neck may either jam or break completely.
I have seen a video or two where after the neck of the bag had been damaged, the owner modified it by wrapping either padded fabric, rubber, cotton or vinyl around the entire structure and held it in place with what seemed to be an inestimable amount of tape. Not only did this seem to make a sturdier bag, but also a heavier and tougher one. Please note that I have never modified a freestanding heavy bag, however I wish success to anyone who is looking to try this experiment.
In the past, I have heard martial artists make statements to the effect that striking a freestanding bag is easier compared to the hanging heavy bag, and that freestanding bags just don’t give a satisfying workout. Whether these martial artists simply had exaggerated opinions of themselves and their skills, or had legitimately conditioned themselves to an extent that resistance training on a standard freestanding bag became a cakewalk, I can’t say for sure.
Continuous heavy bag training (both hanging and freestanding) will help improve striking ability, and as strikes become more powerful the tough resistance initially felt from striking the heavy bag will diminish. Powerful strikers are usually able to knock down freestanding bags easily, in such cases, training with a hanging heavy bag would be a more effective and less cumbersome option for practicing strikes at full force.
Finally, freestanding heavy bags tend to be more expensive than hanging heavy bags, as convenience usually comes at a cost. To some, the extra money required to have a “portable punching bag” at their disposal would be a small price to pay, while others would consider the higher price and lack of durability when compared to a hanging heavy bag and ultimately decide on purchasing the latter.
IS IT WORTH IT?
The freestanding heavy bag may have its limitations, but is far from a useless piece of equipment. I have witnessed novice martial artists go from not being able to execute proper front kicks, to effectively executing fairly precise spinning roundhouse kicks in a matter of months. Their success was due to constant practice with the freestanding bag. Being the perfect training dummy it was a key component of their practice and a genuine aid in their rapid development.
I have learned that there are no substitutes for exercises that one does not do and similarly there are no substitutes for training equipment that one does not utilize. There is no substitute for the hanging heavy bag, and not having access to one simply means having to go without one. While the freestanding heavy bag does not provide an identical training experience, it does provide some identical training benefits and it is a handy and convenient piece of equipment for those who wish to improve their striking ability.