It’s a well-known fact that boxing is a badass sport, and pugilists are in killer shape. But, not many guys in their 30s and 40s are looking to get punched in the face on their way to losing a few pounds. This guide on a heavy bag workout for men will help you bring some of those benefits of a boxing heavy bag workout from home without the bloody nose.
But here’s the deal: I’ll point out some of the how-tos and nice-to-knows, but I’m not a boxing trainer. I’m also not a doctor, so if you get hurt or your heart explodes, that’s on you, bruh. Also, this is a guide for regular guys looking to benefit from some boxing workouts, not a guide for guys who want to become competitive fighters. There’s a huge difference.
Benefits of a Heavy Bag Workout for Men
I’m not a personal trainer, but I’ve long been a fan of boxing and heavy bag workouts as a hobby, so I have a pretty good idea of their benefits. The following are a few of the largest benefits worth noting.
A heavy bag workout is insane cardio
If you’re doing a heavy bag work out properly, it’s almost impossible to keep your heart rate from getting jacked. As you start popping the bag, moving your feet, and engaging your body, your muscles are going to be burning a lot of oxygen. And, considering that you’ll be hitting the bag for a few minutes at a time, you’ll be breathing heavier and making your heart work harder, strengthening and improving your cardio health.
Heavy bag workouts improve your explosiveness
Every time you throw a punch, you’re working on your explosiveness. Other than the jab, almost all punches engage the hips. When your brain decides it’s time to throw a punch, it sends a signal to your lower body, engages your hips, twists your torso, and fires your fist forward, upward, or sideward. The more you do all of that, the more efficient your body will become, and the more explosive your body movements will be.
Better eye-hand coordination
When you’re standing in front of a heavy bag for the first few workouts, you’re likely just throwing fists at the bag and hoping they land. As you get better, you can start shrinking your targets and pick your shots. The wrinkle in the tape, the drop of sweat, and faded area are all perfect spots to strike. You can also mark the bag with some duct tape if you’d like.
Not only will you pick out these spots, but you might pick out two or three at a time. The next thing you know, you’re throwing eight or nine strike combos, transitioning from spot to spot. What do you think that does for your eye-hand coordination?
There is a level of self-defense training in a heavy bag workout
Some might argue that throwing punches at a heavy bag isn’t self-defense training, but I’ll argue differently. The spatial awareness alone improves your ability to defend yourself.
In the movies, every punch lands. In real life, very few people realize how close they need to be to another person to land a punch. Once you stand in front of a bag and hit it a few thousand times, you’ll get a better idea of where you need to be in a real fight.
Do I think this is comprehensive self-defense training? Not at all; you do need to learn how to move with another person to have any real sense of self-defense, and that’s a badass skill. But learning how to throw fast, efficient punches that actually land on a target is way better than nothing.
When it comes to stress, there’s nothing like a heavy bag workout
Exercise is great for stress, but there is nothing like hauling back and hitting a bag over and over again. When it comes to self-care and mental health, it’s almost unbeatable.
Gaining some stable footing, activating your hip, and driving an overhand right into the bag is about as zen as it gets. You’re able to put all of your frustration, angst, and anger into that punch, providing a clearer mind when the workout’s over.
Also, there may be a physiological link between exercise and the body’s ability to deal with stress. Who would’ve thought that physical and mental health would be so closely linked?
That’s sarcasm. Everyone knows that, but it’s worth pointing out.
Boxing is fun
In my opinion, heavy bag workouts are the most fun way to get some cardio in. It reminds me of being a kid, watching Rocky movies, and thinking I was the champ. It’s also action-packed, where running for your cardio can be pretty freggin’ boring.
Heavy Bag Workout for Men: The gear to get started
Before you get started, you’re going to need some gear, but luckily, it’s not a lot.
If you’re reading this article, it means you’re not a pro, and you’re probably just looking to break a sweat and burn a few calories. You don’t have to go crazy when buying a heavy bag, but they do come in weight ranges according to bodyweight:
|Body Weight||Bag Weight|
|140 lbs||70 lbs|
|180 lbs||90 lbs|
|220 lbs||100 to 110 lbs|
|260 lbs||120 to 130 lbs|
|300 lbs||150 lbs|
You don’t have to stick to that chart; it’s just a guide. To be honest, it’s more applicable for younger guys that are competing. Older guys with older joints might want to consider sizing down a bit so there’s a little less resistance behind the bag. This isn’t necessarily great for your workout, but if the bag is too heavy and your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are too sore, you won’t enjoy working out at all.
My bag is a 70-pound model, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I have two metal plates and thirteen screws in my left forearm (I’m basically The Winter Soldier), and heavier bags can leave me in a lot of pain. The lighter bag has some give and allows me to continue working out for much longer (though the bag does swing a little more than I might like).
Whichever bag you choose, you’re going to need to find a beam in the ceiling to hang it from or a bag stand. The beam method is much easier, but it might not be an option for renters or anyone who doesn’t want to poke a hole in their ceiling.
Choosing a pair of gloves might be even more important than the bag. You want quality gloves but shouldn’t spend a ton on them. A heavy bag will tear your gloves up quicker than you might expect.
Gloves come in weight ranges too, and they’re typically a matter of ounces. While the difference in ounces might not seem like a lot, when you’re throwing a few hundred punches in a workout, their weight matters. My suggestion is to choose a pair of 14 or 16-ounce gloves. They’re heavier so they’ll give you a better workout, but they also contain more padding to protect your hands and wrists.
Wrist or hand wraps are supposed to protect your wrist from injuries while punching something. You place the loops over your thumbs and then wrap them around your wrists, through your fingers, and around your hands. They’re somewhat option, but they’re certainly not a bad idea.
The Water Bottle
Believe it or not, manipulating your Nalgene bottle or opening up a Poland Spring isn’t very easy to do wearing your boxing gloves. And since you only get a few moments between rounds, pulling your gloves off and putting them back on every time you want a drink is a pain in the ass.
Go old school here with a squeezy squirt-type bottle that you can hold between your gloves and take a few draws to quench your thirst. Believe me; you’ll be plenty thirsty.
Heavy Bag Workout for Men: The Punches
Before you get into the routines, you need to be at least a little familiar with each of the punches. They’re each assigned a number, which will help you understand which punches to throw in a combination.
Keep in mind, these are just rough descriptions of each punch, and I’m not a boxing coach. One of the most important things to remember is that you need to keep your wrists straight. The wraps will help, but it’s important not to throw any of these punches at full strength until you know how to keep your wrist straight.
Boxing Punch #1: The Jab
The jab is a straight punch thrown with your lead hand (which is usually your non-dominant hand). It’s used to establish your distance, cause an opponent to adjust their guard, set up more powerful punches, and many other things.
This one’s straightforward (literally). Just shoot your glove forward at the bag and twist your hand so that your knuckles are horizontal when they strike the bag. Don’t load up or even engage your hip. This is a simple out-and-back procedure — think Guile from the Street Fighter, SNES-style.
Boxing Punch #2: The Cross
The cross is a more powerful punch than the jab, but it has an out-and-back methodology to it as well.
To throw a cross, start by engaging the hip on the same side toward the bag and let the torsion created spring your shoulder forward. With that twist in motion, send your rear hand forward, rotating your wrist to a horizontal position as it hits the bag. Quickly pull your hand back up to your guard.
Boxing Punch #3 and #4: Lead and rear hooks
The hook is the nasty punch that Mike Tyson was best known for, and they’re incredibly powerful. They require relatively close quarters as you don’t send the gloves out as much as you bring them across your body. Hooks are usually thrown with the lead hand (#3), but rear hooks (#4) do happen.
To throw a hook, start by engaging your hip and pushing your elbow out so it’s around 90 degrees from your body while also forming a 90-degree angle at your elbow. Without changing your elbow angle, rip the hook through the target using your torso for all the power.
Boxing Punch #5 and #6: Lead and rear uppercuts
If you want to channel your inner Connor McGregor, this is the shot. The uppercut is a powerful shot thrown in a slightly circular pattern, typically to the body but also to the head when the opportunity arises. It needs to be in close quarters to have any power.
Throwing an uppercut is a little different than some other punches. The first step in throwing an uppercut is getting your hips low before engaging them. As your hip engages, twist your hand so your palm is facing you. As your hip rotates, drive your fist into the bag by shooting your elbow upward.
Change levels, not your arm angle
When you’re alternating shots between the head and the body, the tendency is just to change your arm angle. This is a bad move for several reasons, not least of which is that it will leave your chin unguarded.
Instead of adjusting your angle, adjust your level by lowering and raising your hips. Not only is this a great workout, but it’s good technique.
Heavy Bag Workout for Men: The Routines
You could just head out there and start smacking the bag, but it helps to have a plan or idea of what you’re doing.
Heavy Bag Workout Rounds
One of the reasons boxing workouts are so effective is sheer volume. Not only are you throwing a series and combinations, but you’re doing it hundreds of times, round after round. To help you keep track, download a timer.
That’s my favorite timer. It allows you to set up completely custom rounds. You can dial in as many as you want, have each round last as long as you want, and each break in between the round can be however long you’d like. There’s even a warm-up period that I use to get my gloves ready.
When I’m out of shape, I always start with five 2-minute rounds with 1 minute of rest between them. As I progress, I like to add rounds instead of making the rounds longer. It’s not until I’m comfortably hitting 7 or 8 rounds that I’ll start adding time to each round. I usually add 15 seconds or so per round, which might not sound like a lot, but it will gas you the first few times.
Once it doesn’t gas you out anymore, you can add more time until you’re going 3-minute rounds, which is typically the competitive standard. Once you’re doing eight 3-minute rounds, continue adding rounds (about one per week) until you’re going 12 rounds, or “the distance,” as they say.
Heavy bag workout combinations
Heavy bag workouts are fun, but once your adrenaline is pumping and you’re trying to breathe, you’re going to forget which punches to throw. Here are a few combinations to fall back on when you’re hitting the bag:
- 1-2: “The one-two punch” is a saying that originated in boxing, and it’s used to describe nailing something. That’s because the 1-2 combination is effective and efficient. This combo is just a jab followed by a cross. I like to do a round of nothing but 1-2 combos, though I will break them up as 1-1-2, 2-1-1-2, and similar.
- 1-2-3: The 1-2-3 combo is a lot of fun because it’s short but explosive. This combination is a jab and a cross to the head, and the lead hook (typically to the body because the 1-2 brings your opponent’s guard up). I love this combo, and I’ll sometimes drag it out to 1-1-2-3-3.
- 1-3-2: As your hands speed up, the 1-3-2 combo is a lot of fun. With a jab followed by a hook with the same hand and then a cross to the body, your hip rotation makes that cross very powerful.
- 1-2-3-6-3: You’ll be throwing this combo at a heavy bag, but imagine it in actual applications: The jab and cross to the head pulls your opponent’s guard up, while you follow with a lead hook to the body, which pulls their guard back down and will potentially cause them to buckle. As they’re dropping forward, you activate your rear hip and drive an uppercut through their guard to pop their head up. As the head comes up, your lead hook comes across at head-level, hopefully going for the knockout. Throwing uppercuts at a heavy bag can be tricky, but just do your best to drive your knuckles into the bag.
You can focus on strikes each round
As far as rounds go, I like to focus on certain punches and combinations in each round. For example, I might start with one round of nothing but jabs; doubles, triples, and level changes. The next round, I’ll throw nothing but 1-2 combinations. The following round, I’ll move on to power combinations with hooks and uppercuts. I’ll also do a round of nothing but explosive power shots, like series of lead hooks to the body or picking spots for my cross and throwing everything I have into them.
For a real gasser, I’ll spend an entire round positioned close to the bag, throwing nothing but hooks and uppercuts.
I’m not a boxer, but these combinations and rounds are very effective for me. They tire me out while also helping me work on my technique. Try to get creative with your shots as well, as becoming predictable is a definite no-no in boxing.
For myself, there’s no more enjoyable way to get cardio and exercise my heart than getting out to the garage and hitting the bag. It’s a functional workout that helps me feel more confident in my ability to throw a strike when needed, and there’s also a fun fantasy to it, like I’m Rocky, training for the big fight (without the concussions).
What are your thoughts? Anything you’d change about my suggestions? Is there a combo you enjoy throwing at the heavy bag? Are you just now considering getting into heavy bag workouts? Let me know in the comments below.
Heavy Bag Workout FAQs
Is a heavy bag a good workout?
Absolutely. You’ll be pushing your cardiovascular system, improving your explosiveness, and building strength — all great things for an effective workout.
How long should you workout on a heavy bag?
Workouts should come in a combination of rounds. Try starting with five rounds of 2 minutes of striking and 1 minute of rest. You’ll get 10 minutes of intense workout in 15 minutes of time. Eventually add time to each round and then more rounds until you’re doing 12 rounds of 3 minutes of striking and 1 minute of rest. You’ll be getting a killer workout in 48 minutes.
Will heavy bag burn belly fat?
If you’re doing it right, you’ll be engaging almost all of your muscles, burning lots of calories (up to 450 per hour for a 155-pound person). You can also approach heavy bag workouts with a HIIT mindset, which I’ll cover in another article.
How often should I hit the heavy bag?
When I was really heavily into boxing workouts, I was in my mid-20s. I would hit the bag every other day, 3 or 4 times a week, and lift on the days between. With my hair a little grayer now, three times a week is really a max for me, but follow a routine that works for you.