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When I first started punching a heavy bag it was more to see how well I punch. I was later told it’s used to improve punching power, and combinations. But if I was hitting the bag all the time would I get ripped? I did some research, and thought I’d write this helpful article explaining if you can build muscle hitting a heavy bag.
So, can you build muscle hitting a heavy bag? You can build a small amount of muscle from hitting a heavy bag. During a session of hitting a heavy bag the muscles aren’t under load for long enough to build any significant muscle. This is because to build muscle you need to strain the muscle more significantly using weight training.
Although professional fighters have good muscle definition, they always pair their heavy bag training with weight training which makes them muscular.
Now, it is true that hitting a heavy bag will make your strikes stronger, but it can be misinterpreted to mean a person can build muscle by hitting a heavy bag. So below, I’ll explain a bit more about how hitting a heavy bag makes your strikes stronger (but doesn’t make you stronger), what a heavy bag does, if it is a good workout, and the muscles groups involved when hitting a heavy bag.
How hitting a heavy bag makes your punches stronger
Strain on the Muscles comparison with a Weight Training Routine
Hitting a heavy bag will increase your strength. However, the strength gains aren’t as good as doing a weight training program.
A typical weight training program will have 3 sets of 8-10 reps for each muscle group. With an average rep being 2-3 seconds in both directions.
Which means the total time under load for a typical workout is 5 to 10 minutes.
This is a lot more than is performed in a typical heavy bag session. An average person will become exhausted after hitting a heavy bag for 2-3 minutes.
Of that 2-3 minutes only half is spent throwing strikes, the other setting up the next shots.
Of the half of the time that is spent throwing strikes only the final 10% of the motion puts significant load on the muscles in the final part of the movement where your elbow, hand, leg is making contact with the bag.
So of that 3 minutes only 15 seconds is spent under load, this is a tiny fraction of what can be done in a strength routine.
Can a heavy bag make your punches stronger
Using a heavy bag will increase your striking power. It is a bit confusing how you get stronger strikes from hitting a heavy bag, and it isn’t from the physical exertion of performing the strikes.
You will know this if you have hit a heavy bag before. The first time you hit the bag your knuckles, wrists, and shoulders, elbows, knees, and neck can hurt, usually the wrists and the knuckles are the sorest.
So you get better at where you place the strikes so that it doesn’t hurt, and then you get more confident putting more and more force into your strikes.
A beginner using a heavy bag won’t be able to strike it with their full power because if they did it would hurt too much.
What does punching a heavy bag do?
A heavy bag is recommended by almost all striking arts. This is because it simulates a real human body. It is another way you can practice fighting a real person without injuring yourself or your training partner.
If a person weighs more they have more force behind their punches, but they may not necessarily be stronger.
The power comes mostly from the timing and coordination of the strike rather than pure muscle strength.
It can allow you to practice parts of the movement that don’t come naturally such as turning your hip into the strike.
You can also practice experimental combinations or some of the classics like a 1, 2.
Other ways to improve your striking without using a heavy bag are:
- weight training
- shadow boxing/striking
- live sparring
- touch sparring
- striking Thai pads with a partner
What muscles does hitting a heavy bag work?
The chest is worked doing straight punches (jab and cross), hooks, lateral elbows (ones that come from the side not ones coming down or up), as well as the less used but effective palm strike equivalents.
Typically in a weight training program the chest is worked by doing press ups, bench press, and chest flys. The same movement is performed during the above strikes.
The entire arms are worked well when doing any of the 4 boxing strikes (jab, straight, uppercut, and hook), as well as elbows and palm strikes.
This is because with these strikes both the tricep and bicep are worked, as well as the forearms for stability.
Triceps are worked most from straight punches. This is because the tricep functions to extend the arm straight from a bent position.
During uppercuts the biceps are used more, that’s why they aren’t as good for the triceps as straight punches.
The abs are worked most from any strikes your throw on a heavy bag. This is because these muscles stabilize the body. If you cover up and bend down during your session this will work the abs more
A simple exercise routine would be:
For 3 minutes:
Through a jab, then a cross (1,2)
Then cover up and bend over as if avoiding a hook, try to imagine someone throwing a hook at you and ducking under it.
Shoulders are worked significantly in any upper body strikes to a heavy bag. This is because the shoulder stabilizes the arm and keeps it rigid as it hits the bag.
No specific training routine would apply to the shoulders using a heavy bag, as all the upper body stricts work the shoulder sufficiently.
The hips, quads, hamstrings, and glutes are worked a little bit throwing only upper body strikes.
Considered to have very good kicks Edson Barboza would have some good drills, which would include many repetitions of the common kicks.
Throwing kicks and knees on a heavy bag will mostly work the hips and glutes, but someone who is experienced with throwing kicks and knees will do so without moving the rest of their body much at all.
This is so that the person they are striking wont anticipate the strike.
However, for a beginner it will work the legs considerably. Most people will find they don’t have the flexibility to perform anything higher than a body kick. They will need to incorporate some stretching to improve their range of motion.
How good is hitting a heavy bag for cardio
It is great for cardio and you will get out of breath, exhausted, and sweat a lot.
You can achieve the same cardio workout from shadow boxing and other martial arts. But, based on our latest article, you can still lose weight by hitting a heavy bag – and now we know you can build muscle too!
The hardest cardio workout is achieved through grappling arts like wrestling, and brazilian jiu jitsu.
This is because to maintain the various positions the muscles must be held under tension for long periods of time, and your opponent is constantly moving, putting you in uncomfortable positions, and trying to wear you out with their body weight.
People who regularly practice striking or grappling arts, always do a warm up and cardio training before doing any grappling which significantly improves cardio on top of any heavy bag work.