When somebody brings you in front of a heavy bag for the first time, what’s the first thing you’ll do? You’ll probably try to hit that thing as hard as you can. You’ll go in there bare-fisted and whale on it, fueled by all your pent-up childhood issues and aggression.
If I’m being generous, I’d say you can keep that pace for up to 30 seconds before your arms and shoulders begin to feel heavy. Now try to keep hitting the bag for two and a half minutes more. You’d probably think I’m nuts.
This is the one issue people face when dealing with the heavy bag. I’m talking to you, novice practitioners. Those of you who already know the fundamentals of throwing a punch or kick.
You folks tend to get bored with the heavy bag workout. Probably because it’s not as Instagram-worthy as hitting pads with your trainer.
But it’s also because you look at the heavy bag as an object you hit just for the sake of doing so. And that’s when it starts to become less interesting.
Hit the Bag With a Purpose
Consider this as my thesis statement. The reason why you’re bored with your heavy bag routine is that you’re not approaching it with the proper mindset.
Think of the bag as your opponent who can’t hit back. It has similar anatomy. And with a little imagination, you’ll have a more accurate visual of a person standing right in front of you.
It’ll be easier to distinguish each region, from the head, midsection, thighs, and calves. Once you’ve practiced that enough, you can start leveling up by cutting angles, using lateral movement, and mixing up your shots.
If you do it right, you’ll be able to develop power, proper form, stamina, conditioning, footwork, and fluid combinations all at the same time.
You’re probably reading this with a dumbfounded look on your face, saying, “How the hell is that even possible?”
Allow me to show you some examples, but I’ll let the experts handle the actual demonstration.
Some Drills For You to Try Out
If you’ve already put up the heavy bag for your MMA home gym, here are a few drills you can start with. They’re easy, practical, and fun to do.
Strikes off a swinging bag
Think of it as an aggressive opponent coming towards you, then you stifle their attack with either a knee strike or a teep kick. I prefer the latter because it easily takes the air out of them.
If you prefer knee strikes, a teardrop bag or a wrecking ball bag works well.
In my variation of this drill, I instead throw a liver kick as the bag swings towards my left. It’s similar to hitting an opponent as they lose their balance after a clean shot to the jaw or temple.
Shifting body hooks
Here’s another nifty technique courtesy of striking and self-defense instructor/YouTube star Icy Mike of hard2hurt. These close-range body hooks are devastating, regardless of which side you land them from.
Start of squared up right in front of the bag or on one side. Be sure you’re within the clinch range.
You’ll then switch between orthodox and southpaw, depending on which hand you intend to use first. To shift to the other side, quickly slide back to the center, then make the shift towards the opposite stance. Be sure to hunker down a bit with both elbows tucked in tight.
I’m at least 5’5” and a half (let’s call it 5’6”). I’m a short guy, regardless. But if used correctly, these shots are menacing enough to hurt a bigger, taller opponent. This drill suits me well.
My knowledge and memory are probably failing me, but I can’t think of any other fighter who can effectively create angles than Vasyl Lomachenko.
They don’t call him “The Matrix” for nothing. One minute he’s on your left side, then he’s on your right side blasting you upside the head before you could even blink.
Here’s how he practices his angles on the heavy bag. He throws a combo or two, angles out to the one side, then throws another set of punches.
And as you can see below, it works wonders for him. He throws a loose jab, pivots to his right, lands a three-four, then smoothly moves out of danger.
That’s the keyword right there. Pivots. It all lies in the pivoting motion of your hips and legs. Hind leg steps forward, hips pivot to the left, lead leg gets in position. Top it off with your lead punch.
I’d like to mix it around by throwing a body kick as soon as I get to the angle I want. If you’re on orthodox stance, it puts you in a perfect position for a right roundhouse kick to the liver.
Broken Rhythm Strikes
The first thing you’ll learn in week one of boxing or Muay Thai class is the basic combinations. It’s usually a one-two (jab-cross) a one-two-three (jab-cross-hook) or a one-two-body kick.
You’ll throw all of these strikes alternatingly. If you begin with a left hand, you’ll end a two-strike combo with your right. If you’re throwing three strikes, you’ll end with the hand or foot that you began your combos with.
But sometimes, it’s also important to break that rhythm. It makes you less predictable. It throws your opponent off their rhythm, and that slight misstep opens them up to opportunities for your own shots.
Here’s a simple strategy to practice your broken rhythm strikes, courtesy of Muay Thai instructor Sean Fagan. Pepper your opponent with strikes coming from one side, then suddenly follow up with a strike from the other side.
The beautiful thing about this concept is that you can mix it up however which way you prefer. Build your own repertoire of combos.
Put it into Practice
Where do you go from here? Get yourself a sparring partner and try these drills out. Play around with these combinations. HAVE FUN.
Don’t treat it like a punching bag. Treat it like an opponent that’s also your best friend, if that makes sense. Or as Icy Mike brilliantly put it, like a spouse: “It’s reliable. It’s always gonna be there for you, but you only get out of it what you put into it.”
Keep these principles and mind, while putting these drills into practice. I promise you, you’ll never be bored with your heavy bag workout ever again.