Heavy Bag Training - By the Late Brian Petty
Heavy bag training is the most common combat training method to cross over into fitness routines.
The self-paced nature of bag work makes it accessible to many, certainly more so than other combat conditioning techniques such as sparring. The danger is not to the fitness enthusiast who adopts this technique to burn calories and dissipate stress.
The danger is to those who believe that they are training to fight in some fashion but are actually ingraining bad habits. "Everlast doesn't hit back" is a cynical way of saying that the heavy bag offers limited feedback. Laziness goes unpunished.
A fighter should have a balanced training regimen and a reasonable view of the value of bag work in that schedule. The weaknesses of the bag as a training device should be known and accounted for.
With some concentration, these weaknesses can be turned into strengths. At that point the usefulness of the bag is optimized.
During bag work you should take advantage of the fact that you are not forced to deal with a dangerous opponent. You are able to pay more attention to your own form, stance, footwork, accuracy, and so forth. Understand that bag work is not the time to be sloppy, but rather the time to be overly concerned with your body mechanics.
Once you are faced with someone trying to pummel you in return, I sincerely hope you are past the point where you need to remind yourself to keep your hands up.
You can also practice longer combinations than you would ever get away with. Don't, however, practice chains that would never occur. Think through the way an opponent would react to your blows one by one and whether your next shot would logically follow. There just isn't a reason to put an impractical movement pattern into your nervous system when there are so many useful ones to be learned.
The most common errors in bag training:
- Sloppy/careless technique
- Not learning how to miss
- Standing too close to the bag—not learning distance
- Hitting from an unstable base
- Not defending yourself at all times (hands too low)
- Not aiming at real targets (everything at chest height)
How to correct these errors:
Constantly remind yourself of proper technique—out loud if necessary.
Shadow box every combination you throw on the bag. Shadow boxing is the kind of accessory work, like footwork drills, that isn’t glamorous but separates trained fighters from average ‘tough guys’. Shadow boxing teaches you what happens when you miss.
Do not stand in range in front of the bag to throw punches! In reality, you must stay away and then step or lunge in to throw a combination. Use tape on ground to indicate minimum distance you should stand from bag. Drop a line from the center of the bag, then in a fighting stance place your own center of gravity above it. Shuffle (or lunge) forward and extend your arm in a jab (or front leg front kick if appropriate). Drop a line from the end of the extended body weapon and then tape this circle.
Check, and, if necessary, re-set your stance every combination. Always keep your knees bent, heels elevated slightly, and weight shifting comfortably with just enough motion to overcome inertia.
After each combination, you should return to a fighting guard, hands beside your head, arms against ribcage, with the tip of your lead foot slightly behind the distance line on ground. It will probably seem excessive at first but "bridging the gap" as Bruce Lee called it, crossing into and out of that danger zone, is literally what separates you and your opponent. You have to be able to get there to deliver blows.
Next, tape off your targets. Stand against the bag and put tape at the level of your nose, chin, solar plexus, groin, and kneecaps. This means that there are five different lines around the bag. Strive to develop accuracy. Concentrate on watching each blow land.
Basic Boxing Combinations
Perform these from a fighting stance, beginning outside of range, stepping in with the jab, and stepping back out after each, then switching lead.
Jab—lead hook—cross—lead uppercut
Jab—lead uppercut—cross—lead hook
As you train, accustom yourself to checking the following:
Always keep hands in a defensive “ready” position, palms next to the head, arms vertical and tight to body protecting the ribs. Protect yourself at all times.
Do not stand square to the bag; this offers too many potential targets to your adversary. You should be at about a 45 degree angle with your lead hand and foot closer to your target.
Look where you are punching—especially when using a jab or cross, look down your arm as if it were a gun sight. Do not hit just anywhere—pick a target, look at it, and adjust your punches accordingly. Keep your head in line with your body, chin tucked.
Always maintain a stable base. Both feet should be on the ground, but not flat-footed. Shuffle on the balls of your feet, keeping at least your back heel slightly elevated.
Keys to Training Success
Remind yourself constantly:
Practice does not make perfect—
Perfect practice makes perfect.
Always maintain a stable base: legs bent, weight on balls of feet
Protect yourself at all times: maintain your defense
Be precise: know where you are punching and strive for accuracy
Learn to focus when fatigued: this is the time you should concentrate on form the most, and not allow yourself to become sloppy.
There is no excuse for carelessness.
Train yourself to use both sides equally. Anything you do with one hand forward, practice with the other side an equal amount of time or repetitions.
Stay loose: being precise is not the same as being tense or moving like a robot. Pure muscular strength is not much help; learn to conserve your energy and “throw” punches and kicks rather than pushing them.
Work endlessly to perfect the most common combinations.