Boxing and other combat sports may be pegged as hobbies for a particular set of hardened, aggressive men and women, but working out with a punching bag can give you a full upper-body workout. Training some intense combinations on the heavy bag can give your entire body a workout by building muscle, reducing fat and increasing cardiovascular endurance. You may even get some benefits from boxing that you wouldn't expect.
It seems obvious that your upper body is worked when you strike a punching bag. Your chest, arms, shoulders, back and abdominal core muscles all contract and fire during punching combos, getting stronger through repetition and recoil impact. But your legs are even more important for developing real power in your punches, as you need to pivot and twist effectively to drive each punch home. Boxing workouts improve aerobic endurance, power and coordination; they also boost your mood by releasing endorphins.
If you've never put on a pair of gloves and worked up a sweat, it's best to start slow. Boxing workouts are intense, even if you're not moving a lot of weight around or getting hit in the head. Start by doing a few rounds of light technique work on the bag, throwing jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts -- the basic punches in boxing -- for rounds of three minutes or less with a one-minute break between sets. If you're feeling fiery, pump up the tempo and increase the speed and power of your punches to wear out your arms and shoulders. Proper technique is essential for getting a solid workout for your core.
Heavy bags are solid training tools if you're looking to try something new to challenge your body, but supplemental exercises will go a long way toward improving your overall fitness and maximizing your efficiency on the bag. Work with a trainer to make sure you're getting the most out of your punches by throwing them with proper technique. Experiment with jumping rope, ladder drills and other speed and agility workouts to improve your cardio and complement your footwork as you maneuver through your combos on the bag. A 2011 study conducted by the University of Montreal found that intense boxing workouts required a high level of baseline aerobic fitness.
Just because the bag isn't punching you back doesn't mean punching workouts are risk-free. Stress injuries to the hands as well as joint impact to the elbows and shoulders are commonplace in boxing gyms, especially when you ramp up the intensity. A 2007 study conduct by Dr. Brett D. Owens, M.D., on West Point cadets found that boxing training -- particularly missed punches -- resulted in frequent shoulder subluxation. Wrap your hands, strap on a pair of padded bag gloves and don't overdo it when you punch the heavy bag.
Steven Kelliher is an experienced sports writer, technical writer, proofreader and editor based out of the Greater Boston Area. His main area of expertise is in combat sports, as he is a lifelong competitor and active voice in the industry. His interviews with some of the sport's biggest names have appeared on large industry sites such as ESPN.com, as well as his own personal blog.