An Introduction to Punchbag Workouts for Rapid Fat Loss and Muscle Building

By on May 1, 2015

Hitting a punchbag is one of the very best forms of cardio there is and especially if you want to avoid losing muscle. Punchbag workouts are ideal because they are a form of ‘resistance cardio’ which means the skeletal muscles work at the same time as the heart and because they naturally encourage a HIIT-style of training with sudden bursts of exertion followed by active recovery. If you aren’t already using this as part of your training regime, consider it.


The Benefits of Punchbag Workouts

When you hit a punch bag with force and stay light on your feet, you will find you quickly get out of breath and burn a lot of fat. This is especially true if you are throwing combinations (which you should be) and if you avoid ‘letting up’ on the opponent (which you should again). Essentially, this means throwing lots of fast punches for as long as you can, then bouncing around, jabbing and weaving for a bit to catch your breath before starting again. This should sound familiar to anyone who knows about HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) which basically tells us to exert ourselves for periods of 1-4 minutes then to use ‘active recovery’. This essentially allows you to spend longer in an ‘anaerobic state’ where you are burning fat and has been shown to lead to greater weight loss and improved mitochondrial function over time.

At the same time, because you are using the muscles, you’ll also be protecting them against being burned for energy and you’ll be toning as well. Punchbag workouts work pretty much the entire body but in particular they train the deltoids, the triceps, the pecs, the obliques and the abs. I’ve been using punchbag training ever since I joined a new gym a month ago and I’ve already had comments that my shoulders look wider. In other words, punchbag workouts are excellent for building lean looking muscle and a wide powerful frame. Which is awesome.

Training with the punchbag does more than build muscle and improve stamina though. At the same time, it’s also excellent for improving coordination and balance – especially if you’re throwing in some roundhouse kicks from time to time and ducking and weaving. Moreover, it’s also excellent from a self-defense perspective. That’s because it trains your central nervous system to learn the gross movement patterns that are punches, hooks and crosses. It gets you used to hitting things which helps to develop a ‘hit psychology’ and that in turn makes you far less likely to hesitate if it ever does come down to a fight.


More than anything though, punchbag training is actually fun. This is surprisingly rare for a cardio workout and if you’re anything like me then the idea of running on a treadmill for hours is probably pretty dull. Instead, bounce around a punchbag and pretend you’re Goku battling Beerus (I’ve been listening to Flow’s Hero while training…) or you’re Captain America.


I haven’t quite managed this yet…

Honestly, this is a much more fun start to a workout that I actually look forward to.

How to Train With a Punchbag

The problem is though, many people are afraid to have a go on the punchbag for a number of reasons. Mainly this comes down to a lack of know-how which leaves them worried that they might make an idiot of themselves or injure themselves.

Here is some basic information to get you started…

Punchbag Technique and Injury Prevention

The first thing to know is that punchbag technique doesn’t matter too much. That is to say that it’s very important that you use the right technique to avoid injury. At the same time though, you don’t need to be a professional boxer or a black belt in karate to use a punchbag. If you’re training to lose weight, then you don’t need to throw punches with intent to kill. It’s fine to just hit it however feels comfortable as long as you are being kind to your joints and making sure you don’t sprain your wrist. You do this repeatedly, you may well end up with arthritis.

To avoid damage to your joints then, consider the following:

  • Keep your eye on the bag at all times. This will prevent a sprain but it will also encourage good habits from a self-defense perspective.
  • Avoid hooks and uppercuts at first until you’re confident with them
  • Wear tape and/or gloves that lend padding to the knuckles and support for the wrists
  • Stand a good distance from the bag so that your arms are almost at full extension when you make contact, this will lessen the impact on your joints. You should require slight rotation of the hips to reach the bag.
  • At the same time though, never let your joints completely lock out
  • Contract your muscles just before impact
  • Not every punch has to be hard – especially when you’re getting started. Warm up with some light jabs with low risk of injury.
  • Keep your hand in line with your wrist during straight punches and drive through the floor with your foot when throwing crosses. Put your shoulder into the movement too and rotate your hips.
  • Use a lighter bag like the one I’m using in the pictures for faster techniques and for slightly less impact
  • Aim to hit with the knuckles of your index and middle finger. This stacks the joints to prevent wrist sprain and does more damage to the opponent. Look at where the red marks are on your hands after a combo to see if you’re doing it right.
  • Make sure to keep your thumb tucked and out of the way of your knuckles. Never put it underneath your fingers which is a recipe for a broken thumb.
  • If you want to try out your martial arts techniques, look for a BoB or ‘Body Opponent Bag’ which looks like a crash test dummy (not Brad Roberts) and lets you do things like throat punches

When you hit the bag, note that your objective is not to make it swing. This is a mistake that a lot of newbies make – rather than trying to move the bag, you should be aiming to make it ‘pop’ meaning that it almost jumps on the spot. This will allow for faster combinations and it will encourage better habits. This is another reason to stand further away and at the same time you should make sure to pull your arm out from the punch just as quickly as it went in. Don’t hold your breath and make sure you keep your guard up. Try changing stance occasionally to work the other side.

Punchbag Combos

When training, the objective is to hit fast for bouts that test your endurance and get your heart pumping fast. This is also what will lead to hypertrophy in the muscles and obliques.

Punchbag combos are common in boxing training where they can be read as strings of numbers. Here, each number corresponds to a particular technique. This goes as follows:

1 = jab
2 = right cross
3 = left hook
4 = right hook
5 = left uppercut
6 = right uppercut

‘b’ meanwhile means ‘body punch’. So a 2b would be a right cross to the body.

rocky punch

For instance then, a 1-1-2 would mean two jabs followed by a cross (this happens to be one of the most popular combos for boxers). 1-2-3-4 meanwhile means a jab, cross, left hook, right hook – right, left, right left. Note that these designations are for right handed fighters – southpaw combos look different (essentially it’s just the opposite). I like using both to ensure that I’m equally fatiguing both sides and for ambidexterity training.

Different combinations have different value in a real fight. If you’re mainly interested in building muscle and burning fat though, it’s fine to get creative. I’ll do things like 2-2-2-2-2 when I just want to beat the hell out of the bag, then swap stance and do the same on the left side. If you have a training partner, you can get them to shout out combos and then deliver them.

And of course, as my background is in karate, I’ll throw in lots of roundhouse kicks too. These are great for mixing things up, training balance and dynamic flexibility (the correct term for ‘fast flexibility’ i.e. being able to kick high). Martial artists may also want to try throwing in some elbow and knee strikes. I don’t tend to as they interrupt flow but I do use the odd backhand.

Dropped my guard slightly here, tut tut...

Dropped my guard slightly here, tut tut…

The way I fight the bag probably looks pretty nuts to a lot of people. I’m doing some weird cross between wada-ryu karate and boxing while at the same time using all kinds of weird combinations. It doesn’t really matter though: my heartrate goes through the roof, I burn a ton of calories and I have a lot of fun. Other than running/trail running on a sunny day, this is the only cardio I actually look forward to. And when I feel the old neural pathways from karate training coming back alive again it’s a great buzz.

So give it a go: go for rounds of 2-3 minutes of fast combos, then recovery for 1 minute and repeat. See if you can go for 10 rounds and by the end you’ll be lying in a pool of sweat…

Don't have access to a punchbag? Break into your local butchers and beat the crap out of their meat.

Don’t have access to a punchbag? Break into your local butchers and beat the crap out of their meat.



About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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