HOW TO USE THE HEAVY BAG
The heavy bag is one of the most recognizable pieces of equipment in Boxing and other martial arts. Indeed it's one of the first things that come to mind when you think of the martial arts. It can come in many shapes, sizes, and types. However there are two major categories. One is the hanging type which can hang from a ceiling hook or from a heavy bag stand and the other is freestanding with a water or sand filled base. Top me the best is the hanging type from a ceiling hook. You can of course get a great workout no matter what type of bag you use, but the hanging bag gives you so many more options with your footwork training. Since it moves you need to pivot and step with it which is something not really possible to do with a freestanding bag. And a heavy bag stand doesn't allow you to move around it very much. However with that being said, most martial artists I know as well as myself, train with a variety of bags. Some are medium length, some go down close to the floor (Muay Thai Banana Bags), some are teardrop shaped sometimes called a wrecking ball, some are hourglass shaped, some are hung horizontally to train uppercuts, and some are even attached to walls. There are many options.
Before getting into the training methods, it's important to point out the proper use of the bag. Despite what you may think, the purpose of the bag is NOT to punch it. It's to stop your punch or strike. Let me explain. Before going onto the heavy bag, you should spend a great deal of time punching in the air shadowboxing and/or practicing forms (applicable with more traditional martial arts) learning how to feel your body extending using your feet, hips, waist, shoulders, etc. This is what truly develops power. We like to do linear drills where we practice punches and combos in a straight line outdoors or if you have a lot of space indoors. This is called Walking The Floor. We also practice drills where we walk a circle and then enter with an attack. Another drill is side to side Triangle stepping. These drills are what actually develop power. The heavy bag will test your power. There's a difference. So the idea is to keep the feeling the same. When you shadowbox, you extend fully and you use your body to step and twist in order to get the full power. You want to punch the bag with the same feeling. If the bag wasn't there, your fists would just continue on. That's why we like to say to punch through the target. Don't just hit the surface. And since the bag gives you feedback you'll know if there's a disconnection in your body or if there's a timing problem between your hands and feet. If there is, then go do some more of the shadowboxing and other air drills. Then come back to the bag and try again. Eventually you want that same feeling all the time. One big mistake that people make (and a reason why the air drills are so important) is people tend to just stay in one spot when hitting the bag. They also tend to freeze after they hit and forget to flow properly. Remember you want to have the exact same feeling whether it's on a bag or in the air. If you train this way, you'll get the most out of the heavy bag training.
So here are the training methods for using the heavy bag. Don't try to do all of them at once. That's what we call "Training everything and nothing at the same time". Just pick one to focus on in each round. And remember that these drills can be used for both shadowboxing and the heavy bag.
1. USE THE CIRCLE
The circle is the mother of all motions. That's what we learn in the Baguazhang system of martial art. We walk the circle and from there, the techniques and combos just happen. Of course you need to train them in a more mechanical way before you get to this point but that's the goal. There are two major ways to use the circle. One is from the outside. Circle around and enter with an attack. The other way is be in the middle and you're the one defending against an aggressive opponent. This is of course not possible when training with a heavy bag, but make the most out of your shadowboxing and include this.
2.SWITCH THE RANGES
There are three major ranges. Long range, Medium range, close range. At long range you must take a step to hit your target and you can also kick at this range. At medium range you can hit the target with straight punches without having to take a step and you're also close enough to use knee strikes and lowline kicks. These are sometimes called No Shadow Kicks in Chinese martial arts since they're unseen and non-telegraphic. Close range is where you're close enough to use elbows, hooks, knees, and short range straight punches such as what we practice in Wing Chun. Don't just stay in one range when you're training. Vary them. You could start with a Push Kick, Jab, Straight Rear punch combo. From there you could pivot or take a sidestep to get closer and continue with close range attacks. Or you could start close and then punch your way out to long or medium range. There are many possibilities. Just remember to not stay in one range all the time.
3.SWITCH THE ANGLES
Another great method is to switch the angles. Sometimes this can be done when you switch the ranges. There are three major methods to do this. One is the pivot, Another is an angled sidestep, and a third is the Tyson hop step. This is a very quick switch to change the angle. Mike Tyson may not have invented it (He was taught by Cus D'Amato), but I can think of no one else who used it as well as him which is why I named it after him. After you've done a combo, immediately change your position with one of these methods and then throw another combo. This really helps teach you proper flow
4.SWITCH THE HEIGHT (UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS)
"Upstairs, Downstairs" is something you'll often hear coaches calling out. A lot of people have a bad habit of head hunting or always hitting the same target (head height). But there is a whole buffet of other targets for you to hit. In Boxing we have an expression. "If you kill the body, the head will die". It works very well against an opponent because you're constantly moving his attention around. Hit him with a few shots downstairs getting him to drop his hands to defend. Then hit him upstairs!
5.SWITCH THE POWER AND SPEED
Not all your punches have to be all out. In fact they shouldn't be. Throw some light ones as well. This makes you much less predictable and another benefit is it also trains you to feint. You can throw a light jab which can simulate a feint. Then you can throw a hard straight rear or a lead hook. Believe me it works! Another really good combo is a light jab, cross combo followed by a heavy shovel hook, head hook combo.
6.TRAIN WITH ONE ARM FOR FLOW
Another method I like to use to develop flow is to train several punches all with the same arm. People are used to attacks being left. right, left, right, etc. But you should be able to throw any punch on any side after you throw that first one. It helps you flow and it makes you much less predictable. The late Ted Wong, who was trained by martial arts legend Bruce Lee, used to do a combo which was a Jab, Backfist, Lead Hook all with his right arm. A very effective combo.
And last but certainly not least, we have defense. You should always get in the habit of moving your head and your feet after your combo. When you're not hitting you're moving. Don't get in the habit of hitting and then admiring your work. Hit and then change position. Another thing you can do is work on counterstriking. Start each combo with a parry, a block, a step, a pivot, or a head movement.
So there you go. I hope I've given you some insights into how to properly use the heavy bag. It's a great piece of equipment but make sure you use it properly to get the most out of it. Then you'll be well on your way to getting a great cardio and entire body workout as well as developing some serious knockout power!