Heavy Bag training for Mixed Martial Arts, Self Defence and Fitness.
by S.Ward c/o www.themmaforums.com
The Heavy Bag is most often used suspended from a ceiling but should also be used on the ground to practice ground striking as well. It can be punched, kicked, kneed and elbowed. Used correctly it can improve the power of your striking and gives a great cardio workout as well, but if used improperly can cause injuries.
The Self-Defence benefits of Heavy Bag training
Striking the heavy bag can develop great fight related qualities but is nothing like a real combat situation. The strikes used against the heavy bag are what’s known as Gross Motor Skills meaning they are simple actions using large muscle groups and when used under an Adrenal Dump status (the bodies Fight or Flight response) will often result in a greater performance in terms of strength and endurance.
Training your striking skills can lead to an increased confidence in your ability to strike an opponent which can be beneficial to those whom may be reluctant to fight back or suffer greatly under the bodies adrenal responses.
Good strike training, against the heavy bag, pads and sparring with partner(s) builds competence and confidence and develops ‘muscle memory’ so when confronted by an assailant gives the ability for the body to strike as it does in training without the person making a concious effort to strike with these developed skills.
Anaerobic training is training at such an intensity that the body is unable to keep up with it’s oxygen requirements and so can only be carried out for a short period of time. Carrying out this type of training on the heavy bag both leads to an increased time in being able to carry out a ‘flurry’ of strikes and also develops the important factor of a ‘determination to win’. Driving yourself to carry on with every single ounce of determination, mental stamina and ‘grit’ you can muster.
Note: This type of training is intense and should not be carried out unless you have a good foundation of conditioning and striking mechanics. Sprained wrists are a common injury sustained in this type of training.
Heavy Bag training for fitness
A good heavy bag training program improves your cardiovascular system, improves muscle strength, bone density, connective tissue strength and also burns calories and fat. By incorporating punching, elbowing, knees and kicks into your traing regime you use all the major muscle groups within the body. Arms, shoulders, abdominals, hip flexors and the leg muscles become both conditioned and also develop coordination.
Stress Management Benefits of Heavy Bag Training
The evolution of mankind has created our brain and bodies to react in a pre-programmed response to danger and is most commonly termed ‘Fight or Flight’ and causes a host of responses in the body to allow us to either run at a higher speed (flight), or fight at a higher level of intensity (fight). When confronted with danger this is a good thing, but is often mistaken as ‘fear’. Today’s modern lifestyles often cause the triggering of this pre-programmed response when it isn’t needed or wanted, being stuck in a traffic jams, arguments at home can all be triggers for the response.
Also the response causes the body to release toxins which if not used up, cause what is commonly known as ‘stress’. Physical exercise is required to flush this ‘fight or flight’ residue from our bodies before it compromises our health and immune system. Vigorous exercise, such as heavy bag training gives the exertion needed to burn off this residue and return the mind and body to a healthier state.
Take this training, turn up the music and destroy your ‘opponent’. Remove all this negative ‘energy’ from within you and turn it into anger to destroy your imaginary opponent and allow Endorphins to give you that ‘feel good’ post workout sensation.
Precautions to consider when Heavy Bag Training
Like any form of exercise if taken to extremes, heavy bag training can be counter productive and involve risks. It is designed to ‘build you up’, increase your strength, your fitness and your health.
Just as impatient weight trainers damage their joints and strain their muscles, or runners who increase their mileage too quickly can suffer shin splints, bag training is exactly the same. Make sure you execute your strikes with proper form to maximise your gains whilst reducing the risks, this will allow you to continue your training for a much longer period of time.
The two types of athletic injuries most common with physical training are ‘chronic’ and ‘acute’. Chronic injuries develop and last over an extended period. Training improperly, too intensely, or too often causes them. When your body is stressed through exercise, it must be given time to recover and rebuild itself in order to become more efficient and be ready to be trained again.
When your training too hard or not resting for sufficient time between your training sessions, you will develop overtraining injuries. It’s imperative that you realize that the bodies muscles adapt much faster than the connective tissues and that striking puts a great deal of stress on these connective tissues. Your advances in speed and power will quickly exceed the capacities of your bones, tendons, ligaments and joints. This can result in torn muscles, chronic joint pain and even result in permanent injuries.
Acute injuries like a sprained wrist or a broken bone occur suddenly. The risk of these injuries should be reduced with proper form and of course common sense. Technique comes before speed and power. There isn’t a need to smash the heavy bag as hard as you can every time you train. Concentrate on good body mechanics and allow the speed and power to develop by itself. Begin slowly and allow your speed and power to gradually increase and as always allow your body to adapt and become able to handle these stresses.
Avoiding bad practice
Often when people train on the heavy bag their proper technique goes out the window. Feet come off the ground, the body is badly aligned, they wind up their strikes like a baseball pitcher .Don’t exaggerate your movements and keep your techniques correct. Apart from the risk of injuries, your practising of these bad techniques will result in incorrect ‘muscle memory’ and so when you use your techniques against a real opponent, you will leave yourself open to counter attack.
Telegraphing of your techniques
Telegraphing means you make obvious preparations to throw a technique, cocking your fist back before throwing a punch is a good example. As the bag doesn’t fight back people often forget the importance of being able to strike your opponent without signalling your intention to do so.
Failing to defend
Because the bag doesn’t hit back people drop often their guard when practicing. Keep your hands up at all times and concentrate on not just the attacking part of a technique, that’s the easy bit, concentrate of maintaining a good defence as well. Do this with every strike you throw and slowly but surely you will do this automatically over time. Keep moving in and out of range, visualise your opponent doing the same and keep your head moving, don’t just move straight back, move side to side, up and down.
Pushing instead of hitting the bag
A common mistake when hitting the bag is to follow through too deeply and push, rather than hit the bag. A punch or kick increases in speed from start of it’s movement through until it’s fully extended. The further an arm or leg for example moves, the faster and more powerful it will be. Strike the bag at the point near full extension. Penetrate it no more than a few inches beyond the surface and generate a “popping” sound on impact. Never lock out the limbs else you will hyper extend the joint and cause problems in the joint and it’s connective tissues.
Holding your breath
People often hold their breath which is a bad habit. First it reduces your endurance by starving your body of the oxygen it needs. Secondly you increase thoracic pressure which can result in you injuring yourself. Exhale as you strike. This prevents the holding of your breath and improves your techniques power by tensing the muscles of your torso which are responsible for a great deal of the power in your strikes.
Always warm up and cool down
Warming up improves your performance and reduces the risk of injuries and post-exercise muscle soreness. Before exercising intensely work up a light sweat and engage in some basic limbering exercises to increase blood flow, your range of motion and to lubricate your joints. Jumping rope, ‘running on the spot’ and shadow boxing for 10 or 15 minutes are good ways to begin your workout. (Note: don’t do extensive stretching during the warm up. It can compromise joint stability and make you more susceptible to injury. Leave vigorous stretching until the end of your workout). steadily cooling down at the end of your workout returns your system (breathing and heart rate etc) to a resting state. Never finish an intense workout and then just stop. The cool down is a time to work on your flexibility with stretching exercises and should be thoroughly enjoyed as flexibility is important, especially in MMA when the ranges and techniques involved range a great deal.
Some ideas for creating a training regime
There are a variety of Martial Arts from which MMA fighters source their striking techniques. The most common one though is Muay Thai but MMA fighters must adapt their footwork as they need to defend from a takedown and wrestling techniques attempts made by their opponent.
Repetition based training: Learn the basic strikes, kicks, knees, elbows and punches and create combinations you want to practice. Perform sets and reps of each. For example, execute two sets of 20 lead punches, three sets of 20 roundhouse kicks, etc. Rest long enough between sets to catch your breath and move on to the next.
Time-based Training: Another excellent way to train is to work for a time limit or set number of rounds. For example, execute either random strikes or pre-determined combinations continuously for 2 to 3 minute rounds with 1-minute rest period in between.
Circuit Training: Circuit training is good if you are already in good shape, consider alternating your bag work with other exercises to form a circuit. However, don’t alternate with weight lifting exercises because the muscle fatigue will make you more susceptible to injury. For example alternate 3-5 minutes of jumping rope with 3-5 minutes of bag work. Complete as many cycles as you need to get a good workout.
AnAerobic Training: AnAerobic training should be reserved for those who have established a high level of fitness and proper striking mechanics. This training involves intense barrages of strikes for a time limit (15 to 30 seconds+) or a rep goal (20 to 30 repetitions of a combination). This training is as mental as it is physical as mentioned earlier. There are significant benefits to this “stop/start” or interval-based training. You exert yourself for a brief, intense period, recover, and then exert yourself again. This training improves your ability to recover quickly, increases the efficiency of your muscular and anaerobic energy systems and elevates your metabolism (burning body fat) for several hours post workout.
Frequency and intensity
Heavy bag training, like other forms of exercises, stresses the body. Training too intensely can surpass the body’s (joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, nervous system) ability to recover. I recommend that heavy bag training be limited to 2 or 3 times per week. The more intensely you train, the more time off you should take between workouts. It is a good idea to alternate intense workouts with easier ones.
I hope this short introduction into Heavy Bag training gives you an idea on how to use it both correctly and safely.
c/o The MMA Forums.com
Disclaimer : The author accepts no responsibility whatsoever for anything related to this article. Consult your doctor before starting any type of exercise.
S.Ward has trained in the Martial Arts for over 25 years and is the owner of Mixed Martial Arts website www.themmaforums.com . The home of Mixed Martial Arts and life in general.