BANGING THE BAG
Here's a challenge: The next time you see a heavy bag, we dare you not to touch it. Don't jab it. Don't throw a hook. Don't even make a fist. This sounds easy enough, but you're likely doomed to fail this little test, because few men can pass it. It's in the DNA of every able-bodied male on planet Earth to throw a haymaker at a heavy bag when he walks past one, because as men, that's what we're wired to do: take out our frustrations by throwing punches. Now, the legal system tells us we can't physically vent our wrath on the people we think deserve it — there's a pesky little charge called “felony assault” that gets in the way. But take heart: With a quality heavy bag and a few inexpensive accessories, you can exorcise your demons and get the workout of your life right in the comfort of your own basement or garage. Here's how to get started.
Adding fight-inspired workouts to your training regimen will pay off in a variety of ways. Whether you're training for full three- or five-minute rounds or you're starting off a bit shorter at first, fight training is tailor-made for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts. Once you get accustomed to the tempo at which you need to work, HIIT-style sessions will have your conditioning levels spiking in short order.
Fight-style HIIT work also shreds fat like nobody's business. Have you ever seen a fat fighter in either MMA or boxing? OK, besides Butterbean Esch and Roy Nelson, you don't see many pros carrying a lot of extra weight. Fighters - the guys at the top of the game — have the bodies most of us want, and they develop their physiques through a combination of diet, roadwork and intense, sport-specific interval training. You'll feel the effects of throwing punches throughout your body. Your lower-back and ab muscles provide power for your punches by initiating an explosive hip turn, and your arms and shoulders bear most of the brunt of the muscle recruitment required for striking. With a consistent boxing regimen, it's possible to add significant definition to these muscles—and even mass, depending on your genetic makeup—without touching a barbell or dumbbell. Best of all, assuming you're reinforcing proper fight techniques, you're improving and refining a skill that transcends fitness on multiple levels.
To do this right, get yourself to a boxing gym, invest in a few hours of lessons from a qualified coach, and learn to strike properly. This is a jarring, contact-heavy workout, and there are some important reasons why you shouldn't just hang up your bag and start flailing away. Barring professional help, do as much research online — and at your local bookstore — as you can and strive for perfect technique at all times. The human body isn't designed for repeatedly generating and accepting the kinds of forces in play here, but a good boxing coach can help you develop the technical proficiency you need to cut down your risk of injury. He'll also prevent you from reinforcing incorrect habits. The more bad punches you throw, the deeper your poor technique becomes ingrained and the harder it's going to be for you to unlearn. The idea, then, is to work your way up to a simulated regulation boxing match: 12 rounds of three minutes a piece, with one minute of rest between rounds. This amounts to about 47 minutes of work. George Foreman supposedly could bang on a heavy bag at full power for 12 straight rounds — without taking breaks to dance around the bag — but that type of endurance is something you'll have to develop by gradually improving your pace each week.
ROUND BY ROUND
Working within the confines of 12 conventional boxing rounds, begin by dancing around the bag, throwing your basic repertoire of punches, and working your jab. Do this for three or four rounds, establish a pace, and see how you feel on that particular day. Once you're comfortable doing that, throw in a round where all you do is jab. The jab is the most important punch in boxing, because it sets up everything else you do in the ring. Spend ample time perfecting this strike every time you hit your heavy bag. After your jab-only round, go back to straight boxing for a round or two, then switch stances. If you're right-handed, put your right foot forward and throw punches as a southpaw. You wouldn't do this in an actual match unless you're a highly seasoned fighter, but it's good for your body and your central nervous system to even things out for a round or two. This will also teach you to develop your jab and power punches—hooks, crosses, and uppercuts—with both hands.
Once you have some idea of the speed and rhythm you'll need in your boxing rounds, it's time to pick up the pace. For the last 30 seconds of each round, use power punches instead of dancing around the bag and picking your shots. You're essentially going to club the bag to death—using proper technique — for a short, intense interval to finish every round. At the start of the next round, circle the bag, work your jab, get some energy back, and do it all over again.