Punch Bag Selection and Use
By Kru Nick Hewitson of the Petchyindee Muay Thai Boxing Camp International
Punch and kick bags come in different sizes, materials and different fillings and are generally misunderstood.
Ok I’ll start by talking about bag materials, this is where people usually make there first mistake, what I know to be true is that very few people know about punch bags, they are treated as being the same, they aren’t. As bags tend to fall into four types
Now I realize that most peoples bag selection is driven by price, but this to can be a false economy, a person will pay £40 for a canvas or nylon 3ft punch bag weighing 40lbs dependant on filling [which will be discussed in detail later] but the bag will be destroyed within weeks once you start to develop power in your technique, together with the problem of friction of the bag against your shin, hand or the knee or elbow. If your training is simply going to consist of throwing the occasional few sets of 3 or 4 minutes of punching then the bag is probably ideal for you, but if you intend to use it as an integral part of your training program then you have a problem.
Ok so you have decided that you need a bag, well first you need to decide on the type of bag you need and the application for which it is intended, ok these are my recommendations and based on my experience, but like everything, it’s a matter of personal taste.
Kick bag 12-24 inch long, 6 – 8 inches in diameter
This bag I would always suggest buying one made out of leather or heavy duty PVC (synthetic), the main reason for this is that the bag is going to be filled with sand (ideally “silver sand” very fine light coloured sand, this has a high silicon content and therefore doesn’t usually stick together in lumps), therefore once the bag is filled with the silver sand pack the top of the bag with an old towel, this will stop you from having to dust yourself off after each workout or to stop from ending up having to refill the bag every couple of sessions. The reason for filling the bag with sand, rather than say saw dust or rags is that because of the bags size you need it to be heavy, and sand particularly fine silver sand is very heavy as there is less air between the grains of sand than there would be between the saw dust or rags. The benefits of having the bag be heavy are three fold; (1) it better represents what a solid object (human bone) would feel like. (2) Its greater weight therefore requires a greater force used in order to move it, and the greater force equates to resistance so you get similar benefits to those of weight training, (i.e.) pushing a weight a particular distance) (3) it moves slower and therefore you won’t lose your rhythm by chasing the bag all over, which you will if it is filled with a light weight material.
Application: for this particular bag I would use it for the training the following techniques;
(1) Elbow strikes, because of its size and density it really well represents the head, therefore requires you to get close to it in order to apply the technique, so giving you a better understanding of your proximity to the target.
(2) Head or neck kicks with the shin, because of the height at which this bag will be hanging it means as well as developing both height of the kick you also need to develop power in order to overcome the weight and density of the bag, the reason this is better than a regular punch bag for this practice is because of its smaller size you are required to be much more accurate with your technique, for example when kicking a regular punch bag at a height of 5’ 8” you may think your hitting at the correct height because the bag is swinging , but could in fact be hitting significantly lower due to hitting the bag , with a kick bag the bottom of the bag is likely to be 5”8” off the ground and you must therefore exceed that height just to hit the bag, therefore there can be no misjudgment.
(3) Knock out headshots, as with the elbows this is a much better way of representing your opponents’ head than a regular punch bag. (Additional little gem of wisdom, if you use only bag gloves or bare or bandaged hands when hitting the sand filled bag, it will condition your hands and knuckles making them stronger, this is how bare knuckle boxers condition there hands, thou initially I would suggest the bag glove method as the friction on your skin is likely to strip the skin from your knuckles. if you are really hard core and want to gauge your training I used to find when the blood is running out of the bottom of your bag glove it was probably time to stop for the day.
Punch bag 3 – 4 foot long, 12-16 inches in diameter
This bag I would personally suggest using a bag made out of synthetic leather / heavy duty PVC, mainly due to the general level of wear and tear it could withstand whilst also not being to abrasive and causing to much friction, the filling for this type of bag, there are three different types each of which are very good, firstly there is shredded rags, this is what pre-filled bags are usually stuffed with, as long as they are highly compressed, they tend to work well, though the bag can be a little on the light side therefore giving an unrealistic reaction to a punch or kick (bag swings all over the place) . This can be rectified by simply getting a 50lb bag of silver sand and pouring it into the top of the bag, the sand will slowly work its way to the bottom of the bag and in doing will replace the space taken up by air so making it feel more solid on more dense whilst also increasing the weight (important note: before adding to much additional weight to your punch bag make sure that the wall bracket or joist can support the weight, otherwise it gets really expensive.)
The second type of bag filling material I would recommend for a bag of this type is sponge rubber off cuts, I don’t mean chunks of upholstery sponge, this is a very dense rubberized foam, similar to the filling of a crash mat, it can be in the form of pebble sized pieces or you can use a 4’ width strip which you roll up as tightly as possible and put in the bag, (note: I found when doing this, you need 2 or 3 large adults to help you keep the foam compressed and then use budgie cords and masking tape to keep it from expanding when you install it.) you’ll find once you start to kick it the tape will break apart so allowing the foam to expand , once this happens I would suggest packing rags down the centre portion of the foam tube , and then once again in fill with sand to remove any trapped air pockets.
The third and final type is for only the really serious contact fighter, and that is to fill the bag with a 50/50 mix of builders sand and saw dust, you may feel inclined to use sand and iron fillings but you will only end up damaging your hands from the impact. The reason for the saw dust and sand mix is to accustom your striking limbs to major impact, so desensitizing them to the effect of meeting bone against bone as you would with a shin block for example, or doing forearm impact conditioning drills, the filling of the bag basically has no recoil and therefore you have to commit fully to the blow otherwise the force will take the line of least resistance which means back through your bones and skeletal structure.
Application: for this particular bag I would use it for the training the following techniques;
(1) Regular punching skills, body shots, particularly hooks, and for training punch and kick combinations,
(2) When using the sand/saw dust filled bag I would also use the bag for power training, therefore particularly for training the front kick (teep) or the front knee or for training rabbit knees.
(3) For general upper body impact conditioning, forearm, elbow, palm, straight fingers, ridge hand, chop, wrist and fist together with shin impact conditioning.
(4) Thai clinch training, this can be done regardless of the filling of the bag; through the greatest benefits can be gained from the heavier bag.
Tear drop bag 3’– 4’ long
This particular bag I would fill either with the high-density foam chips and then
infill with silver sand or rag fill and once again in fill with silver sand. In both
these cases the idea is to allow a degree of recoil when you strike the bag.
Application: for this particular bag I would only use it for Thai clinch and knee work, on this particular bag you can easily apply any type of knee strike, ideally with regard to the make up of the bag filling you are looking to make the bag as heavy as possible whilst still allowing a slight amount of give for when the strike is delivered, the main reason for this is that excessive impact could cause serious damage or injury to the knee or hip joints, if however the bags contents has some give in it , you get additional benefits through building up your quads by lifting the bag up with your knee strikes , the knee strikes to the bag also condition the various striking areas of the knee to impact as discussed earlier.
Banana bag 6’ long 8” – 20” in diameter
With regard to this bag (particularly 8” diameter type) the filling is most likely to be rags, which I would then once again infill with silver sand, to increase the weight and density. With regard to the bags of 10”-20” diameter these are usually found in the camps in Thailand, they are more often than not filling with sand (although I have known for them to be filled with a mix of sand and cement power) which because of the humidity in the air, results in there contents turning into a very weak form of concrete. (During one of my trips I witnessed a German fighter arrive at Jedipikat camp and as we wrapped our hands following the morning run, he went up to the biggest bag in the camp and roundhouse kicked it as hard as he could trying to show off to the Thai trainers, however as his kick connected we heard a loud crack as his shin bone snapped in three places) the bag was only used to train the legs for the push kick as it weighed close to 700lbs. from that day on I never kick a bag with full force until I first give it a light teep just to see how heavy or hard its contents are.
Application; for this particular bag I would use it for the training the following techniques;
(1) Low kicks and leg kicks, because of the bag swinging just inches off the floor it allows you to simulate kicks from everywhere from kicking to the ankle all the way up to the top of the head. Most bags being much higher off the floor doesn’t allow you to practice the low kick, which as so more practical in self defense type applications, or to practice precision kicking to the equivalent position of the knee joint, to nerve clusters in the legs or to the equivalent of the neck. With the 8” diameter banana bag it is a useful tip to have someone stand next to the bag while you attached heavy duty rubber bands around the bag at the equivalent height of the knee joint, the top of the thigh and the height of the shoulder, this then allows you to practice throwing techniques to the actual height of you opponents limbs. It is also possible to mark the side of the bag with coloured chalk, either as horizontal lines or as large dots, you can then practice either kicking above the chalk line or specifically kicking the coloured dot to gain accuracy, this is particularly difficult once the bag is swinging.Should you wish to know more about our training techniques, you can visit our web-site www.petchyindee.com or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or to come and train with