A 20-Minute Punching Bag Workout to Add to Your Routine

Throwing a few quick jabs at a punching bag may not seem too hard, but if you've never used a heavy bag during a boxing workout, you're in for a challenge. Most heavy punching bags weigh between 50 and 150 pounds. So every time you lay into the bag, your fist, foot, or knee is met with significant resistance. The initial (and somewhat unexpected) impact can be a bit jarring, and it won't take long to realize you can't get away with throwing soft punches. You have to engage your entire body, including your core, shoulders, and hips, to effectively control your movements as you hit the bag.

Of course, any exercise that requires this type of total-body engagement can help you torch calories and strengthen your major muscle groups. Even more than that, though, boxing against a heavy bag (or an actual person) is one of the only cardiovascular exercises that provides upper body, bone-building repetitive impact. One 2008 study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, found that female boxers were more likely to have higher bone mineral density than other women of similar age and anthropometric measurements. Boxing, apparently, does the body good.

With more boxing-style workouts and boutique fitness centers popping up to provide accessible classes to the general public, punching bags are becoming a hot fitness trend. If you're tempted to buy a bag for home-based workouts, or if your gym has a bag or two you can use on your own, consider giving this workout a try.

Reggie Chambers, NASM-certified personal trainer and boxing and kickboxing coach who trains at Limelight Fitness Center in Manhattan, put this interval workout together, citing it as one of his personal favorites. To complete the workout, perform each exercise according to the suggested time intervals. After finishing all of the exercises, rest for a minute, then repeat the series a second time for a total of 20 minutes. Twenty minutes may not seem like much, but don't underestimate this challenge—you're practically guaranteed to break a sweat.

Warm Up

jumping jacks boxing warmup
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Before diving into a high-intensity workout like boxing, it's important to spend at least five to 10 minutes getting warm. An active and effective warm-up should take you through exercises that mimic the movements you'll perform during your main workout. Perform each of the following moves for 30 seconds, completing the series three to four times.

  • Jog in place, 30 seconds
  • Jumping jacks, 30 seconds
  • Air squats, 30 seconds
  • Shadow boxing, 30 seconds: Perform light punches into the air, alternating arms as you bounce lightly from foot-to-foot like a boxer
  • High plank to downward dog, 30 seconds: Start in a high plank or pushup position, then press your hips up toward the ceiling as you extend your shoulders and reach your heels toward the ground to come to a downward dog; shift back to a high plank position and continue alternating between the two.

Jab - Cross - Squat

punching bag workout jab
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Time: 45 seconds work, 15 seconds rest

Stand to face the punching bag in a boxing stance. Your feet should be shoulder-distance apart and staggered with one foot in front of the other. If you look down at your feet, the toes of your front foot should be aligned with the heel of your back foot, and the toes of both feet should be pointing at a 45-degree angle to the punching bag.

Raise your hands, positioning them like you're prepared to punch, remembering that one of them should always be protecting your face. Throw two punches in quick succession—first jabbing with your left arm, then crossing with your right—before performing a squat. Immediately return to standing and continue the jab-cross-squat sequence for the full 45 seconds.

When the 45-seconds is up, rest for 15 seconds before proceeding immediately to the next exercise.

Cross Punches, Dominant Side

Time: 45 seconds work, 15 seconds rest

According to Chambers, cross punches are designed to target the shoulders and arms. If you think 45 seconds is easy, he says you should make sure you're really throwing your full force into each cross punch, keeping your abs tight and face protected with your non-working hand.

The trick here is understanding that the power of the cross comes from transferring your weight forward as you take your swing. If you're right-handed, set up in a boxing stance with your left foot forward, your weight primarily on your back foot so your center of gravity is shifted slightly away from the bag. If you're left-handed, set up in reverse, so your right foot is forward and your left foot is behind.

As you take your punch across your body with your dominant arm, you shift your weight forward, using the force of your weight to catapult your fist to the bag. At the completion of the punch, make sure your hand returns to its position in front of your face instead of swinging downward. You should immediately shift your weight back to the starting position to set up for another powerful cross.

Continue for the full 45-seconds using your dominant arm. Rest for 15 seconds before continuing to the next exercise.

Cross Punches, Non-Dominant Side

Time: 45 seconds work, 15 seconds rest

Complete the same exercise as before, this time focusing on your non-dominant side. If you're right-handed and just completed a set of cross punches using your right arm, this time use your left arm, setting up in a boxing stance with your right foot forward, your left foot back, and your weight shifted primarily to the back foot.

Likewise, if you're left-handed and just completed a set of cross punches using your left arm, this time use your right arm. Setting up in a boxing stance with your left foot forward, your right foot back, and your weight shifted primarily to the back foot. 

Complete 45-seconds of powerful cross punches. Rest for 15 seconds before proceeding to the next exercise.

Side-Kick Punch Combos

kicking punching bag
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Time: 90 seconds work, 30 seconds rest

Set a timer for 90 seconds and complete as many rounds as possible of this four-move series:

  • 10 reps of right side-kicks
  • 30 straight punches
  • 10 reps of left side-kicks
  • 30 straight punches

To get started, Chambers says to stand about a leg's-length away from the punching bag so your right side faces the bag. Get in your boxing stance with your right leg back and your arms up, your left arm guarding your face with your right hand in front of your chin. Swivel your hips, shifting your weight to your left foot before pivoting, lifting your right leg from the ground with your knee bent. Powerfully strike your right foot out as you extend your knee and hip, hitting the heavy bag with the heel of your right foot. Your right foot should be flexed with your heel sticking out so it makes first contact with the bag. Recoil your foot and knee immediately, bringing your right foot back down to the starting position. Complete 10 reps as quickly and powerfully as you can before switching sides

Once you've performed 10 kicks on the right side, deliver 30 straight punches to the bag with your right arm. Rotate your position so your left side faces the bag, then continue, this time delivering 10 left side-kicks followed by 30 straight punches with your left arm.

Complete as many rounds as possible in 90 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds before proceeding to the next exercise.

Lunge - Kick and Jab - Cross

Time: 45 seconds work, 15 seconds rest

Stand to face the punching bag so you're positioned about a leg's-length away. Step backward with your right foot to perform a reverse lunge. From the bottom of the lunge, powerfully explode up, shifting your weight to your left foot as you return to standing. As you do, swing your right knee up in front of your body to perform a front kick, powerfully extending your right leg to kick your right heel into the punching bag. From here, Chambers says to bring your right foot down into a boxing stance so your feet are staggered before performing four cross punches, alternating hands with each punch.

Immediately switch sides, this time performing the reverse lunge and front kick with your left leg before performing the four cross punches.

Continue alternating sides for the duration of the interval. After 45 seconds of work, rest for 15 seconds before proceeding to the next exercise.

Hooks, Dominant Side

hook punch on punching bag
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Time: 45 seconds work, 15 seconds rest

"This is an incredible obliques workout," Chambers says. Hook punches require fast, powerful cross-body movements that fire up your core, shoulders, and even your hips.

Start in a boxing stance with your dominant foot staggered back (if you're right-handed, your right foot should be back). Turn your front foot in about 45-degrees and center your weight between your legs. Lift your back heel off the ground and bring your hands up to your face. Perform successive hook punches with your dominant hand by twisting your back hip forward as you pivot on your back foot and use your core power to swing your dominant hand up and across your body to punch the bag at an angle so your forearm ends up parallel to the ground in front of your face. Pivot back to the starting position and continue as fast and powerfully as you can for the full 45 seconds.

Rest for 15 seconds then perform the same movement to the opposite side.

Hooks, Non-Dominant Side

Time: 45 seconds work, 15 seconds rest

After completing hook punches with your dominant arm, you'll repeat the exercise, this time using your non-dominant arm to deliver the punches. Set up with your non-dominant foot staggered back and repeat the hip-swivel, pivot, and punch.

Continue for 45 seconds before resting for 15 seconds. Proceed to the next exercise.

Burpee with Pushup - Straight Punches - Hooks

Time: 45 seconds work, 15 seconds rest

This is the last exercise in the series before you get an extra minute of rest. Push hard and finish strong.

Stand about an arm's length away from your punching bag with your feet hip-distance apart, knees slightly bent. Perform a burpee

  • Squat down, place your hands flat on the ground under your shoulders and step or jump your feet back so your body is in a high plank position with your core tight and your body forming a straight line from heels to head.
  • Perform a pushup, bending your elbows as you lower your chest toward the ground. Press back to the high plank position.
  • Step or jump your feet back toward your hands.
  • From here, explode upward, jumping straight into the air.
  • Land softly with your knees and hips slightly bent.

Land with your feet in a slightly staggered boxing stance. Immediately punch the heavy bag with a straight punch from your left then your right hand. Follow the straight punches with a left then right hook.

Continue the exercise series, completing as many full rounds as possible in 45 seconds.

Bonus Workout: Pushup and Punching Reverse Pyramid

If the full 20-minute workout seems like a little too much to handle, consider trying this quick-and-effective option from Jimmy Fusaro, a former fighter and full-time instructor at X Fit Training. Simply alternate between pushups and punching with a reverse pyramid-style rep scheme:

  • 10 pushups
  • 10 punches
  • 9 pushups
  • 9 punches
  • 8 pushups
  • 8 punches
  • ...

Continue subtracting one repetition from the previous number all the way down until you finish with one pushup and one punch. 

The beauty of this style of workout is that it's almost infinitely flexible. For instance, instead of doing pushups, you could do squats or lunges or burpees or crunches. Instead of doing alternating straight punches, you could isolate one side or incorporate other styles of punch, like hooks or uppercuts. You could even sub kicks in place of the punches.

Plus, you can keep the routine going. Once you make it all the way down the pyramid to one repetition of each exercise, you can make your way back up the pyramid by adding a repetition to each exercise until you make it back to your starting number of repetitions.

Doing just four or five minutes of this style of workout is the perfect high-intensity finisher for practically any routine.

Source:

Trutschnigg B, Chong C, Habermayarova L, Karelis AD, Komorowski J. "Female boxers have high bone mineral density despite low body fat mass, high energy expenditure, and a high incidence of oligomenorrhea." Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2018. DOI: 10.1139/H08-071.