Why Would You Want a Punchbag?

If you practice any form of martial art, or self defence training, or are just taking boxing classes for fitness, having your own punchbag is obviously very useful.

That is especially so, now that most gyms are closed due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us are looking for ways to get some exercise at home. So even if your are not a martial artist, and are just looking for a way to keep fit at home, then perhaps you should consider getting yourself a punchbag.

A session of even a few minutes of fairly intense striking and kicking will leave you gasping for air, and will elevate your heart rate to, or near, it’s maximum.

And you can do that as often as you like, for as long as you like!

You can work out your own program, to suit your practicing and fitness training objectives. The level of intensity and endurance required is entirely up to you, because the bag is just a passive object.

In addition, hard strikes and kicks against a heavy bag will generate reactive forces imposed upon you by the bag, which your body has to resist. That also adds a strength element to your training, not to mention conditioning of your hands and joints, as well as potentially increasing your bone density.

But What Do You Hang the Punchbag From?

The only real problem with getting a punchbag for your home, is where to hang it, and what do you hang it from?

There are a number of factors to consider, such as:

  • You need enough space to train properly, so there needs to be plenty of space for you to move around the bag. The bag also needs enough space to swing freely as you attack it, without crashing into things like windows, shelves, walls or furniture.
  • By definition, the bag takes a pounding. That force will all be transmitted onto whatever you hang it from. Plus the bag itself is quite heavy. So the stresses that need to endured by what ever you hang the bag from, are quite high. Your mounting point needs to be strong. For example, if you use some sort of cantilever beam bolted to the wall, that wall is likely to crack, or the bolts are likely to work loose, if the wall is not 100% solid. For the same reason, the ceiling might also become damaged, if you mount a hook through the ceiling onto a roof beam, and so on. Depending on the construction of your home, this may, or may not, be a problem.
  • Of course, if you have something like a suitable tree, or carport outside, that might be a solution. Although, after using the outdoor bag at one of the gyms I used to train at, I learned that training with an outdoor bag can be quite irritating if it’s been completely exposed to the weather. The filling inside that bag absorbed water from the rain. It was all soggy, wet and squelchy when you hit it.

But in any event, I decided to get myself a punchbag a few months ago, just before we entered lock-down, having wanted one for many years. I had a spare room with plenty of space for training, but I did not have a strong secure point to hang the bag from, in that room. My house is quite old and fragile. The walls and ceiling are not really up to the task of holding a punchbag, in my opinion.

So in the end, I designed and built my own stand, with the objective that it should stand in the corner, on the tiled floor.

The stand I designed was strong and stable enough to take a pounding. It could also be dismantled completely, so that I could move it easily, if necessary.

Being an engineer, I probably over-designed it, but it meets all my requirements well. The only negative I have experienced, is that the stand bounces around a bit, as you hammer the bag. It would probably be better if it was bolted to the floor.

Overall, I think it turned out quite well!

Choosing a Punchbag and Hanging it at the Right Height

After training on a punchbag, almost every day, for a few month’s now, I can share some thoughts on how I would choose a bag, if I had to make that choice again, as well as a few other things I learned. But bear in mind more experienced users may have other, more insightful opinions.

The size of the bag is quite important, I think, because that makes quite a difference to the types of drills and training you can use the bag for.

Obviously price is a big consideration, and bigger, heavier bags are more expensive, so one might have to make do with what one can afford.

I practice both kicking as well as striking with my hands, elbows, and knees. My targets would typically range from head, to upper thigh heights. So the bag needs to be long enough to hang in space so that it offers targets across those range of heights. If money and space were not issues, if I had to choose again, I would go for the very long Muay Thai style bags, because then you could be striking targets from head height, right down to lower leg levels.

However, in hindsight, I still think the bag I bought, is good value, being a reasonable compromise between utility and price. It is 1.2 meters long and weighs about 40 kg. That size works quite well for my needs. By carefully adjusting the height it hangs at, it allows me to practice kicks and strikes at about the right heights. But note that if you are taller than I am (which is quite likely), then you may need a longer bag to cover the same range of target heights. Alternatively, if you are not interested in kicking and only focus on punching, them perhaps a smaller bag will do, which might be cheaper?

I would also say that getting a bag that is quite firmly stuffed with filling is much better to train with. That is something I would definitely look for if I had to buy another bag.

Another important point I quite like, is the way a heavier bag gives you feedback about the effectiveness of your striking technique. It’s very obvious when you are getting things right, as opposed to when you are being sloppy and ineffective.

Connecting the Bag to Your Hanging Point

One thing I noticed about some of the punchbags at gyms I used to train at. Is that the steel D rings, which are sewn into the straps that these bags hang from, often wear out.

That is because the D rings are usually connected to whatever they are hanging from, by some sort of steel shackle. The heavy weight of the bag, together with the forces induced by the bag been repeatedly struck, are all concentrated on the small point of contact between the steel shackle and the D rings, as the bag swings around. That results in rapid wear of both the shackle and the D Rings. While the shackle is relatively easy to replace, the D rings, which are an integral part of the bag, are not. You would need to send the bag back to the manufacturer to sew in new D rings, which they may not be willing to do.

For that reason, I decided to use simple rope to connect my bag to it’s hanging point. Firstly, I had some old rope lying around, from previous off-road camping trips, so that did not cost me anything. But more importantly, rope should wear much more readily than the steel D rings, so the D rings should last longer. It’s cheap and easy to replace the rope. Also you can spread the point of contact between the rope and the D rings, which reduces the stress on those contact areas.

In addition, while I thought it may be quite tricky and fiddly to find a way to tie the rope—that actually turned out to be straightforward, for my type of stand. Just wind the rope around your support for one turn, thread it through the D rings a couple of times to spread the load, then take it back up to your support, wind it around that one more turn and make a simple knot. Quick and easy!

You Don’t Need Gloves

Depending on what sort of training you want the bag for, you do not necessarily need to also get boxing gloves, to work-out on a punchbag.

This will depend on whether you intend to punch with your fists or not, and whether you specifically want to train with gloves (heavy boxing gloves add to the intensity of the workout).

If you punch with your fists, then you probably want some sort of gloves, to avoid skinning and bruising your knuckles (the skin on, and between your knuckles, gets squished and pulled all over the show as you punch – which often results in bleeding or bruised knuckles).

In addition, because your wrist is a hinge, and thus unstable, it takes quite a lot of training and conditioning, to hold it straight as you punch, especially if you hit the bag off-centre. A wrist that collapses, or twists as you strike, can be quite painful, or may even become sprained or injured. Boxers usually strap up their wrists to gain extra support, for this reason.

You can avoid all these issues, by simply not punching with your fists. Just use open handed blows or hammer fist strikes. If you strike with the heal of your open hand, you can hit as hard as you like, with no pain, or wear and tear on the skin of your hands. Just be careful not to strike so that your fingers get bent back. But it is relatively easy to learn how to avoid that. The same goes for hammer fist and edge of the hand strikes. As long as you strike with the base of your hand, not your fingers.

For self defence training, these types of strikes are all preferable, in any event, because in most self defence situations, you will not be wearing gloves. It is also relatively easy to break the small straight bones in your hand (behind your knuckles), if you hit something hard, when you punch with your fists. It’s obviously difficult to defend yourself with a broken hand. So punching with your fists is not a preferred option in self defence situations.

So, while your style of training may specifically require gloves, you do not necessarily need them to use a punchbag.

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