Is the Punching Bag Good for Cardio?

Is the punching bag good for cardio? Yes, absolutely! You don’t have to be a professional boxer to get an incredible boxing workout; you’ll be rejoiced to know that it burns more calories on average than any other sport.

Using the punching bag (also known as a heavy bag) is not only great for your cardiovascular health, but also has plenty of other benefits, such as muscle toning, increasing functional strength, and developing long-lasting endurance.

Additionally, since boxing is a full-body sport, you’re working out far more than just your arms – contrary to what some believe. You can never go wrong with the punching bag, whether you intend to outlast your opponent in the ring or just lose some healthy weight.

Table of Contents:
1. The Benefits of Using a Punching Bag
2. Heavy Bag vs. Speed Bag: Which Is Better for Cardio?
3. Why Using a Punching Bag Is Better Cardio Than Running on a Treadmill
4. Example of a Cardio Workout With a Punching Bag
4.1. Warm-up – 10 minutes
4.2. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – 20 minutes
4.3. Cooldown – 10 minutes
5. Medium to Low-Intensity Heavy Bag Cardio
5.1. Warm-up – 10 Minutes
5.2. Long Interval Training at Medium Intensity – 30-40 Minutes
5.3. Cool-down – 10 Minutes
6. Tips for Using the Heavy Bag for Cardio
6.1. Punch Strength
6.2. Footwork
6.3. Align Your Breathing
6.4. Pacing Yourself
7. Conclusion

1. The Benefits of Using a Punching Bag

Like many other high-intensity workouts, boxing promotes healthy blood flow throughout your body and is, in general, a fantastic cardio workout. It can help prevent cardiovascular diseases like heart failure and stroke and can effectively combat diabetes.

I mentioned before that using a punching bag also increases your strength and muscle tone. A major beneficiary is your arm muscles – specifically the pectorals, serratus anterior, brachialis, deltoids, triceps, and latissimus dorsi.

That is because boxing targets this group of muscles, and you’ll see improvements in your punch strength and definition after consistently using the heavy bag. 

Additionally, while many people don’t think of boxing as a leg workout, the reality is that you use your lower half almost as much as your upper. When practicing proper technique, you move your feet and twist your hips, which allows you to engage muscles such as your piriformis, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes minor/major, and obliques. 

As you can gather, incorporating the punching bag into your cardio routine is one of the best things you can do for your health and overall body strength. It’s more worthwhile than most other cardio exercises and is undoubtedly more fun.

2. Heavy Bag vs. Speed Bag: Which Is Better for Cardio?

The heavy bag and the speed bag are staples in the boxing community, and while they are equally important in training, they serve entirely different purposes. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and which is better for cardio is up for debate.

These are the main differences between the speed bag and the heavy bag:

2.1. Speed Bag

Speed bags are small, tear-shaped bags that are mostly filled with air and are pretty light. As such, they are often suspended from a low-hanging ceiling and used for speed-based training. It’s a good cardio exercise and an excellent tool for improving technique, reflexes, and concentration.

Due to their small size, you don’t hit them as hard as you would a heavy bag, so they aren’t practical for building muscle and strength.

Despite their lack of power training, they are still necessary for fine-tuning boxing styles and are, overall, an amazing workout nonetheless. They can help you increase the accuracy of your punches, while the high-speed workout engages your core and gets you into the cardio, fat-burning zone

2.2. Heavy Bag

Heavy bags are hulking, cylinder bags that hang from sturdy ceilings and can weigh upwards of 300 pounds. Given how dense they are, they can take a beating, and you’re free to hit them as hard as you want.

While they aren’t perfect for training your speed or reflexes, they excel in improving strike power and muscle strength. Additionally, using a heavy bag requires you to use far more of your core and legs when using it, and in turn, makes it better for full-body workouts than the speed bag.

2.3. So Which Is Better for Cardio: The Speed Bag or the Heavy Bag?

While both are reasonably decent cardio workouts, the heavy bag burns much more calories than the speed bag on average.

The outperformance of the heavy bag is due mainly to it being a form of resistance training where you have to work harder to get a result. Using the heavy bag also engages more muscle groups than the speed bag, which is more reflex-oriented. 

If you’re a boxer, you’ll use both in your workout routines, but if you’re just looking to improve your cardio, then the heavy bag is the way to go.

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3. Why Using a Punching Bag Is Better Cardio Than Running on a Treadmill

Unless your goal is to be a long-distance track star, boxing outclasses running on the treadmill in almost every way. You get a lot more out of the punching bag since you’re engaging a more comprehensive array of muscles during your workout, and you have more variations to choose from. 

Boxing is also better for weight loss since it has a higher calorie burn rate. On average, boxing burns around 800 calories an hour, while running on a treadmill only burns 580. If you want a better estimate of how many calories you’ll burn per hour based on body weight, check out the Captain calculator.

My advice? Skip the treadmill and go straight for the bag.

4. Example of a Cardio Workout With a Punching Bag

While nothing is stopping you from punching the heavy bag for an hour straight (aside from your endurance), it’s usually better to go in with a structured plan. Developing a routine will increase the effectiveness of your overall workout and allow you to track progress much more conveniently. 

I’ve got an in-depth boxing workout in my Guide on Boxing for Beginners. But here’s a 40-minute version with a bigger focus on the heavy bag:

4.1. Warm-up – 10 minutes

Assuming you’ve already done your stretches, it’s time to warm up.

Your main objective with the warmup is to get loose and prepare your body for more rigorous activity. Start by bouncing around and hopping side to side. Stay light on your feet and shake your arms out to ease any tension.

After about 5 minutes of feet work, add in some light jabs at about 50 percent power (you don’t need the punching bag for this) and do a few practice dodges here and there.

You can also do other warmup exercises like jumping jacks and body twists. 

4.2. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – 20 minutes

When doing cardio, you can either choose low-medium intensity workouts for more extended periods or high-intensity workouts. 

Boxing is a type of aerobic exercise focusing on high-intensity workouts in short bursts with tons of rest breaks. 

Example of a boxing HIIT rotation with a punching bag:

  • Jab, straight, bob and weave – 45 seconds of work time, then 15 seconds of rest.
  • Straight punches with your dominant side – 45 seconds, 15 seconds of rest.
  • Straight punches with your non-dominant side – 45 seconds, 15 seconds of rest.
  • Alternating hooks with your dominant and non-dominant sides – 45 seconds, 15 seconds of rest.
  • Slip, then uppercut (alternating) – 45 seconds, 15 seconds of rest.

Do each exercise once and then move on to the next. Repeat this cycle four times for a total of 20 minutes.

4.3. Cooldown – 10 minutes

It’s always a good idea to end your workout with a cooldown. Light exercises and stretches will help wind your body down and encourage faster muscle recovery. 

You can repeat what you did for your warmup or change it up for the cooldown – whichever you prefer.

5. Medium to Low-Intensity Heavy Bag Cardio

If you’re one to opt for lower-intensity workouts, you are inhibited by a disease/disability, or you’re just taking it easy for a day, then you might want to do some medium or low-intensity cardio on the heavy bag.

When you work in lower intensities, you go at a slower pace for prolonged periods. You also take fewer breaks as you expend your energy more steadily than in HIIT. It’s similar to the difference between doing compound exercises and exercises that target a single muscle. 

For example, consider the difference between a bench press and a dumbbell curl. On one hand, the bench press uses a compound group of muscles in tandem to accomplish a strenuous goal (pushing the barbell upward). On the other hand, the dumbbell curl primarily targets the biceps, and you can often do many more reps than on the bench.

Similarly, when you do medium-intensity workouts on a heavy bag, you’re moving at a steady, consistent pace. You’re not tiring yourself out immediately, nor are you going so slow that it’s counterintuitive. The objective is to find a balance.

If you’re unsure of how to approach such a workout, here’s what a prolonged medium-intensity workout might look like on the heavy bag:

5.1. Warm-up – 10 Minutes

For the warm-up, you’ll follow a similar progression as the HIIT routine. Just do some light stretches, bouncing side-to-side, etc.

Even if you’re not going as hard, you still don’t want to skip this step, as it’s crucial for preventing injury and ensuring your body is working at its total capacity.

5.2. Long Interval Training at Medium Intensity – 30-40 Minutes

While long-interval training can be rigorous in its own right, you can choose to strike with slightly less power and at a slower rate. You won’t build as much muscle or increase your strength doing this, but it’s still decent cardio and more interesting than running or walking.

For long interval training on the punching bag, you’ll want to go for about 4 minutes of drills and 30 seconds – 1 minute of rest. In each drill, focus on a single type of strike and alternate between hands. 

A complete workout could mean doing 4 minutes of jabs, 4 minutes of straights, 4 minutes of hooks, 4 minutes of uppercuts, and one minute of rest between each. Add in some slipping, bobbing, and weaving, and you’ve got yourself an incredible workout.

Just remember to take things a bit slower, and don’t burn yourself out in the first couple of minutes.

5.3. Cool-down – 10 Minutes

Like the warm-up, your cooldown probably won’t deviate much from the cooldown of a high-intensity workout. Just be sure to stretch everything out and wind your body down. Otherwise, you’re more susceptible to cramps and injury.

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6. Tips on Using the Heavy Bag for Cardio

If you’re planning on incorporating the heavy bag into your daily workout routine, you’ll want to keep this advice in mind before starting. 

6.1. Punch Strength

When striking a heavy bag for an extended time, you don’t want to hit it with full force each time. Instead, opt for between 50% and 70% with each punch. That will allow you to last longer and helps increase endurance.

If you’re a beginner, focus less on power and more on technique. Proper form is essential for preventing long-term injuries like arthritis and provides much better workouts overall.

6.2. Footwork

Make sure you’re doing more than just hitting the bag; shuffle around, bounce side to side, and pivot your feet and hips with each swing. As I said before, boxing with a heavy bag should be both an upper AND a lower-body workout. 

If you’re not focused on footwork, your technique will suffer, and you won’t burn as many calories.

6.3. Align Your Breathing

As with all cardio, you’ll need to synchronize your breathing to your movements if you want to strike correctly and with vigor. 

If you’re inhaling while performing a strike and exhaling afterward, you’ll likely run into some imbalances in airflow. Irregular breathing habits during cardio will inhibit your ability to last longer as your body won’t distribute air as efficiently during pivotal movements.

You don’t need to time your breathing when running, but you will for precise movements like in boxing. If you’re holding your breath, or your breaths are uneven, you can lose concentration, and your body will tire much quicker.

6.4. Pacing Yourself

My final piece of advice to you is the following: pace yourself. If you’re going hard in the very beginning when you’re feeling fresh and energetic, your body will give out much sooner than it usually would. Your training might be decent for building strength, but it isn’t good for cardio.

If you’re a boxer or trying to lose weight, you probably know how vital endurance and cardio are for your cause. Research what heart rate zone you want to be in during your workout. Some zones are better for burning fat, and some for training.

You can consider using a heart rate monitor like a FitBit or an Apple Watch. Either way, just take things at your own speed at first and gradually build up.

7. Conclusion

In the end, using a punching bag for cardio is a somewhat underrated yet immensely effective training routine. It’s way more interesting when repetitively running on a treadmill for an hour, and it burns more calories.

It doesn’t matter if your objective is to become a splendid boxer or to cut off a few extra pounds; the heavy bag is a fantastic piece of equipment, and you should fully take advantage of using one if given the chance.

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