We recently wrote about Why Heavy Bags Are Useful for Boxing, MMA, Muay Thai and other combat sports, so we decided it would be a good time to cover the many different types of punch bag which exist, and why most of them have slightly different purposes.
What is a punch bag or heavy bag?
To recap, the terms heavy bag, punching bag, or boxing bag are used to describe a typically leather (can be genuine or synthetic) bag filled with padding, which makes a good target for striking. The resistance of the bag depends on the weight of the filled bag, as well as the density (and type) of padding. Many people choose to use smaller weights of boxing gloves on a bag to improve hand speed, or slightly more densely padded boxing gloves to stop the padding from breaking down. It’s usually better to own a separate pair of gloves for heavy bag work than the ones you use for sparring to avoid breaking down the padding in the sparring gloves too quickly. Lets take a look at some of the different bag designs.
Freestanding Heavy Bag
As the name suggests, Freestanding bags are bags which mount on a stand, rather than hanging. Usually the base will be filled with either water or sand in order to hold it up-right. These types of bags are often found in homes as an easy way to train if you don’t have anywhere to hang a heavy bag or if you need to move them out of the way when not in use, but they’re much less common in actual gyms. While freestanding bags are good for convenience, they often are too light to hit with power, so many (especially cheaper models) can be easier to knock down and lack the swinging movement that other bags have.
Standard Heavy Bag
The heavy bag is the most common punching bag used for boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai and a range of other martial arts. The term heavy bag can be used to refer to bags of multiple shapes and sizes, as we’ll cover in a moment, however a typical heavy bag is usually 4ft-5ft tall, with a consistent width from top to bottom. Usually they’ll hang so the bottom is just below waist height.
A heavy bag is fairly versatile and lets you work on most basic techniques, including straight punches, hooks, kicks, elbows and perhaps knees.
Banana Heavy Bag
The “banana” bag, or long bag refers to a bag which is a little thinner and longer than a typical heavy bag, often hanging so that the bottom is resting on the floor (sometimes attached to the floor itself. This is a bag popular in Thailand, as well as amongst some Kickboxing gyms, because it’s length makes it perfect for landing low kicks.
The banana bag is great for practising level changing combinations, and can be treated a little more like an opponent, but it’s not as great if boxing is your main focus, as the bag lacks the same swing as a regular heavy bag.
Simply put, the pole bag is a beast – imagine a banana bag on steroids.
The pole bag is a similar concept to the banana bag, except, it’s significantly thicker. The most common pole bag by Fairtex comes in at around 59cm wide (about 23 inches) and around 140kg when filled (about 300lb). however after a while the filling often settles, leaving the bottom slightly thicker and heavier than the top.
The bag is so heavy in fact that they aren’t designed to hang, but instead need to be mounted around a vertical pole (hence the name), attaching at the top simply to stop the bag sliding down and losing it’s shape too much. Like the banana bag it’s perfect for low kicks, except you can hammer in punches and kicks much harder. The pole bag is great for practicing level-changing combinations with some power.
Obviously the downside is that once the bag is in place, it’s not something you want to have to move any time soon, and you can’t take it down to make space like you can with most other bags.
Angled Heavy Bag
On an angled heavy bag, the top of the bag is wider than the bottom. On some bags the angle between the two sections is more noticeable than others (usually thanks to time), but in general this angled surface provides a good point to land uppercuts and body shots on. Usually the top is used for straight punches, hooks and uppercuts, while the bottom part is great for body hooks and kicks.
This makes the bag much better for boxing based combinations, as you can train with even more of the basic punches than you can with a standard heavy bag.
Teardrop Heavy Bag
Teardrop shapes can vary a lot in terms of width, but are usually an egg or teardrop shaped bag, usually a few feet in height. The wider the bag, the heavier it is, so a slimmer teardrop bag will swing better for training head movement and defence, while a heavier bag is better for throwing with power.
The different angles on this bag allow for a variety of punch types, including uppercuts and even overhand strikes, however they’re also usually great for hitting with elbows. Wider teardrop bags also are great for landing knees on, and you can land some kicks (although kicks usually don’t feel as satisfying as on a straighter bag).
Wrecking Ball Heavy Bag
A wrecking ball has a similar purpose to the uppercut bag, but is much more popular in the boxing world where kicks aren’t used. While it may look similar in shape to the Teardrop bag, a wrecking ball is much thicker and heavier which mean’s there’s often less swing. The rounded surface is even better for landing uppercuts than both of these bags, and thanks to the weight, these punches can be landed with some good power.
Although wrecking ball bags often have a slower swing, the short height means they work well for bobbing and weaving underneath between strikes, making it ideal for practicing close-distance fighting and footwork.
Bowling pin heavy bag
The bowling pin bag is a bag designed with a slightly more specific purpose, meaning that outside of Muay Thai it’s somewhat pointless. unlike the other bags we’ve looked at, the majority of the weight is based at about waist height.
This sort of bag has two real benefits. It’s great to practice front kicks/teeps on, and it’s great for clinching up with and landing knees on. The bottom-heavy shape means it’s a good way to practise hard teeps to the stomach, while the thinner section at the top mimics an opponent’s head, letting you clinch on and practice offence with a variety of knees.
It is a very specialised bag, and while you could land punches and round kicks, it’s not really the best bag for that sort of training. Punches and kicks are probably better used to set up clinch entry.
The wall mounted bag, or uppercut bag is a small angular bag which is screwed in place on the wall. They’re ideal for fast boxing combinations, with target sections for straight punches, hooks, uppercuts and body punches.
On the flip side, the bags don’t move at all, and you only really have one angle you can hit the bag from, so you’ll find you’re a little more limited with training footwork. While they’re great for boxing, many people also practise more exciting moves such as elbows and flying knees. We’ve seen people attempting kicks as well, although we’d definitely suggest finding a different bag, because let’s be honest… If you misjudge a kick on the wall bag, you’re going to end up breaking your toe on the wall. Ouch.
Chances are you’ve seen the speed bag before. It’s the go-to bag for trying to look impressive with your super quick hands.
The speed bag is a bit of a weird one at first, and the arm movements are more of a hammer fist than an actual punch, however there are actually some real benefits to it.
When you hit the air-filled bag it very quickly bounces back and forth against the board above it, which means that you have to time your next strike between bounces to land successfully and keep the rhythm going smoothly. These quick, timed strikes are to help increase hand-eye coordination, hand speed and rhythm.
Double End Bag
The double end bag, or floor to ceiling bag, is a small, light bag which has two attachment points, allowing it to connect to both the floor and the ceiling (or sometimes wall to wall for a unique training style). The tension of the ropes and size of the ball can change how quickly the bag swings and how big or small a target it is for training accuracy.
The double end bag allows for some good speed and rhythm training, almost similar to the speed bag, but with the added benefit that you can move around and use proper strikes. The speed that the bag swings back with means that this bag is also useful for practicing blocking, which means you can easily practice counter striking.
You can get double end bags in different shapes and sizes. The classic is the single ball shape, however another popular variation is the double-angled bag, which has two balls, almost in an 8 shape. Depending on the shape will affect whether you can imitate body strikes as well as strikes to the head.
The bag will need an attachment on the floor as well as ceiling, which means it isn’t easy to move around.
The aqua bag is something which has gained popularity in recent years. Most heavy bags are made with a leather exterior filled with some sort of textile padding. Aqua bags on the other hand are made with a synthetic material (almost a thick plastic with a slight rubbery texture) and filled up with water.
When hitting an aqua bag it has a completely different feel. Strikes sink in a little more, which is said to be better for your joints, and it really lets you throw much harder than on a regular bag. They tend to be a lot heavier compared to other bags of the same size, which means there’s not as much swing, however physically hitting the bag feels a lot more like hitting a real person than a lot of other bags. The other benefit of the water padding is that you don’t have any issues with the filling settling in one place and causing harder and softer spots, like you sometimes get on other bags. Instead the aqua bag always has the same feel and degrades a lot less over time.
While you can use these bags for elbows, knees and kicks at a push, the material isn’t the most comfortable on the skin, so you’ll probably want to just stick with boxing training.
Body opponent bag
Finally the last type of bag we’re going to look at is the Body Opponent Bag, affectionately named BOB. The most popular is the Century Bob, however other brands also produce similar products, sometimes referred to as a boxing partner bag.
These bags are similar to the Freestanding heavy bags we looked at earlier, however they’re designed as a much more literal representation of an opponent. The idea is that instead of throwing punches at the middle of the bag, you can actually aim right for the chin. When throwing kicks you can aim for the ribs or head, instead of just guessing the height like on a standard bag.
You can also raise and lower the bag depending on your height, which can be used to help you imitate training against shorter or taller opponents.
Unfortunately the body opponent bag has many of the issues that other freestanding bag, including the fact it’s very static and can sometimes be easier to knock down. Because of this it lends itself much better to traditional martial arts like Taekwondo and Karate where the focus is usually more on individual strikes than combinations.
How to choose what bag you need
When it comes to choosing the right punching bag for your training, you first need to work out what sort of work you’re looking to do.
It’s important to understand what each bag is good for. Some bags are better for working on your overall striking, while other bags are better for working on more specific boxing skills like speed, timing and movement.
If you’re just starting out, or need to train the basics, then you should consider some of the more basic bags.
If you’re looking to get yourself a bag for training at home and can only have the one, then a standard heavy bag is always a good call. If you’re just boxing, a shorter heavy bag or perhaps teardrop bag may be useful, but if you need to throw kicks (especially low kicks) then one of the Thai style bags such as the banana bag might be better.
If you’re a little more advanced and have space for more than one bag, then that’s when we would suggest looking into buying more unique bag.
Once you’ve made your decision on what type of bag you want to go for, make sure to check out some reviews. To help you out, we’ve reviewed some of the heavy bags we’ve spent the most time working on in our Equipment Reviews section. Not all heavy bags have the same quality and feel, so it’s really important to know that you’re getting your money’s worth out of such an expensive item.