You’re not always going to have a sparring partner. That doesn’t mean you should stop training entirely. If you have a heavy bag, you have a suitable striking surface on which to practice your combinations and fundamental techniques, as well as getting in a good cardio workout and instilling good fighting habits in your memory. Here are some heavy bag workouts to try at the gym.
Benefits of Muay Thai Heavy Bag Drills
- Great cardio workout
- Focused work to improve striking techniques
- Shin and muscle conditioning
- Opportunity to practice solo
- Versatile workout tool
Gear You’ll Need
- Muay Thai Heavy Bag (Traditional or Banana) – You can do these workouts wherever you have access to a heavy bag, either at the gym or at home.
- Muay Thai Gloves and Hand Wraps – Good boxing gloves protect your hands to allow you to go full strength with injuring the bones in your hand.
- Shin Protectors – Shin guards let you unleash powerful kicks without worry of shin bruises. Although going bare shinned is one way to condition the bones.
1. Muay Thai Defense Drill
A big problem with beginning Muay Thai fighters is the habit of getting lazy after throwing a combination. They toss out a few jabs, a cross, maybe a kick, and then pretend the fight is over by dropping guard. This is a bad habit because it can lead to painful punches to the face.
After throwing a punch, you want to reset your stance so you’re ready to guard against an incoming attack. Here’s a good drill to instill good fighting stance.
- Assume your stance. Weight should be distributed evenly between feet, both hands should be at or near face level on either side.
- Throw a right jab, or left jab if fighting left-handed.
- Follow it up with a jab from the opposite side. Vary punch heights just to keep it interesting.
- Continue the combination with a roundhouse at shin level.
- Reset your foot position and place your opposite fist at full extension against the bag, like you’ve just completed a punch. This is called “posting.”
- Return to stance and try a different combination. Avoid using the same sequence too many times. Even if you’re trying to improve it, you want more than one strategy in a fight.
This drill should put you at a proper fighting distance and kept your other hand up. Remember to keep your chin tucked, square your hips and keep your upper body balanced. Without these attributes, you are an easy target and easily overbalanced or leaned too far back to provide effective power to your punches.
2. Standing Your Ground
Don’t let other Muay Thai fighters push you around; you need to learn to stand your ground against force to avoid giving away a valuable terrain advantage. It’s difficult to stand up to an onrushing opponent or simply one who’s too heavy for you.
Improving your stance with this simple heavy bag drill will make you a more formidable fighter. It works best with a partner helping, but it’s not completely necessary. We’re going to assume you’re training alone for this exercise.
- Take your stance and push the heavy bag as hard as you can away from you and let it swing up and back.
- Contrary to instinct, let the bag hit you. The object is to learn to deal with momentum.
- Stay as still as possible, not letting the bag push you from your spot more than a few inches.
- If you have a partner, have him or her kick you in the abdomen just after the bag does to force you to regain stability more quickly. Otherwise, ignore this step.
- Make the bag steady and repeat the exercise.
Keep your upper body relaxed. This causes your center of gravity to lower into your abdomen and legs, making it harder to move you against your will. It’s a concept also seen in aikido and other soft martial arts.
3. Power Kicking and Stamina Drill
Stamina is vital in a Muay Thai fight, as is building up power. Sport matches last five rounds, and you have to make it through all five if you don’t score a knockout first. If your opponent is conditioned and trained properly, this is unlikely.
Therefore, you should be able to keep up a sustained combination. This workout alternates between punches and kicks to mix up your offensive repertoire, boost cardio, and condition your shins on the kicks.
- Take stance from whatever side you like.
- Start with a jab from your forward side.
- After retracting your jab, transition into a roundhouse kick with the opposite leg.
- Reset your stance, but with the opposite side leading.
- Throw a jab with the other hand.
- Retract your fist and kick with the opposite leg.
- Repeat as long as possible.
If you’re punching properly, your body should pivot to put you in position for the kick. The combo would be a right jab, left roundhouse, left jab, right roundhouse, repeat. As always, vary your speed and targets to improve technique.
4. Muay Thai Footwork and Movement
Fighters can sometimes suffer what’s called “frozen foot syndrome.” This is the tendency to root your body in one place while throwing punches and kicks. Not only does this limit your options, it also exposes you to attack against an opponent who is more free with his movement.
It seems contrary to work on footwork after stability, but you want to move on your terms, not your opponent’s. Try this drill for a good workout.
- Take a basic stance, balancing lightly on the balls of your feet. Rock back and forth to avoid becoming planted in place.
- Move left. Shift the left foot out and readjust to the right.
- Step to the right. Just as with a left movement, set the right foot first, then the left. You always want to move the foot leading toward your intended motion first.
- Step forward by shuffling your lead foot forward a step and resetting your rear foot.
- Finally, move backward. You can also apply these motions diagonally.
- Couple the footwork with strikes. A punch thrown while moving into your opponent has added power.
Remember to avoid crossing your feet when moving. Focus on the basic footwork first before trying anything fancy.
5. Flow and Hip Rotation
You need to be able to flow from one attack to the next seamlessly, and that involves shifting your weight and striking. Without a solid foundation of stance and shifting weight, you won’t be as effective as you could be. Here’s a basic drill to hone your fighting flow and technique.
- Approach the bag in a fighting stance with your hands at face level.
- Throw a jab. A jab is almost always the best opening strike of a combo; it’s fast and the opponent cannot react as quickly to it.
- When thrown properly, your weight should shift to the opposite side of your body. Without stopping, throw another jab from the opposite side.
- As you retract, kick at waist height or slightly lower.
- Reset your foot and punch with the opposite hand.
- Repeat this routine. As you get faster and smoother you can switch to elbows, knees, and different attack targets.
The idea with this routine is to accustom yourself to shifting weight back and forth. It’s simple physics: the more weight and force you put into a punch or kick, the more powerful it is. You want to involve your entire core, rather than simply extending your arm and leg. Rotate your hips.
6. Defense Sequence
Even if you land a powerful kick, there’s no guarantee that it will down your opponent. By consistently practicing defense, you can be prepared for sudden counters and to continue the fight.
This drill focuses mainly on roundhouses and push kicks. The push kick is more defensive in nature. It does have power behind it, but it’s used more to put distance between you and your attacker. Here’s how to do the basic workout.
- Stand with your off leg raised in preparation to block a midsection kick. At the same time, keep your hands up to block face strikes.
- Bring your leg down to the mat and come around with a roundhouse from the opposite leg as quickly as possible. Even though you don’t have an opponent, pretend you do and that you’re exploiting a discovered opening.
- Bring your leg up and finish with a push kick to send the bag away from you.
- Reset to basic stance and steady the bag.
- Repeat the drill from the opposite side; if you blocked initially with your right leg, switch to the left.
When doing the push kick, lean your weight forward somewhat so you don’t lose your balance and stumble backward. Start slowly then build up power and speed as you become accustomed to the movements. As with any good heavy bag drill, this exercise improves more than one aspect of your fighting. Standing on one leg improves your balancing skills. These are vital to winning a fight.
7. Attack and Defense Drill
A fight moves at a fast pace, with the initiative of attack shifting back and forth between the two opponents as time passes. Drilling your attacks and counterattacks enables you to shift rapidly between offense and protection as the occasion requires.
One of the most powerful attacks in Muay Thai aside from the head kick is the roundhouse kick to the midsection, so this drill focuses on protecting against it.
- Lead off your combo with a jab as per usual.
- Rapidly follow up with another one from the opposite side or even a second jab with the same hand.
- After the second jab, raise one leg to block a simulated kick to the midsection.
- Lower that leg and block the opposite side.
- As soon as you lower your leg to the ground, launch a powerful side kick with it. It seems counter-intuitive, but will surprise an opponent and has the added bonus of improving leg movement speed.
It doesn’t matter which side you start with, but you should consider attacking from both sides evenly as part of your Muay Thai heavy bag training.
8. Roundhouse Kick to Knee Transition
The roundhouse kick is a valuable tool but is very much a long range attack. You need a leg technique for close range, which is where the knee comes into play. It’s a powerful blow that can be almost as quick as the jab but doesn’t throw you off balance as much as a full kick does.
The roundhouse-knee combo can be a potent one, as long as you train it diligently. This drill practices the simple combination and simultaneously promotes keeping your opponent at the correct range for follow-ups.
- Launch a roundhouse kick at the bag from either side.
- Place your fist against the bag to steady it and set your kicking foot down on the mat ahead of your standing foot. This reverses your stance and brings you closer to the bag.
- Knee the bag at the side.
- Reset to your original position and repeat the pattern opposite.
The key to doing this drill well is to not twist your foot during the knee strike. Twisting your foot changes the biomechanics of your body’s position and disrupts your stability. You want both legs and feet to be pressing in roughly the same direction.
9. Speed Jab Drill
Remember that jabs are the fastest attacks you can use. They don’t get that way naturally; just like any other technique, you need to train to get faster. A fighter who can throw multiple jabs or crosses in quick succession has an advantage over one who cannot.
Rapid-fire jabs allow you to harry your opponent and keep him on the defensive until you’re ready to launch a powerful finishing blow. Here’s how you improve punching speed.
- Stand in basic fighting stance within punching distance of the bag.
- Punch the bag with your leading hand and quickly retract your fist as though you were snapping a whip. If you’ve seen any Wing Chun demonstrations, this is also their method of fast punches.
- Hold your block stance for a few seconds, keeping your eyes level with the bag. Don’t look up, down, or sideways.
- Punch twice in rapid succession with the same hand.
- Reset to a neutral stance.
- Punch once and block.
- Punch three times with the same hand, attempting to do it in the same time it took for two in the last rep. Odds are you won’t be able to but give it your best try.
- Repeat the same routine twice more, each time adding to the number of punches you do.
- Do the whole exercise again, but with the other arm.
The secret of the jab is in the snapping motion it makes when you return your fist to blocking position. It transfers its momentum into the opponent’s face or body more quickly. The jab is not meant to be a powerful knockout punch, it’s just meant for a quick attack to stun your opponent and catch him off guard.
When you punch, do not drop your other hand. Keep it up in blocking position. During the pauses in this exercise, you can practice body and head movement, similar to Western boxing.
10. Elbow Combos
The elbow strike can be a useful surprise attack if you find yourself at close range or if you’re pivoting around your opponent. It can be performed to the inside or to the outside, striking with either the forearm or upper arm directly adjacent to the elbow joint.
Your elbows are the fourth so-called set of limbs in Muay Thai, the others being the hands, shins, and knees. This is a free-form drill designed to hone elbow strikes.
- Step in, rotating your hips and driving your trailing elbow into the bag at rib level.
- From here, you can throw an opposite elbow strike or return to a neutral stance. It depends how fast you want to go.
- Make a leading elbow jab into the bag. Both of the previous strikes were directed to the inside, so now you’ll want to work the outside.
- Move around using some footwork, pivoting your body so it turns toward the bag from “behind.”.
- Elbow again to the side.
- Pivot and strike with the opposite elbow.
- Experiment with different combinations and sequences for these blows. Avoid doing too much spinning. Remember: you want to simulate fighting an opponent. Fancy spins expose you to punishment that you cannot afford.
When striking with the elbow, do not use the elbow itself. For inside blows, you’re hitting with the very top of the ulna with the driving force coming from your hips and chest. For outside blows, the contact point is just above the elbow on the upper arm.
Fundamental to all martial arts is breath control. While working on these Muay Thai heavy bag drills, remember to breathe slowly and regularly, exhaling sharply in time with your blows. Inhale through your nose and exhale quietly through your mouth without letting your jaw hang loose.
Beginners tend to tense up and forget to breathe while in the middle of an adrenaline rush. Correct breathing keeps you relaxed and your muscles oxygenated for longer.