Does Punching A Bag Build Muscle? (Here’s Why Not)

November 18, 2021

One thing you may notice about a boxer is their immensely muscular upper body. That is often what steers weekend warriors to boxing as their form of physical activity. But does simply punching a bag build muscle?

Punching a bag is not good for building muscle as it doesn’t maximize mechanical tension or metabolic stress. Instead, punching a bag will provide you with a great cardiovascular workout instead of building muscle.

With so many people using boxing as a form of exercise, there must be other benefits associated with punching a bag if building muscle isn’t one of them.

What Muscles Are Worked When Hitting A Punching Bag?

Hitting a punching bag is a full-body workout. Especially if you have great punching mechanics are able to fully utilize your legs with each punch thrown. The primary muscles will be your arms, shoulders, chest, back, core, and even your legs.

Your legs will be where all of your power comes from as the most experienced boxers have the greatest contributions from the legs when throwing punches [1]. In fact, 76% of the effort delivered into a punch is accounted for by the trunk and the legs [2].

Safe to say, almost every muscle will be worked when hitting a punching bag.

Does Punching A Bag Build Muscle?

Does Punching A Bag Build Muscle

Since punching a bag is a full-body workout, it may seem logical that punching a bag will also build muscle. But this is not the case. Punching a bag will not build muscle no matter how hard you hit the bag. Why?

Building muscle requires high levels of mechanical tension and metabolic stress [3]. Mechanical tension is generated with high forces when the muscle is taken through stretch. Meaning lifting heavy loads through a full range of motion.

While punching a bag may provide high resistance when hit as it stops your punch, it is very brief with little to no change in muscle length. But mechanical tension isn’t only maximized through heavy loading. Lighter loads taken to failure or close to failure also create a lot of tension [4].

Metabolic stress on the other hand is that “burning” sensation you get in those last couple of reps during a set. It is the build-up of by-products within the muscle that negatively affects force production but stimulates muscle growth [5].

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While you may get a burning sensation in your shoulders and arms punching the bag, there is not enough resistance to induce muscle growth.

Does Punching A Bag Build Biceps?

Punching a bag does not build biceps. The biceps are responsible for elbow flexion. The only elbow flexion that occurs is when holding the hands in the guard position and snapping back a punch after hitting the bag.

There is no resistance in these positions and the isometric position when holding the hands up puts the biceps into a short muscle length which is not great for building muscle [6].

Does Punching A Bag Burn Fat?

Like any physical activity, punching a bag can be a great way to burn fat. It requires your whole body and there is no impact on your legs like when running keeping your joints happy.

While burning fat comes predominantly down to your dietary intake, that is reducing your caloric intake, punching a bag can help you expend more calories so you don’t need to eat so much less while being an activity that is enjoyable and fun.

Does Punching A Bag Build Abs?

Punching Bag Muscles Worked

Punching a bag can be a great way to train your abs. The constant rotation will strengthen them. However, if you want to see your abs, you will need to have low body fat. This comes down to your boxing diet and your ability to stay in a caloric deficit for a long period.

Benefits Of A Punching Bag Workout

If punching a bag isn’t’ going to build muscle, what are the benefits of a punching bag workout?

Hone Your Boxing Skills

Hitting the bag is an opportunity to work on the skill of boxing. That is honing your punching technique. Jabs, crosses, hooks, and uppercuts can be done with perfect technique and with or without power so when you spar, you’ve engrained the correct technique.

Don’t let a punching bag workout be only a boxing conditioning workout. Use this time to work on the technical side of boxing as well.

Develop Knockout Power

The punching bag is often used for throwing power shots to train the ability to punch harder. You can unleash all the power you have into a bag without hurting your pad holder and you can punch much harder than if you were shadowboxing.

Get Into Cardiovascular Shape

Expect your heart rate to skyrocket during your punching bag workout. Especially if you are not used to it. A punching bag workout can improve your fitness dramatically even if you are not a competitive boxer.

If you are a weekend warrior, hitting the bag can be easier on your joints than running and much more fun.

Target Different Energy Systems

There are so many different boxing workouts you can do with a punching bag. Depending on the adaptations you want to target, you can perform low intensity, steady-state cardio to target the aerobic energy system or various anaerobic lactic and anaerobic a-lactic intervals for high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

How Long Should You Punch A Punching Bag?

Does Hitting A Punching Bag Build Muscle

How long you punch a punching bag is dependent on the desired adaptation and your overall goals. If you are just starting out, 5-10 minutes will feel like a lifetime. As you get better and fitter, you’ll be able to perform various intervals for a total of 20-30 minutes and beyond!

Does Hitting A Punching Bag Build Muscle?

Hitting a punching bag does not build muscle as it doesn’t satisfy the key criteria for muscle growth. In fact, boxing itself won’t build muscle. However, the punching bag offers many other benefits that can improve the technical side of boxing and provide a specific conditioning stimulus.

References

1. Filimonov VI, K.K., Husyanov ZM, & Nazarov SS., Means of increasing strength of the punch. NSCA Journal, 1985. 7: p. 65-66.

2. Davis, P., Wittekind, A., & Beneke, R. (2013). Amateur boxing: activity profile of winners and losers. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance8(1), 84-92

3. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.

4. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.

5. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Potential mechanisms for a role of metabolic stress in hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training. Sports medicine43(3), 179-194.

6. Oranchuk, D. J., Storey, A. G., Nelson, A. R., & Cronin, J. B. (2019). Isometric training and long‐term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports29(4), 484-503.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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