How to Choose the Right Punching Bag for Your Workout

punching bag types, how to choose a punching bag, a woman with punching bags

A punching bag is an essential piece of workout equipment for martial artists. Every martial artist who trains at home needs a punching bag. Whether you’re a boxer, a karateka, or a nak muay, it’s important to choose the right punching bag for your workout. 

In this guide, I’ll break down the different types of punching bags, how and why to use them, and which one is best for you.

What are the different types of punching bags?

There are three main types of punching bags: the heavy bag, the speed bag, and the reflex bag. Each serves a different purpose when training.

Heavy Punching Bag

The heavy punching bag is the most common type of punching bag. It’s what most people think of when they imagine a punching bag. A heavy punching bag is designed to absorb heavy blows, whether you’re punching like a boxer or kicking like a karateka. 

Heavy punching bags are usually packed with sand, grain, or another material that makes the bag firm. However, a properly filled heavy bag has a little “give” to prevent injuries.

There are two types of heavy punching bags: the traditional hanging punching bag and the free-standing punching bag. Alternatively, you can use a dummy bag. This is a punching bag in the shape of a human, so you can practice hitting key targets like the chin, temple, and liver.

Speed Punching Bag

Speed bags are designed to develop a boxer or striker’s rhythm, timing, and speed. Speed punching bags can also improve hand-eye coordination. They are generally mounted but can also come with a stand.

Like the heavy bag, speed punching bags come in hanging mounted versions and free-standing versions.

Reflex Punching Bag

A reflex punching bag improves a boxer or striker’s reflexes. Like a heavy punching bag, they are designed to absorb strikes. However, they are lighter and usually equipped with springs for fast-movement. The springs create a rapidly moving target that is more difficult to hit than a traditional heavy punching bag.

What type of heavy punching bag should I get?

The type of heavy punching bag you should get for your home workouts depends on a few factors, like how much space you have, your budget, and the kind of equipment you have access to.

When should I use a hanging punching bag?

Hanging heavy bags are usually suspended from the ceiling by chains. Some boxers and martial artists prefer hanging heavy bags because it creates a moving target when struck. This more accurately simulates an opponent, as free-standing bags are comparatively stationary. Generally speaking, hanging heavy bags are more affordable, though you may need to buy the material to fill them.

However, in order to use a hanging heavy bag, it needs to be correctly installed. You’ll want to have a professional do this, as a heavy bag could cause injury if it fell from its mount. Alternatively, there are hanging heavy bags that come with a stand. The downside of a stand is that it takes up a lot of space.

It’s also important to note that once installed, a hanging heavy bag is usually in place permanently. This could become a problem in the future if you add more equipment to your home gym and need to move the location of your hanging punching bag.

When should I use a free-standing punching bag?

A free-standing heavy punching bag does not require mounting and is usually attached to a heavy base that is filled with water or sand. This is a great option for martial artists who do not have a place to mount a hanging punching bag. Another advantage of a free-standing punching bag is greater mobility, as it is not permanently mounted.

However, there are several downsides to a free-standing punching bag. While they have flex and move, they do not sway as much with punches compared to a heavy bag, so you won’t get as much practice hitting a moving target. They are also, generally speaking, more expensive when compared to hanging punching bags.

Some boxers and martial artists have also stated that free-standing bags can fall over, which can cause injury.

Ultimately, hanging heavy bags and free-standing punching bags do the same thing in different ways. You can still punch, kick, knee, and elbow them to train your technique and power. The choice of which punching bag is right for you depends on your space, budget, and preference.

When should I use a dummy punching bag?

A dummy punching bag is ideal for someone who wants to practice hitting specific targets like the chin, temple, and liver. A full-sized hanging dummy bag is also a good option for martial artists who also practice grappling, as they can be unmounted and used for grappling practice. However, the most popular kind of dummy punching bag is a free-standing bag called “Bob.”

Since other heavy bags have a smooth surface, “Bob” simulates a lifelike target. Since Bob is a free-standing bag, it has the same disadvantages. However, unlike other free-standing bags, Bob only faces one direction, so circling around him isn’t an option.

Century Bob XL Punching Bag Review: As Good as a Heavy Bag?

A dummy bag serves all the same purposes as a hanging punching bag or a regular free-standing punching bag, so it comes down to preference.

What size heavy punching bag do I need?

The rule of thumb for heavy punching bags is that it should be around half your weight. If your heavy bag is too light for your size, you won’t get the best experience using it. However, if budget is a factor, typically an 80-pound punching bag will do the trick for most adults.

Larger martial artists should opt for heavier punching bags if they can afford it. Heavy punching bags can reach up to 200 pounds, which are designed for heavyweight boxers. Heavier bags give greater resistance when punching, so it’s important to find the right size punching bag.

What type of speed bag should I get?

Like the heavy bag, the type of speed bag you get depends on a number of factors. These include your size, skill level, space in your home gym, and budget. Luckily, speed bags are comparatively inexpensive compared to heavy bags and take up much less space.

Since speed bags are less expensive compared to other punching bags, it’s better to buy one of quality material. Generally speaking, speed bags come in leather, synthetic leather, and canvas. Leather is the highest quality and most expensive. Canvas is the cheapest, but provide a terrible punching experience.

Speed bags come equipped with a “bladder” on the inside. Unlike heavy bags, which are filled with sand or grain, speed bags are filled with air. The pocket inside the speed bag is called the bladder. There are a few different materials used for speed bag bladders, but the highest quality is latex rubber.

Choosing between a free-standing speed bag or a mounted speed bag will depend on the space you have inside your home gym. Although speed bags are small, their mounts can take up a lot of space. And like the heavy bags, once their mount is installed, it is permanent. You will probably need to hire someone to properly install it.

Free-standing speed bags offer greater mobility, but aren’t as stable and don’t provide as good of a punching experience.

Speed bags come in a range of sizes from extra small to extra large. You’ll want to choose a speed bag that corresponds correctly with your size and weight. If it is too large or too small, it will affect the punching experience.

What type of reflex bag should I get?

Generally speaking, reflex bags are free-standing bags that are used to improve reaction time and speed. They usually have a water or sand filled base (similar to free-standing heavy bags) with a smaller punching bag attached to a spring. However, there are alternatives, such as the double-end bag and the punching ball.

When should I use a reflex bag?

Reflexes and speed are essential components for boxers and martial artists, so if you have the space and the money for one, a reflex bag is a great punching bag for your home gym. A free-standing reflex bag takes up less space than a free-standing heavy bag, but the bag moves a lot more. They are also more expensive when compared to other punching bags.

Using The Cobra ‘Reflex’ Bag

However, due to their expensive nature, you may want to consider one of the alternatives. A double-end bag or a punching ball may not be as fancy, but they hone the same skills that a reflex bag does.

When should I use a double-end bag?

The double-end bag is a good choice for people looking for a cheaper alternative to the reflex bag. A double-end bag is a kind of punching bag that is suspended between the floor and the ceiling by elastic bands. Although it’s generally considered a punching bag for boxers, it can be used by any martial artist who utilizes punching.

Like the reflex bag, the double-end bag is designed to rebound so that boxers and martial artists can work on their reflexes, speed, and even their footwork and head movement. While it is generally much less expensive when compared to a free-standing reflex bag, a double-end bag has to be properly installed. However, the installation is usually more adjustable compared to mounts for speed bags and heavy bags.

How to Hit a Double-End Bag

When should I use a punching ball?

A punching ball is the cheapest alternative to the reflex bag and takes up even less space than a double-end bag. A punching ball is usually a ball attached to an elastic string that boxers and martial artists wear on their heads. Like the reflex bag and double-end bag, the reflex ball rebounds when you punch it.

This is a great choice for on-the-go training, but the experience won’t be as satisfying as using a reflex bag or double-end bag. Using a punching ball can also encourage bad form, as it’s less predictable. If you use one, always keep in mind to use proper technique when throwing punches; otherwise, you may form bad habits.

Punching balls are inexpensive, but some boxers and martial artists make their own using string, headbangs, and tennis balls.

Amazing React Reflex Ball

How can I tell if a punching bag is high quality?

There are several things you should consider when determining a punching bag’s quality: the material, the brand, and where it was manufactured.

Leather, synthetic leather, and canvas are common materials for punching bags. Although more expensive, leather is the best quality material for punching bags. However, synthetic leather is a less expensive viable alternative. Canvas punching bags are usually low quality and should be avoided when possible.

Heavy bags should be made with a material that is dense enough to withstand the punishment of heavy strikes, but not so dense that it can cause injury. When buying a heavy punching bag, if you aren’t filling it yourself, be sure to check what it’s stuffed with. If you’re filling a heavy bag yourself, use a material like sawdust or sand. Old clothes are another option.

You may also want to consider the brand that you’re buying a punching band from. Name brands like Title, Everlast, Twins, Hayabusa, and Fairtex offer higher quality products when compared to no-name brands manufactured overseas. Generally speaking, punching bags made in the USA are higher quality, though some brands like Fairtex manufacture in places like Thailand.

How much do punching bags cost?

The cost of a punching bag depends on what kind of bag it is and how high quality it is.

Hanging heavy bags can range from anywhere between $50 and $150, depending on whether you buy it with a mount that needs to be installed or a stand. Mounted heavy bags that aren’t filled are usually the least expensive option. 

Free-standing heavy bags are a bit pricier, ranging anywhere from $150 to over $250.

Punching bag dummies have a wide price range, with some cheaper options for as low as $100. The aforementioned “Bob” punching dummy comes with a $370 price tag.

Speed bags and double-end bags generally range from $30 to $70, including the mount.

Reflex bags have a wide range, with some options as low as $90 with the higher quality bags selling for as much as $300.

Which punching bag is right for you?

The right punching bag for you depends on your training goals, budget, and space. Every boxer and martial artist can benefit from using a heavy bag, speed bag, and reflex bag. Choosing between a free-standing punching bag, mounted punching bags, and other alternatives depends on which option fits your needs best.

If you are just starting your training, the first punching bag you should invest in is a heavy bag. Perfecting striking technique can be done on a heavy bag, while speed bags and reflex bags are more about fine tuning.

If you already have a heavy bag and are looking to primarily improve your rhythm and speed, invest in a speed bag.

If you already have a heavy bag and a speed bag, a reflex bag is a great addition to your home gym that will drastically improve your timing, reflexes, and accuracy.

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Timothy Schoonmaker
Timothy Schoonmaker
I was an amateur boxer in high school when I competed in the prelims of the New York Golden Gloves amateur division. Later in life, I began training BJJ. My friends at the academy introduced me to Muay Thai, and I train all 3 martial arts today. I am currently a purple belt in BJJ, hoping to advance to brown soon!