If you’re serious about using boxing as a way to get fit, or you’re passionate about the sport and want to take your training seriously, you know you’ll need access to some kind of punch bag. Whether that’s a heavy bag at your local gym, a speed bag you’ve installed in your garage or a double end bag you’ve installed in your bedroom, you’ll need something to throw shots at.
There are a huge number of different punch bags on the market and a lot of them do different things and are aimed at different boxers. It can be difficult not just for novices, but even seasoned professionals to choose which one to buy. In this article we’re going to take a look at a very specific issue that boxers face when choosing a punch bag - should you buy a freestanding bag, or a hanging bag?
Why you need a punch bag
First off, even though it seems obvious, let’s go through why you actually need a punchbag to train for boxing properly. Of course, hitting something isn’t the be all and end all of boxing - there’s footwork, stamina, nutrition, etc - but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has boxed in the past that didn’t think using a punch bag of some sort was a worthwhile exercise, whether it’s freestanding or hanging.
First off, for the novices reading this article, a boxing punch bag is a fantastic overall workout. Not only does it enhance cardiovascular fitness, endurance and strength, as hitting a punch bag is very demanding on both upper and lower body muscles, but it also serves as a stress-reliever; there’s nothing that will melt away the troubles of a hard day at the office than 30 minutes alone with a punch bag that you can beat the hell out of.
However, let’s not worry too much about the physical aspects of using a punch bag and let’s look at it solely as an instrument for increasing your boxing skill. A punch bag is invaluable for this purpose, as it provides you with a multitude of ways to improve key aspects of your boxing ability. Firstly, if you’re working out on a heavy bag, this is a great way to improve your power. As you continually throw punches at a bag over weeks and months, you’ll find you’re able to hit the bag harder and with more precision.
Boxing isn’t, as we’ve mentioned, just about hitting someone hard though - there are all sorts of aspects of technique and coordination required to box successfully. A heavy bag or a double end bag doesn’t just stay still - it moves, just like your opponent will. This gives you a fantastic opportunity to improve your coordination, footwork and control.
For all these reasons, I’m going to suggest that if you’re at all interested in boxing, you invest in a punch bag yourself, or find a gym that will allow you to use one.
Different types of punch bags that you can get
We’ve spoken at length about punch bags in general in this article, so I want to double down on the different types of punch bags available as hanging and freestanding bags. Not all bags are available as freestanding - you’ll be hard pressed in my experience to find anything other than a heavy bag or a double end bag if you’re looking for a bag you don’t have to hang up. However, these are exceptionally useful bags and should serve most amateur/beginner boxers quite nicely. Of course, there are many, many other types of bags; angled bags, maize bags, uppercut bags, wall bags, etc - but you’d be hard pressed to find any of these that you didn’t have to hang up somewhere.
Let’s take a look at the various different types of bags you can get as both freestanding and hanging.
The classic heavy bag. A standard fixture in boxing gyms up and down the country, the heavy bag is a staple of boxing training and, in my opinion, if you’re going to go for any kind of punch bag, it should be this one. Hanging variants come with a chain that can be looped onto a hook in the ceiling or can be placed onto a frame. I’m not a big fan of frames, stands or wall mounts (which we’ll go into later) but you can buy them from most sporting goods retailers and they can offer a good alternative for people who don’t want to be drilling into their walls or ceilings.
The freestanding heavy bag consists of a very similar cylindrical shape, but instead of being suspended from the ceiling or mounted onto a stand, it features a cylindrical base that is usually filled with water, sand or other heavy material to prevent the bag from moving around. The bag is attached to the base with a mount, which has a certain amount of give so that the bag will move back when it is punched.
Double End Bag
The double end bag is also a very popular bag - you’d again be hard pressed to find a boxing gym without one. This effectively consists of a ball, suspended between two lengths of cable; one attached to the floor and one attached to the ceiling. The cables are pulled taut, so that when the bag is hit, it swings towards the boxer. The idea of a double end bag is to improve your coordination and timing - so that you can swerve, dodge and counter-punch the bag.
The benefit of a double end bag is that it’s probably the type of bag that will give you the most feedback - the harder you hit it, or the faster you hit it, the more the bag will react in unpredictable ways, moving in angles and directions that you won’t necessarily be able to guess. As a result, it’s a brilliant workout and will really help hone your timing and coordination.
Freestanding double end bags do exist, but honestly in my opinion you shouldn’t waste your money on these. These effectively consist of a punching bag supported by a long pole attached to a sturdy base that prevents the bag from moving while you hit it. It reacts in a similar way, but in my opinion after training with one a few times, I don’t really feel that it provides as good a workout or improves your coordination in the same way a proper double end bag does.
Other types of bag
There are other bags available on the market that “technically” are freestanding - for example there are bags that you can attach to a wall. However, for the purposes of this article, it’s prudent to look only at the bags that are going to offer you the most benefit for the least outlay for your home gym. I think an uppercut bag is pretty pointless on its own, for example - this is the kind of thing you need to pair with a heavy bag or double end bag in your workout to get the most benefit.
Why hanging punch bags are better
First off, a hanging punch bag is 100% the better option. There’s no debate about this - a hanging punch bag will provide you with a better workout, will probably last longer and is overall a much better long-term option. If you’re looking at getting into boxing long-term, I highly recommend you purchase a hanging punch bag. But why? Let’s explore the reasons a hanging punch bag is the better option.
Movement and footwork
For a start, a heavy bag is designed to swing and move about. This forces you to think about your footwork and your movement, key aspects of anyone who wants to box. Think about it - if you’re in the ring with someone, you won’t just be squaring up to them and fighting them in one position. You’ll be moving around, ducking, dodging, feinting, counter punching. You can’t practice this if you’re always hitting a stationary target. A hanging heavy bag will move about a lot based on how hard you punch it, forcing you to mix it up a bit - moving to a different area, dodging the bag, countering the bag as it comes back to you. You can’t practice any of this with a freestanding bag.
What’s also worth bearing in mind is that even if you’re not planning to get in the ring with anyone anytime soon, you’re still going to get a better cardio workout (if you’re only interested in using boxing to get fit) if you’re moving around more than if you have a freestanding bag and are just hitting it in one place. I find that when I train, a freestanding bag can be really boring to train with because you don’t need to use your brain - the bag is always in one place, you don’t need to think about where you need to move in order to hit the bag again. All of this develops vital boxing skills, and in all honesty, makes your workout that much more entertaining.
Resistance and strength
This is one of the main reasons I think a heavy bag is better than a freestanding bag. A freestanding bag tends to be a little softer, and therefore easier to hit. As a result, you might find that you don’t get as good a workout with a freestanding bag, because you’re not having to work as hard.
What’s also worth mentioning is that no matter how hard you hit a heavy bag, you’re not going to knock it over. What that means is you can train as hard as you need to for as long as you need to, and the bag will be able to put up with this kind of punishment. It’s no good if you’re using a freestanding bag doing a pretty heavy workout, and it keeps falling over because it can’t take the impact of your punches.
Finally - one of the main considerations that a lot of people have when looking for home workout equipment like a punchbag. A hanging heavy bag is likely to be significantly cheaper than a freestanding bag. Even if you factor in the cost of a good quality stand, some weights to hold the stand down and the bag itself, you’re still likely to come in a lot cheaper than if you’d bought a freestanding bag, and you’ll have a better training experience as a result.
Why you might consider a freestanding bag
As you might expect, a hanging heavy bag is not for everyone. If you just don’t have the space for one, or can’t have one hanging up permanently, then a freestanding bag might be just what you need. There are a couple of reasons why you might choose a freestanding bag over a hanging punch bag.
First off, if you’re struggling for space, a hanging heavy bag might not be for you. Seeing as you have to let the bag swing, I’d recommend that you leave at least a 6 - 10 feet radius around any hanging bag in order to let it sway without hitting things. A freestanding punch bag doesn’t need this, because it doesn’t swing - so theoretically you can put a freestanding bag in a much smaller space and get the same effect, perfect if you live in a cramped apartment or you only have a small space to use as a home gym.
A hanging heavy bag is not a portable piece of equipment, and especially if you decide to install it onto the wall or the ceiling, you’ll have a lot of work to de-install, move and re-install the bag if you ever decide you want or need to. A freestanding bag is much easier in this respect - you can simply pick it up and move it to where you want it, which makes it a much better choice for anyone that doesn’t have a permanent place to train in their home, or needs to store the bag somewhere else when not in use.
This is the most obvious reason why you’d want to buy a freestanding punch bag over a hanging one. It’s clear that while there are numerous exercise and skill benefits to using a hanging bag, the setup is not easy, and more often than not requires you to drill into a wall or ceiling, or set aside space for a huge stand.
A freestanding bag is very, very easy to set up - you simply unbox it, fill it with sand or water and away you go. You don’t need to worry too much about where it will go, what kind of damage you’ll do if you don’t install it right - it’s very much a plug-and-play solution that will work anywhere you have the space for it.
How do you install a hanging punch bag?
Now, we’ve looked into why hanging punch bags might be better for your training. They also tend to be a bit cheaper, as well, which is a bonus. However, you will need to look into installing it properly, which is a problem you don’t have with a freestanding bag. In this section we’re going to look into the three different ways you can hang a hanging punch bag, and the pros and cons of each.
Hanging from the ceiling
It’s worth saying that this is probably only a viable option for you if you have a home gym, a workout room or even a garage or basement where you can train. If you want to set up your bag in your living room for occasional training, this probably isn’t going to work for you.
Hanging a bag from the ceiling is the best option in our view simply because it allows you the full range of movement around the bag. Being able to move 360 degrees around the bag allows you to work more effectively on your timing, your footwork, your movement and all the other things you look to refine when learning to box.
If you’re hanging your bag from the ceiling, there’s a few things you’ll need to keep in mind. What you want is to find a strong, stable support beam that runs across the length of your ceiling. Make sure you find one that allows you to mount the bag with enough room around it - that way you don’t run the risk of your bag bouncing off one of the walls. Bear in mind that whatever you’re hanging your bag from needs to be able to support the weight of the bag by itself, along with the impact of your punches as the bag swings.
You can get heavy bag mounting kits from most sports supply stores, or even online at Amazon. Some bags will even come with them included. Follow the instructions in the kit, make sure you fit the bag properly and you’ll be able to train with it for years to come. Be careful though; you’re likely to cause some damage to your home if you fit the bag improperly. Under no circumstances should you be fixing your bag to drywall, artex or plaster - it won’t be able to support the weight of the bag and you’re going to cause yourself an expensive repair bill.
Hanging from the wall
This is a compromise between using a stand and hanging from the ceiling. If you hang from the wall, you have all the hassle that’s also involved in fitting a bag to the ceiling, but less of the benefits - mainly that your movement around the bag is going to be pretty restricted. However, for those of you that live in smaller houses, or have tried to fix your bag to the ceiling but can’t find somewhere strong enough, this is (in our opinion) the second best option.
What you’ll want to do is make sure you use good quality fixings, and again, make sure you fix to either wooden studs, or masonry. Don’t attempt to fix a heavy bag stand to plaster or drywall, as it just won’t be strong enough. What you’ll also need to consider is that as you punch the bag, it will swing and potentially hit the wall - which can cause damage to the wall, it can cause extra noise that may reverberate throughout your building and annoy your neighbours and could also bounce back and hit you, causing injury.
However, if you’re just not able to fix your bag to the ceiling, and you’re not prepared to settle for a heavy bag stand, this could be the option for you. It’s also especially useful if you need a temporary setup, or a setup whereby you can remove and store your heavy bag, as it’s possible to buy wall mounts that fold away when not in use.
Hanging from a stand
In our view this is the least efficient way to mount a heavy bag, but it is a better option than a freestanding bag. However, if you’re in the situation where you’re not able to mount to your ceiling or walls - perhaps you’re in a rented apartment or your home just isn’t big enough - then a heavy bag stand could be a good option for you.
What’s important to look at in a heavy bag stand is the size - these things can be massive and it’s worth making sure you’ve got accurate measurements of the space you have in mind for the stand before buying one.
When buying one, look out for construction quality and materials - cheaper stands are made out of lightweight steel tubes, which are cheap and do the job but aren’t really designed for longevity, and you may notice some creaking or movement as you use the bag. You’ll also find that you’ll need to either buy some weights to put onto the bottom of the stand (some stands have special areas where you can put weights to weigh the stand down) in order to stop it moving. You’ll generally find these with the stands at the lower end of the market - higher end stands won’t require this, but it’s worth factoring into your budget.
Make sure you’ve got a bag in mind before you buy the stand first - as you’ll need to make sure the stand can take the weight of the heavy bag you want to hang from it.
Conclusion - a freestanding bag or a hanging one?
We’ve covered a lot in this article - but I think it’s pretty clear which option will give you the better workout. I do not recommend a freestanding bag unless you know you absolutely need one - whether it be for reasons of portability, space or something else. However, any bag is better than no bag, and if all you can get is a freestanding bag, then it’s worth looking at some of the recommendations elsewhere on this site.
Check out some of our other articles about learning to box and which equipment to buy!