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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 31 2011

WOW: Beat the Bag

By Mark Sisson

Complete 4 2-minute rounds of:

Jabs and Crosses


Warmup: 20 seconds each of practice punches. Go light and fast, making sure to establish proper form.

Although we Primal types tend to be lovers rather than fighters, knowing how to most effectively introduce your fist to another’s face with great insistence is an important skill to have. Even if you never engage in fisticuffs with another human in your lifetime, you can get a fantastic total body workout by beating up on a padded, inanimate opponent. Now, I’m definitely not a fighter, but I can appreciate the power generated and conditioning displayed by those who do it on a regular basis.

First, you’ll need something to hit. You could shadow box if you have to, but hitting an opposing force really helps. You’re more liable to put real weight behind your strikes and thus generate more power and get a better workout if there’s something physical in front of you. Okay – so what are you supposed to hit? A heavy bag is ideal, but I doubt most of you have access to one. Another option is to use sofa cushions, a large duffel bag filled with pillows and padding, or maybe a large sandbag. Unless you do have access to a free-standing or hanging heavy bag, you’re probably going to need a partner for this one. Your partner will hold the padded object while you assault it. If the partner’s game for working out, switch off roles between rounds.

If you go with the heavy bag, be sure to wrap your wrist and use gloves – but if you have easy access to a heavy bag, that probably means you’re already aware of the necessity of wraps and gloves.

Throwing a punch isn’t all about the upper body. The power gets expressed through the hands, but you create the power with the hips. Remember? It’s all in the hips. Here are the most basic punches to learn. Try throwing combinations together in your workout.

Jab: Get in the correct stance. Knees should be bent, feet should be staggered, and your chin should be down. Push off with your rear foot and throw a quick jab with your lead hand. Snap it.

Cross: This is probably what you think of when you think of “punch.” You should be in the same stance as before (in fact, that’s the default stance) and once again, you’ll be pivoting from the rear foot and generating the power with your hips. Then you extend your rear arm and connect with the bag.

You’ve also got hooks and uppercuts, but since most of you are probably fairly inexperienced, easing into it with simple punches is going to be safer and more effective. I do know that throwing a bunch of jabs and heavy crosses at a bag or makeshift bag will give you a good workout, so long as you’re generating the power from the lower body and using your arms as conduits. Though if you know what you’re doing, feel free to mix it up with some other movements too.

A few things to remember:

  • Lead with the hips and follow with the punch.
  • Keep that scapula retracted when landing a punch. Your punches will be stronger and your shoulder will be protected from the impact. If you’ve forgotten what that means, review my post on scapular stability.
  • Take a sufficient break between rounds to give the next round all you’ve got, but no longer than 2 minutes.
  • Try switching your lead foot and throwing some punches with your off hand.


If you’re going to work on a true heavy bag, and you don’t have access to gloves and/or wraps, try throwing elbows instead. The concept is pretty much the same – power comes from the hips – only you have to be sure to set your scapula even more. Don’t overextend yourself by whipping your elbow around along the shoulder joint; instead, make sure you’re turning your entire torso to meet the bag. If you find punching is hurting your wrist or hand, give the elbow strike a shot.

What are WOWs?

  • Workouts of the Week (WOWs) are an optional component of Primal Blueprint Fitness that add a fractal and often fun and playful quality to the basic PBF protocol.
  • In most cases WOWs should only be completed by those that have mastered Level 4 of each Lift Heavy Things Essential Movement. Also, it’s recommended that WOWsreplace one or both Lift Heavy Things workouts or the Sprint workout (depending on the WOW) each week instead of being done in addition to the Lift Heavy Things and Sprint workouts.
  • Learn more about WOWs and Primal Blueprint Fitness by getting the free eBook. And access all Workouts of the Week in the WOW Archive.

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20 thoughts on “WOW: Beat the Bag”

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  1. this is my favorite workout in the mornings or sometimes at the end of the day. i have a big bag and shoulder carry to the park accross then do 8 rounds of 1 minute punch and knee kick, 50 m sprint, climb the tree / dead hang from the tree, crawl to 50m back to the bag and repeat…it is so energizing and works everywhere 🙂

  2. I love it. Kenpo style workouts always get my blood moving. I think I may need to invest in a bag though, as punching empty air is hard on my right elbow. (old injury from my young and indestructible days)

  3. Instead of elbows, you can throw palm heel strikes to protect your wrists and hands.

    Actually, in a fight that’s a very effective way to avoid breaking your hands on some guys hard head.

    Throw the punch like normal, but leave your hands open and relaxed. Aim to strike with the heel of your hand. Angle your fingers slightly inboard rather than directly vertical (left hand angles right, right hand angles left).

    It delivers as much force as a punch without the concomitant risk of injury.

  4. This article came at just the right time. My wife’s birthday is on Friday, and she jsut asked me for a punching bag. I sent her a link to this article, and hopefully it will be my “in” for showing her the primal lifestyle…

  5. I think I’ve got this WOW covered by going to thai boxing tonight!

    And for anyone new to strikes: I’d highly recommend getting some hand wraps or taping your wrists (just youtube boxing wrist wraps or taping for instructions). Sticking to straight punches as Mark recommends will help, but you’d be amazed how easy it is to really mess up your wrists if you get into throwing hooks, especially on a bag where you can unload with full power!

  6. Wow Mark! It’s like you were reading my mind. I’ve been lurking here for a few months and just had to respond. I’ve been training my father and his girlfriend using scaled CF WODs and was looking to switch things up tonight. I decided on a heavy bag workout, then I come here and lo-and-behold what do I find?

    I just recently started adding bag work back into my training (5x3min rounds w/ 1min breaks) and forgot how great of a workout it is.


  7. This is great I can get two workouts in one. Cleaning the garage of my outdoor stuff (lifting heavy things) and declutter the garage to get to my heavy bag!
    excellent idea, even with out my wife nagging for weeks and weeks. I may get a third workout out for that part!

  8. Maybe the heavy bag could double as the animal that you lift and heave and drag for other exercises.

    1. Good comment. I used my heavy bag for “Bring home the kill”.
      I am going to expand on that with some of my Jits training from the past.
      This is based on a match time. Three rounds, five minutes each.
      Take your heavy bag (chains towards the feet) and hold it by your knees only on your back. Keep everything off the floor but your lower back (move by twisting your body and writhing around).
      Defend yourself for the first minute then switch to a ground and pound stance. Straddle the bag and pummel with everything you have for a minute. Then switch and continue this way for three rounds.
      One Hell of a workout.

  9. I’ve been taking a kick boxing class for 8 months and really notice a positive difference in my posture and arm shape. It’s so fun, it’s like being a kid. Nothing to do with “taking out aggression” which people always suggest to me.

  10. Punching bag is great fun. Being a karate-ka i kick, punch, elbow and throw the knee in.
    However i can really recommend a baseball bat or steel bar as well. Particularly if feeling really stressed. Just lay in to bag as hard as you can.
    And yep it also doubles as a heavy/awkward/just killed this thing now i need to carry it.

  11. This reminds me of boxing on the Wii. It was a lot of fun and a FANTASTIC workout even though I was punching air. I don’t own my Wii anymore but there are many reasons why I wish I had it again – boxing being one of them.

    I am also now considering buying a sandbag because of this workout. Or why not just a punching bag? I would LOVE to box…

  12. i take lesson in Long Fist (N. China style, stance is linear & long & low).

    whatever style, punching is so much fun. kicking (a bag) too!


  13. just getting started and happy to be here… Blessings to all!

  14. A tree with some carpet or other padding wrapped around it makes a decent substitute for a heavy bag.

    If you’re going to do elbow strikes, note that you might want to avoid striking with the very tip of your elbow, instead, make your elbow strike contact point a finger-width or two away from the tip of your elbow toward your hand.

  15. If folks want to incorporate self-defense with this workout, from what I’m hearing from my trainers (Pramek, Kadochnikov Systema- combatives/self defense stuff) open hand is a better way to go. Kelly McCann has some solid material on this- Check out Combatives for Street Survival, Volume 1.

    Strikes and kicks include:

    Finger jab, hammerfist, face mash, ax hand, cupped hand, slashing elbow, knees, groin kick, angle hook kick etc.