There are few sounds that are as synonymous with boxing as the rhythmic pounding and rebounding of the speed bag. Opening the door to any gym and hearing that striking melody immediately let’s you know that “you’re home.” Yet, as much of a fundamental piece of equipment as it has been for more than a century and as traditionally engrained in the workout routines of countless world champions as it is, some coaches still question the importance or value of the speed bag.
The speed bag doesn’t achieve one, singular goal. It isn’t just about eye-hand coordination or speed. When it is used correctly, it can provide some beneficial edges that other pieces of equipment don’t. Although a fighter can get good enough on the bag to do it with their eyes closed, it still involves having a sense of timing. The movement of a fighters hands, the sound of the bag rebounding off the platform and maintaining that successive movement all work together to help the fighter gain a sense of rhythm. As Neurologist Oliver Sacks once stated, “human affinity for rhythm is fundamental.” So the speed bag, in essence, if nothing else is natural and helps create a sense of harmony in the gym.
Another advantage to gain from speed bag work, when performed properly, is that it encourages a fighter to keep their hands up. By keeping his or her hands up high on a daily basis while training, it then becomes unnatural feeling for them to drop their hands during sparring or in competition. With their hands up high and in perpetual motion round after round, the fighter then becomes accustomed to punching non-stop. The key is to be sure that the fighter is holding their hands high while they are on the speed bag, that they are alternating their hands regularly and that they are pushing the pace. Like any other bag in the gym, the speed bag should be approached as work, not just something to occupy rounds.
There is also a “learned behavior” that is one of the best benefits gained from working the speed bag. This applies to all fighters, but is especially beneficial to beginners or younger fighters. A person’s natural instinct, when something is coming at them only inches from their face, is to blink. If the fighter is positioned close enough when working the speed bag, they will become accustomed to having an object moving towards them without flinching or closing their eyes. Obviously, a fighter who can more readily see punches coming at them can then defend against them and is in return more effective at countering and making his opponent miss.
From a physical standpoint, working the speed bag can also develop the shoulder muscles and hones reflexes. Fast twitch muscles are developed by engaging in exercises that involve speed, explosiveness and require short reaction time. The speed bag encourages the use of these physical traits, again, when it is approached with a sense of intensity and urgency. It is not a piece of equipment to be used to casually kill time or count as “rounds in the gym.”
The speed bag should not be the focal point of any boxer’s workout, but it holds an unmistakable place of value in the sport and should be incorporated into any “complete” boxing routine. While there are certainly times to question old principles and training methods, this isn’t one of them. If it was good enough for the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson or Muhammad Ali, and it has a distinct purpose in the development of a fighter, then maybe it’s time to pump a little air into your routine with a new or renewed appreciation for the speed bag?