How to Hit the Speed Bag Like Rocky Balboa

by Brett on May 25, 2009 · 16 comments

in Health & Sports


This is a guest post from strength coach and strongman, Jedd Johnson of the Diesel Crew.

If you’re like me, you’ve watched every one of the Rocky movies about a hundred times. Well, maybe not Rocky 5. They fell off on that one, but the rest are totally awesome.

In every Rocky movie you are guaranteed a few clips where he murders a speed bag, hitting the thing so hard and fast that it looks like the bag might fly off the mounting. One of those scenes are included in the clip below. I modified it so it goes right to the coolest part – the speed bag part.

So cool! I always wanted to do this as a kid but never had a chance because I had no speed bag. I finally ran across one at a nearby gym when I was like 25.

When I first tried hitting the speed bag I STRUGGLED! I had no idea what I was doing and had no instruction whatsoever. I finally began putting some things together after watching another guy in the gym hit the speed bag. After plenty of trouble shooting I was able to figure it out.

I believe that by laying a solid foundation of basic punches and throwing in tiny variations over time, anyone can learn to the hit the speed bag just like Rocky Balboa.

Proper Set-up & Technique

In order to hit the speed bag like Rocky Balboa, it’s important that you start off with the right mechanics and technique. Hitting the speed bag is tough enough already – using poor technique will make it even harder.

The speed bag should be at a height where you can look directly at the midpoint of the bag. If it is too low, you will have a hard time getting underneath the board, or drum. If it is too high, it will be tough to reach the bag.

Always make sure to keep your elbows up when you hit. This is the foundation of your hitting technique and enables you to most efficiently strike the bag. If your elbows are down, you will have to move your arms farther to hit the bag, throwing your timing off.

When you hit the bag, you should face it straight on. You should hit the bag directly in the center of the belly of the bag so that it flies true off your fist, and straight off the board back at you.

The Machine Gun

The first technique to try is what I call the Machine Gun, because you will make many repeated punches in quick succession on the bag. Depending on your platform, the rebounds can also be rather loud.

In order to perform the Machine Gun, get the arms up into the proper position and push the back side of your fist into the bag until it almost touches the drum. Position your other hand a few inches behind the first hand.

Next, gently tap the bag with the lead hand. The lead hand will pass through and then downward and backward. Also, immediately replace the lead hand with the other hand, striking the bag again. Essentially, what you are doing is moving your fists in a continuous circle – they will be “rolling” over one another. Continue replacing hands after you strike the bag, and you will begin to hear the Machine Gun sound.

You do not have to hit the bag very hard with this technique. Since the bag is not very far away from the drum, it will return back to where it started, and if you time it correctly, the next hand will hit it in the same position. If you strive to hit the same spot on the belly of the bag and in the same position and distance from the drum, with the correct speed, you will be able to perform this punch with no problem.

The sole purpose of the Machine Gun technique is to put together a long string of repeated strikes. This will give you confidence because you will see and hear yourself beginning to make progress, and it will also train you to keep your elbows up, developing endurance in the shoulders and arms.

Before we move on, I want to highlight one last thing – the number of rebounds the bag makes on the drum with the Machine Gun technique. This punch has a rhythm of one. In other words, after striking the bag with the fist, the bag hits the drum for one rebound before striking it again with another fist. This is important to understand before we move on to the next strike which has a triplet rhythm.

Hitting Like Rocky

In the movies, when Rocky hits the bag, he lays into it so fast it is difficult to see what the bag is doing. The technique Rocky uses has a triplet rhythm, or rather, three rebounds between fist strikes. Rocky hits the bag, it rebounds three times, and then he hits the bag again. Below is a series of stills from one of my clips to illustrate this concept.

Fist hits the bag

Bag hits the back of the board as fist follows through

Bag hits the front of the board as fist heads toward starting position

Bag hits the back of the board as fist returns to starting position, ready to strike again.

Fist hits the bag

Notice in the sequence that my hand moves in a concise path. I hit straight through the bag and then move my fist through an efficient route back to the starting position, ready to strike again. It is important to learn this striking pattern to keep the bag moving correctly. Do not get in the habit of hitting downward on the bag and making jerky movements, as these flaws will make it even tougher to hit the bag and will cause undue frustration.

You do not have to smash the bag in order make the three rebounds. If the bag is pumped up correctly, a solid tap will do the trick. Remember to hit the bag square – if you hit it off center, it will make the bag fly errantly, making it tougher to hit.

Work one hand at a time with the Rocky technique. Start out with your dominant hand, and then move on to your weaker hand. You will soon be able to hear the rebounds and you will form a connection between your mind, eyes, hands, and ears, helping you hit better.

As you can see, hitting the speed bag is based on a few very simple techniques.
The two steps I’ve shown you here are how I started out hitting the speed bag and I am confident you can learn to hit it just as well as I can by starting out slow and moving on to other more challenging techniques slowly over time. Before you know it, you will be dominating the speed bag, and moving on to roughing up some meat carcasses.

Now, in case you need a little review on these techniques, here’s a quick clip going over everything for you.

All the best in your training,

Jedd Johnson, CSCS, Captain of Crush #3

Jedd Johnson is a strength coach located in Northeast PA. He has excelled at Basketball, Baseball, Strongman and Grip and has produced many strength related products. For more information, visit Jedd’s strength training website or grab the RSS feed.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brett May 25, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Awesome article and videos Jedd. I appreciate you doing this and how clear you made it. I recently joined a boxing gym and went over to the speed bag, thinking I could wail on it like Rocky. But I was quickly humbled. Thanks for the needed help.

2 Brian May 25, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Even if that bag is smaller than some, you still have hands like canned hams. Wouldn’t want to cross you.

Good post!

3 Kevin May 25, 2009 at 7:41 pm

I wish that I had seen this video when I was a kid. After the Rocky movie came out I purchased a speed bag but had no one to teach me the technique. I was using the knuckles of my fist instead of the heal part of my hand. Although I developed good speed it always looked wrong.

4 James May 26, 2009 at 10:59 am

Thanks for the cool post. I’ve always wondered how to do this.

BTW, Rocky 5 was totally underrated.

5 Chris May 27, 2009 at 10:28 am

great post! realy cool!

6 Victor King May 27, 2009 at 3:53 pm

This is very good for the fundamentals of the speedbag. It is true that Sly Stallone beat the crap out of the speedbag. However, the master blaster of em all is a guy named Showtime Johnny Pal. If you get the opportunity, check out his latest video – its awesome. He also sings and plays the guitar and ukulele.

Thanks for the post!

Victor King

7 Jedd Johnson May 27, 2009 at 6:05 pm

Kevin, there are dozens of striking techniques. The one you speak of with the knuckles is called a straight punch. I found it a bit more challenging than the one I describe above. These two are the most basic punches. Use them to start out and then add punches as time goes on.
Brian, the big hands are an asset for the grip strength competitions I compete in, that is for sure, but the bag is also very small.
Brett, with practice, you will get it brother. Give it a try and let me know if you have any questions.
Victor, is he better than Alan Kahn and Zach Ruffo? Those guys are the best I have seen…
Hopefully this helped you out guys. Let me know if there is anything else I can help you out with, y’all.

8 Faport International June 8, 2009 at 3:54 am

Nice post

9 Marinya June 28, 2009 at 11:49 am

Thanks for the needed help. He also sings and plays the guitar and ukulele.

10 Androniy September 8, 2009 at 10:35 am

Big speed, fast hit!!! Thanks!

11 whatever December 4, 2009 at 1:04 am

Sooo…what you’re saying is that you can’t hit it unless it’s at the right height and you’re keeping initiative by following precise timing? You go, tough guy. You go.

Still, wouldn’t want to trade blows with you. Good post.

12 Tim H. December 29, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Actually another good technique to hit it is:

Lean on the right side of the punching ball if you wanna hit it with the left hand, lean on the left, if you wanna hit it with the right hand.
There are lots of variations you can do on hitting the speed bag, like hit it twice with every hand or hit it twice with every hand and on the third hit you hit it vertical with your knuckles.
You should try to work with Boxing Gloves on it also, you will get more effort, the more you vary training.

13 CeallJ January 2, 2010 at 5:10 am

Thats so cool never seen those variations done didnt even know STALLONE was really doing it and Carl weathers was pretty impressive 2 they sold me on being PROS.How long does it take to master the bag with reasonable coordination?THANKS 4 tutorial very IMPRESSIVE.

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