Train Like a Fighter — Workout #2: Weight Training and Bag Work

by A Manly Guest Contributor on July 19, 2012 · 21 comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports

Editors note: This is a guest post from Chad Howse.

Last week we talked about two components of a fighter’s training regimen: running/sprinting and plyometrics.  Today we’re going to talk about the two other main ingredients in a fighter’s fitness plan: weight training and bag work.

There are a couple schools of thought in regards to weight training for fighters. Members of the “old school,” especially, feel that weight training only builds muscle mass, tightening the body, while leaving a fighter less effective in the ring. Even less powerful.

There are those, however, that see the benefits of weight training in combat sports: the improved power, speed, and muscular endurance that we gain from proper weight training. Today we’re going to focus on a proper method for a fighter to train with weights.

The purpose of weight training for a fighter is twofold:

  1. To improve power and explosiveness
  2. To improve muscular endurance

Gaining muscle mass is of little benefit to a fighter. Muscles consume more oxygen and require more blood-flow than fat. So hypertrophy – or muscle building sets – and tempos aren’t part of a fighter’s workout.

But, by focusing on lower, power repetition counts, and higher, muscular endurance rep counts, fighters build some of the best physiques in sport – which is exactly what we’ll be focusing on in today’s workout.

How to Train Like a Fighter: Weight Training and Bag Work

Weight Training

Weight Training Tips:

1. Everything is done at full speed while still being in control of the weight you’re lifting, pressing, or pulling. Good form comes first. Then, and only then, should we work on exploding with the weight.

This is especially true for the concentric contraction of each exercise. You’re always going at full speed on this phase of each exercise (press in a bench press, pull in a chin-up, lift in a deadlift).

2. Work hard! The thing that separates how the best fighters train isn’t what they do, but how they do it. Yes, they do things a little differently as far as choosing exercises and the reps they use. But the work ethic is where a fighter is truly unique.

Treat each set as if it’s the one and only set of the workout. Don’t “pace yourself” for a big finish.

Set Descriptions:

A1. A2. = Superset. Do both exercises back-to-back, with the rest period coming at the end of the set. Repeat for however many sets are shown.

B1. B2. B3. = Giant Set. Do all 3 exercises back-to-back with the rest period coming at the end of the set. Repeat for however many sets are shown.

C1.C2.C3.C4. = Quad Set. Perform all 4 exercises back-to-back with the rest period coming at the end of the set. Repeat for however many sets are shown.

Workout #1 – Lower Body Dominated

Warm-up: 10 minutes of skipping

Superset #1

A1. Hack Squat – Reps: 8,6,4,6,8
A2. Dumbbell Snatch – Reps: 8,6,4,6,8
Rest: 60 seconds

Giant Set #2

B1. Deadlifts – Reps: 10,10,10
B2. Weighted Box Jump – Reps: 8,8,8
B3. Box Jumps – Reps: 6,6,6
Rest: 45 seconds

Superset #3

C1. Quarter Squat – Reps: 15,20,25
C2. Squat Jumps – Reps: 15,15,15


Decline Weighted Sit-ups – Reps: 15,15,15
Roll-outs – Reps: 15,15,15

Workout #2 – Upper Body Dominated

Warm-up: 10 minutes of skipping

Superset #1

A1. Lumberjack Press: 14,14,14
A2. Bent-over Row – 12,12,12
Rest: 60 seconds

Giant Set #2

B1. Pull-ups – Reps: 10,10,10
B2. Walking Push-Ups – Reps: 10,10,10
B3. Alternating Med-Ball Push-ups – Reps: 10,10,10
Rest: 45 seconds

Quad Set #3

C1. Dips – failure x 3
C2. Inverted Row – failure x 3
C3. Power Curl – Reps: 6,6,6
C4. Power Row – 6,6,6
Rest: 45 seconds

Burnout Set

1 Set of 30 barbell punches

Bag Work

Typically a “bag drill” will be split into rounds with 60-seconds of rest in-between the rounds, mimicking a fight. This is what we’re going to do here. I’ll show a few examples of combinations you can use during the round, and then finish off with an interval drill to end the workout.

Bag Work Tips:

1. Pretend like you’re getting hit back. A big mistake we make when hitting the bag is focusing completely on offense. We then take that into a fight, throwing punches but failing to move out of the way after the punch is thrown.

Even though we’re just hitting the heavy bag, always keep your head moving. Act as if the bag can hit back. Bob your head. Finish a combination with a couple jabs while circling the target. Never go front to back — always move in circles.

2. Add defense to your combinations. When throwing combinations, don’t just throw punches, add some blocking into the drill as well.


Bag Drill Tempo #1:

  • 5 rounds (3 minutes a piece with 60 seconds between rounds)
  • Focus on a few combinations within each round.
  • Finish the last 30 seconds of each round going all out (no set combination being practiced). Punch as hard and as fast as possible with straight left and right punches.

Bag Drill Tempo #2:

  • Beginner: 5 seconds fast and hard straight rights and lefts; 5 seconds rest. Repeat for 3 minutes, then 60 seconds rest. Continue for 3 rounds.
  • Advanced: 10 seconds of assorted punches thrown at full speed/power; 5 seconds rest. Repeat for 3 minutes, followed by a 60-second rest. Repeat for 3 rounds or more (try and vary your combinations as much as possible. Don’t just throw straight rights and lefts).

Here’s an example of a couple combinations you can use in your bag drills:

Train Like a Fighter Complete Program

Above are 3 workouts: a lower body dominated workout, an upper body dominated workout, and a bag workout.

The bag work we have here takes the place of the ring work a fighter will have; however, we’ll spend much less time on the bag as a fighter would in the ring.

Each weight training workout should be done twice a week (if you’re just starting out, only do each once a week). You want one to two full rest days, depending on your conditioning.

Here’s an example of what a week of training will look like. With three workouts a day, this is the very most you could do. But for less optimal results, and/or if you’re not looking for a true, full-on fighter workout, you can do your bag work after your run or weight workout, or again, if you’re a beginner, simply cut down the number of workouts overall and do each of the workouts just once a week:

Monday: Morning run + plyometrics. Afternoon bag work. Evening lower body lift.

Tuesday: Morning run + plyometrics. Afternoon bag work. Evening upper body lift.

Wednesday: Full Rest Day.

Thursday: Morning run. Afternoon bag work. Evening lower body lift.

Friday: Morning run + plyometrics. Afternoon bag work.

Saturday: Morning run. Afternoon bag work. Evening upper body lift.

Sunday: Full Rest Day (with a plyometrics option).


Chad Howse, author of the PowerHowse Challenge and founder of Chad Howse Fitness, is a former skinny guy and amateur boxer. Chad created his company to help men become their own hero. Check out Chad’s site: Be Legendary: Unconventional Tactics for Life, Fitness, & Work.




{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brad Alexander July 20, 2012 at 8:03 am

You can only fit so many workouts into one week. Some people make little progress while others dominate. Which is why I think what you say about how you train is so important.

It’s all in the work ethic and thrashing yourself each workout.

This is the first I’ve heard of the hack squat, I’m going to check it out.

2 Joe July 20, 2012 at 8:58 am

Very comprehensive look at a workout guaranteed to get you into the best shape of your life. Chad, this may be your best guest post here at AoM. Great tip to practice defense during bag work. It adds to the fun of the workout, and brings the illusion of a real fight in my basement. Will be sure to bookmark this article. Thank you!

3 Ryan July 20, 2012 at 10:07 am

I like a lot of the workout advice in this article with one exception: quarter squats.

This is EXTREMELY bad advice, squats MUST break parallel (go below the knees) in order to allow the quadriceps to take on the load fully. If you don’t break parallel you are loading all the weight onto your knees and this will ruin them over time. On top of this your not activating nearly as much muscle mass unless you’re going Ass to Grass.

Other than that, great article!

4 Damon Robert July 20, 2012 at 10:31 am

Great article! One of the best and most comprehensive reads I’ve experienced on AOM so far.

5 Claude July 20, 2012 at 11:46 am

Thank you Chad. In the last couple of weeks i’ve learned of the lumberjack press and (just today) the walking push up. Both fantastic.

I’ve decided the heavy bag is the most fun a man can have doing an aerobic workout. Great stress reliever.

6 bodypuncher July 20, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Chad looks like a very fit and strong athlete, but I must respectfully disagree with his approach for boxing conditioning. There is no right or wrong here, just our own opinions. I started boxing in the mid-70′s, most likely before Chad was even born, and I’ve continuously trained in boxing and conditioning since then, and I still coach. Those fast lifts are a means to joint and tendon injury, and they occupy valuable time that could be spent punching and doing boxing-specific drills. I teach others to limit weightlifting to a single set of heavy deadlifts and clean-and-press – using high weight/low rep and not working past failure. Add to this medicine ball work, calisthenics (neck bridges, situps, etc), jump rope, and running. The rest of the time should be devoted to boxing. Bag work should be deliberate and brief enough so the athlete does not revert to bad form or less than full speed due to fatigue, since it “greases the groove” in a bad way– i.e., bad habits and diminished power/speed. Sparring, too, should stop when fatigue sets in and form/timing suffers. Better to send the athlete back to running/rope/med ball to improve stamina.

7 Kenneth Rhodes July 20, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Nice article! I agree squats should go butt to floor. This is a fitness program using “boxing techniques”.

If you want learn to about authentic boxing training, go to Ross Enmait is a great boxing trainer and fitness enthusiast. Also, Rob Pilger is another great boxing trainer! I have never met Mr. Enamait or Mr. Pilger; therefore, I do not receive any monetary compensation for promoting their websites.

Very good article!

8 Chad July 21, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Hey guys, glad you enjoyed this post as well.

Awesome comments, I’ll answer a few of questions…

@Ryan – I agree, the full squat is better for quad development. But that’s not what we’re after. The explosiveness (no time concentric or eccentric) of a quarter squat is a great switch from a conventional squat to improve power. For squats, I go ass to heels (low), so I agree with you on this point, just not what we’re after here.

@bodypuncher – I’ve used the method you’re talking about. And the one I show in this article. I like both and cycle both into my training. What we didn’t put in here was ring work – the most important thing a fighter can do – because we’re not training fighters, but guys who would like to get in the condition of a fighter. When I fought, ring work dominated my training, but I still had a schedule like you see above. Great comments, thanks.

@Kenneth – Ross is an awesome guy with great info.

Thanks for all the other comments as well!

Any questions let me know, I’ll check back again in a day.

9 Kenneth Rhodes July 22, 2012 at 2:14 am

I must RESPECTFULLY disagree with you, concerning full squats. Full squats promote explosiveness. I have been a strength and conditioning coach, at two large American Universities and I am currently majoring in biochemistry and biophysics. Most western people cannot perform a full squat, due to lack of flexibility. Man was originally designed defecate In the full squat position. Most western athletes lack flexibility, proper muscle balance, and good biomechanics.

10 Kenneth Rhodes July 22, 2012 at 2:31 am

Although I disagree you concerning squats, I grateful for the article. At least, you are pursuing your passion(s). It is easy to criticize another human being. You conduct yourself like a true gentleman.
May you continue to have success and good fortune!

11 Jose July 23, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Wrap your hands! Very important, protect your hands, gloves are not enough. I suggest 180″ elastic (Mexican Style) hand wraps. This will help protect the bones in your hands when you hit the bag.

12 Matthew Crumbaker July 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Sounds like most of the people here have fighting experience, and while I was lucky enough to have trained with an amateur boxer for a while, I was wondering if you could do, or have done, a quick video on the punches, how to properly throw them, wrapping your hands–etc. Just some basic boxing technique to get us ready to attack that bag.

13 Brett McKay July 24, 2012 at 3:53 pm
14 Matthew Crumbaker July 26, 2012 at 12:36 am

Thanks so much Brett, not sure how I missed those

15 Sean July 28, 2012 at 11:22 pm

@chad and ryan

Just say no to any squat below parallel. It’s that simple.

16 Sean July 28, 2012 at 11:23 pm

****not below parallel my bad don’t kill me.

17 Bryan July 29, 2012 at 8:12 am

This is good stuff and timely! I’d been lifting for big weight for months just for fun but the routine was growing stale. I also practice Muay Thai, so this is a better workout for me. I gave the first workout a try yesterday and it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve broken mad sweat at the squat rack in a while. Thanks for that, Chad!


Are there alternatives to the hack squat and lumberjack press? My body doesn’t seem equipped for the hack squat and the bar gets stuck mid-thigh. I have to perform a really awkward hip thrust to push it through and that’s pretty poor form. Also, my gym is pretty crowded. The lumberjack press is going to either hit someone or break a mirror where I’m at and I’d rather not do either of those things.

Also: man, I really suck at pull ups.

18 Mike H November 6, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I actually enjoy these fighter-style workouts because they’re simply more fun than the traditional gym workouts. Throwing punches and the likes is much more engaging than pulling weight only. The explosiveness of these exercises is also good for conditioning, but you need to be careful to not force your body too much and end up hurting yourself.

19 NG December 2, 2012 at 1:43 am

Great stuff man! keep up the good work!

20 NV April 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Hey Chad,
first I want to say that this is a pretty good articel for everyone, indifferent if he is in boxing or not.
I have only one question: which box bags (weight/height…) do you usually use?

21 shiva kumar January 26, 2014 at 12:16 am

bag workout is a Great tip indeed, used to just hit them out and now would sway like in a real fight

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