The Importance of Hand Conditioning for a Martial Artist

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The hand is an incredibly complex tool made for a number of refined motions. To accomplish these tasks, the hand has evolved to be an intricate series of joints and small bones all working in coordination with one another. What this incredibly complex and beautiful  feature of the human body is not, however, is all that durable.

Video: UFC 220's Gian Villante thinks he broke his hand with first punch

Hand injuries are incredibly common in boxing, the martial arts, street fighting, and really any other combat sport that involves any amount of punching. Certain forms of these injuries are so common in fighters that they have names like the “boxer’s fracture.” If one wants to be able to throw a punch in any sort of context that involves your hand striking a target, they need to spend countless hours perfecting these three things:

  • Proper Form

  • Good Timing

  • Hand Conditioning

We are going to go through some of the most effective time tested ways to condition your hands for fighting, and even some treatment options should you endure the ominous boxer's fracture.

 

 

Contents of This Post:

  • The Truth About the Punch
  • Hand Strengthening Method 1: Iron Palm Strikes
  • Hand Strengthening Method 2: Bag Work
  • Hand Strengthening Method 3: Push Ups Using Fists and Fingers
  • Hand Strengthening Method 4: Rice Digging
  • Hand Strengthening Method 5: Wall Punches
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The Truth About the Punch

 
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A lot of science seems to point at the idea that the human body is not designed to throw punches at all - with weapons (even sticks, rocks and clubs), choking, gouging, biting , stomping etc. being the most likely tools for defense in a life and death struggle for the vast majority of the human experience throughout history. It likely wasn't until the advent of formalized military training that the punch became a common tool of attack, and even then it would not be enough to sway human evolution.  Punching is, in most cases, small bones against bigger bones.

For this reason, even highly trained punchers must wear layers upon layers of protective gear to protect their hands from the punches they throw. Yes, boxing gloves and wraps are mainly to protect the hand, not the opponent's head. Even Mike Tyson broke his hand during a street fight in 1988, and he was the World Boxing Heavyweight Champion at the time.

This is not to say you should never throw a punch in a self defense or street scenario, since a punch is an incredibly effective tool that is ideal for a number of situations, but you should understand the risks and how to properly minimize them.

 

Hand Conditioning Methods

Hand Strengthening Method 1: Iron Palm Strikes

Iron Palm or Iron Hand (Chinese: 铁掌功) is a body of training techniques in various Chinese martial arts. It is originally one of the 72 arts of the Shaolin temple. These conditioning techniques are typically meant to condition the hands to allow a practitioner to deliver very powerful blows without injury to his or her hands.

To do these techniques:

Get a sandbag or striking pad large enough for your hand, there are plenty available in martial arts stores online (and in our shop). Then place it on the floor and kneel in front of it. Then which whatever hand you prefer to start with:

  • Slap the Bag

  • Back-hand the Bag

  • Hammer fsit the bag

  • Punch the bag with your Lower-Middle-Knuckles

  • Finger Strike the Bag

  • Repeat on each hand until you reach a stopping point appropriate for your level.

Experiment with either upping the reps or replacing the contents of the bag (from sand to metal ball bearings for example) as you get better at the practice. Always go slow and be ultra wary of how your hand feels. Don't cause yourself an injury trying to prevent injuries.

 

Hand Strengthening Method 2: Bag Work

A punching trainer such as a heavy bag can be a great hand conditioning tool when used correctly. If you are new to punching then you can start with larger 16oz gloves. Eventually you will want to work your way down to smaller and smaller gloves. When you are comfortable in your ability to throw a proper punch at high speed with correct form, you can begin to punch with no gloves.

This sort of training will both strengthen your knuckles, but going without wraps will also ensure you have proper joint alignment in your wrist when you are hitting at high speeds.

Failure to train this way, only punching in full boxing protective gear, may cause your body to be unprepared to throw that attack at such a high speed in a self defense situation.

 

Hand Strengthening Method 3: Push Ups Using Fists and Fingers

Doing pushups on your knuckles is a classic way to toughen up and strengthen the bones in your hand. It will be extremely painful at first so start with softer materials and eventually work your way to doing it outside on the concrete.

Finger push-ups are a great way to build muscles in your hand. These muscles are important in strengthening and building resilience in the hand. Start doing them off of the wall, eventually working your way down to floor pushups and the natural prgression that entails.

 
 

Hand Strengthening Method 4: Rice or Sand Digging

This method goes back thousands of years and is great because all you need is a bucket and some rice or sand. Fill the bucket (duh) and perform your strikes into the sand or rice now filling it. You can toughen up finger jabs, palm strikes, punches, etc.

This is another method with straightforward progression. As you progress, fill the bucket with denser and denser materials.

 

Hand Strengthening Method 5: Wall Punches

This is a sort of combination between the heavy bag and Iron Palm strikes. You will attach a sandbag or similar object to the wall and then practice striking it. Work your finger jabs, short knuckle strikes, palms, and standard punches.

Like with the Iron Palm strikes you can gradually increase the density of the material you are striking. Remember to be wary of the condition of  your hand and not to cause injury to yourself.  Pain is unavoidable, but injury is.

Punch Combo where Cody Garbrandt likely broke his hand . He went on to lose this fight.