Well, the first and most obvious answer to this is that boxers are trained to punch very hard and to throw millions of punches in training. A fist is fundamentally fragile and when a boxer puts the repetitive strain and impact of millions of hard punches through it, surely it is going to give? This makes a lot of sense so it is no surprise that boxers wear bandages on their hands for every training session and new developments of protection in the gloves, with the correct density of foam for bag work and a different one for sparring and so on, are all welcome innovations to modern boxers.
Boxing gloves as a padded protection for the hands are a modern invention really (boxing dates back to ancient Greece and the Olympic games in BC 688) and were only introduced in 1867 by The Marques Of Queensbury. Even after this date many boxing matches were fought bare fist. The gloves used then, and all the way up to the 1980s and 1990s offered little protection. In the first half of the 20th century boxers used to fight twice a month even though they used to train in bag gloves – which were not much more than a thin layer of leather over the knuckles – hitting the heavy bag every day.
So how come so many fighters now can only fight a few times a year due to their hands being damaged? The protection offered is better than it’s ever been. Boxers train and condition their bodies to peak athleticism and durability but never do anything to strengthen their hands. I was a boxer for thirteen years and I never did a single training session on hand conditioning and neither did any other boxer I know. My brother John though, is a keen and experienced martial artist, having trained and studied in countless forms of martial arts and he has always used hand conditioning techniques to toughen up the bones in his hands. He does press-ups on his knuckles, press-ups on his fingertips, grip resistance training, weighted wrist and forearm strengthening and striking hard surfaces gradually building up the intensity over a long period of time.
When we were kids he made a makiwara board – a piece of 4 by 2 or 4 by 4 timber wrapped with rope which could either be fixed to a wall or stood up out of the ground – for punching to get his hands and wrists accustomed to the impact. He explained that it causes slight breaks in the structure of the bones and when they heal they come back prepared the next time – like your muscles when you lift weights, or you heart and lungs when you go running. If you put your body under stress and it nearly always finds some miraculous coping method for the next time you do the same thing.
My manager considered the safety of my hands of the utmost importance too, but we went the other way – less contact to the bones in my hands through extra bandages and bigger gloves and he even cut out pieces of padding from a motorbike jacket to place over my knuckles. This always helped but only ever temporarily. Each time we introduced a piece of extra padding my hands would sooner or later start getting pain from the heavy bag and pad work again. We had the best of intentions and it seemed logical to add more protection if my hands were starting to hurt again.
My brother John though was always comfortable wearing a pair of smashed up old bag gloves with no bandages when he blasted the bag 10-12 rounds. John is heavyweight too, so you could imagine the force he could generate. I was a light-welterweight and I couldn’t hit the bag for more than a few minutes like this; the bones in the back of my hand felt like they were spreading.
Since I had stopped boxing, back in 2011, I have felt like it would be nice to do some training without the inconvenience of two lots of bandages, motorbike padding and new gloves every twelve months, so I started listening to my brother. I too now can hit the bag for 10 rounds with no pain whatsoever in the back of my hands.
Another thing that the newer, safer, bigger gloves that boxers wear has done to boxers hands is teach them to ‘slap’. They don’t have to hit with the knuckle part of the glove in training now – there’s no pain to prevent it. So many more boxers now ‘slap’ with the inside of the glove than they used to, and consequently hurt their fingers during their fights when they wear 8oz gloves instead of 16oz gloves like they do in the gym. The big gloves, along with bandages make it much harder to actually close their fists too so as well as hitting with the inside of the glove they are often hitting with a slightly open hand.
My conclusion is that I think boxers should think carefully about their hands for two reasons: their own longevity, but also the damage they can do to their opponents if their hands are strong and they hit with the knuckle part of the glove. Take the bandages off sometimes and develop their technique and the bones, tendons and ligaments in their hands, they are an accessory not a requirement.
By Gavin Deacon
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