Gary 'Smiler' Turner's Blog

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Friday, 2 August 2013

Wrapping hands for punching – is it necessary?

This is a topic that comes up regularly, and warrants a bit more investigation. Boxers will always tell you that you must wrap your hands – some boxing coaches going as far as saying that their boxers are not allowed to train unless they wrap. On the other hand, many Mixed Martial Artists and Kickboxers don’t wrap their hands at all unless the competition rules dictate at that time. 

Some people think that you should wrap your hands to protect the knuckles, the structure of the hand, or the wrists – or indeed a combination of the three. Some will say that everyone’s hands should be wrapped the same, others say that everyone’s hands should be wrapped as an individual. Mostly, opinions are based on what these people have been told, or that their trainer’s trainer did this, and so on. It’s hard to decide as to what may be a perpetuated myth.

This is a problem perpetuated by personal trainers and boot camps doing striking. They wrap their clients’ hands, the gloves are put on, and the hitting starts. To be honest I find this a very dangerous practise. Unless you know exactly what you are doing with pads, the way your client strikes, and have the correct knowledge of how to form a punching fist and its application there is a severe danger of injury for both the client and the trainer. 

As always, I looked to break down the topic to fine detail, so you can make your own informed decision. I couldn’t find any research papers to support my little exploration, so by breaking it down to base components we are better placed to decide why, when and how to wrap our hands – if at all. 

If you punch with the correct physiology you will not hurt yourself. Firstly, the knuckles of the hand are supported by the bones behind them, aligning as a rod with the forearm bones, upper arm, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and feet all acting as a rod off the fixator of the ground. The 'cores' around each joint are supported and strengthened by the tendons and ligaments, and of course the skeletal muscles. All align the bones as one rod which is very hard in compression. Get this aligned and you will strike without needing additional support. This is the basic physics of biomechanics and biotensegrity. ‘Biotensegrity’, for here, can be thought of as how the skeletal muscles, the soft tissue that connects and operates them, all work together.

But! You may say, the target is moving, you never hit a target precisely. I fully agree. That's why the hands need to be able to ‘propriocate’, adjusting accordingly allowing the force to be transferred to the target rather than dissipated in the hand. Training lightly without wraps helps the soft tissues and motor neurons controlling the punch learn how to make these tiny adjustments. Wrapping the hands will limit this adaptation.

The hands need to flex slightly on impact to absorb and transfer the force. If wraps are applied too tightly then the force will be contained inside the fist at weak points – and fractures and tears may occur. The hand needs to be able to move ‘just right’ on impact.

If wraps are used, such as in competition, they need to be very carefully applied. Too loose and there is no support. Too tight and the hand will not be allowed to flex as required and stress will be wrongly applied resulting in injuries. Too tight in the wrong places and the bones and supporting structure will be out of alignment. Blood flow may become restricted. Too tight around the wrist and there will be no ability to propriocate. Wraps need to be applied anatomically correct for that individual person’s physiology, and with regard to any pre-existing injury requirements, otherwise injury is a risk. 

There is a potential psychological advantage of wraps, however applied, they may give comfort and reduce hesitation in the fighter throwing a punch as they know their hands are wrapped and therefore 'believe' they will not hurt their hands, or indeed the wraps act as a guide, a reminder, for the correct striking position. As with warm-ups in my previous blog post, the benefit of wrapping may just be psychological and that could be reason enough to wrap.

A further point is that if hands are always wrapped there will be inherent weaknesses being developed in the fist, as continually striking with the wraps applied in one way will provide support in some areas meaning the soft tissues have to do less and atrophy will occur, plus neuronal pruning, all resulting a weaker hand. Wrap the hands even slightly different to usual and problems may occur.

My conclusion then is that wraps are only required if the rules so dictate, or if you have an injury that needs the right support. Whether you decide to wrap or not this post will hopefully make you aware of some of the issues so you are better placed to form the right choice, the one that is right for you. 

If you decide to wrap I suggest that you go to an experience physio or other such person, and one with knowledge of the structure of the hand and wrist in connection with punching and your chosen sport. They will be able to teach you to apply the wraps in the right way so that you are appropriately protected and lessen the risk of you damaging yourself. 

Remember, it is your body, and the choice is yours.

(Photos are of me training at Kops Gym, Amsterdam, here with Rene Rooze and Peter Aerts, circa 2007)

1 comment:

  1. Is this similar to those that decide to use belts or straps when lifting weights? I've never understood that: Isn't the point with free weights to ensure that the whole body can handle the load? Using straps to, say, reduce the load on the wrists seems to be missing the point a bit. Build the wrists up!