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Why Do Boxers Wrap Their Hands?

Known as a hand wrap, Kumpur, or wrist wrap, these simple strips of tape or gauze might not sound like much, but provide an effective barrier against punching-induced injuries for boxers and other combat athletes around the world.

You might be thinking - what’s the point? You’ll typically be wearing a pair of gloves for boxing! Unfortunately, whilst these offer plenty of padding, they’re primarily there for the protection of your opponent, not yourself.

Our hands are a more complex body part than they look, with 27 individual bones beneath the skin, some of which are incredibly small and very vulnerable to injury. And that’s not even thinking about the tendons and joints!

Read on to find out exactly why wrapping is so prevalent in combat sports, especially boxing, how to perfect your wrapping technique and potential alternatives or variations on the traditional methods. If we had a bell, we’d ring it: let’s go!

Why Wrap? 

Learning how to properly throw a punch is perhaps one of the most integral parts of boxing success and safety, but it’s not enough to make you invincible. Your hands are your fighting tools, and any damage to them puts your career at risk.

By wrapping securely around the palm of your hand, the base of your thumb, and your wrist, you are simultaneously ensuring your fragile joints stay aligned, as well as compressing the soft tissues to withstand the impact punching can have.

When you punch, a great deal of pressure is applied to your hand and wrist - whilst you might think that the recipient of your swing stands to absorb most of the impact, it is actually your own body that will feel the force.

Likewise, if you’re blocking an attack, it isn’t necessarily going to strike your hand exactly where the padding of the glove sits - think of your wrap as a second, additional layer of protection that’s just as integral as the first.

It’s not just about protecting the hand, though. It’s also about restricting the movement of your loose or moving joints, to redistribute the impact across the whole of the hand and protect fractures or injuries to the muscles and tendons.

A common hand injury, the tearing of one’s sagittal band, is referred to as Boxer’s Knuckle because of the frequency at which this problem is sustained as a result of some sparring in the ring, and will put you out of action for a good few weeks.

Other consistent boxing injuries a wrap serves to protect you from includes the spraining of the your wrist, or the potential of spraining or fracturing your thumb, should your thumb accidentally strike the sharp part of your opponent’s elbow!

Some fighters even suggest that, although the compression allows boxers to hit with a much greater force, they actually feel less pain than they would otherwise. Whilst there are no studies to support this claim, it’s worth a shot, right?

What Wrapping Method Is Best?

Every individual boxer will have their own way of wrapping, depending on their lived experience and education from others, as well as the style of fight. Certain variations on a classic wrap can offer more protection to certain areas of the hand or wrist.

Your cornerman or cutman - the figures responsible for your coaching and safety during a match, respectively - will usually have their own tried and tested method, too. It’s worth experimenting to develop a style that suits your hand shape and size.

Variations on more traditional techniques offer more support to say, the wrist or the thumb, offer additional padding for your precious knuckles or create less of a layer of fabric when you form a fist and prepare to punch.

Typically, wraps are found in two lengths: 120” or approximately 3 meters, and 180” or around 4.5 or 5 meters, and whilst you should aim for the size that’s best for you, some believe the added protection of a longer length is worth it.

You might be tempted to go overboard with the tape or gauze. Don’t! As they’re porous materials, you’ll only encourage the accumulation of sweat whilst you fight, which will make your reaction times slower and might impair your punch accuracy.

Learning proper wrapping technique and using the right materials is also imperative! Too thick or not flexible enough and your hand will be more at risk than it would be without the wrap, as you may impair blood flow or compress too tightly.

This video from professional martial artist Kru Vivek Nakarmi, head instructor at Pentagon Mixed Martial Arts, teaches you the perfect method of hand wrapping for beginners, at an angle that lets the viewer follow along, step by step.

It’s important to bear in mind that boxing competitions may have their own rules and regulations regarding the use of wraps, moderating the type of material you can use and how much by providing each boxer with the same limited amount.

Alternatives To Wrapping

You’ll find that, whilst similar, training wraps will usually be constructed from reusable or repurposed cloth, and can be more securely fastened by using velcro, whereas conventional hand wraps are never elasticated.

Another spin on the original, a Mexican-style hand wrap tend to be elasticized and have proven popular amongst amateurs and professionals alike despite being less prevalent than the traditional.

Occasionally, the additional use of a single wrap in between each finger and over the web can prevent riding up should your glove be a little loose fitting, preventing any shift during your fight and making sure every swing is as precise as it should be.

In recent years, the sport has seen a rise in the use of fingerless gloves, lined with gel, foam and other soft materials, which are said to minimize harm to your head and hands when working on the bag or other forms of training.

However, whilst these alternatives are demonstrably much easier to put on and require far less time and hassle, the general consensus amongst boxers is that they appear to be a less effective method of protection than the standard wrap. 

Rayford Baxter
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