Many martial artists spend hours in the gym, training and conditioning their bodies to perfect their art. The training modalities vary across the different martial arts, one of which is the concept of knuckle conditioning. This leads many martial artists to wonder if conditioning your knuckles can cause arthritis.

Conditioning your knuckles can cause arthritis if performed consistently or in bad form. The damage caused to the ligaments and cartilage in the hand as a result of knuckle conditioning leads to inflammation. This inflammation can cause pain, swelling, and discomfort known as osteoarthritis.

Knuckle conditioning has long been considered an essential part of training for various martial arts. These arts include Boxing, MMA, Muay Thai, and Tae Kwon Do. However, new research is offering alternative training modalities to help protect the athlete’s hands while still becoming stronger and more efficient in their craft.

What Is Knuckle Conditioning?

Knuckle conditioning is the process of strengthening the bones in your hands through repetitive training. It includes the consistent impact on the knuckles over time, which helps build bone density. It is accomplished through punching things like:

  • Heavy bags
  • Pads
  • hard surfaces like wood or concrete

The premise behind knuckle conditioning is to create callouses on your knuckles and stronger bones in your hands. This helps alleviate the pain and discomfort that accompanies hand-to-hand combat. It also encourages fighters to throw stronger punches because their threshold for pain is much higher.

Should You Condition Your Knuckles?

Whether you’re a professional fighter or just enjoy martial arts for fitness, you should avoid most types of knuckle conditioning. For example, hitting a heavy bag bare-knuckled is not going to add value to your training.

Hitting walls and boards is also a high-risk activity that could cause injuries and should be avoided.

Instead, focus on getting your form absolutely perfect. In many cases, martial artists suffer injuries as a result of improper training techniques. If you’re training incorrectly and performing knuckle conditioning activities on a regular basis, this is a recipe for disaster.

How Do You Condition Your Knuckles?

You can safely condition your knuckles by doing some drills that are designed to protect your hands, such as wearing padded gloves on the bag.

If you’re dead-set on doing some conditioning exercises for your knuckles, check out these tips to make it safer. They are sure to help make your hands stronger without completely destroying them and causing arthritis down the line.

  1. Use proper form. As mentioned earlier, start by checking out your form and your thumb alignment. Some gloves will force your hand into a position that is not ideal for throwing punches against a hard surface. If your gloves are forcing your hands into a loose position in which your thumb protrudes from your fist, you need to consider getting a different style of glove.
  2. Add shadow boxing to your training routine. As indicated above, training with certain types of gloves can force your hand into a position that is less than ideal. If you constantly train with gloves on, your hands will be trained to stay in the improper form, which will become a habit for you, with or without gloves on. To combat this, we recommend adding shadowboxing with bare hands to your routine. This will allow your hands to move freely, which gives you the opportunity to correct the form of your fist.
  3. Strike with all four knuckles. There are several schools of thought regarding this element of training. We recommend striking with all four knuckles on straight punches like jabs and crosses. This helps distribute the impact across the entire hand, rather than allowing just your forefinger and middle finger to take the brunt of it.
  4. Gradually increase the density of your bag. If you’re a new fighter and just getting started, you should start on a softer bag and work your way up. You can cause serious injuries to your hands, arms, and shoulders by hitting a bag that is too hard. Start with something softer and work your way up.
  5. Wear your wraps. It’s easy to get lazy when you’re at the gym, but it’s a bad idea! Wear your wraps to protect your hands when striking any surface. Your knuckle conditioning exercises don’t need to cause your knuckles to bleed by going bare-fisted all the time!

Final Thoughts

Knuckle conditioning has its place in martial arts training but should be done with caution. Using the techniques listed above will help you strengthen your hands without causing injuries. There is always risk in fighting, but these strategies will help mitigate that risk and help you train safely.