7 Knuckle Conditioning Secrets: How To Get Stronger Fists

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Your hands are often your primary weapons for any kind of fighting or martial arts. So making them as strong as possible is a smart move for punching without holding back and resisting injury.

In this article, I’ll tell you the seven secrets of knuckle conditioning that some of the greatest martial artists have used to develop fists of iron.

This is how to condition your knuckles in the optimal way. Let’s get right into the methods:

1. Rice bucket digging method

Bucket of rice

One of the best – and most ancient – methods to train your knuckles is digging your hands and fists in rice (or sand).

It makes your knuckles stronger because it toughens your skin and builds the helpful kind of callouses.

When the skin is toughened and has callouses then it’ll be harder to crack or break, so less bleeding and skin irritation as it’ll be more resistance.

To do it, you simply fill a bucket with rice and/or sand (a combination of both would work) and punch vertically downward inside your bucket:

If you want to put special attention onto your fingers and turn them into thick sausages, you’ll want to “punch” with straight fingers into the bucket. Go easy on this, it will hurt.

This is particularly a technique used by ancient martial art forms, like Kung Fu/Chinese martial arts.

With the stress on the fingers and hands, it will likely build up a certain level of protective scar tissue underneath your skin.

That’s what makes this one of the top methods on how to harden knuckles as the more your hands are worn down, the thicker and more dense they will become once they heal.

Have you ever noticed that engineers and brick layers often have much thicker and hard-wearing hands? It’s because they use them in rough work all day long.

You can get a similar effect by rice digging into a bucket of rice.

This is going to help the top layer of protection for your hands and make them generally more resistant.

2. Knuckle planks

Athletic man performing a knuckle plank

A simplistic way of building conditioned knuckles is to perform the knuckle plank on a regular basis.

You can make it a part of your typical warm-up, warm-down, or bodyweight conditioning for fighting.

It’s straightforward to perform. Get in the plank position with your fists pushed into the floor instead of the palm of your hands.

Try to stay here for 30 seconds, and build up the length over time.

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The surface you perform this on will be a massive part of how difficult it is, so consider starting out on a gym floor that is cushioned, outside on grass, or a soft carpet in your home.

If you need to make it easier to start out, you can start from a knee-push up position which puts less weight over your arms.

Then, in time, increase the difficulty and resistance. Increase the length of time in the plank, change the surface or move from knees to a standard feet push-up position.

3. Knuckle pushup

Once you feel that you’ve built enough strength and resistance from the knuckle plank, you can advance to knuckle push-ups.

This is going to require a lot more strength in the knuckle joints to maintain balance while you are adding more stress/weight through the motion.

Be very careful with this one and definitely consider starting from the knees or a softer surface to try it out. A mat or towel can be a big help here to adjust into it.

You might find some ease, or variance, in changing the rotation of your forearms, positioning the backhand to your north (towards your head) or east-west (sideways).

Remember that a great push-up isn’t about how many you can do or how fast you can do them, it’s always about the quality of the movement and that usually means slower—which is also going to help build up resistance and balance for this.

4. Hitting the bag bare-knuckle

Female fighter punching heavy bag with bare knuckles

One of the more common methods of conditioning your knuckles for fighting is to hit a heavy bag bare-knuckle.

It’s probably one of my favorite methods of how to make knuckles stronger because it’s fit for the purpose of fighting and I am a big believer that exercises should be directly related for a particular usecase.

It’s straightforward enough to add this onto the end of a martial arts workout at the gym as it’s mostly the same boxing practice but with less protection.

I recommend starting out with this by taking your gloves off and keeping your hand wraps on. That little bit of protection and support around your wrist will help.

Don’t go too hard with this early on since your wrists are likely to take most of the shock and you can easily end up with a nagging injury on your joint.

In time, you can build up resistance to it and as long as you are maintaining good punching form without too much discomfort then you can advance to the bare fist:

Some heavy bags are softer than others, too.

You likely want to start this practice on one of the more ‘worn in’ heavy bags at the gym, as they’re likely softer, before moving to something fresher or with more dense padding.

By repeatedly striking your bones against the leather of the bag, you’re stressing and forcing your bones to become stronger.

5. Hand grip strengthening

Man using a hand grip strengthener

Finally, the last important thing you should do to improve the strength of your hands is general grip strengthening exercises.

Improving your hand grip strength overall is helpful for fighting, not just conditioning your knuckles.

Hand grip exercises have many benefits, including developing stronger forearms, fighting off issues with muscle wastage or helping with preventing muscle conditions like arthritis.

You can buy hand grip strengthening tools quite cheaply, which are easy to use at any time of the day and a great addition to your daily practice:

If you have more hand grip strength, the muscles/ligaments in your fingers, thumb, palm, wrist, forearm are all going to be better resistant to shock or injury.

Find things to squeeze like soft balls, twisting towels between your hands, and lifting dumbbells and barbells.

6. Condition your forearms and wrists

Man strengthening his forearms and wrists using a barbell

While the focus here is on conditioning knuckles specifically, your forearms and wrists also play a huge role in supporting your hands.

When you punch, you are using stabilization and strength in these muscles to deliver the power, absorb the shock and resist any injury from impact.

So if you are head strong on improving the strength and health of your money-makers, then you’ll want to add some strength conditioning exercises to these areas.

Using the behind-the-back wrist curls (with a barbell) as a strength exercise is a great method for applying direct conditioning to the forearms and wrists:

Here are a few more ideas for strengthening your wrists:

  • Finger pulses
  • Palm pulses
  • Palm rotations
  • Elbow rotations
  • Wrist stretch (in all directions)

These are all included in a routine by GMB, one of my favorite sources of information for physical longevity and safe strengthening, check out this video for the full routine:

Those exercises are also really useful for your elbow joints, but here’s a few more you can add:

  • Push-up plyometrics (push up hard and fast so your hands come off the floor, then slow down once your hands meet the floor again, you can start from a knee push-up)
  • Standard pushups
  • Reverse pull-ups (start from the top and slow yourself down)

Each of these can be done with assistance, like starting from your knees on the pushup or using a chair to get above the bar on the reverse pull-up.

7. Get your vitamins

Pile of vitamin supplements

My final tip is to ensure that you are healthy by having a well structured diet and potentially supplementation to keep your bones and joints in good condition.

It may be worth getting your blood checked to find out if you have any deficiencies.

These are the vitamins and minerals that you might need to focus on to ensure bone health and lubrication of your joints:

  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids
  • Vitamin B6

Some of my favorite ways to get these nutrients into your body is high-quality dairy, plenty of free range eggs, sunlight every day, eating more fish and drinking plenty of water.

With your body getting all the nutrients it needs, it will make your knuckles harder for fighting because of the healthy bone density you’ll create.

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