Your hands are precision instruments made up of bones, muscles, tendons, and nerves. Using your hands is a significant part of the numerous techniques that MMA fighters employ. Your hands may land heavy punches, but they’re also delicate mechanisms. Therefore, it’s imperative that you know how to wrap your hands properly before you use them on another fighter.
After all, the more secure your hands feel, the more power you’ll feel comfortable putting behind each thrust. If you’ve ever thrown hands without gloves on, you’ll know the unbearable pain and debilitating damage it can cause.
In the following article, we’ll discuss all you need to know about hand wraps. I’ll also show you how to wrap your hands for MMA so that you can throw hands safely and with the confidence you need for this high-impact contact sport.
Why should you wrap your hands for MMA?
Even if you’re new to the sport, you’ll have seen MMA fighters and boxers wrap their hands before a fight, whether in a movie or at a live fight night. While, to some, this may seem like some kind of pre-fight ritual, there’s a great deal of importance behind wrapping your hands before any fight.
Before we get into those reasons, however, we need to address a falsehood that some people believe about hand wrapping. One of the most widely held misconceptions in the boxing and MMA fighting industry is that wrapping your hands is a surefire way to achieve some mythical knockout power. This is largely false. I say largely because no legal amount or type of hand wrapping will increase the power behind your punches. That power is all down to your chosen fighting style, fitness, and weight class.
Legal is an important term here because there have been cases where fighters have landed explosive blows because of the way they wrap their hands or the wraps they use. These are, however, illegal and highly immoral techniques, both in terms of your own safety and that of your competitor. A legal hand wrap and wrapping method can do three things:
- Protect your hands’ structural integrity
- Give you the confidence to punch with full force without fear of injuring yourself.
- Secure your fists so you don’t feel the brunt of the pain associated with landing an explosive punch.
Protect your hands’ structural integrity
We touched on the structure of your hands in the introduction to this article, but I want to give you the best foundational knowledge before simply furnishing you with a quick guide on how to wrap your hands for MMA.
Muay Thai is a striking-predominant discipline, which means it primarily relies on hand use. As stipulated in any medical journal worth its salt, hand injuries are the second most common affliction that MMA fighters present with, behind injuries to the head and neck. There are 27 bones in the average adult human hand. Eight of these are the carpal bones that make up your wrist, five are the metacarpal bones that your palm consists of, and the remaining 14 are the digital bones that make up your fingers and thumb. Your hand also consists of 34 muscles, 27 joints, and in excess of 100 tendons and ligaments.
In a study performed at a treatment center in Warsaw, Poland, researchers found that 56.1% of hand injuries resulted in tendon damage. A staggering 79% of patients presented with damage specifically to the finger flexors, muscles that allow the index, middle, ring, and little fingers to flex. In general, injuries to the hand that could be categorized as minor were relatively uncommon at 19.4% out of a sample of 1091 patients. According to orthopedic surgeons, hand injuries like fractures often require surgery as part of the treatment strategy.
Surgery is necessary to stabilize and realign fractured fragments, especially in cases where the bone has broken through the skin. One of the most common hand injuries that you’re at risk of in MMA is a boxer’s fracture. This is when the neck of the 5th metacarpal bone (palm) breaks. The result of this fracture is primarily swelling of the hand, losing range of motion in your small finger and the finger – or additional fingers – becoming misaligned.
While in some cases, a boxer’s fracture can heal on its own, allowing it to do so can result in other complications, such as an inability to grip objects properly and a decrease in the range of motion of your entire hand. If treated, the fracture can heal with little to no significant detriment to your hand. One of the best ways to prevent injuries like the all-to-common boxer’s fracture is to – you guessed it – wrap your hand.
Gain a confidence boost
I don’t need to go into scientific and medical research results for this one. If you feel your hands are safer from injury, you’ll put more power into your punches. This is another reason why we wrap our hands. Wrapping your hands properly adds a little more cushioning to your knuckles. This way, you can punch without fearing that you’ll immediately shatter the bones in your hand.
Secure your fists
This point integrates with the previous two. Launching a punch, by virtue of the action itself, hurts considerably. Remember that you’re not just launching a fist; as you learn in Muay Thai and other Mixed Martial Arts disciplines, the rest of your body needs to be specifically positioned to land a powerful punch.
You’re using your entire body weight, friction with the surface upon which you stand, and the force generated by leveraging different scientific laws of motion to create the most impact. Your clenched fist is merely the vehicle of the resultant force. In this way, your fist is also the primary target of the miniature shock waves generated by your punch and the brunt of the force of whatever surface you’re punching.
Human bones are hollow, to an extent. This results in them being lighter so that it takes less energy to move them, but also stronger so that they can support greater weight. Even so, bones are incredibly hard, and your fist colliding with your opponent’s skull, jaw, chest, or arms is bound to hurt.
Wrapping your hands properly allows you to build up a make-shift shock absorber to cushion the blow of striking solid bone. Essentially, even though the primary blow is dealt by your knuckles, in most cases, the shock will be better distributed to the other parts of your hand.
What types of hand wraps are there?
Since there are so many disciplines incorporated into Mixed Martial Arts, there are numerous types of wraps. The type of hand wraps you use for MMA depends on what styles you primarily employ in your training routine and during fight night.
Each type of wrap also has distinct advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at some of them in clearer detail so that you can better decide which is appropriate for your fighting style.
Fast wraps, or quick wraps, are a relatively new product in the MMA industry. They’re primarily manufactured by Fortress Boxing out of Birmingham, England, and many professionals swear by them, even offering the brand their endorsement. Fast wraps are a quick-to-use alternative to traditional wrapping, and they’re far easier to equip as you only have to slip them on and adjust the finger and wrist straps.
However, there is a considerable list of cons involved with fast wraps. First and foremost, they require you to stretch your gloves as they’re quite bulky. This means you either have to stick to one pair of gloves to use with fast wraps or stretch every pair of gloves you own and only be able to use fast wraps. Some athletes say that they generously provide support and can protect your hands as well as traditional wraps can.
Other athletes say that fast wraps are largely pointless. One athlete mentions on the Sherdog community MMA forum that he wound up chucking them after a few months. He explains further that even a light workload, such as a double-end practice bag, results in the wraps tearing. Another user echoes these durability concerns, mentioning that he only uses fast wraps for home use.
Inner gloves look like fingerless gloves, and you can imagine how much support fingerless gloves would provide. Even though companies like RDX and Everlast manufacture relatively inexpensive inner gloves, they don’t offer much protection. Inner gloves are much faster to equip than anything else, and they don’t require a tutorial or any kind of technical know-how. However, there’s no option to add extra padding to your knuckles or any other area you want additional support in.
I generally stay away from inner gloves, although I have to admit that they’re better than throwing a bare punch. But that doesn’t say much. Again, your choice of hand wraps depends on your use. These, for example, would be decent for fitness classes with martial arts components like boxfit. In my experience, however, inner gloves do not offer sufficient support and protection for home training or competitions.
Cloth or cotton wraps are the type you’ll see most often in the training gym. The reason that these are so popular stems from their variety, availability, and versatility. You can find quality cotton wraps almost anywhere, under the banner of the most well-known equipment brands. You can also find cotton wraps in almost every color of the rainbow – if a unique look is your thing.
There are hundreds of ways to wrap your hands in cloth wraps, which means you have a massive variety when it comes to finding the most effective and efficient technique for your style. The technique I present you with below is centered around the use of elastic ‘Mexican style’ wraps, but you can use cloth/ cotton wraps with it just as easily and effectively.
Cloth wraps are also available in numerous different lengths to ensure that you have enough material to get the level of protection and support you need.
Elastic ‘Mexican Style’ Wraps
This is by far my favorite hand wrap to use for both training and competition. Similar to cloth/ cotton wraps, elastic wraps also offer increased versatility, availability, and variety. I prefer black elastic, only because they remain looking better for longer. Lighter colors are likely to stain and sometimes discolor quicker than dark colors. You’ll be able to find good elastic hand wraps at most decent fitness equipment wholesalers and retailers, and they’re also relatively inexpensive – depending on the brand you choose.
While some boxers find the elastic wraps a little too thick for comfortable use, I prefer the stretch that elastic has over traditional cloth/ cotton wraps. The extra stretch means that you can pull the elastic wraps tighter, and they generally conform better to more hand shapes. Another advantage I leverage fully is that these wraps don’t loosen during training or combat.
The elastic that these wraps are made of is also a lot more breathable than other hand wraps, which results in better sweat absorption – and you’re going to sweat during a good Muay Thai session.
Tape and Gauze Wraps
This is a type of hand wrap you’ll see most often on TV during competitions. What you’ll also see is another person wrapping the fighter/ boxer’s hands. Therein lies the biggest con with tape and gauze wraps. Even though they provide incredible support and hand protection, you can’t wrap your hands yourself like you can with all the options on our list.
Tape and gauze wraps do, however, provide superior comfort while you’re throwing hands. It’s true that this is what a lot of professionals use on fight night and sometimes for training, but there are professionals who swear by elastic, cloth/ cotton, and fast wraps too.
To end off this section, I’d suggest that you try out as many hand wrap options as you can. At the end of the day, your sense of comfort and protection is far more important to your fighting career or training than anything anyone else can tell you.
How to wrap your hands properly for MMA
This is what you came here for. Below I’ll give you a step-by-step guide on how to wrap your hands properly for MMA. There are many ways to wrap your hands, but the one I’m going to teach you below is perfect for MMA specifically because it leaves your thumb unhindered and free to move around for grappling. We’ll also be using Mexican-style elastic wraps for this, although you can achieve the same technique with traditional cotton wraps.
Step 1: Spread it
The first thing you’ll want to do is extend and spread your fingers. The reason we do this is that if you leave your fingers limp or slack while you wrap them, you’ll likely constrict your fingers too much and cut off blood circulation. You also want to make sure to allow your hand to retain enough range of motion.
Step 2: Loop it
If you’re using the recommended ‘Mexican style’ wraps, you’ll see a loop on one end and velcro at the other end. Slip your thumb through the loop. You should be able to tell quite easily which side of the wrap should face outwards and which inwards, but generally, you can look at the loop itself. The exterior of the loop usually overlaps the part of the wrap it’s secured to, so look for which piece of material is overlapping.
Step 3: Wrap it
Once your thumb is securely in the loop, you’ll want to start by wrapping your wrist three times. You need to ensure that your wrist is wrapped fairly tightly. Remember – the idea is to stabilize your hand’s internal structure. Loose wrappings aren’t going to stabilize anything.
Step 4: Knuckle down
From your wrist, you’ll want to take the wrap around your palm and then over your knuckles. This is for the foundation of that aforementioned extra knuckle padding. From there, take the wrap around your wrist one more time. Remember to keep the wrap fairly tight.
Step 5: The go-between
From your wrist, you’ll want to take the wrap between your little and fourth fingers. From there, head back to your wrist. You need to repeat this maneuver for the valley between each finger, taking the wrap around your wrist each time. When you take the wrap between each finger, form your hand into a tight fist until the wrap is securely around your wrist.
Do this for each new turn. Make sure that you keep your fingers separate and rigid to conserve blood circulation as you wrap.
Step 6: Knuckle down again
Once you’ve taken care of your fingers, you should take the wrap around your knuckles again for extra shock absorption and padding. There should be a short piece of wrap left when you’re done. Take the wrap around your wrist once more, and use the short piece left over to close the velcro strap.
How pro MMA fighters wrap their hands
As mentioned above, professional MMA fighters and boxers will primarily use tape and gauze to wrap their hands, especially on fight night. This is obviously only in cases where they have someone else who can wrap their hands for them. You’ll notice that we use the terms MMA fighter and boxer semi-interchangeably when discussing the importance and techniques of hand wrapping.
This is because both disciplines require a similar level of protection, mobility, and comfort, and both use the same types of hand wraps. However, you’ll also have noticed that boxers generally use bigger gloves than MMA fighters. Therefore, the wrapping that boxers use is usually thicker than that of MMA fighters.
That brings us neatly to the velcro-tipped end of this article. Now that we’ve imparted our vast knowledge on why wrapping your hands is so important and how to do it like a professional, you can get into the heat of the competition confidently. Hand wrapping isn’t the be-all and end-all of mastering Mixed Martial Arts, however.
You’ll also want to ensure that you’ve got the right form and know how to punch without shattering your hand. Just because we refer to Muay Thai as the art of eight limbs, that doesn’t justify putting a limb at risk.