Boxing coaches employ a number of techniques and exercises to get their fighters into tip top condition. We all remember the famous scene in Rocky where Mickey gets Rocky to chase a chicken at his boxing gym, in order to improve his foot work and become faster. In real life, boxers utilise a number of slightly off the wall techniques to improve their conditioning. One such technique involves putting their hands into a bucket of uncooked rice.
Why do boxers put their hands in rice?
Boxers will put their hands in rice in order to both harden their hands and develop hand and grip strength. They will submerge their hands in the rice and squeeze the rice, opening and closing their hands against the resistance that the grains of rice provide.
Having good grip strength is essential for any boxer. In boxing, at the point of impact, the fist needs to be tightly clenched into a solid ball. This makes the punch more impactful: compare being hit with a stone against a sponge ball. The more solid the fist is clenched, the more it’s going to hurt and the more punching power the fighter will have.
A tightly clenched fist also protects the hand when it makes contact with the opponent or heavy bag. Unless the muscles of the hand are tensed, the various bones in the fist are able to move around. When the punch makes contact, these bones may be jarred out of position. If this happens with sufficient force then they may break. At the very least you may develop a hand injury or wrist pain. This can happen even if your fist has a hand wrap and boxing glove on it.
If the muscles of the hand are tightly contracted, then they also provide a level of cushioning. Whenever you tense a muscle it hardens as the muscle fibers contract. The same is true of the muscles in the hand. The tensed muscles of a clenched fist provide an additional level of cushioning to the delicate bones and tendons of the hand.
How do boxers strengthen their hands?
Some boxers perform knuckle pushups in order to toughen their knuckles and develop the muscles in their wrist to prevent a wrist injury.
Another common way boxers use to strengthening their hand is through using a bucket that has been filled with rice. This is great for developing hand strength.
It can be a regular bucket but it needs to be large enough for you to get both hands in and to be able to open and clench them without them touching each other.
The rice needs to fill the bucket to the depth where they cover up to the wrist when the open hands are submerged into the bucket. It’s better to have too much rice in the bucket than too little, provided that it doesn’t spill out of the bucket when you’re using it.
With regular training it can lead to the development of increased muscle mass in the forearm.
What does putting your hand in rice do?
Boxers don’t simply put their hands in the rice and wait for the magic to happen. Once their hands are submergred beneath the surface of the rice, they will open and close their hands repeatedly ensuring that they work from full contraction to full extension. In other words, from a tight clenched fist to a completely open hand.
The fighter needs to focus on actively squeezing the rice. I know it sounds ridiculous but it’s this squeezing motion that develops the grip strength of the hand. As the fingers curl around the rice, the grains will offer resistance to the movement and in time the muscles of the hand become stronger in order to overcome this resistance.
This is very different from squeezing a solid object. As you tighten your grip, the grains of rice escape from between your fingers allowing you to be able to form a fully clenched grip. This allows you to work your muscle along their entire range of motion.
It’s not just the muscles involved in contracting your hand that are exercised. When you open your hand when your hands are submerged in the bucket, the muscles involved in spreading your fingers apart are also called into play. The grains of rice offer resistance to this movement and, again, the muscles have to adapt and get stronger in order to overcome the resistance.
Rice Bucket Exercises
There are a number of exercises that can be done when training with a rice bucket.
Single Finger movements
With both hands submerged under the rice in the shape of a fist, move each finger independently from a fully open or extended position to a fully contracted position. The rice makes the movement harder and it can be considered a form of resistance training.
For instance, work the index finger of both hands by extending and contracting them.
I like to feel the build up of lactic acid in the muscle of the fingers and forearm area, before moving onto the next finger.
The lactic acid naturally builds up whenever a muscle is exercised. It’s what gives that burning sensation. When you start to feel this, move onto the next finger on your hand.
Work each finger in this way until you have exercised all the fingers of the hand, including the thumb.
At this point, you can either repeat this exercise or move onto the next exercise
Whole hand movement
Unlike the previous exercise, where you’re working each finger separately, in the exercise you’re working the entire hand.
Submerge the hands under the rice so that the surface of the rice comes up to the wrist. Slowly open and close the fingers through their full range of motion: from a tightly clenched fist through to the finger spread out as wide as they will go.
Repeat this until the lactic acid in the muscle of the finger and forearm begins to build up.
Burrow to the bottom of the bucket
In this exercise, the idea is that your hands burrow their way until they touch the bottom of the bucket. You’re still opening and closing your hands in the manner described above but this time you’re also pushing down so that your hand slowly works its way to the bottom of the barrel.
This is just a fun variation to do just to mix up your training.
One of the benefits of this type of training is that it can be done at home, say whilst you’re watching TV.
Even if you’re not a professional boxer, you might benefit from training your grip endurance and strength by performing hand exercises in a bucket of rice as part of your upper body exercise routine. It may be something you want to mention to your boxing coach as an additional way to develop hand and forearm strength.
Are there other methods of strengthening the muscles in the hand for boxing?
Yes. There are a number of exercise tools that can help with this. One of my favourites are hand grippers. I’m not talking about the cheap, flimsy sort that offer almost no resistance but the high quality grippers that came in different resistance levels such as the Captains of Crush (link to Amazon). Note that this develops the muscles involved in your grip strength. You’ll also want to develop the muscles responsible for opening the fingers. For this you can use an elasticated band specifically designed for this purpose, such as this one (link to Amazon). Both these tools will develop strong hands that have a strong grip.
Regular use of a punching bag will also help to toughen your hand.