Tape or wraps are used to protect the bones and joints in a boxer's hands.
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Even though boxers wear padded gloves during fights to protect their hands, they still require the extra protection of hand wrapping. The glove provides cushioning while the hand wrap immobilizes the hand's delicate joints and bones. Joints and bones that are restricted from moving on impact are less likely to shift, slide over one another or get pushed into a direction that would cause injury.
How Wrapping Works
Starting with the fingers splayed and a straight wrist, the hand, wrist and lower forearm are tightly wrapped with a cotton wrap made for boxers, or the old-school version of cotton gauze and athletic tape. Making a fist pulls the wrapping tighter, restricting the movement of the joints and bones in the hand. This compression is what protects the hands. Additional layers of tape or wrap also provide a minimal amount of cushioning. The tape also provides extra support to the wrist to keep it from being hyper-extended or flexed. The fingers are not included in the wrapping and are free to move.
Cloth hand wraps feature a thumb loop and are between 108 and 210 inches long, with 180 inches being the most common length. The longer wraps are re-usable and provide additional protection since you are able to wrap more material around your hand and wrist. Longer wraps are preferred for boxers or those who frequently punch heavy bags during training. The shorter wraps are used for those with smaller hands or for shadow boxing and fitness classes where no hand contact is made.
Tape and Gauze
Boxers prefer to use a combination of athletic tape and gauze to wrap their hands before a fight. The gauze can be placed in such a way to provide a more customized fit to the boxer's hands. It also provides a lighter wrapping than the cotton wraps. Unlike cotton wraps, tape cannot be reused and requires the assistance of another experienced person to do the wrapping and taping.
For general fitness training and light sparring sessions, stick with the re-usable hand wraps and ensure you wear protective gloves when punching any surface. No matter which wrapping method you use, your hand should not be in pain and your fingertips should not turn white. If so, the wrapping is too tight. The wrapping should feel comfortable when the fingers are relaxed and tighten when making a fist.