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One of the fascinating aspects about martial arts, at least to me, is that there's so many different dimensions to it. Of course there is technique, cardio and fight IQ, but what I find less information on is the physiological transformation your body goes through. Practitioners that have been fighting for years will have conditioned their limbs and torso to dish out as well as absorb damage. However, it only goes so far; there are limits to what the body can be put through and there are plenty of instances where pros have had to hang up the gloves due to injury.

Floyd Mayweather despite his defensive and evasive prowess has admitted his hands have grown more brittle due to all the training and fights. Same may apply to other parts of the body too. One of the half-joking axioms out there is "one cannot condition one's chin." But on balance, I think the point still stands that fighting entails a unique kind of physiological conditioning. And without it, holding all other factors equal, we might see very different results if one combatant had the bone and muscle conditioning for fighting while the other did not. Two examples off the top of my head:

  1. Exhibition match of Pacqiao vs Shaquel O'Neil. Of course it was mostly in good fun, but Pacqiao is reported to have felt fine afterwords whereas O'Neil despite his size advantage was in considerable pain. After all, in basketball contact results in a stop of play and a foul.
  2. The early days of the UFC where pure karate / taekwando athletes would square off against muaithai and wrestlers. While there may be some expertise deficiencies for take downs and ground game, but I'd wager if taekwando practitioners had more hours invested in full contact sparring and less stylized striking or hitting a makiwara the result might surprise us. For it was quite easy to see that the muaithai strikers were way more resilient to getting hit because of the training style; there bodies were more acclimated to MMA.

Question

Given the observations in competitive martial arts, namely MMA, over the years, is there a widely agreed upon amount of conditioning for one's fist and how might one know if he/she has reached this "goldilocks" level where it's enough to hold up to use and abuse during application but not overly conditioned to the point of brittleness? And how does one condition it (Hit what kind of thing for how long per day)?
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  • Does this answer your question? How to condition knuckles? Jul 15 at 12:11
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    One other minor point, which isn't in the linked answer, is that bone mass stops growing past age 30, and growth peaks around age 19, so bone conditioning past age 30 is of limited use. Jul 15 at 15:22
  • @MacacoBranco. Do you know if 'growth' in this context also refers to the bones' ability to become more dense via training? Jul 17 at 12:55
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    @Futilitarian That's my understanding. The bone has to be damaged and regrow with more material to get more dense. But after 30, it stops replacing it as great as it's lost, which is why osteoporosis becomes a growing issue. Jul 17 at 14:15
  • @MacacoBranco. That makes sense I guess. Densification - now that I think about it properly - requires growth. Thanks. Jul 17 at 14:20

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I mention the following only to provide context and validity to my later comments:

I have trained on and off for over two decades (boxing and Kyokushin karate). This training included frequent, high intensity, long-duration heavy bag work, both gloved and ungloved. I also trained with many people who trained in a similar fashion, including adolescents and people well into their fifties, and occasionally older.

I never encountered anyone who was forced to pause or halt training due to chronic hand or wrist injury caused by bone deterioration, and only one person who suffered a chronic hand injury of any kind, which was sustained when he hit an opponent in the forehead without gloves on.

This suggests to me that even in full-contact circles, where regular, high impact is the norm, normal precautions such as those I list below seem sufficient to enable adequate conditioning through bag work alone, and to provide for a long punching life. It also leaves me with no evidence to conclude that bone brittleness is a common issue amongst fighters.

Mayweather's issue is quite likely atypical typical and may relate to any number of factors, including diet (insufficient calcium, for example), genetics, illness, and/or a series of injuries. It is unwise to draw too many conclusions based upon a sample size of one. Admittedly, my experience does also not constitute a particularly large sample size either, but it is probably reasonable to conclude that given the amount of time I've spent in relevant environments, that a greater incidence of injury related to bone brittleness would likely have been apparent were it a common issue.

To conclude, with the wellbeing of readers being my priority, I feel comfortable (until I hear of contrasting experiences from others) in stating that fighters will most likely adapt perfectly well to the demands of punching by adhering to the following principles during a regimen of regular heavy-bag training:

  1. Good punching technique, including fist formation,
  2. Gradual increase in punching intensity, duration and frequency,
  3. Adequate rest periods (intra-session and inter-session), and
  4. Consistent, good-quality hand-wrapping.

More information on these can be found in this stack and elsewhere online.

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