My work schedule lately has required me to spend a lot more time working out on my own, so I've found myself working with a heavy bag at a nearby rec center. I keep running into a problem where I scrape the skin off of my knuckles and start leaving blood spots on the bag. But before you start typing your answer, here's the twist—it's not the knuckles you would reasonably assume.

wrong knucks

I know that I could wear boxing gloves to prevent this, but I've found that my technique is poorer when I use them (pushing instead of punching, contact with knuckles 3 and 4 rather than 1 and 2, etc...). Hand wraps, gel gloves and open-handed gloves I've tried give me better technique and protect the upper guys, but don't quite cover these knuckles.

The lack of options to some degree implies that perhaps my technique is flawed, but I don't see how. Even if you can form a perfect 90° angle with your fist (I can't personally), if you're punching above shoulder level (i.e. the face) those bottom guys are going to stick out a bit.

What do you guys do? Any thoughts?

Clarification: Here's what the average fist looks like from the side, taken from an article on how to form a proper fist.

proper fist

His is actually LESS flat than mine and as you can see, his middle knuckles are clearly going to strike the "bag" (the red rectangle I drew to represent it anyway) before the knuckles that connect to the hand. And he's aiming downward. If you strike upward (as you would any time you aim for the face) this is going to get worse rather than better. Is his technique flawed? I've been looking for pictures of proper fist technique from the side and while I've seen some a little flatter, I've not see any actual pictures (as opposed to drawings which can happily ignore anatomy) where this wouldn't be an issue.

One Last Clarification: It's interesting to see that 1.) no one else seems to have run into this problem before and so 2.) the conclusion is that I must be making some weird non-standard fist. The more I've thought about and researched this though, the clearer it becomes that it is not possible to punch correctly at face height without the middle knuckles hitting the bag before the knuckles on your hand. Don't believe me? Do this simple exercise.

Find a point on a wall at the exact height of your own nose or chin. Make a fist and put the correct knuckles (the ones on your hand) on that target as if you are punching it with a straight jab/flat-fist punch. Now back up until your arm is almost entirely straight. Your wrist will now look like this.

hairy arms

So in order to flatten out my wrist (presumably no one is suggesting this is the correct way to punch to the face) I will inherently now have to rotate my hand up so that those middle knuckles stick out.

It seems clear now that just about everyone that does bag work wears bag gloves that cover the whole hand. I've not tried a bag glove (as opposed to a full on boxing glove) so hopefully the thinness of the bag glove will address my technique concerns with gloves.

Genuine appreciation to everyone who took the time to respond.

Yet Another Update Even Though I Said The Last One Was The Last: New answers to this question continue to trickle in even after three years. A lot of the new answers seem to assume that the middle picture is me—it isn't, just an image I found. And a lot of people are still claiming that they can make a sub-90 degree fist, but I've still seen no evidence of it (I've asked over a dozen people to show me in person). The thing I've learned more than anything from this thread is how little people critically analyze their own technique and just tend to just repeat what they were taught.

For anyone who cares about the actual answer, in the time since I asked most companies are now making hybrid gloves (around 7oz) with an open palm that took care of all my concerns and I can recommend them highly. Here's Hayabusa's for example:

https://www.hayabusafight.com/collections/open-palm-mma-gloves/products/t3-7oz-hybrid-gloves

  • 2
    Have you tried bag gloves? They're not boxing gloves. I'm talking about the kind that's really very thin, not the padded kind of bag glove. Something like this: vintagetoys.com/toys/classified/2359 – Steve Weigand Mar 20 '15 at 1:56
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    @SteveWeigand I wish you had submitted this as an answer rather than a comment, because I think it's the correct answer. – grovberg Mar 20 '15 at 14:14
  • Haha. No problem. Give it a try and see how it goes. Just make sure the ones you get have no padding. You'll actually have better luck if you look for the cheapest ones you can find. The more expensive kinds have padding and individual finger guides, etc. Those are a nice idea, but it works best when it's just a mitten (no fingers) and no padding. I also think vinyl is the best material. – Steve Weigand Mar 20 '15 at 17:48
  • I have the same problem of getting bloody knuckles in that area. It is good to know I am not the only one.I have read through a few of the responses and I think I am going to try a few. Thanks for the info. – user9115 Mar 5 at 18:39

14 Answers 14

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'm not sure how you're scraping those knuckles; maybe make a tighter fist? Pull back straighter? Are you contacting the bag head-on or is your fist dragging?

The easiest solution is the white tape used for bandages; throw a couple of loops around each knuckle. I did that when climbing (for support) and got it down to a few minutes.

Bag gloves are a reasonable solution; their primary purpose is to protect the hands from the abrasiveness of the bag.

  • I suspect he may be scraping his knuckles while throwing hooks and crosses. – Captain Kenpachi Mar 19 '15 at 15:43
  • @JuannStrauss Hm, yes; hooks in particular could do that if they're not landing flush or they're grazing before solid contact. Still... I've not really seen this happen. Maybe the bag is particularly rough. – Dave Newton Mar 19 '15 at 16:25
  • Although I think I misunderstood. I think the OP is more concerned about the fact that his knuckles (the right ones) aren't making contact first. – Captain Kenpachi Mar 20 '15 at 7:22
  • Happens with all punches thrown with any power. My main goal really is to stop getting blood on the public use bags. :-) The more I look into it with academic rigor, the more I realize that there's no way those knuckles won't make some contact with the bag (for anyone). My suspicion now is that few traditional martial artists train with a bag, and everyone who does (boxers, MMA, Kickboxing) generally wears boxing gloves while doing so. – grovberg Mar 20 '15 at 13:25
  • @grovberg A makiwari or similar is used across many arts; rarely used with gloves as one of its purposes is to condition the knuckles for striking. I mean, bag gloves are pretty common when doing bag work of impact, and their primary purpose is to protect the skin. An uncoated canvas bag is fairly abrasive. – Dave Newton Mar 20 '15 at 13:36

If you're scraping those particular knuckles, probably a problem with your punch technique. You should be hitting straight on with your top two knuckles, and punching straight in and straight out. Scraping indicates dragging your fist on the heavy bag after the punch. This observation may be subject to stylistic differences, but I don't know any style that advocates punching with the first knuckles (not for a straight punch anyway).

I also suggest that, if your first knuckles are sticking out, your fist may be malformed. The way I make a fist is to touch the fingertips to the heel of my palm, then curl the fingers up. This forms a flat, even surface for the fist, suitable for two knuckle jab/cross style punching, as well as Wing Chun vertical fist style punching. The alternative, and from my point of view, incorrect way to form a fist, is to start with a knifehand and curl the knuckles down one at a time into the fist. This produces a flap of skin underneath your curled fingers which makes the fist loose and makes those first knuckles protrude. In the first (correct) method I mentioned, that flap of skin is curled into your fingers, sort of like loading your fist with a roll of quarters.

Another thing about fist formation, you may find that your thumb position divides your knuckles rather than squeezing them together. This is hard to diagnose, especially over the internets, but this article may help: Fighting Arts: Making A Fist

EDIT:

This Video demonstrates three methods of forming a fist. The way that I advocate above (he calls it the "slide" method, starting at minute marker 2:00) is the second method he mentions. I do not advocate the third ("roll") method. The "slide" method forms a (mostly) flat fist, suitable for many different fist striking techniques.

Toward the end of the video, he also mentions thumb position. The point of thumb position is that you do not extend the thumb too far over on your middle finger knuckle when wrapping your thumb. As he explains, this leads to a malformation of the fist.

  • Did you look at the pictures on the link you placed? His middles stick WAY out past his bottom (striking) knuckles, and in most of those he's punching down, which would naturally reduce that effect. Punching Angle Speaking of which, it's not really possible to strike at face level straight on unless their face is at your shoulder, right? So why would I practice that? – grovberg Mar 19 '15 at 14:00
  • If you will read the post again, you'll see that that article is about thumb position and squeezing the knuckles together, not about which knuckles protrude. That was a separate point that I was making. Since you already know what to do, practice whatever you feel is best. – The Wudang Kid Mar 19 '15 at 14:12
  • Please, I did not mean to anger or dismiss you, and I apologize if the way I wrote implied that was my goal (re-reading I can absolutely understand why you would have taken it this way). But the article you linked to doesn't seem to say what you think it does. Thumb position is only brought up near the end and introduced with the sentence "What doesn’t matter much at all is the position of the thumb." I'm genuinely just trying to figure out why this isn't a problem for anyone else. – grovberg Mar 19 '15 at 14:24
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    This is the part of the article I most wanted to draw attention to: "When making a fist with the thumb tucked under and bracing the third knuckles of the forefinger and middle finger, as in Shotokan and most Shorin styles, care must be taken to leave the thumb relaxed, but not so relaxed as to hang below the fist. If the thumb is tense, it acts as a lever pulling the bones at the base of the hand apart. Contact in that case can result in lower hand and wrist injuries." The quote you gave is somewhat contradictory to the author's main point since he does in fact care about thumb position. – The Wudang Kid Mar 19 '15 at 14:40
  • However, this may be beside the point, since division of knuckles seems not to be your primary issue. That last point was an aside. The main thing I wanted to express was forming a flat fist following the curling method I outlined above. – The Wudang Kid Mar 19 '15 at 14:42

I know this is an old question but I wanted to add my two cents because it's the only place I've seen describe a problem that is extremely similar to what I experience.

Background

I too have an index finger where the middle knuckle sticks out. I think mine sticks out more than the average person, especially on my left hand which I think is the result of spraining it playing football as a kid more times than I can remember.

The differences between mine and your issues are:

  1. I don't do bare-knuckle, I wrap my hands and wear boxing gloves.
  2. I am not scraping my middle knuckle. For me, the problem is that after about 5 months of training any medium-force punch or higher feels like my raw bone is hitting concrete.

Evaluation

After evaluating my technique and reading the posts and answers on here I think there are two things that are contributing to this issue:

  1. I realized that I don't make a super tight fist under the gloves, essentially bad form. I try to make it a point to maintain good form but squeezing my hand into a tight fist wasn't on the list of things I focused on.

  2. The bag I punch is really heavy and really hard. Heaviest and hardest in the gym that I go to actually. Originally I liked it because I could transition from soft to hard punches without having the bag swing around on me but I think my bad fist form has caught up with me.

Solution

All that being said, two things should solve this problem:

  1. Focus on making a proper fist. Like you said, I don't think it is possible (at least not for everyone) to make a perfect 90° fist but really focusing on tightening it as much as you can should help.
  2. Switch up to punching a lighter bag. Obviously, you probably won't be able to wail on it but that's probably a good thing since it will force you to focus on your technique. And technique is king.

Hopefully, this helps anyone else who may come across this.

  • In Karate, there is what is sometimes known as the "Okinawan fist" for people where the knuckle of the first-finger sticks out like that: Start with an open hand, curl the ends of the middle/ring/little fingers over (leaving index finger straight), then fold all the fingers in - the index finger will be pointing into the thenar muscle (palm of hand, at base of thumb) Then wrap the thumb over the index and middle fingers - this should pull the index fingertip across until it overlaps the middle finger. – Chronocidal Jun 28 at 9:18
  • @Chronocidal interesting, thanks for the info. I will definitely try this during my training. – oonyalo Jul 12 at 21:38

I occasionally run into this issue myself. It happens because, even though you feel like you're using proper technique, your front knuckles are sliding(albeit less than millimeters) against the bag when you high punch. This can happen because your hand gets tired when training and it loosens the fist a little, letting your knuckle drag. When I find this is starting to happen to me I grab some hockey tape and lightly wrap my individual fingers in it. I generally take a day off after to let my hand rest so I can go back to making a tight, strong fist without risking injury or overworking it.

Other options that can work are bag gloves(mechanics gloves work as well, but they are more likely to damage the bag but they are cheaper), working high punches a little less frequently in your training(I hate this as an option personally), or wiping down the bag after you are done with it with some alcohol or disinfectant(kinda that last resort option as most gyms frown upon blood stains on their bags).

Frankly, any covering of your hands that doesn't slide around too much will work. Try a pair of light work gloves. If those are too hot, an ACE bandage or even just a bandanna wrapped around your hand will work. The latter two aren't appropriate if you're doing grappling work, but will do fine for punching a bag.

My Sensi taught me years ago that you will fight the way you train and to build yourself up slowly. If your knuckles start bleeding, treat it like a hand injury in a fight and switch to throwing palm strikes without losing rhythm. Also, as others here have alluded to, after you build calluses on your knuckles this won't happen anymore. The way I did it for myself was to do push ups on my knuckles, elbows in tight to my side, fist up and down (not sideways),and to do them for speed, not slow. Imagine your back is straight as a board throughout the motion and continue to do the push ups on harder and harder surfaces. That means start on carpet, then hardwood floors, then bricks, then anything you feel comfortable with. Just remember...your training for combat...so imagine your fist stopping the worst enemy you can think of...someone who would hurt the person you love the most...and only you can stop that!..(In the mean time use open finger gloves, at Big 5 Sporting Store for example, or wipe the bag down with rubbing alcohol or vinegar to be considerate).

I had the same problem, which went away the more I punched with bare knuckles.

  1. My knuckles got slightly larger to the point that when I punch the wall like you did in your picture, my knuckles hit first.
  2. The skin on my middle joints became calloused.

It did teach me the hard way what it felt like to punch with the wrong technique. It was a good lesson.

It may have something to do with how he is curling his fist, but anyone that hits with power will have this problem. The problem is that when you hit, your fist pushes into the bag, meaning the bag wraps around your fist. As a result, as it wraps around your hand for the force of your fist pushing into the bag, it scratches your lower knuckles.

As far as I know, the only way to avoid this, if you are a hard hitter, is to get different gloves that cover your entire fists.

You need to wear boxing gloves.

The best fighters in world all wear boxing gloves when they hit the bag for a reason. They will help preserve your hands and wrists, which are the most common thing to injure in boxing, kickboxing, and MMA. The last thing you want is come fight night you're dealing with some stupid hand/wrist injuries because you wanted to be a tough guy to the bag.

I wear big gloves to hit the bag, 16oz. I would never even consider throwing power shots on the bag with anything less than 12oz. Save the little gloves for mitt work (if you need to, I still prefer 16oz gloves even when preparing for an MMA fight with 4oz gloves). Come fight night you're going to have super light hands after all that training with the big gloves.

You say that it makes your technique worse. That's fine. You just have more practice to do. Keep the quick snap on your punches. Make sure you're turning your hips over.

Scraping your lower knuckles comes primarily from two things: the secondary knuckles making contact first, and the likelihood of skipping or sliding across the bag with power punches. Even with a perfectly straight-in straight-out punch, if the secondary knuckles make contact first, they will slide a bit on the bag as they are compressed into the palm until the upper knuckles make solid contact.

My striking knuckles have gotten larger and calloused over the years, but the angle of my fist is still basically 90. As far as striking bare knuckle goes, you have to control both where you are targeting and the alignment behind the punch.

Targeting is pretty straightforward. A bag is basically flat on a vertical plane (at two-knuckle width), but the human form isn't. In other words, even if you are punching upward to hit the jaw or chin, there is no surface immediately below that target for your secondary knuckles to hit unless you miss. And after the jaw and chin, most other targets would be shots to the body at a level lower than your shoulder.

Alignment is the other factor you can control. As long as your forearm bones remain aligned straight behind your primary knuckles in regards to directional force, you'll have good impact with little risk of injury to your fingers and wrist (bone has high compression tolerance and strength). I would recommend experimenting with rotating your hand so that the primary knuckles are leading from whatever direction you punch, and the forearm bones are aligned behind them. Horizontal fist seems pretty standard, but a vertical at the proper height will ensure contact on only the two primary knuckles. Once you get much higher, you'll need to turn the hand over the other direction, basically pointing the thumb downward, in order to lead and make contact with only those two knuckles. This actually makes for a great overhand around an opponent's guard and causes your shoulder to naturally cover your chin. Just keep in mind this really flares your elbow and opens you to body shots. A bit less rotation, such as pointing the thumb almost 45 degrees downward, will make for great contact with a straight punch without flaring the elbow way out of place.

I have no trouble forming a fist with less than 90 degress between the back of the hand and the upper fingers... it's possible for most people in my experience. The Wudang Kid's answer has lots of helpful advice that might help if you're just closing your hand wrongly. You may find doing push-ups on your knuckles helps there - try to lift the part you're scraping completely off the ground.

A useful diagnostic is seeing at what height on a wall you can keep the fingers pointing straight down (not curled into your hand) while the knuckles are pressed into the wall with the wrist inline with the arm: if you can do that at should height then you should be able to form a tight fist if you work through how to wrap your fingers and the fleshy parts of the palm up properly. For that - as you curl the fingers you'll notice a kind of fleshy crevice about 1cm back in from the fingers - you want to wriggle your finger tips deeply down into there.

Separately, an open question is whether the particular bag(s) you're punching are suitable - if they're hung at such a height that there's not firm packing at head height, your punches aren't going to meet much resistance and will inevitably skid off upward.

I consider the second of your pictures ("taken from an article on how to form a proper fist") to show very poor form: it encourages a soft whole-fist contact where the compressing hand has the bones in the very furthest part of the fingers squishing up against the muscle padding the palm - that dramatically disperses the peek concentration of force in space and time. If anything, I keep the wrist ever-so-slightly bent towards the forearm regardless of the height or angle of the punch: the "top" of the knuckles dig in for reduced surface area and a lot less give - force is directly back in to the main bones through the hand. This angling also means I can punch higher with less of the lower-knuckles-hitting-first problem you describe - my forearms are used to keeping the wrist firm at that angle too.

When you punch you can mix up horizontal and vertical fist positions, straight and hook punches etc.. If you find you're still scraping your knuckles at head height with a straight horizontal punch, learn to hit with a vertical fist, or a tight arc/hook.

Keep in mind too that the main driver in punching technique is utility in fighting - not punching bags. When you punch upwards in an actual fight you might aim for the jaw knowing the lower knuckles you've been scraping won't hit anything problematic or hard. There's a reasonable argument for finding other equipment (e.g. speed ball) to practice punches or other technique that you're finding the punching bag poorly suited to.

Your fist is not optimal.

You are pulling in your whole thumb side inwards when you make a fist and it causes your 1 + 2 fingers to not have enough room to make your fist flat.

Relax the muscles and area around your first carpometacarpal joint and your palm will give way for your fingers.

With this kind of posture, I also suspect that you are pulling your pinky area downward as well, which will cause you further problems later on (or upon weird angle impact). Are your knuckles slanted diagonal instead of straight horizontal when in a fist?

  • Please avoid asking questions in answers. If you feel you need clarification, request it in a comment under the OP. – JohnP Jun 19 '15 at 14:52
  • Its more of a prediction/rhetorical question than an actual question. – Zero Jun 20 '15 at 14:23

I had this problem as well, but I found an easy fix. When you wrap your hands, there is usually a little bit left over once you complete the default wrap. If you wrap the fingers that are getting scrapes once or twice, it prevents the rubbing that leads to the scrapes. If you do not have enough extra wrap, i would recommend getting some longer wraps. This was a problem for me as well, but i didnt want to spend money on special gloves. I too enjoy bare knuckle boxing, as i can deliver more power and my punches become more accurate. So i am very glad that i was able to find a cheap and easy solution.

I suspect it´s because your punching with your fist sideways, as apposed to punching straight, with your thumb facing up, but I´m just guessing :b

  • If you could expand this, it might prove to be a good answer (be clearer about sideways or straight, why this might make a difference, and explain what you're basing this on). – Mike P May 26 '16 at 10:12
  • Agreed. You need to explain what you mean. – Sean Duggan May 26 '16 at 13:01

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