Getting paid to punch people for a living takes a unique skill set.  Equally unique are some of the ways fighters prepare to go into combat.  A stroll around your local boxing gym is sure to yield a varied array of training techniques.  One of the most peculiar, perhaps, is the time-honored tradition of using rice as a training tool.  It is common to see boxers gathered around the rice bucket performing a number of hand strengthening exercises. But, why do boxers put their hands in rice? And, does it work?

Rice training has been shown to be an effective way to increase grip strength, wrist flexibility and power, and density of the forearm muscles, all of which transfer to the squared circle.

Let’s explore the reasons why rice training has been a “staple food” in the fighting industry for as long as people have been lacing them up.

Why do Boxers Put Their Hands In Rice?

When your job depends on your hands being ready for a grueling twelve rounder it is important that you do everything possible to ensure they can go the distance.  The best part of rice training is the little equipment that is needed.  A small bucket, 15-30 pounds of rice, and a good lid to keep everything moisture-free, and you’re all set.  The exercises are simple as well.  Most trainers will advise, much like with any workout, that one begin a rice training session with a bit of a warm-up.  You may want to grab a small stool or pad to kneel in front of your training bucket. 

Warm Up

A good warm-up usually consists of grabbing handfuls of rice near the top of your bucket.  More intense training will involve reaching for the compacted rice at the bottom of the bucket, but your warm-up will focus on the top layer.

Exercise #1

Once everything is warmed up and ready to go, it’s time for some more strenuous training.  One popular technique is thrusting your hands deep in the rice and rotating your hands and wrists rapidly in a clockwise motion.  This will develop the muscles of the wrist and forearms. 

Exercise #2

Grip strength can also be enhanced with the following exercise.  Push your hands deep into your rice bucket with fingers extended straight (think military salute), and slowly opening your closed hand will provide amazing grip training as it works the extensor muscles of the hand and forearm. 

Exercise #3

Conversely, to work the flexor muscles one simply reverses the process.  Start with an open hand, similar to how you might hold a softball, insert your hands into the rice bucket, and slowly squeeze attempting to close the hand.


It is important to start any training program gradually.  Many are surprised at the muscle soreness that can result from rice training.  A good starting point is to shoot for 3 sets of 10-15 movements with a 30-60 second break in between.  As your training progresses you can modify both the number of reps, along with the speed of the exercise.

If you’re more of a visual person and want to learn this exercise, take a look at this excellent video:

So naturally, having learned a bit about this type of training, we can now take a look at what this training can do for you.

Does Grip Strength Help In a Fight?

Now that we’ve learned a little bit about how to train we can examine the most important part of rice training.  Does increasing one’s grip strength really help in a fight.  We can start by examining the boxing glove itself.  If you have ever laced up a pro boxing glove one of the first things that surprise many is just how rigid the material is.  Many of us grew up boxing our siblings with what essentially amounted to oversized pillows. Modern gloves are not as forgiving. 

 It is commonly thought that boxing gloves offer protection to the fighter on the receiving end of a knockout punch.  On the contrary, gloves are more crucial in protecting the delicate bones of a boxer’s hands.  Rice training can be a wonderful supplement for this protection.  By strengthening the flexor and extensor muscles of the hands, wrists, and forearms a boxer will be able to make a tightly closed fist. 

Furthermore, he/she will be able to maintain this over the course of what can be a highly exhaustive affair.  Injuries to the hand often occur as a result of a boxer no longer having the endurance, late in a fight, to keep a closed fist.  Rice training will develop the “long distance” muscles needed to prevent this.  Improved wrist strength will also deliver greater power as the force of the punch starts in the lower body, and is transferred to the wrist, and ultimately the fist that delivers, what hopefully, is the winning blow.

Consistent grip training will provide a solid base.  It will allow you to train longer, punch harder, and prevent injury.

How Do You Increase Grip Strength?

As shown, rice training can be an effective method to increase the strength of your grip and the power of your shots.  Being one step ahead of the competition can be the difference between an early trip to the showers, or having your name in lights.  For this reason, a boxer should explore many grip training techniques to be poised for success.  

While the weight room is sometimes neglected by those in the martial arts world, it is a great place to work on improving your grip.  Exercises such as pull-ups, deadlifts, and farmer carries will develop forearms of iron.  Gripping a weight plate in a downward pincer grip, and alternating hands will tax the muscles effectively as well.  Advanced users can even progress to plate flipping which involves taking a weight plate in a neutral, palms down grip, and flipping it a full 360 degrees catching it on the fly.  

There are also grip training devices that come in varying degrees of resistance.  These are great as they can be utilized anywhere even for those on the run, or stuck at the 9 to 5. Any exercise that will require you to squeeze or grab an object, and that produces muscular failure, will be crucial to the development of a gorilla grip, and one that will accelerate your progress in the ring.

Final Thoughts

In this article we have explored why do boxers put their hands in rice. As you can see grip strength is an integral part of any well-rounded training program whether preparing for an amateur three-rounder, or walking to the ring at Madison Square Garden.  Grip training can prepare your hands to take the punishment that this sport demands.  By making sure you have the ability to keep a tightly closed fist, no matter the circumstances, you greatly improve your chances of walking away with your hand held high. So get a grip….you’ll thank me later.

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