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‘Knuckle Pushups in Boxing Gyms?’
A Man Question from Sean

I was watching The Wire and one of the boxing trainers had his students doing knuckle pushups. He claimed that it helped with wrist strength and punching power. I know back in my karate days we did them but I always assumed that it was to be different/cool. Any truth to the shows claims?


The first boxing connection utilized in The Wire was, in the first season, Mister Mack Lewis, who has a gym built by the City on the corner of Eager and Bond in East Baltimore. I cornered one fight at that gym, against Mister Mack’s fighter, and we lost the decision. His gym—and he has passed away—was not used as a scene set in any of the episodes.

I have never heard of an old time boxing trainer advocating knuckle pushups. The method we use for strengthening the wrist is to wrap them and hit the heavy bag at less than full power, jabbing mostly, developing wrist strength and, more importantly, correct form, over time.

When the character Cutty is introduced and opens his own gym in West Baltimore I am assuming that they went to one of the local gyms like Umar or Poet’s old place for an adviser. Out of that West Baltimore crowd of black boxers, the best trainer that I know of—because he helped me work with one of my guys back stage at a fight over in Brooklyn Maryland at a place called the Thunderdome, where the spectators sat on a balcony and looked straight down into the ring—was from West Baltimore. I do not recall this man’s name. He was a six foot five inch middle weight—a Tommy Hearns type with ass, who had been a kickboxer. In West Baltimore, there are numerous boxing trainers who come from the Riley Hawkins School of karate. That man fought Chuck Norris in the 60s, and used to send his kickers to Mister Frank Gilbert’s gym, where Craig trains, to work on their hands.

So, although I would bet my left nut that none of the old school Baltimore trainers would even tolerate a knuckle pushup being done by a fighter they cared about [as their hand concerns are closer to medical than martial artsy] it is within the realm of possibility that a karate-influenced boxing coach used or uses knuckle pushups in training boxers in West Baltimore.

If you are going to use knuckle pushups for training up your wrists here are my thoughts:

1. Do them very slowly

2. Do vertical fist pushups with the elbows tight to your lats, which will mimic the sneaky jab, sneaky right, or shovel hook to the body.

3. A knuckle pushup cannot be used to train wrist stability for higher line punches.

4. Press on the flat face of the fingers, not the knuckles

5. Do not do pronated [palm down] knuckle pushups, as this will have your elbows winging out, which is bad form, unless you do hip level pushups which is too stressful for the shoulder.

6. Pushups will never positively affect punching power as pushing is the opposite of what punching is. It will increase elbow and wrist stabilization if done properly, and compromise your shoulders if overdone.

7. For every set of pushups work the speed bag to try and balance out the shoulder.

8. After being gloved up, some pros do one-armed knuckle pushups against the wall or floor before a fight in order to compact the padding and make a harder weapon out of their glove, and displace as much cushion away from the face of the fist and knuckles as possible.

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