When it comes to training your muscles, there’s one muscle group in particular that is easily overlooked.
I’m not talking about your glutes:
It’s the muscles that constitute your finger strength!
And while finger strength may seem like a trivial thing to put a lot of effort in, there is in fact a plethora of sports in which finger strength is more than just an afterthought.
For example, finger strength is incredibly important in sports like wrestling, rowing, yoga and especially in rock climbing.
Sure, the chances may be slim that you’ll get whistled at by admirers when walking down the street just because of your incredibly muscular hands. But when you cannot open a jar at the command of your significant other, you’ll still only be considered half a man.
So it is clear that training your finger strength is more than just a niche within your holistic body workout. In fact, anyone who wants to get fitter and a better all round sporter should consider training it.
But how does one actually go about training finger strength?
In this article, I’ll show you the ropes on how to get started with improving the strength in your hands!
We’ll start with the basics and then talk about static versus dynamic finger strength. Further down, we’ll show you how you can effectively warm up your fingers. Lastly we’ll give you three ways to get started doubling down on those digits, with three in depth finger strength exercises.
What you need to know before you start to train your finger strength
Understanding how your body works will help you to train your hands more efficiently. In the next couple of subheadings, I’ll walk you through the preliminary information that you need to know before you get to the warm up phase!
Anatomy 101: Do you even have muscles in your fingers?
It’s actually quite peculiar that we’re talking about finger strength. As you may know, we do not have any muscles in our fingers!
Instead, all finger movement comes from muscles in the palm of your hand and in your forearms. In particular, the flexor digitorum profundus, and flexor digitorum superficialis in your forearm do most of the job.
These muscles connect to tendons that run through your fingers. So the contraction of muscle mass that enables your fingers to move, only happens outside those fingers. This is surprising to many, and so it was to me when I learned this in my first year at college studying physiotherapy!
In any case, this division between muscles and tendons is the reason why climbers so often experience pump in their forearms, and never in their hands. They may be unable to move their fingers at the end of an intensive climbing route, but the source of the problem lies in pumped forearms.
Can you train tendon strength in your fingers?
The good news is that you can in fact train the strength of your tendons!
It happens automatically as a byproduct of training the muscles that connect to these tendons. If this weren’t the case, we’d have an increased risk of ripping our tendons as our muscle power would grow.
The bad news is, however, that the increase in tendon strength lags behind the development of muscle strength. When training, increased muscle power can already be detected after a couple of days.
For new collagen to form in your tendons, however, we may be talking weeks. Key to training finger strength is to be patient and not get frustrated if the progress is slow, especially during the first month.
What to do when you injure one of your tendons
Another important thing to consider when training tendon strength, is that tendon injuries heal notoriously slowly.
For the healing of any injury, blood flow to the injured part is of critical importance, because it transfers oxygen that the injury needs in order to restore. The problem with tendons is that they have very little blood flowing to them. So if you forget your warmup, or put more weight on your tendons than they can handle, you can set yourself miles back.
It is therefore imperative that you don’t overdo the exercises that I’ll list below. Injuring your tendons can set you back weeks and so it is better to always train slightly below your maximum capacity.
Static versus dynamic finger strength
Before we finally get into the ways in which you can enhance your grip, there’s a distinction we should make between two types of strength you can have in your hands.
Static finger strength refers to the length of time you can keep your fingers in a static position while an amount of force is applied to it. To put it simple: when you’re hanging still from the tips of your fingers before doing a pull up: that’s static finger strength.
Dynamic finger strength on the other hand refers to the force you can apply with your fingers while moving your joints. Slowly squeezing a ball or a spring is something where you would use dynamic finger strength.
The warm up
Warming up your fingers before training them is something that we easily forget.
It is however crucial to a proper training:
As I’ve written above, tendons don’t heal quick at all. Warming up is the best way you can reduce the risk of injuring those tendons, so it’s best that you take some time to do it before each workout.
Since I’m a climber, I like to warm up my hands while I warm up my arms too, as I’ll need both intensively. Warming them up together has the added benefit that blood starts flowing towards your limbs, and your hands will benefit from this as well.
Here’s a good warm up routine before finger strength training:
– start by extending your arms to your left and right
– swing them in front of you and let them cross over
– swing them back to the starting position and repeat
– while swinging your arms, extend your fingers and then make a grabbing motion
– repeat this extending and grabbing with your hands several times per swing
– do this for 2 minutes
As you can see, we start with warming up our hands without adding any weight. The goal of this first exercise is just to get your blood flowing.
You can combine this exercise with stretching your legs at the same time, making it an efficient full body warm up.
Next, we will repeat the same motion for 3 more minutes – this time while holding a stress ball in each hand.
Now that we’re 5 minutes in, blood has started flowing to our arms and hands, all the way to our finger. We complete the warming up of our hands by using a skipping rope.
The great thing about rope jumping as it relates to training your fingers, is that it warms up your wrists as well due to the circular motion that you’re making. Moreover, in order to hold on to the rope, we need to squeeze the rope, this time in a statical fashion.
Keep jumping ropes for five minutes. Now our entire body is warmed up, and especially our hands and fingers.
We’re now ready to increase the stress that we put on our hands. I’ll now suggest three different ways to do it.
Exercise 1: Roll dumbbells over your hands
This is a great workout for your fingers, and it’s cheap if you don’t have any specialised finger strength training materials. Most people have a dumbbell somewhere in their house.
This exercise goes as follows:
– Rest your elbow securely on something that doesn’t move. This can be your knee in sitting position. Place your hand underneath your elbow for better comfort.
– Place the dumbbell in your hand.
– Lower your hand slightly in relation to your elbow, so that it angles down.
– Open up your hand, and let the dumbbell roll towards your fingers. Make sure you give some pressure back with your fingers to counter the gravity as it rolls further down your fingers.
– Once the dumbbell reaches your fingertips, increase the pressure you put out.
– Now roll the dumbbell back towards the palm of your hand, by contracting your fingers.
Repeat the process. Use the typical amount of sets and reps. You can use heavier or lighter dumbbells to customise the exercise to your needs.
2. Train as a rock climber does: hang from a fingerboard
This is by far my favourite method of training my finger strength: fingerboarding!
Also known as hangboarding, fingerboarding is exactly what it sounds like. There’s various of respected companies that make great fingerboards, which are basically wooden or resin boards with differently sized holes and edges in them for you to hang from.
As with any serious workout, fingerboarding comes with sets and reps.
Some people will advise you to hang for just 7 seconds each time, others go as far as up to 15 seconds.
I myself like to keep it in the middle of this range and through trial and error I’ve settled on hanging for 12 seconds at a time.
Here’s what a typical workout on the fingerboard looks like:
- Hang for 12 seconds, then take 1 minute rest
- Repeat this 4 times. You’ve completed your first set!
- Take a longer break, 4-5 minutes will do.
- Do another 4 sets with 4-5 minutes rest in between.
This constitutes roughly half an hour of training at your fingerboard. Doing this 3 times a week with drastically increase your finger strength.
When the sets become too easy, try different edges on the fingerboard to hang from. It’s ideal to find an edge where you can only hang from for about 1.5 times the duration of each session. So if you’re hanging 12 seconds at a time, try to find an edge where you can hang on to for up to 18 seconds.
When all edges on the fingerboard are too easy (this can take years), you can consider adding weight, for example with a weighted vest.
Try to keep your posture right during the session. Don’t hang with straight arms: keep your elbows bent and your head up, engaging your shoulders.
Exercise 3: Using hand grips
Lastly, there’s hand grips that you can use to strengthen your grip.
Ideally, you’ll want to find one where you can adjust the weight, so that you don’t have to buy a new one every time you get stronger.
For hand grip exercises, I use the same amount of sets, reps and rests as I use for hangboarding. The only difference is that I squeeze the hand grip 8 times per set, instead of 4.
This is how you train efficiently with a hand grip:
- Squeeze the hand grip slowly, incrementally increase the pressure during 6 seconds until the hand grip is fully squeezed, training your dynamic finger strength.
- Then hold the fully pressed hand grip for 6 seconds, training your static finger strength.
- Then slowly relax your grip, again taking 6 seconds to fully come back to the starting position, training your dynamic finger strength.
- Rest for one minute.
So there you have it – three great ways to increase your finger strength!
I cannot emphasize enough how important the warm up is. I have had a tendon injured for over 2 months once just because I enthusiastically skipped the warm up. Climbing walls can be as tempting as the Sirens were to Odysseus…. I digress.
Just remember that skipping the warm up ultimately sets you back so much further than what you can gain by skipping it.
The dumbbell method is great if you’re on a budget. If you want to engage more muscle groups and go for arguably the best finger strength training exercise, go get a fingerboard.
If you’re looking for a portable finger training device, a hand grip is the way to go.
Good luck out there, and enjoy being able to open with bare hands every jar you’ll come across!