Whether you're a rock climber training for a ninja-like grip or are searching for relief from arthritis, finger exercises make a difference. While arthritis finger workouts usually focus on mobility and pain relief, climbers may focus on training their forearm muscles to strengthen their hands.
Finger Workouts for Climbers
The benefit of having strong fingers and hands is obvious for climbers: The longer it takes your hands to fatigue, the longer you can keep on climbing.
One of the most common exercises climbers use to build hand strength is the dead hang from a fingerboard. A fingerboard is a vertically mounted panel with a variety of holds or hand grips molded into it, or you could use indoor climbing holds to similar effect. The dead hang itself is the act of hanging from those holds with nothing but the muscles of your hands and forearms engaged.
A small study of 26 advanced climbers, published in the March 2019 issue of the Journal of Human Kinetics, compared three different methods of doing dead hangs and found that doing intermittent dead hangs — hanging for 10 seconds, then resting for 5 seconds using a handhold/edge small enough to generate fatigue after four or five rounds — was most beneficial for developing grip endurance.
The next-best method was maximal dead hangs, adding as much extra weight as possible while doing 10-second sets of dead hangs. Extra weight for this type of exercise is typically added by wearing a weight vest or hanging weight plates from a specialized weight belt.
Because the movements of your fingers are largely powered by muscles in your forearms, climbers may also perform wrist flexion to strengthen their grip and wrist extension to strengthen the opposite motion (extending the fingers), as demonstrated at ExRx.net.
Finger Exercises for Arthritis
If you have arthritis, your doctor or physical therapist can help you decide exactly which exercises for improving or preventing arthritis in hands and fingers are right for you. Most finger workouts for arthritis focus on gently mobilizing the joints of your fingers, as demonstrated at the Mayo Clinic.
Two of the exercises recommended by the Mayo Clinic are the thumb stretch (bending your thumb to touch the bottom of your little finger, or getting as close as you can) and the finger touch (touching each finger in turn to your thumb, creating the shape of an "O").
Harvard Health Publishing also recommends a series of gentle exercises for hand mobility, including wrist flexion and extension. This movement is very similar to what climbers will do, but they'll often use a weight for extra resistance. If you're exercising for finger or hand mobility you should do this exercise entirely unweighted, treating it as a gentle stretch.
Why Your Hands Matter
If you've ever struggled to unscrew the top off a bottle or the lid off a jar, you already know how useful it is to have strong hands and fingers. But according to cohort studies with a total of more than 3 million participants — all neatly summarized in a June 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association — grip strength is also a predictor of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular diseases.
In other words, a stronger grip correlates with a lower risk of all-cause mortality, plus a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke and cancer. The researchers also note that this correlation between grip strength and lower mortality doesn't differ between men and women.
However, it's important to remember that correlation doesn't equal causation — so although having a strong grip correlates with lower mortality risk, that doesn't mean that doing wrist curls or other finger exercises is the only thing it takes to stay healthy.
- Journal of the American Medical Directors Association: "Association of Grip Strength With Risk of All-Cause Mortality, Cardiovascular Diseases, and Cancer in Community-Dwelling Populations"
- Journal of Human Kinetics: "Comparison of the Effects of Three Hangboard Strength and Endurance Training Programs on Grip Endurance in Sport Climbers"
- ExRx.net: "Wrist & Midcarpals"
- Mayo Clinic: "Slide Show: Hand Exercises for People With Arthritis"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "5 Exercises to Improve Hand Mobility"