How to Develop Incredible Finger Strength for Superhuman Spider-Man Climbing

By on June 7, 2017

One of the coolest episodes of Stan Lee’s: Superhumans featured a man called Jyothi Raj, who also goes by the name of ‘The Human Monkey’. Jyothi has the ability to climb incredibly well, which might not sound like much of an accomplishment until you actually watch him do it.

jyothi raj finger strength

You see, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about…

Jyothi doesn’t just climb near-flat surfaces but he does so like a monkey. He can spin 180 degrees with seemingly only a few fingers in contact with the surface and then hold himself upside down with his legs apart. And according to the Sports Physiologists interviewed on the show, Jyothi’s entire biomechanics are completely different from those of a regular human’s. His energy expenditure is significantly more efficient and he uses a much larger range of movements to reach the summit of his climbs.

So, what was Jyothi’s own explanation?

Like some kind of Martial Arts legend, Jyothi explains that his skills came from observing the monkeys around him. What he learned from watching them climb, was that they relied very much on powerful fingers. When the presenter Daniel Browning Smith grabs his hand, he exclaims at just how solid and firm it feels. He later shows off his ability to place all his weight on just his fingers, Bruce Lee style.

two finger push up bruce lee

As someone who enjoys a bit of bouldering (and occasional buildering) myself, I can attest that finger strength has a lot to do with climbing ability. I was a member of the rock climbing club at University and the best climbers were the ones with forearms like Popeye.

I only had one forearm like that at Uni and it wasn’t from climbing…

Finger strength also has a ton of other uses. While hand-standing for instance, you are often advised to try ‘gripping’ the floor to aid balance. Of course, finger strength can also increase your overall gripping strength and thereby help you in martial arts (for grabbing and locking) or general weight lifting. Increasing your grip strength is one of the best ways to improve your overall performance when it comes to training in the gym.

So, without further ado, how can you strengthen your fingers?

Top Ways to Strengthen Your Fingers

bruce lee forearms

Finger Press Ups

When asked to demonstrate his training, our hero Jyothi showed his stuff by balancing all of his weight on his fingers. Of course, we’ve all seen Bruce Lee’s two finger push up and the countless monks that perform handstands on the tips of their fingers. This is a pretty impressive feat no matter who you are and it has a ton of different real-world uses.

The Navy SEAL Physical Fitness Guide recommends that finger press ups should be used in order to build forearm and grip strength. To train this effectively, use progressive overload: gradually reduce the number of fingers you use. If you struggle to begin with, you can even try having one hand in a fist shape while the other is on finger tips. Eventually, build up to handstand press-ups on your fingers or two finger push ups.

Hang Board

If we want fingers like climbers, we should train like climbers. I’m friends with many climbers and so I know what this involves: hang boards.

Hang boards are like pull up bars, except that they are designed to be used with your fingers, rather than your whole hand. And as the name somewhat suggests, hang boards are also generally used to hang from. Dead hangs are actually a pretty tough isometric exercise in themselves and can train the lats and core as well.

Again, it’s important to build up to this and to be careful. Otherwise you can risk damaging the tendons in your hands.

When using this type of training, consider as well that there are different types of position for your hands that you can use to hang with. The open hand position involves gripping with just the tops of your fingers and letting your whole weight hang down naturally. A half crimp means slightly bunching up the fingers and raising the second knuckles to be flat. Finally, the full crimp involves hanging your lower knuckles pointing upward so that you are pulling yourself up as far as you can go with just your fingers.

Progressing from the open hand to full crimp will essentially mean that you are raising and lowering your body a couple of inches simply by contracting your fingers. You can practice doing ‘finger pull ups’ hanging from the hang board this way, or you can simply try holding each position for the count of ten. Or how about using a hangboard while perform regular pull ups? Some gyms actually have these available.

Alternatives to Hangboards

Don’t have a hangboard? Then of course just using your fingers around a pull up bar is the next best thing.

And actually, there’s nothing to stop you from gripping a barbell this way either and then combining this grip with something like a row or a shrug!

And of course the next time you’re going around Tesco or carrying the shopping home, why not use your fingers to hold onto the bag instead of your whole hand?

Hypergravity Bouldering

Hypergravity bouldering has got to be one of the coolest names since overspeed training. This simply involves bouldering (rock climbing very short routes with a crash mat) while having a weighted belt around you.

weighted pull ups

You can do something very similar with weighted hangs on a hangboard, or with weighted pull ups and chin ups using just your fingers to grip.

Grip Trainers

Then there are the grip trainers, which provide a convenient way to test your finger strength on the move. Note that you want to use the ones that provide individual springs for each finger if you want the most challenge (look for ‘finger trainers’ rather than ‘grip trainers’). I’m also partial to my hand dynamometer which measures how much force I can exert using just the tips of my fingers.

And there’s nothing to stop you once again from using other forms of training – such as squeezing a tennis ball perhaps or even just clenching a fist as a form of static contraction using your own hand as resistance.

Closing Comments

Those are just a few ways you can train your finger strength for improved climbing skills, parkour, martial arts and weight lifting. I’m working finger press ups into my routine and perhaps a few hangs while I’m doing pull ups. Hopefully, this article has helped you see why finger strength is well worth your time developing.

jyothi raj rock climbing

Something you might have noticed is that I examine a lot of alternative training methods, from increasing jump height, to grip strength and ambidexterity. How do you fit all this in and work it around a regular workout? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately and I now have the answer. Stay tuned for that in my next article and video on ‘peak human’ training…

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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