Wrist and Little Finger Training for Samurai Grip

By on June 13, 2019

Grip strength is extremely important for your overall performance, let alone your overall wellbeing. If you don’t know why, then there is plenty of literature both on this site and around the web at large that can help elucidate you on that matter.

grip strength little finger

But here’s something you perhaps didn’t know: that much of your grip strength is actually provided by your little finger. It’s logical to assume when it comes to grip strength that ‘bigger must be better’. That is to say, that you probably think the majority of your power comes from your index finger or middle finger.

But now try gripping onto a rope and climbing it. You should find that if you remove your index finger and middle finger, you can still just about hang on for dear life. But if you try removing your bottom two fingers – known as the ulnar digits – you’re going down!

The ulnar digits are responsible for 34% to 67% of overall grip strength

One study found that when measuring grip strength via a hand dynamometer, the ulnar digits were responsible for 34% to 67% of overall grip strength – with a mean of 55%! (study).

Grip strength dynamometer

This is something that was well known by samurai. Reportedly, if a samurai were defeated, their opponent might have cut off their little finger – knowing it would have the most detrimental effect to their ability to hold and fight with a sword.

What’s Going On?

Samurai grip

Why is this? Well, the ulnar digits are controlled by a separate muscle called the flexor carpi ulnaris and the ulnar nerve.

This power is not available in isolation though. The way in which the little finger provides its power is by working in tandem with the other fingers, such as the ring finger, middle finger, and thumb. Think about it: the thumb is an ‘opposing thumb’ because it is opposite the little finger. And when you clasp the thumb over your fist, you create a tidy closed loop.

Grip strength climbing

So if you try to perform pull ups with your little finger out of the game, you might find its actually harder than performing those same pull ups without the index finger!

Another interesting tidbit of information, is that the little finger plays a comparatively bigger role on the dominant hand than it does on the non-dominant.

Training the Ulnar Digits and Wrist Strength

So, what do we do with all this information? The obvious answer is: start focussing on your pinky! If you currently train using a grip trainer, or using a hangs, and your little finger is relaxed during that (which is common), make sure to make a conscious effort to bring it back into play. Not only will you perform better in the short term, but you might see exponential grip strength gains in the long term.

Not only will you perform better in the short term, but you might see exponential grip strength gains in the long term.

What’s more, is that you should think about the position of your grip when training – meaning the way you use your thumb and fingers together. In particular, wrapping your thumb back around and over your fingers when lifting weights or hanging from rings or a bar, will help bring your wrist and pinky into a stronger position by closing the loop and acting in opposition to the thumb.

Better grip

Likewise, simply changing the position of a single finger – moving the knuckle of the pinky finger on top of the bar during a pull up for example – can alter the muscles primarily being worked. In this case, you’ll increase lat activation. When you train farmer’s walks, try bringing the pinky finger under the handle of the weight to increase flexion in the wrist. This will train grip more effectively than if you give no thought to the position of the fingers and wrists.

Rpoe climbs

Training wrist flexion is extremely valuable in order to avoid injury when performing difficult movements such as the muscle up and rope climb. Also: try to make sure that you train with a pronated and supinated grip equally, in order to avoid imbalances.

Finally, be very careful not to injure your little finger. And if you should bend it backward during sports, spend some time recovering before you lift anything too heavy over your head!

Surprised at how important the little finger is?


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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