Improving Finger Strength to Avoid Injury?

Health & Fitness for The Working Bassist

Q: I read a lot about finger strength as well as different hand/arm injuries from playing. How can I strengthen the muscles in my fingers to help avoid injury?

A: Here’s a little bit of trivia: How many muscles do we have in our fingers? NONE! (Weird, huh?) All of the muscles are in the palm, forearms, etc. What most people have issues with are the tendons.

*If you are currently experiencing regular pain or any issues, you should definitely get it checked out by a professional (doctor, sports medicine, repetitive motion injury specialist, etc.). They can likely also give you exercises to help mitigate any issues that you are currently having.

Assuming that you are pain-free and just being preventative (well done), there are a number of things you can do to help avoid injury. The main thing that I was always made aware of was to avoid any acute angles in my body (ie, keep everything as straight as possible. No sharp wrist angles when plucking). I was also taught to curve my fingers slightly when playing, almost like you are lightly gripping a handle-bar of a bike or something. If you just casually let your arm hang and bend your elbow at 90º, like you’re lazily about to shake someone’s hand, that is the position that I generally keep my plucking hand in. It’s somewhat of a natural position for your hand.

I was first introduced to the idea of tendon exercises while at Victor Wooten’s Bass/Nature Camp in 2001. He had a Wing Chun master (“Sifu”) come and, among other things, talked about various tendon exercises.

The great thing about tendons is that they never atrophy with age (unlike muscles). As strong as they are right now, that’s how strong they will always be.

While I know something on this subject, I’ll refer you to an expert and other information on the subject. These are some great resources I’ve found (and bonus, they’re bass specific!)

Dr. Randall Kertz

I was introduced to Dr. Kertz through Jay Baldemor at Gruv Gear while we were developing the commercially available version of my “Duo Strap” together. Randall is a bass player and well known among many musicians for being ‘the guy’ to go to for body mechanics and players physical health. He’s written a great book on injury prevention and management. I feel like this is one every seriously gigging musician should be familiar with.

I also found this great slideshow of various hand and finger exercises to help stretch your tendons. Some of these are very similar to what Victor’s Wing Chun sifu showed us all those years ago.

As I mentioned, for anyone currently struggling with pain of any kind, it’s always best to see a professional before trying anything you find online. Circumstances alter cases and it’s possible that some of these exercises could do more harm if you already have an injury. Definitely get it checked out first!

That said, check out Dr. Kertz online. He’s also got a Health & Fitness for The Working Bassist series here on No Treble. Just remember, if it hurts, don’t do it! Don’t ever play through the pain or move your body in a way that causes pain. Pain is there for a reason (to let you know to stop whatever it is you’re doing). Listen to your body and seek a professionals advice for anything potentially serious. Your playing health depends on it!

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to askdamian@notreble.com. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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