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How to Exercise Your Hand: Best Hand Exercises

When you think about exercises for specific body parts, the hand may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Sure, it’s common for people to do ab exercises, chest exercises, or even hamstring exercises, but hand exercises can also be an important part of a fitness or injury prevention and rehab program. If you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, or trigger thumb, have tired, achy hands after working all day, or feel your hands fatiguing and wanting to give out when holding weights at the gym or using power tools in your home, you may benefit from doing hand exercises to strengthen the muscles in and around your hand.

Not sure where to start or what hand exercises to do? Keep reading for our guide, including the benefits of hand exercises and the best hand exercises to do to strengthen your hands, improve your grip strength, and reduce symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.

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Why Should You Do Hand Exercises?

a pair of hands gripping onto a rock formation.

Hand exercises can improve your overall fitness by increasing your grip strength. Many guys notice that one of the limiting factors when trying to lift heavy weights or bang out a bunch of pull-ups is actually a lack of adequate grip strength to maintain proper form throughout the duration of the set. If you are a rock climber or play racquet sports, grip strength is also integral to your performance as an athlete. Exercising your hand can develop the intrinsic hand muscles, as well as your wrist flexors and extensors, enabling you to have better control and grip on a barbell, dumbbell, or racquet.

Hand exercises can also provide relief to those with carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, trigger thumb, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis in the hand. These maladies are extremely common and can be debilitating and immensely uncomfortable. Regularly performing hand exercises can reduce symptom severity and may even help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome or trigger finger altogether.

Benefits of Hand Exercises

Hand exercises are designed to strengthen your intrinsic hand muscles as well as the flexors and extensors that control the wrist and fingers. The benefits of hand exercises include the following:

  • Strengthening the muscles around the joints between the fingers and bones of the hand for better support and force ability.
  • Increasing the circulation in your hands, which warms the muscles and ligaments to improve mobility and deliver oxygen and nutrients to the tissues in the fingers and hand.
  • Aiding circulation of the synovial fluid in the joints, which lubricates the joints and decreases the symptoms of arthritis.
  • Increasing range of motion and stiffness.
  • Relieving pain.
  • Developing muscle mass, which then is able to reduce the loads and stress on tendons, bones, ligaments, and fascia. This reduces the risk of injury.

a strong hand holding a round up piece of rope.

Best Hand Exercises

Most hand exercises are simple to learn, don’t tend to take very long, and can be performed as you go about your day. For example, you can intersperse hand exercises every few hours as you sit at your desk or while you’re relaxing at home watching TV. In fact, hand specialists tend to agree that working a few sets of hand exercises throughout the day is particularly effective compared to one long rehab session per day.

The following are some of the best hand exercises to strengthen your hands and reduce pain:

Ball Squeezes

This hand exercise can improve grip strength. If you’re a healthy athlete and simply looking to develop grip strength rather than rehab a hand injury, you can increase the difficulty of this exercise by using a harder ball (such as a stress ball filled with sand) or a grip device specially designed to improve grip strength.

  1. Hold a small, softball, such as a stress ball, in your palm and squeeze it as hard as you can without inciting any pain.
  2. Continue to squeeze as hard as you can for 5 seconds and then release. Repeat 10-15 times.

Fist Explosions

Increasing the range of motion in your fingers and hands, as is done in this hand exercise, can help prevent injury to the ligaments, tendons, and joint capsules.

  1. Make as tight a fist as you can, squeezing your thumb across your curled fingers.
  2. Then, unfurl your hand completely, spreading your fingers as far apart as you possibly can without pain.
  3. Complete 10-15 reps.

Finger Marches

This exercise strengthens your finger extensors and improves the range of motion in your fingers.

  1. Place your hands palm-side down on a table or hard surface, ensuring they are flat.
  2. One finger at a time, lift each finger independently off the table as high as you can and then return it to the starting position.
  3. Cycle through each finger and thumb on both hands 10 times.

Claw Squeezes

This exercise strengthens the muscles that flex the fingers.

  1. Fully extend your hand and then curl each finger and squeeze it in this bent position as hard as you can. Your hand should be in a claw position.
  2. Hold the squeeze for 3-5 seconds, and then release.
  3. Perform 15 reps.

Wrist Stretches

Carpal tunnel syndrome results from compression of the median nerve, which runs along the inner forearm and passes into the hand down the center to the inner wrist. Stretching your wrist can alleviate pressure on this nerve and relieve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

  1. Extend your right arm out in front of you, hand flat, palm facing down.
  2. Flex your wrist, bringing your hand down so that your fingertips point to the floor.
  3. Then, bring your hand the opposite way so your fingertips point to the ceiling.
  4. Use your left hand to augment this stretch and pull gently on your right hand.
  5. Hold for a few seconds and then switch sides.

Single-Arm Farmer’s Carries

Unlike the other hand exercises described here, this exercise will most likely take place in the gym and is more appropriate for athletes looking to develop grip strength rather than rehab from a hand injury. It’s a total body compound exercise that not only works your hands, but your shoulders, core, and lower body as well.

  1. Stand upright with good posture holding a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand with both arms down at your sides.
  2. Keeping your core tight, your chest up, and your shoulders even, walk forward for 15 paces or 30 meters or so.
  3. Turn around and walk back.
  4. Switch arms and repeat.
  5. Complete three laps per side.

Tips for Performing Hand Exercises

If you’re accustomed to hard workouts, hand exercises are likely to seem incredibly easy at first blush, but if you’re rehabbing a hand injury or carpal tunnel syndrome, it’s important to start slowly, with just one or two sets of each exercise and then build up over several days as tolerated. In the acute phase of an injury, certain hand exercises may exacerbate your pain, so it’s critical to listen to your body: Don’t do any exercise that elicits pain or discomfort. You may also benefit from warming up your hand prior to engaging in hand exercises, by either applying moist heat (such as running your hands under warm water) for five minutes or massaging your hand with your other hand. This will increase blood flow and make the tissues more pliable and oxygenated before using them. Lastly, you can ice your hand after completing your exercises if it feels sore.

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