I recently sent out two polls on facebook and instagram. One asked
"Which side of the hand provides more wrist and grip strength? Pinky or Thumb"
and the other asked
"You have to loose a finger, which do you choose."
If you voted in the poll- the wait is over! Here are the results:
Answer: Pinkies Rule
Unsurprisingly, about half of the people polled thought that the most power came from the thumb. And it makes sense, the thumb is bigger, offers a broader range of moment, it's how we unlocked our iPhones (until the X came along). But the pinky is actually incredibly important, and if given the choice, it's a keeper. Basically, the reason humans have "opposable" thumbs (the springboard of our evolution from our primate cousins, the easier to eat bananas with) is that they are opposing the strength and stability of the little finger with refined motor skills.
To sum it up, the pinky side of the hand acts as a power center for grip strength, while the index finger, middle finger, and thumb provide all the mobility and dexterity (to gently hold those delicious sandwiches).
OKAY, ALL THE FINGERS ARE WEAK if you isolate any of them. They are designed to work together. All their muscles are networked together. It is their alignment and our lack of knowledge how to align them which make us think any of them are weak. But in terms of grip strength and wrist stability, there is a very real hierarchy So instead of looking at them individually, let's look at them collectively as a grip-strength-team- If our hand "team" is stranded on a desert island, which finger is the first to get sacrificed?
Which leads me to...
Answer: Index is chopped.
Thumbs and index fingers like to take all the glory, which is more than evident in the result of the poll. But, as it turns out they do little in terms of grip strength. In fact, you’d lose at least half of your hand strength, easily, without the last finger. According to the assistant chief of hand surgery at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, the little finger does a disproportionate amount of gripping, while all the other guys are its helpers:
"The other three digits—the index, the thumb and the middle finger—they fine tune where the tool goes. So if you have your little finger amputated, you're going to lose a significant amount of grip strength and wrist stability. When you talk about utensils—like knives and forks—most of that stuff is fine manipulation rather than strength, so you're typically using the other three digits. You use the thumb, the index and the middle fingers in order to gently hold a spoon, or to hold a fork, or even to hold a pen and write things."
It’s easy to take the humble pinky for granted. It’s generally left out when you eat, write, and hold small objects. But losing your pinkie on your dominant hand would be detrimental- it can reduce grip strength by as much as 67 percent! That loss of strength triggers destabilization all the way up the arm to the shoulder. I’ve witnessed this personally after a friend broke her pinky. She degraded to 20% capacity in total arm strength and shoulder ROM.
A retired doctor who practised surgical anesthesia for years in the Liverpool, U.K., area, was asked the same question "which finger you give to the kidnappers" (she's seen a "couple of dozen finger amputations, and an ear" in her career.) She says you want to give up the first finger on the hand you don't use for writing. Thats right people, the index finger- kiss it goodbye!
A lot of people think the first, pointing finger is the most important one they have. Sorry dummies. Once it's gone, the other three compensate for it quite well. The second finger, for instance, is pretty much the forgotten twin to your pointer finger, it's just harder to fit up your nose. Try signing your name without your index finger, it's easier than you would think.
um, prove it abbe
Don't believe me?
Test it out- make a fist. Feel the strength. Feel the POWERRRR of that fist. Okay now calm down, undo the fist.
Now make a second fist, but this time only use your index and middle (you can throw your thumb in there if you like too.
Then, take a moment just to notice. Hm, didn't feel quite as strong as you might have guessed.
Now, let's make a third fist. This time curl in your pinky and ring finger. Take a moment, feel the difference? She may be little, but that pinky is mighty.
Still don't feel it? Take this final test:
Try doing pull-ups without using your little fingers (pinky and ring), and then do the same without your first fingers (index and middle), and you'll get an idea of how disabling it is to lose the pinky-side. It's not fun.
What does this have to do with yoga
Hand flexor muscles correlate to wrist strength and over-all arm stability. This translates to important ideas for stabilization in your yoga practice whether it be planks, handstands, downdogs and armbalances. Properly aligning and engaging the hand will not only support the wrist but the entirety of the arm and shoulder.
For decades, yogis had been taught to align the middle fingers of each hand so that they are parallel, to flatten their palms and drive through their thumb side in weight bearing poses such as downward dog, plank, even handstand. But as we learn more and more about human biomechanics, our alignment fundamentals are evolving. Relying on the thumb side for the majority of support, leads to destabilization of the wrist and poor activation of the underlying structures.
A flat and lazy hand is not the best base for weight-bearing exercises, especially one in which your entire body weight is coming down onto your hands. To properly activate all the supporters of our wrists, may I introduce:
HASTA BANDHA: HAND LOCK AKA EVEN GRIP
Even grip means grip strength, and hopefully by now we all can agree that the pinky side of the hand is going to be a major player. Even grip requires actively pulling back through pads of your fingertips, especially the powerhouse ones- so much so that the middle knuckles begin to lift. This allows you to engages the strongest of your flexors aka your grip muscles, not just the extensors aka your high five muscles.
There are many different theories for Hasta Bandha. Older theories teach that the most weight should fall to the thumb and thumb side. Eek.
For me, it's all about even weight and even grip distribution. Engaging a strong pull from the fingers, even weight through both the metacarpal and proximal phalange joint pads and the metacarpal and carpel bone joint pads, balanced between both medial and lateral planes, excluding the thumb. Often times my thumb doesn't even touch the mat in handstand.
Give Hasta Bandha a test drive. See if you notice more support in the wrist, arm and shoulder.
So, stick your pinkies out and raise your glasses for a toast to the forgotten fifth finger. Without it, your hand would be half as strong. #thankspinky
Next article we tackle- "parallel or turnout! Where should the fingers point in downward dog"
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