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Climbing Fitness #5: Healthy Finger Joints = Happy Climbers

This is the fifth installment of a new series on how to stretch and strengthen those climbing muscles. It is brought to you by Ashley Edwards and Kate Evans, co-founders of City Yogis in Toronto.

Pulling a muscle or tearing a tendon means weeks of rest and rehab for any climber, particularly if it is in our feet, ankles and lower body. To avoid injuries, we stretch, strengthen and train our bodies to prepare for the strain climbing can cause. One of the smallest parts of us, our fingers, are usually overlooked when we create our training routines, yet fingers can be one of the longest and toughest odd parts to heal. Without our finger health, we really can’t get ourselves up the wall and climbing with an injured finger can lead to more serious finger injuries.

Your fingers are made up of small joints that are held together by ligaments and surrounded by tissues. When you climb and stress your tissues and ligaments, your fingers will build scar tissues to help protect it. While this does make your finger “stronger” it can also make the joints stiff. Synovial fluid is produced within your finger to help lubricate your joints as you move them.

Think of synovial fluid as “car oil” allowing movement to occur smoothly. Synovial also provides nutrients to your joints to ensure they stay health. The stiffer your fingers become (due to scar tissue) then less “oil” your joints will get, which will lead to even more stiffness and unhealthy joints.

To help avoid finger injuries and unhealthy finger joints, do the following finger stretches two to three times per week.

Fist/Finger stretch

This is a simple movement however it is not a common way we move our hands. Moving slowly through this exercise will ensure you are moving each joint and tendon in your hand and fingers, encouraging synovial fluid to repair any existing damages.
To do this stretch, extend your arms out in front of you, with your hands in a fist or “ball.”

gripped hand A
Extended arm with fist.

Ensure you aren’t squeezing your hand too tightly. Begin opening each finger one at a time in a wave until all five fingers are open. Stretch the backs of your fingers towards the backs of your hands .

gripped hand B
Extended arm with open fingers.

Now close your fingers in a similar motion. Repeat this five to six times with each hand.

Flat hand finger lifts

This exercise will help you increase range of motion in your fingers. To do this lay your hand on a flat surface with your fingers stretched outwards. Lift your pinky finger as high as you can off of the surface and hold for five seconds while grounding each of your other fingers.

Finger lift.
Finger lift.

Repeat this with your ring finger, than each finger afterwards including your thumb. Continue this movement with each finger four to five times before switching to your other hand.

Finger extension

This exercise will help strengthen the muscles in your hand and forearm that control the fingers, and can help to alleviate existing finger stiffness. Begin by wrapping an elastic band around your fingers, twisting the elastic once before wrapping it around your thumb.

Finger extension A.
Finger extension A.

Bring your fingers together, then stretch them apart as far as you can. Continue this movement 10 times on each hand. Once you have mastered this, attempt to move one finger out at a time.

Finger extension B.
Finger extension B.

For more resistance, try using a tighter rubber band.

Prayer finger drops

Practicing prayer finger drops will help lubricate the finger joints closest to your palms and stretch the the muscles in the hands and wrists
Begin with your hands in prayer in front of you with each finger separated.

Prayer finger drop.
Prayer finger drop.

Your fingers and palms should be connected and pressing together. Start by dropping each picky finger, reaching the top pad of your pinky towards the back of your opposite hand. Wing your elbows out so that your forearms are parallel to the ground.

Repeat with each finger one by one, holding for four to five seconds on each. This exercise can be done before and after each climbing session to avoid stiffness in your fingers, wrists and forearms.

Sean McColl warming his fingers up pre-training.
Sean McColl warming his fingers up pre-training.

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #1: Avoid the Dreaded Hunchback.’

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #2: Climber’s Elbow.’

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #3: Rotator Cuff Care.’

Read ‘Climbing Fitness #4: Love Thy Ankles.’

– Ashley and Kate will be bringing us regular ‘Climbing Fitness’ pieces. Until the next one, follow them on Instagram @CityYogis.