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Balanced Hands – Guest Post by Ben Westerhoff

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By Ben Westerhoff from Technology in Class

I wasn’t an especially anxious child.  Nevertheless, I worried about some strange things.  For example, it would irk me when a character in a movie would leave his or her headlights on after turning the car off.  “That battery is going to die!” I’d think to myself.  “How is he going to get back into town?”

I really worried about sleeping with an electric blanket, even though I wasn’t a bed wetter.  I wouldn’t drink anything all day.

One legitimate concern I had and still have is the disproportionate amount of finger flexion that occurs on a daily basis as opposed to finger extension.

Just consider how much holding your hands do on a daily basis.  Your hands hold a steering wheel, a book, a purse, a laptop, a kettlebell, a dog leash, a laundry basket, and even other hands!

Grabbing is also considered finger flexion.  You grab your keys, food, coffee mug, refrigerator door, money, pens, cell phone etc.

Push- pull split

Ever since I started exercising seriously in high school my gym teacher always told me that what I do to one muscle I must do to its opposite.  This is called the push-pull split.  So if I do four sets of push-ups I must do four sets of pull-ups.  The balanced approach ensures strength and proper posture.

The push-pull split also applies to finger flexion and extension.  The proportion of flexion to extension is so uneven that you can’t afford not to implement some of the exercises below on a daily basis.  I’m pressed to think of any finger extension that occurs apart from intentional exercise.  The only things that come to mind right now are dancing and raising your hand in class.


These four exercises are often recommended for patients that had hand surgery of some sort, but we can certainly utilize them for our purposes.  If you employ even one of these exercises once a day you’ll have salubrious hands in no time.

  1. The rubber band. My dad’s chiropractor taught me this one.  Take a thick rubber band and wrap it around the thumb and each finger just below the fingernails.  Extend your hand as far as you can and hold it for two Mississippis.  Repeat as much as you can.  Try four sets.  I keep one of these rubber bands in my car and do this exercise while driving.

2.  Sand extension. Get some soft sand and fill a bowl or bucket with it.  Make sure there’s room enough for your extended hand.  Place your hand in the bowl or bucket and extend your hand.  Take your hand out of the sand and repeat.  Do this as many times as you want for four sets.  This is a great exercise to do at work.  You’ll come up with all kinds of clever comebacks for people who ask you why you have your hand in a bucket of sand.  “Oh, I grew up on a beach.  Just feeling nostalgic.

3. Desktop lifts. This does not mean that you lift desktops.  Rather, place your hand flat on your desk.  Lift each finger off the desk as far as it can go for two Mississppis.  Keep your other fingers on the desk.  Do this for each finger four times.

4. Powder angels. Get some powdered sugar or baby powder and sprinkle it on your kitchen table or coffee table.  Place your hand in the powder with your fingers together.  Spread your fingers out as far as they will go and return them to the starting position.  Do four sets of 20.

With all of these exercises, exercise both hands simultaneously, except for number one when you are driving.  You can do any of these exercises while reading a book, surfing the web, or watching TV.  The adroit among us will have a rubber band, a bucket of sand, a desktop and some powder handy at all times.

Ben Westerhoff

Work Smarter, Learn Faster, Reduce Waste

Ben is co-creator of technologyinclass.com (currently under construction) and technologyinclass.com/blog, which is concerned with critical issues in pedagogy, educational technology, best practices in teaching, and sundry other topics such as going paperless (every librarians nightmare) and eating well.  Please subscribe to Ben’s RSS updates to be, well, updated on the latest content.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ben (from TIC) November 11, 2009, 7:04 am

    Thanks for letting us post over here, Josh! Stay balanced.

  • Lori November 11, 2009, 11:23 am

    [Love the photo!]

    This is my first experience of reading a blog post while spreading my fingers apart on a desktop simultaneously lifting one finger at time.

    Thanks for this post and for the push-pull reminder, Ben!

    • Ben (from TIC) November 11, 2009, 11:42 am

      That’s the idea Lori! And lift, extend; and lift, extend…

  • Niel November 11, 2009, 11:28 am

    Love this post. Simple, smart, and never thought of it myself!

    Reminds me how it’s always said our hips are always in flexion and hip flexors need to be stretched cause society is sitting too much. But this, heck, I’ve never heard anyone even mention how our fingers are always in flexion.

    Great stuff.

    • Ben (from TIC) November 11, 2009, 11:44 am

      Niel, you’re so right. I’m gong to stretch my hip flexors right now.

  • Jon Owens November 11, 2009, 2:15 pm

    Good post Ben. I do “grippers” at lunch everyday and you have now reminded me to track down some rubberbands and do some desktop lifts. Thanks!

    • Ben (from TIC) November 11, 2009, 3:10 pm


      I do both grippers and rubberbands in my car when traffic is particularly congested. Doing something at lunch is a great idea–calories go in, calories get burned.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 11, 2009, 7:29 pm

      Jon, what grippers are you working on?

  • Maria November 11, 2009, 5:45 pm

    Fascinating post! I should practice this during the numerous conferences I attend at work. Thanks!

    • Josh Hanagarne November 11, 2009, 7:29 pm

      Maria, I have never been to a conference that was half as entertaining as moving my fingers, and that’s the sad truth:)

      • Ben (from TIC) November 11, 2009, 7:40 pm

        Maria, just don’t distract others from their education–suddenly you lifting your fingers becomes much more entrancing than any presentation. Wouldn’t it be great if at a big conference you look around and see hundreds of people doing these exercises? Actually, that would be kind of creepy 🙂

  • Andrew @ Incomes International November 11, 2009, 7:03 pm

    Thanks for a great set of exercises. If you so inclined one of the best ways to receive all of the exercise your fingers will ever need is to learn, and practice playing guitar. Other than becoming a Shao Lin monk, there are very few other ways to build such strength in your hands and fingers.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 11, 2009, 7:28 pm

      Amen to that!

      • Ben (from TIC) November 11, 2009, 7:45 pm

        Andrew, I hear you on that–I play bass and my hands feel great after some warm-up scales.

        Andrew or Josh, have you ever used a gripmaster hand exerciser?

        • Josh Hanagarne November 11, 2009, 8:51 pm

          I haven’t. I use a gripper called the Captain of Crush.

  • Andrew @ Incomes International November 11, 2009, 7:49 pm

    I’m an aussie so what I call a grip master might be different to you. If you mean the little spring device that you squeeze then yes I used to use one a lot. And it burns!

    • Ben (from TIC) November 11, 2009, 7:52 pm

      Yep that’s the one.

      • Andrew @ Incomes International November 11, 2009, 7:59 pm

        Another great one that’s often overlooked is the stress ball. Not sure if your familiar with them but they are just like a small, soft, rubbery nurf ball. They were a big marketing gimmick in the late 90’s to relieve stress. The idea was to squeeze the ball instead of blowing your top under stress.

        Who knew they could become and exercise apparatus.

        Squeeze on one of those for an hour each day. It’s like aerobics for you hands without the intensity or pain of a gripmaster.

  • Boris Bachmann November 11, 2009, 9:24 pm

    Rubber bands from asparagus = good for finger extension + veggies