By Jodie Auliff OTR/L CHT
Hand strength is vital for many occupations and many recreational activities. I know this all too well as I am an Occupational Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist. I also have wrist/hand injuries myself from previous fractures to ligament tears. I have been an Occupational Therapist for 25 years and have been specializing in the upper extremity in the Outpatient setting. I am also a firearm enthusiast and NRA Instructor for shotgun and rifle.
I have had many patients experience a lack of hand strength and endurance after an injury and they report it affects their shooting. I also noticed this through personal experience with my hand injuries. Range time can include hours of practice with multiple firearms causing pain and exhaustion after an injury. Lack of hand strength/endurance can affect your trigger pull and holding the firearm in the correct position.
There are many ways to improve your hand strength and endurance post-injury. Many times after a hand injury, you will be going to Occupational Therapy for rehabilitation and your Occupational Therapist (OT) will help you with a program. If your Medical Doctor (MD) has not referred you to Occupational Therapy, you have the right to ask for a referral. Make sure they specialize in hand therapy as well.
What if you do not have an injury or simply wish to increase your hand strength and endurance? There are many “tools” you can buy to help gain strength. I would like to cover a few of these in this article. These can all be bought online from the manufacturer, Amazon, or at most therapy clinics.
Hand grippers: These can be bought at a set resistance or adjustable. They can be adjusted by rubber bands and or springs. I recommend the adjustable ones to grow with you.
Digi-flex and other brands: These isolate out each finger and you can do all fingers at the same time or each finger individually. You can also strengthen the 3 major pinches: lateral pinch, 3 point pinch, and two-point pinch.
Clothespins: There are ones you can buy with predetermined resistance on them or use a regular one and wrap rubber bands around them for more resistance. You can strengthen all 3 pinches this way or an individual finger.
Rubber bands: There are ones you can buy with predetermined resistance on them or use a regular one. You can strengthen your thumb out to the side and up away from the hand. These are also great for finger strengthening.
Theraputty: Great overall hand and finger strengthening. They come in various resistances and you can do a huge variety of exercises from gripping, pulling, and pinching. You can do all three pinches with this one as well. Lateral, 3 point, and 2 point.
Therabar flex bars: Great for wrist strengthening in flexion and extension. These also come in various resistances.
Dynaflex pro gyro: These are also store-bought and a great isometric exercise for strength, endurance, and stabilization.
Dumbbells: I have my patients do wrist curls three different ways. Palm up, palm down, and thumb up. When doing the thumb up, move your hand in an angle using a dart thrower pattern.
Hammer Rotations: Wrist and hand strengthening. Elbow at your side and lower arm (forearm at 90 degrees and rotate palm up and palm down. You can change the resistance through various size hammers.
Asian Chime balls: Great isometric exercise for strength, endurance, and stabilization.
Rolling a marble in a Frisbee: Great isometric exercise for strength, endurance, and stabilization.
Strengthening for firearm recoil: You need a partner for this. Assume your firearm stance with arms outstretched in position without your firearm. Try to simulate the weight of your firearm by holding a dumbbell or something of similar weight. Have your partner try and push your arms (at your wrists) up, down, and sideways. You need to maintain the correct stance. You could also have your partner push on your closed fists creating a force towards your body.
Simulate trigger pull: The Digi-flexes and similar brands work great for this.
Simulate racking: This can be accomplished by holding TheraBand in your non-racking hand and using your racking hand to slide towards you. You can also do this with sport cords and on a weight machine that uses a pulley system and weights.
Jodie Auliff is an Occupational Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist and National Rifle Association certified Instructor. Jodie may be reached at Handtherapyot@gmail.com
Instructor note: One thing we need to be aware of, as handgun shooters, is that with a proper pistol grip, we aren’t gripping with hand strength alone. As we press the palm of the support hand against the gun we are also utilizing muscles from our chest, shoulder, and arms. Simple pushups can also aid in proper grip on a handgun. Another simple exercise, which allows you to strengthen the aforementioned muscles, and to actually feel the muscles in action, is to extend your empty hands together and to mimic gripping a handgun, where you ball up your strong hand into a fist and wrap your support hand around the strong hand and press your palms together tightly.