One of my clients, Paul, is an accomplished Aikido practitioner who has practised the art for years and often shares his insights with me as he trains. One piece of information he has shared with me several times is about how Aikido practitioners use their grip in order to control the movements of their opponent.
According to Paul, the strength of your grip comes from your pinkie, rather than from any of the larger, seemingly more important fingers. He proceeded to demonstrate this with a number of very simple activities.
This was all very interesting information, and applicable from a martial arts standpoint, but what does it have to do with your strength training or movement practice?
Fast forward to last month. I was in the middle of my heavy session of a Plan Strong pressing plan when the thought occurred to me, “I wonder what happens if I grip my kettlebell using the strong finger (pinkie finger…)?”
Not surprisingly, deliberately gripping with my little finger instead of amorphously gripping tighter allowed me to experience a stronger press, a better-supported shoulder, and it felt like all the mechanics of my movement were just tighter and better controlled.
How does this work? Why do you think that the press was so much better with such a seemingly minor tweak?
Here are some of the things that I think come into play:
1. When I use my pinkie, I am able to use a tighter grip and better access the power of irradiation. What is irradiation? Pavel talks about it in Power to the People and the Naked Warrior, but you’ll understand it best if you quickly run an experiment. Sitting now at your desk, make a fist with your hand as tight as you can, but don’t let your bicep fire…
How’d you go? Did you notice that your options were to have a weak grip or to have your upper arm fire aggressively? This is irradiation.
My hunch is that squeezing with the pinkie generates a tighter grip, which makes the irradiation response stronger, and thus, helps the musculature in my shoulder to respond more appropriately to the load resulting in an easier, better press.
2. In Strongfirst kettlebell certifications, I’ve often seen Shaun Cairns teach people how to preferentially fire different arm muscles by using different kettlebell grips that place pressure in different parts of the hand, in order to optimise the response for pressing, or in level 2, the push press or jerk. My second hypothesis was that the pinkie drove the pressure of the bell into a higher position on my hand, meaning that my musculature was better primed to pull off a smooth strong military press.
3. Finally, I thought, and this is where you come in, maybe it was something else? Maybe there is some kind of primitive reflex that I’m triggering or our shoulders have a particular reaction that I’m unaware of that isn’t triggered until we use our pinkie to drive the movement…
Ultimately, there are two things that I’m looking for from people in writing this article (apparently today is a listing type day…):
1. Try it. Regardless of why it works, gripping with my pinkie undoubtedly improved the quality of my press, so I want people to try it and either let me know that this is something that is helpful for most people, or that it’s something peculiar to me and some particular strength or deficiency that I have.
2. Use your knowledge and experience to give me a better idea of how and why this works? Because once I know, it’ll help me to improve my application, as well as to discover new applications of the underlying principle.