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Guitarists have been marketed many products over the years, ranging from extremely useful to completely useless gimmicks. No doubt, you’ve likely encountered an advertisement for a guitar hand exerciser.
This might have prompted you to wonder whether these contraptions work. The short answer is, yes and no. These devices may help in some areas but likely not in the areas that you might initially think.
Read on to discover what guitar hand exercises will do for you, what they won’t do, as well as some options for optimum hand exercise.
Table of Contents
What Hand Exercisers Are and The Different Types Available On The Market
There are many different types of hand exercisers available on the market, including weighted rings to put on your fingers during play, grip trainers, and even extremely short guitar neck replicas with strings attached.
Many of these hand exercisers are spring-loaded, with isolated finger tabs that aim to work each finger individually. Here are some of the hand exercisers you can find on the market today.
D’Addario Varigrip – Best Overall
The D’Addario Varigrip is one of the more common types of hand exercisers that you will find marketed towards guitarists. This device specifically targets each finger individually, with molded finger pads placed on the buttons for easier use.
Inside each finger chamber on the Varigrip is a spring that is completely adjustable. This means that you can increase or decrease the amount of pressure required for each finger to press the button down.
Aside from the finger isolation, the Varigrip is ideal for guitarists, as the thumb section of the exerciser is static (doesn’t move), which is very similar to the neck of a guitar. The grip is also designed to help develop finger and hand calluses.
Item Weight: 2.56 ounces
Package Dimensions: 2.36 x 2.76 x 0.79 inches
D’Addario Dynaflex Gyro – Premium Option
Another offering from the string company D’Addario is the Dynaflex Gyro, which aims to exercise and build strength by providing gyroscopic exercises. This exerciser focuses on the wrists, hands, forearms, and fingers, with custom attachments corresponding to each area.
The Dynaflex Gyro is easy to use, and to get started, all you need to do is wind up the gyroscope inside of the exercise machine. After the gyroscope is charged, pull and hold the string with one hand (which sets the gyroscope in motion) and begin to move the hand with the exerciser in a circular motion.
The Dynaflex Gyro has an internal lighting feature that lets you know which level of difficulty you are currently working in, which is determined by the change in gyroscope RPMs. The lighting indicator starts with a blue light at the easy level, green at medium, and red at the highest level.
Item Weight: 7.2 ounces
Package Dimensions: 6.75 x 2 x 10 inches
Prohands VIA – Budget Option
When it was first released in 2009 the Prohands VIA became one of the top-selling hand exercisers on the market. The VIA is still a very popular exerciser for not only rehabilitation purposes, but for athletes and musicians.
The VIA features spring-loaded tension with individual finger isolation so that each finger is able to build strength independently from other fingers. These springs have an adjustable tension of:
- 1 pound
- 2 pounds
- 4 pounds
- 6 pounds
While these tensions are ideal for starters or casual users, Prohands does offer more intensive hand exercisers for those that are inclined.
The VIA comes in a wide variety of colors and lends itself to being extremely easy to use due to its small size. This means that you can use this item anywhere, even on the road to your next gig.
Item Weight: 1 pound
Package Dimensions: 3.63 x 2.88 x 0.88 inches
What Hand Exercisers Will Do For You
It is no mystery that having hand and finger strength is necessary to properly play guitar. Fretting barre chords can become exhausting when you do not have the stamina to play them for hours, and doubly so when you are just starting out and/or playing on a guitar with high action.
With that being said, hand exercisers can be great at building up the core strength of your hand. These can also be useful in building the stamina required to play a 3-4 hour gig.
Hand exercisers can also be a great tool to use before a performance, as they can warm your fingers up to the workload that they are about to endure for the duration of the performance.
Due to the small size and portable nature of these tools, they can be extremely convenient and be used anywhere at nearly any time.
There is a small possibility that hand exercisers can be useful in a sort of physical therapy application, especially if you have encountered arthritis or a hand injury that requires your hand to be at rest for an extended duration of time.
In these situations, it is understandable for hand strength to diminish, and these tools can work to help rebuild and maintain strength.
The types of hand exercises that feature a guitar neck replication could be useful for practicing fingerings as well as chord transitions. These are fairly unique in that they at least aim to exercise the hand in a guitar-oriented application.
However, these are about the only benefits that could be seen from using a hand exerciser for playing the guitar. Continue reading to learn about what these contraptions won’t do for your playing, as well as the potential pitfalls to using these types of exercisers.
What Hand Exercisers Won’t Do For Your Playing
Guitar-oriented hand exercises can certainly be useful if you have no expectations that these devices will help you play guitar better. The simple fact of the matter is that if you want to play guitar better and have an easier time doing it, you have to spend time on the instrument.
When building skills and stamina, it often takes less time to cut through the heart of the matter and go the difficult route rather than find an alternative path. To put it another way, if you are willing to take (or make) the time to practice and play the guitar, it will take less time overall to achieve your stamina-based goals.
This is true no matter what your goals are. If you are wanting to be able to play certain chords without fatigue, then the remedy should be to consistently practice playing those chords, building the increments of time along the way. You will notice that your stamina and strength improve.
When it comes to playing lead guitar, your phrasing, feel, and touch are going to matter far more than your strength. You will likely notice that you have the necessary strength the more you spend time working on your goals.
The Pitfall and Fallacy of Hand Exercisers
When it comes to playing guitar, there is one major fallacy when it comes to the idea of using hand exercisers to build hand and finger strength. The issue is that, while strength is important, it is far more important to learn how much (or how little) exerted energy is necessary to play the guitar.
All too often, guitarists are prone to exerting too much energy, in both the fretting and picking hands. This leads to tension elsewhere, including the forearms, shoulders, back, and neck. Why is this a bad thing?
The book Effortless Mastery, by jazz pianist Kenny Werner, goes to great lengths to discuss how masters of their instruments often look as if they are playing completely effortlessly. Aside from a few other factors, Werner discusses that one of the biggest reasons these masters perform at such a high level is that they have learned (and mastered) playing from a relaxed state, without tension.
Of course, attempting to consciously play without tension does take some getting used to if you habitually play with tension in your body. A period of learning how to naturally adjust to playing from this relaxed state is going to be necessary.
The problem with using hand exercisers is that they could promote excessive energy exertion. More often than not, these hand and finger exercisers are marketed towards beginners because they haven’t gone through the natural process of building hand stamina and finger calluses that come with consistent playing for a period of time.
As many of these hand exercisers feature spring-based tension, you could also accidentally hurt yourself by straining a joint or muscle in your finger(s) or hand. Once this happens, you’re likely to lose valuable time by having to take the time off to allow your injury to properly heal.
That is not to say that beginners are gullible. Rather, it could potentially make a long road much longer, especially when the time could be spent in more practical and beneficial ways.
It should stand to reason that if you are concerned about stamina and strength, that energy conservation should enter the equation at some point. This is an often overlooked aspect of guitar playing but does become apparent when you add in the adrenaline that comes from performing on stage (especially the 3-4 hour gigs).
What You Can Do Instead
As mentioned previously, you’re likely better off developing hand and finger strength by spending time on your guitar. But what exactly can you do to help with this specific goal in mind? And why are these likely to be more beneficial?
Fortunately for guitar players, there is an extensive amount of material available with playing exercises aimed at developing dexterity.
Though playing exercises can become tedious, it is worth spending time on these. Plus, you can (and should) vary the exercises to make them more enjoyable, thus creating new challenges to work through as well.
One of the more commonly found exercises deals with playing chromatic notes with each finger (4 notes, one per finger, on each string). With this exercise, each finger gets its own isolated workout, while your picking hand gets an exercise in hand synchronicity and picking technique. Be sure to use a metronome with this exercise.
Another thing you can do, especially if you are having difficulty with barre chords in the lower fret region is to spend time ensuring you get a mental snapshot of how your hand feels when each note is ringing out correctly. Once you can do this repeatedly, start using them by learning and practicing songs that incorporate them.
You will get tired eventually, but you will learn not only how to use what you practice, but you will also be exercising far more areas than just finger strength alone. You will develop a natural feel for the guitar neck and the note-wise geometry of the fretboard. Some of the following areas will inevitably be given a workout:
- Note accuracy
- Picking precision
- Synchronous hands
- Speed and dexterity when using a metronome
- Note recall
- Chord transitions
- Rhythm and sense of feel
Perhaps the most important area that gets exercised by using the time to work out on the guitar is the brain. Consistently giving your brain a workout is a necessary thing for a musician as it ensures that you will be continuously learning new things, both on the instrument and away from the instrument. It can also boost your creativity in unexpected ways.
Lastly, it is especially important to be sure to stretch your fingers, hands, and arms out before playing the guitar. Doing so will go a long way to preserving your body and aiding in your strength.
Do Guitar Hand Exercisers Work? Final Thoughts
Hand and finger exercise machines can be a valid and useful tool for those that have had hand/finger injuries as well as for those with arthritis. Exercising mobility is important when in a rehabilitation setting.
However, when it comes to using these specifically for guitar playing, you’re likely better off just spending the time on your instrument. Not only will you build your strength, but you will also learn other things simultaneously. In fact, hand exercisers can work against you if you have the wrong idea about what they can do for you.
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!