Anime-Style Finger Workout
Anime and manga are inspirational mediums. Powerful, muscular physiques clash in epic battles for reasons that are as bizarre as they are entertaining. Characters in these anime develop superhuman strength with equally unbelievable workout regimes.
Where a 3D person would become weakened and fatigued, characters like Baki Hanma or Kenshiro simply become stronger and stronger, defying the laws of human physiology and even physics as they ascend to remarkable levels of physical fitness that only a comic book character can and should possess.
Nevertheless, the images of physical power and fitness have been enough to inspire my own, more realistic workouts, realistic being the keyword here. Punching through concrete and levitating is out of the question, though you’d be surprised at just what actually falls into the realm of reality.
Fighting and martial arts anime focus, particularly on the finger and grip strength. It’s those displays of stabbing nukite strikes and one-finger push-ups that seem like the works of outlandish fiction, though it’s not so far removed from the real world. Before the modern age of bodybuilding and Instagram fitness, strongmen and Shaolin monks have ripped apart chains, broken bricks, and even done handstands on their fingertips. It’s rare, but even today there are some people that have trained themselves to equally strong digits. It’s a rare kind of strength that’s not coveted like bulging arms and washboard abs, but it has its own special appeal.
Why you would start training your own fingertips depends on just what your goals and motivations are. For me, it’s simply the sake of reaching tougher exercise progressions and bragging rights. For others, it may be their own quest to emulate their favorite shonen character.
There are some who are already practicing traditional martial arts or other hobbies that could benefit from tougher fingers. If none of these match your own workout goals, then consider the fact that a complete workout program should involve some of the more neglected muscles. The neck, feet, wrists, and fingers all could use some regular exercise. Whichever reason you choose, there’s a universal benefit to fingertip training that everyone can agree with—you only need a floor.
Finger Pressing Strength: The Floor Is Your Friend
There are multiple kinds of finger strength. The focus of this article is finger pressing and supporting strength that you’d need to do fingertip push-ups or mastering Fist of the Northstar’s Hokuto Shinken, not the kind of strength that comes from store-bought grippers or other more watered-down grip exercises. This is all about finger strength, so all you will need is access to a floor, wall, exercise mat, or some towels. Strong, supporting fingers are a pursuit all on their own, so this entire article will be about it.
A Word on Safety
Safety always comes first, so it's best to exercise some caution before exercising your fingers. The bones, joints, and muscles of the human hands are small and relatively weak, so jabbing your fingers into watermelons or diving into advanced fingertip exercises isn’t something that I advise doing right away.
The risk of injuring your fingers means not only missing workouts but being unable to work or even play video games while you recover. This is a kind of training that should be done slowly and carefully at first, as it would be better to progress slowly than not at all. If for any reason fingertip strength training feels painful or appears risky, don’t do it. Simple as that.
Your favorite anime or manga character likely attained their unbelievable strength with workouts that are glossed over as backstory or brief training montage. The harsh reality is that for us three-dimensional folks things take a lot longer. I make no clickbait claims of two-week timelines or easy progress, this just isn’t possible for most people.
Even if you were to undergo a miraculous muscle transformation in a compressed time frame, it’s still unlikely that your fingers' strength would match the blistering pace of larger muscle groups and that’s actually a good thing. When it comes to bones, ligaments, and tendons, these structures actually adapt much slower than muscles do and will need time to increase in durability. Like any worthwhile pursuit, fingertip training has its own time-effort barrier that is closed to half-hearted practice. All the more reason to do it.
Finger-focused calisthenics obeys the laws of all calisthenics exercises. Using your own bodyweight is economical and convenient, however people are not standardized like Olympic weight plates. Just as chin-ups and pull-ups are harder for heavier people, so are the thumb and fingertip push-ups that musclebound heroes and villains do with enviable ease.
I’m not going to say that it’s a waste of time for a big guy to pursue these exercises, on the contrary, I believe that it’s all the more commendable for someone weighing 200lbs or more to take up such pursuits. All that being said, the principles of safety and well-paced progress obviously still apply.
Forging Fine Fingers
Fingertip push-ups may seem like a monolithic term. My own view of them was pretty limited until I started tinkering and researching to uncover just all the variations and progressions of finger-pressing strength. There are not only a series of difficult progressions but also exercises that target the finger muscles in different ways.
I know it may seem obsessive to delve so deep into the different exercises and physical qualities but take into consideration that to make something simple, you must first understand its complexity. There are 27 joints and 34 muscles in each of your hands, so training them with just one exercise would likely be too little variation to develop truly strong fingers.
To Lock or Not, That Is the Question
Looking at videos and photos online it appears there’s no rule against fully extending and locking the finger joints. This is actually essential when using all of the fingers, as the shorter ones must be fully extended just to match the workload of the longer index and middle fingers.
This puts more strain on the joints and muscles, strengthening them over time. This is the default training position that you’ll use, though I find it can leave the actual finger and hand muscles underworked.
Placing your fingertips on an exercise mat or towel, do your fingertip exercise with the finger joints bent and curled inward. This will put more pressure on the fingernails, so keep them trimmed for this exercise.
The fleshy pads of your fingers will still be doing the bulk of the work, but making sure your finger joints aren’t locked will put more weight on your fingernails. If done correctly this exercise will force the finger, thumb, and hand muscles to do far more work than the regular position. I like to think of this as an assistance exercise to help supplement the normal training. Naturally, it will be harder to do, but still, progress it as it becomes easier.
Finger Extensor Holds
The finger muscles worked in the previous exercise are mainly the flexors, the muscles that curl and close the fingers into a fist. This is fine, but there’s the issue of the opposing muscle group. Just as you’d exercise the triceps and biceps equally, there’s a need for the opposite muscles to develop in strength proportionally. This isn’t about aesthetic balance, rather the need for healthy fingers that are strong enough to brace with the opposite muscle group.
In this very challenging exercise, all the weight is shifted onto the fingernails with the hands curled into a more closed position. The effort comes from trying to keep the fingers extended and not from balling up into a fist, making sure you’re not simply resting on your bent joints. This exercise is a lot harder than the previous two, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t make it out of the beginner positions.
Finite Finger Focus
My own list of progressions below should work for any combination or exclusions of fingers. It is intuitive to start using fewer and fewer fingers to realize your own fitness ideal. Some will see the index finger or thumb as an endpoint.
Some people may have the obsessive goal of isolating each finger and bringing it to a strength milestone such as push-ups on each individual set of fingers. The problem with doing this is that there are 10 different goals to reach, 20 if you want to do them one-handed. Then there’s the choice of just how far to take the exercises.
Conventional push-up or a variation of them, perhaps something easier for the smaller fingers. There is an overwhelming number of variations to choose from, so take my advice and just focus on all ten fingers for now.
Here are the starting exercises. Each should be done with all ten fingers, to begin with, some time spent on claw and extensor variations to keep your finger strength balanced. Different people progress differently. I find that I need a lot of volume to adapt to exercises, others may be fast learners.
Either way, we all share the same frustration of hitting a wall and face the reality of diminishing returns and stalling progress. This is only the end of your training efforts if you decide it is. Gaining a little strength per workout is great for beginners, but intermediate and advanced exercisers will find signs of progress fewer and further in between, sometimes taking weeks or months before seeing a measurable improvement. Persistence matters here.
Against the Wall
Assume the position! Just kidding. The wall is a pretty forgiving position to learn finger push-ups or even normal push-ups if your strength isn’t quite up to par. Simply stand in front of the wall and either do push-ups or static holds in a variety of positions and with any amount of fingers you want. I recommend all ten, but if you’ve got a stubbornly weak digit or two, this is the time to focus on them.
On your hands and knees is the next progression. Here it’s possible to change the distance between your hands and knees, even shift your weight between them to make things easier or harder as needed. You can’t really do push-ups in this position, so stick to static holds for time and use a stopwatch, no fast counting here.
Hands and Knees
Sometimes called girl push-ups or knee push-ups, these are conventional push-ups done on the knees instead of feet. I like doing static holds, but if you’re all about reps you can start doing them from this point onwards.
Elevated Push-Up Position
Instead of a normal push-up position, the hands rest on a raised surface like a fitness step or a box. This is easier than full push-ups and can be done as a static hold or for reps. The elevated push-up variation is good for progressing to one-armed push-ups also.
The final variation is the true push-up position and the end of the beginner section. It may be difficult at first, so some short static holds are a good place to start. This is a pretty big milestone for most people, but the ambitious or super Saiyan will be left wanting more yet. Thankfully there are advanced positions to work towards.
There are quite a few different positions that open up once you’re done with the beginner stuff. Many different gymnastic and even yoga poses could be modified to use the fingers instead of the open palms. It’s up to you, as a lot of showy gymnast positions take a long time to learn even on the palms, let alone fingertips.
Positions like variations of the L-sit, gymnast bridge, and planche just to name a few. If you’re already doing these exercises or interested in them, then it would serve you to start slowly adding the fingertips to these advanced callisthenic moves. I’m no expert in gymnastics, so I’ll stick to basic yet difficult positions.
One Arm Push-Ups
These are advanced exercises even on the palms. The best way to do these would be to return to the very starting exercises and do them with one hand. It’ll be slower, harder progress because it’s actually more than twice as difficult. You’ll have to harden your abs and resist the twisting force that one-arm push-ups will put you under. This is one of the hardest variations of the exercise but things can get even crazier.
Handstand Against a Wall
The logical progression to fingertip push-ups is to keep putting your feet on higher and higher objects until you can do a fingertip handstand against a wall. This is easier said than done. You’ve still got the option to keep one hand flattened as a palm to support the bulk of your weight, though this will work your shoulders pretty thoroughly too.
Once you’ve spent enough time on this exercise, the one-arm handstand will be within reach. Balancing one the fingertips of one hand only has one harder variation, the single-finger handstand.
Fewer Fingers Without Carpentry Accidents
I said earlier in the article that you should focus on all 10 fingers, to begin with. If you’ve been training for a while and have reached some of the more advanced positions, then you’ll likely have decided just which fingers you prefer to train.
For me and anybody who’s selected as a successor to the Hokuto Shinken, it’ll be the index fingers, for others it may be the thumbs. Whichever finger or fingers you choose to take to strength levels over 9,000, you’ll find yourself returning to the beginner positions and slowly progressing through them again. It’s a long, difficult journey to the top, but so is any advanced calisthenics.
Some Parting Words of Encouragement
The problem with setting goals is envisioning the most advanced and difficult endpoints that will intimidate you into apathy. The old adage about journeys beginning with a single step applies here. You may not reach the single-finger strength of a Shaolin monk, but that’s not the point.
If you start working on the beginner progressions and make your way to basic fingertip push-ups you’ll have already advanced further than most people do, it's something to be proud of. This kind of rare finger strength isn’t just something that your favorite anime and manga characters possess, but the rare few that dare to put their patience to the test with little more equipment than a floor and wall. Hopefully, this article is enough to get you started.
Sources and Further Reading
- SW—ParkouRandoMan's Youtube Channel
- Calisthenics: The True Bodyweight Training Guide
- Grip—Develop bone-crunching hand, finger, and forearm strength
- The Path of the Shaolin Monk: Training With Your Fingers
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.