How does hand grip strength affect the speed of picking?

I am doing some research about hand grip strength on the internet and found that a normal man should have around 36 - 55 kg hand grip strength. I have used the Hands Digital Hand Dynamometer Grip Strength Measurement to measure my right hand grip strength and my hand grip strength is only 28.8 kg. My hand grip strength seems below the average so much. Do you think it is one the reason I couldn’t pick fast? Do any fast picker in this forum know your hand grip strength?

Remark: My maximum picking speed is playing a 3 notes per string major scale in 16th notes at 130bpm.

I’m not sure strength in itself would help.

Can you knock on a table fast, say 16th notes at 100bpm?

When you are picking fast you don’t need to grip your pick strongly at all.

I would say that I use about 10-20% of my gripping strength while playing.

I don’t see that as a relevant factor, to be honest.

I would imagine that picking speed is completely unrelated to grip strength.

There may possibly be a connection with grip strength and the heaviest string gauge you can comfortably play.

If you think there’s a connection and you want to improve your grip hand strength trainers of all different tensions are available.

As I do some research on the internet; the hand grip strength doesn’t only reflect your your grip strength, It also reflects the overall hand muscle strength.

Besides, I just want to use some scientific method to measure the hand strenght for picking. I don’t know whether it is a right measurement. So please give some comments.

Also, when I went to the gym and ask very strong guy to lift a dumbbell that I think is very heavy, they usually think they don’t need to use any force. That’s why I am thinking about the hand strenght. Because all of my friends who can pick very fast told me that they don’t feel they need to use any force to pick. But I find that they usually have at least 35 kg hand grip strength. They are not very strong, but I seems below the standard so much.

Oh Shit! I tried to knock on the table 16th notes at 100bpm and i couldn’t.

Yes you can! Just to be 100% clear, you set your metrome to a certain tempo, and you tap twice on the table for each click. Even though you are only tapping twice, the hand motion you are making is equivalent to playing four notes with alternate picking, i.e. sixteenth notes. This is because on a table only the “downstroke” plays a note (taps), and the upstroke makes no sound. But on a guitar both the upstroke and the downstroke play notes.

Thx for your explanation! I finally find that I could knock the table twice around 160bpm. Is it too weak???

With that velocity you could play this solo:

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If you are in a hurry, and you knock rapidly on a door, I’m pretty sure you could knock significantly faster than that if you had to. It’s just a basic human capability.

More generally, try not to be too worried about that number. When you’re on a forum where everybody seems concerned with picking > 200bpm, I know it can make it seem like everyone is is a virtuoso. But let’s be realistic, the kind of lines that most people play at that speed are simplified patterns, linear scales, single string tremolo, and so on. 150-160bpm sixteenth notes is a challenging tempo for more complicated music, and almost everyone has the ability to move their hands that fast. To put this another way, even though there is variation at the very top end of human abilities, there are plenty of common musical speeds that fall within everyone’s ability.

IMHO:
Grip strength and picking speed are not related, since one is about, well, strength, and another is about speed. Moreover you don’t need to grip anything hard when picking, except for the pick, but it’s a bit different mechanics and you don’t need much force to hold it.
As for muscles… A little workout won’t do much harm, and may be (or may not) be useful. The trick is that when you do exercises you increase your muscles innervation which in turn increase your movement control. It’s not about strength per se. So, a skinny more or less trained guy lifting 100lbs may have better innervation than big lazy guy lifting 300lbs because of his genetics.

If you feel that you need to apply force consciously when picking then it’s something wrong with your technique, I think. Picking is a tricky thing but not in terms of strength. It’s like doing a somersault, or writing with a pen - totally about technique not the physical strength. Btw, I think writing is a good analogy. Kids struggle with writing fast not because of lack of strength. It requires a lot of practice and control, good angle, good trajectory etc, and it has nothing to do with strength.

Once again, IMHO.

Ahh, a topic I finally have some experience in! This will be a long one!

TL;DR - Improving grip strength won’t result in faster playing, but developing it will support your hands, wrists and forearms to remain injury and tension free as you increase speed and proficiency. Also, see an occupational/hand therapist. They’re among the best teachers you’ll ever have.

I’ve been obsessively focusing on picking technique for the last 8 or so years, and I’m one of those players where the slightest presence of tension or ineffective technique manifests in pain and having to go back to the drawing board. It’s happened a lot, albeit less so since coming across this community, but still present. Currently I’m playing 8 shows a week minimum in music theatre on mandolin and guitar, in addition to regular practice, so I have to be highly attuned to anything that’s not working as soon as I shows signs of discomfort. The worst I ever got was not being able to push myself off a bed without feeling I had nails being forced in to my wrist. It’s been a long journey since then, but I’m finally getting somewhere.

To fix this, I frequently see a hand therapist in Melbourne specialising in musician’s injuries. The takeaways I’ve got are:

  • Picking should be completely free of tension in the wrist and forearm (along with shoulders, back etc);
  • Hand and forearm strength will benefit your longevity of playing and help to remain injury free, despite aiming for complete lightness. Strength isn’t just about force - it’s also about support.

Each return visit with newly discovered injuries and tension, I’ve been prescribed a series of stretching exercises, and strengthening exercises. The reasoning as I far as I understand (not an expert) is firstly to release the tension built up from gripping too hard while using mechanics that shouldn’t, and to deal with any inflamation that occurs from overuse; followed by strengthening the muscles in the fingers, hands, wrist and forearm that facilitate picking motion. Each visit, currently fortnightly or so, we take grip and pinch tests to monitor strength in these muscles. This doesn’t result in faster playing, but supports the muscle groups to facilitate the excessive use. I’m not including my measurements - your personal results will vary, and there isn’t a magic number. It depends on all factors of your body shape and size, health, overall fitness, playing style, etc etc etc.

The major takeaway here is hand, finger, grip, wrist and forearm strength all aid in avoiding injury in the small motions that we employ during picking. Often, we don’t notice pain in playing - it’s small and low exertion. But when it does manifest, in my case all the time, it’s the result of a lot of slightly higher-than-needed tension, and lower-than-required strength.

I would not panic about building strength, particularly if injury isn’t an issue for you. But I can attest to developing strength in these minor muscles to aid in your ongoing playing and progress.

Some of the exercises I practice include (and I’m not including specifics as I’m not an expert beyond my own practice development, and I’d highly recommend seeing an occupational therapist or better a dedicated hand therapist to discuss your best plan):

Stretching

Early strengthening (it’s amazing how little we strengthen the small muscles in our hands and thumbs, so you don’t want to jump to the equivalent of benching a small car with your thumb)

  • Use of Therabands (elastic strips with resistance) for low resistance strength building in forearms and shoulders
  • Gentle resistance with thumb and fingers using elastic bands
  • Maintaining thumb joint and muscle in an O shape, graduating to gentle held positions using a tennis ball or similar.

Higher level strengthening

  • Use of Theraputty (like high tension Play-Do) to build resistance in key muscles.
  • Higher resistance Therabands
  • Scapula (shoulder blade) strengthening, modified pushups and back work.

And that’s as far as I’ve got, which is working really well. Logic (and my osteopath) tells me that next steps would include more physical weights work on larger muscles in the shoulders, arms and back. Naturally, weights will increase grip strength also. That said, I’m glad I didn’t jump straight to there, as I would have no doubt caused the opposite effect on my hands.

Some stray thoughts:

  • Don’t use Gripmasters. You’ll overdo it and wear your tendons out.
  • The goal should be pain free, supported by strong muscle groups to sustain your playing.
  • Speed won’t come directly from strength. But strength will avoid pain, and injury, which will support more frequent playing and practice, which coupled with Masters in Mechanics will immediately boost your speed.
  • Don’t start any exercise program, particularly those focused on micro muscles, without seeing a physician. I know this is the disclaimer on everything we all ignore it, but seriously I wish I immediately sought assistance as soon as any pain started.

Hope this helps shine a light based on what I’ve experienced!

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Thanks for the awesome detailed post here! Great to hear about your experience. This sounds like some solid practical advice, and nice detail on the relation of building strength and avoiding pain/injury.

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