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I'm a professional pianist (female in my twenties) trying to get started with weight lifting, but I'm worried about the effect it might have on my hands in the long term. I'm mainly interested in building strength, not size, because I'm so weak from never having done any sport before that it interferes with my playing (I get tired much easier than I should, especially my shoulders). But when I started this week in a gym, where even lifting the bar without additional weight is a challenge for me, I noticed that my fingers get kind of "stiff" and lose a bit of dexterity if I try to play again after coming back from the gym. I tried to find information online about whether it's possible or not for a pianist to do weight lifting, or if I will end up ruining my hands, but I couldn't find anything consistent.

Does any of you know from experience? For those who lift a lot of weight, have your hands lost dexterity, and have your fingers become thicker with time?

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    Have you considered bodyweight style training? There's no bar to grip, per se, except maybe on pull ups. There are a few stretches you can do for the fingers and forearms that may help. – Dark Hippo Feb 18 '17 at 14:31
  • Could the loss of dexterity have come from fatigue in your forearms? especially if the bar alone has been strenuous for you. I play guitar and I have also felt a loss of dexterity on my fretting hand following a tough work out. but massaging and stretching my hands and forearms helps a lot and since i've been lifting seriously i've noticed improved stamina and my fretting is quicker, maybe due to improved grip strength. – Hitchmo Feb 18 '17 at 16:50
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    Thank you both! Yes, probably bodyweight training would be a better idea, at least until I find out if lifting would really damage my hands. But it's tough to decide, because I've found out I love lifting, and I don't think I could gain as much strength with another type of exercise. @Hitchmo, haven't your fingers got any thicker from lifting? That really scares me... – Wild Feather Feb 18 '17 at 17:52
  • @Wild Feather, my hands are naturally quite large and my fingers are quite thick anyway hah, (can cover 7 frets easily, and can easily stretch over an octave on piano) but I can't say i've noticed they've got any thicker. I only gained a few callouses on my palms. 😋 – Hitchmo Feb 18 '17 at 18:08
  • @Hitchmo, thanks for answering! I also have big hands, but big in length, with really long and thin fingers (I can reach from C to the next E easily on piano). That's what worries me the most, because they seem so fragile :( But I guess I'll keep lifting for now, unless I notice it's really being bad for my playing. Thanks! :) – Wild Feather Feb 18 '17 at 18:35
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Former principal keyboardist of a professional symphony orchestra here.

There are journal articles from the sports medicine literature that address injury incidence in recreational (as in, non-competitive) weight lifters. For example, the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research included a study entitled "Shoulder Joint and Muscle Characteristics Among Healthy Female Recreational Weight Training Participants." Quoting from the abstract:

"The findings of this investigation suggest that female [recreational weight training] participants are predisposed to mobility imbalanaces as a result of training. The imbalances identified in this investigation have been associated with shoulder disorders in both the general and athletic population thus may place weight training participants at risk for injury."

So, the prospect of increased shoulder strength (which was one of the primary goals you stated) is likely to come at the cost of decreased shoulder mobility over time, which, as a pianist, should prompt some serious questioning as to whether weightlifting is the best possible way to get to your strength goals.

  • Is there anything that addresses the form and whether or not they were coached? I know quite a few recreational weight lifters (male and female) that have had no issues, but also have excellent form. – JohnP Mar 3 '17 at 21:53
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    Agreed that the worse the form, the higher the injury risk. The thing is that having "no issues" means one thing for most people, and another for performing artists who require a very precise level of muscular control. Musicians are a bit like ballet dancers in terms of training goals -- control and flexibility are as important, or more important, than strength. – intj440 Mar 3 '17 at 23:35
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    Then you need to address that. Your study is solely on the shoulders which are a high injury area anyway. You state that you were a principal keyboardist, but do not relate that to the answer. Can you expand some on hand effects, and how much the shoulder mobility might affect her? How much mobility is needed vs how much the weightlifting might affect i? – JohnP Mar 5 '17 at 2:52
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You should definately wear gloves when you lift weights, you will get calloused fingers if your lift with your bare hands. I think that a lot of problems people have with weights come from being over ambitious. Have reasonable goals with your weight in mind and have a structured plan as to how you would achieve those goals.

If you as a woman what to bench 50 kg. Start of with 5 or 10 kg when you get comfy with that weight gradually start adding more. Dont be hasty and be willing to go down in weight if you think any weight is too much.

Dont do weights to impress anyone, it is better to do it purely for self-enrichment. Dont feel like you have anything to prove to anyone but yourself.

We as people in modern society have so many things that give people a false sense of achievement, let this be a real one.

Good luck.

  • Thank you very much for your answer! Yes, I'm wearing gloves now and taking it lighty, but I will quit if I ever notice it's affecting my fingers. I'm confused because many people who do "outdoors work" like farming usually have really big and calloused hands, but weight-lifting doesn't seem to affect hands so much, even when the weights are very heavy. A friend of mine who goes to the same gym has been lifting for 5 years and can lift easily 150 kg, but his hands are still small and delicate, except for a few callouses in his palms. That still puzzles me. Thanks again! – Wild Feather Mar 14 '17 at 22:14
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    @WildFeather - Calluses are due to friction, so if he never has the bar move in his grip, then he isn't causing friction. If you look at your string players, many of them will have callused fingers from string friction on the pads. Etc etc, ymmv. – JohnP Mar 15 '17 at 1:25

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