How to strengthen your hands for playing guitar

Do your fingertips sting? Do your palms ache? Is your neck sore? You’re not alone. When starting out, these discomforts are unavoidable — learning to play guitar is painful! There are, however, some aches and pains that are avoidable. In this post, I offer tips for building up strength and staying healthy when playing guitar.

Do stretching exercises

As we see with famous rock stars, being a musician can be hazardous to your health. I’m not just talking about the booze, drugs and crazy fans. The late guitarist with Status Quo, Rick Parfitt, showed there is another more mundane hazard—repetitive strain injury (RSI).

Before you play, do stretching exercises. This will not only help prevent injury, but it will also improve your playing.

Watch this video to learn three finger stretching exercises.

It also pays to warm down, and drink plenty of water because water provides a natural lubricant for your joints.

Watch your posture

In contrast to classical guitarists, rock players often hold their guitars low on their bodies. This might look cool, but it is bad for your spine and also has an adverse effect on your playing.

Some tips for good posture:

  • Try not to lean backwards or forwards. Keep your back straight.
  • Check your posture by practicing in front of a mirror.
  • When standing, position the centre of your guitar just below your chest.

Check out this video about holding your guitar while standing.

Build up calluses

After playing guitar for more than 30 years, my fingertips are like elephant skin. And this is a good thing—it  means that playing a steel-string guitar doesn’t hurt. When starting out, though, your fingers will be soft, so you need to toughen them up.

Some tips for toughening your fingertips:

  • Soak your fret hand fingertips in salt water.
  • Rub alcohol on the tips of your fret hand a couple of times every day. Doing this will maintain your calluses and remove excess moisture.
  • Don’t leave your hands in water for too long when washing. This can wreck your calluses.
  • Practice a lot.

Do you have any tips on guitar warm-ups and posture? Tell me about them in the comments section below.

Andrew Healey


Andrew is an Auckland-based writer and musician.

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