Pinkies are the little engine that could. Though small, they can contribute as much as 33 percent of grip strength. As a result, for any exercise or movement that requires gripping—pullups, triceps dips, kettlebell swings, dumbbell or barbell work—overlooking the pinky is a mistake. The way to “activate” the pinky is through a technique called irradiation. It’s when the chain of muscles and nerves that run from the hand, up the sides of arms, through the shoulders, and all the way to the neck, are contracting to create force. Here’s how to feel it out. Using your dominant hand, grab the wrist of the nondominant side. At first, squeeze only with your thumb through ring fingers. Relax, then squeeze again, focusing on the pinkie. You should feel all of the muscles up the side of your body turning on.
There are a couple of ways to use this intel. Simply focusing on your pinkie when holding a bar or tool is a plus. Go a step further and actually train this skill. If you’re comfortable with major weight, grab a 100-pound dumbbell and try doing 10 reps of a bent-over dumbbell row without putting down the weight. Or select a lighter dumbbell and attach a tool like a Fat Gripz, which increases the diameter of the handle, to challenge grip strength.
One additional tip that is specific to pullups: People tend to hold the bar in the wrong part of their hand, which means they’re not maximizing power. Rather than gripping it in the middle of the palm, place your “callus line” against the bar, then wrap fingers around the metal. With one small adjustment, you may just increase your max reps.