Optimal grip for a gaming mouse

, by
Dominik Schmalzried and Patrick Schmalzried

As of 2019 Palm Grip and Claw Grip are the two most commonly utilized gripping techniques for gaming mice. Hence the following hypothesis will step on a lot of toes: Fingertip Grip is far superior to Palm Grip and Claw Grip. What follows is a bunch of arguments supporting this claim.

A brief definition of Palm Grip, Claw Grip and Fingertip Grip

When using Palm Grip the majority of your palm as well as all of your fingers are in direct contact with your mouse. Palm Grip is the grip with the most contact area.

In Claw Grip the contact area is reduced to your fingertips as well as the start of your palm. In regards to surface area Claw Grip is a significant reduction compared to Palm Grip. The fingers that rest on the left and right click mouse buttons lend the Claw Grip its name as they resemble a claw-like shape.

With Fingertip Grip the contact area is even smaller. The only contact points between your hand and the mouse are your fingertips. Also the fingers on the left and right mouse button are not as heavily angled as in Claw Grip, yet also not as flat as in Palm Grip.

Note that the grip has implications for how you can move the mouse. All three grips enable you to use your arm or wrist for movements. But only the Fingertip Grip enables you to use fingers for vertical movements.

A 2014 poll on Reddit asked CS:GO players which grip they used. Of the 900 users that voted 45 percent used Palm Grip, 31 percent Claw Grip and 25 percent Fingertip Grip. We have seen a few of these polls in the past with Palm Grip being the most common and Fingertip Grip being the least common.

Disadvantages of Palm Grip compared to Fingertip Grip

The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics as:

Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.

In the context of a gaming mouse «human well-being» can be translated to «no hand injuries due to using your mouse» and «overall system performance» can be translated to «your aim».

Oftentimes it is argued that Palm Grip mice, with their long and curved back, are ergonomic because of how your palm as well as fingers, can rest on them. And the curvature of the mouse is based on the curvature of your hand: isnt it the perfect match?

Do not fall for it.

The moment your fingers are laying statically in a relaxed position on the back of the mouse, you cannot use them to aim. And we strongly recommend you to use your fingers for aiming. Why?

Try picking up a pencil and instead of gripping it with your fingers, grip it with your whole hand. And now try writing your name in small letters. Possible? Yes. Recommended? Hardly. Take a look at the following quote out of the Wikipedia article for «hand»:

Fingers contain some of the densest areas of nerve endings in the body, and are the richest source of tactile feedback. They also have the greatest positioning capability of the body.

It sounds obvious, but using your fingers for small and intricate movements, like aiming, is superior to using your arm. By using Palm Grip you rob yourself of the best aiming tool humans have. Palm Grip mice look like they are ergonomic, but they are the opposite.

Some people say they use a hybrid between Palm Grip and Fingertip Grip: They switch to Fingertip Grip when they need to do intricate mouse movements, and they use Palm Grip for movements that are too large for the fingers. The problem with this is of course that changing your grip costs time. Say you quickly have to react to a change in the game: do you have time to change your grip first? Switching your grip is an inefficient solution.

Another problem with Palm Grip is how it limits your ability to click rapidly. Just try clicking with your whole finger laying on a mouse button: it is noticeably slower than when you click with your fingers slightly angled, as in a Fingertip Grip.

Yet another problem with Palm Grip is that mice that are optimized for Palm Grip are very heavy, as they have to be large enough to support a whole hand. And high weight is bad for aiming due to high inertia, regardless of whether you use your fingers or arm to move the mouse. See our article on the optimal weight of a gaming mouse for more on this.

Let us finish with looking at two frequently quoted advantages of Palm Grip.

Some gamers say that when planting your whole hand on your mouse, movements are more stable and they experience less hand fatigue when compared to Fingertip Grip. These people probably describe their experience when trying to use a Fingertip Grip on a huge mouse designed for Palm Grip. And we have no trouble believing them: some Palm Grip mice are so ridiculously huge and heavy that it is hard for someone using a Fingertip Grip to even grip them, let alone move them. Of course moving around something that you can barely hold does not feel stable and will tire you. That is not the fault of the grip though, but the fault of the mouse.

Some people like that with a Palm Grip mouse you can use lots and lots of side buttons. This is not the case for a Fingertip Grip mouse, because when using Fingertip Grip you need your fingers to stabilize the mouse and cannot use them to click buttons. This is a dummy argument: Why would you want more than two buttons on your mouse, when you also have a keyboard with dozens of buttons right next to your mouse? Additional keys on your mouse can interfere with grip and increase the weight. Both problems can be eliminated by becoming a proficient keyboard user.

In summary we do not think you can call a Palm Grip mouse ergonomic. It may be comfortable for resting your hand on it. Palm Grip is profoundly inferior to Fingertip Grip for aiming, though.

Disadvantages of Claw Grip compared to Fingertip Grip

We can keep this comparison pretty concise, as most of the negative aspects of Palm Grip are also present in Claw Grip: you cannot use your fingers for vertical movements and Claw Grip mice are long and therefore heavy (though not as long and heavy as Palm Grip mice). Both reduces your speed as well as precision and accuracy.

Also people like to use the stability argument for Claw Grip: since Claw Grip has that additional contact point with the back of the mouse, it supposedly enables more stable movements and makes picking up the mouse easier. Again: by using a very light and short mouse that is optimized for Fingertip Grip you can have stable movements. And picking up a mouse that is short and light is easy enough even if you only use your fingers. It is kind of ironic that a mouse that is sufficiently long to being gripped with a Claw Grip, is probably so heavy, that stabilizing it with your palm is necessary.

Claw Grip also makes pressing side buttons easier, but as already established if you are in need of extra buttons your keyboard is an excellent place to start looking.

The claw-like angled fingers in Claw Grip are often said to lead to health issues. It certainly can change how your hand looks. See the following quote from Tom Large, an expert on vertical mice designed to deal with repetitive stress injuries (RSI):

The finger extensor muscles open the hand, in opposition to the flexor muscles that close it, so facilitate grip. If the flexor muscles are used (some degree of grip applied) significantly more than the extensor muscles then, in relation to the extensors, the flexors develop more muscle tone. This is not uncommon in the hands of mouse users, resulting in mousing hand fingers curling inwards towards the palm (when at rest) more than those of the other hand. Known as “claw hand”, this can usually be remedied by orthotic hand exercisers. This condition demonstrates that repetition of an imbalance (the overuse of grip in this case), can amplify small actions to the point of clinical consequence.

What probably is worse though is that your main mouse button fingers are pretty static in Claw Grip. It is possible that this static strain is much more dangerous than a repetitive strain. Tom Large:

Static Posture … is working under conditions in which muscles are tensed and held tense, which is the posture adopted when constant grip is applied to anything. There is probably no other “non computer” task performed in a resting posture, that can motivate individuals to maintain grip for so long as does mousing … The mousing posture does not involve the larger muscle groups that consume enough oxygen to precipitate an increase in circulation or invoke feelings of fatigue. Tensed muscles limit blood flow; an obvious clue being that mouse user’s hands often become cold. Hand muscle activity is not sufficient to self-heat them so most is “piped’ from the body cavity.

From a biochemical perspective, low blood flow and above “idle” and static muscle activity is at odds with our design.

With a Fingertip Grip your fingers will be bent much less than with Claw Grip and your fingers will also be moved much more. That could be healthier. When you are playing games for many hours a day, it is very important that you prevent injuries. By this logic you should avoid the Claw Grip. Put another way: If Claw Grip gave you a tangible advantage when it comes to speed, precision and accuracy, it might be okay to use it, even though it is more taxing on your hand. But why risk your health for a grip that is inferior when it comes to aiming in the first place?

History of mouse shapes

When looking at the advantages of Fingertip Grip the question arises: Why do Palm Grip and Claw Grip even exist?

When looking at images from 1980s mice one quickly notices that most of them are rather small and edgy looking. They definitely do not invite you to plant your whole palm on them. Back then using Fingertip Grip was probably the most common grip, and not Palm Grip. See the following quote from a mouse study by Bill Verplank:

The second test, a two-day photo survey of over 60 users, showed users holding the mouse with their fingertips not palms … Most users favored a fingertip grip; there were vocal complaints about mice that didn’t allow it.

Regardless of these findings, sometime in the 1990s mice got bigger and bigger. We think it was an honest try to make them more ergonomic, which ironically resulted in the opposite: large and heavy mice that most people could not maneuver with just their fingers and instead had to find new ways to use them.

We think this is how Claw Grip came into existence: Claw Grip is a compromise for people who did not want to use Palm Grip for huge mice and instead created a new grip altogether.

What would happen though if someone using Claw Grip on a mouse designed for Palm Grip used a mouse that was designed for Fingertip Grip? We have the feeling he might never look back.

Personal preference nonsense

Oftentimes when mouse grips are discussed in forums this thought-terminating cliché appears: «Hey, use whatever grip feels comfortable. There is no right and wrong. It is all just personal preference.»

If that were true slouching on your sofa with a gamepad would be the best way to play any game. If you hand someone who has absolutely no idea about what skiing is a pair of skis and tell him to figure out on his own how to get down the hill, chances are he will choose to sit on the skis rather than stand on them. Does this mean he should stick to sitting on skis, because that was what seemed comfortable when he tried it the first time he used a pair of skis?

It is hard to overstate how ignorant the «Use whatever feels comfortable.» arguments are. In most sports there is a right way and a wrong way of performing a specific action or holding a specific piece of sports equipment. And oftentimes the way a sport is played changes significantly over time. Just take a sport you like and look at how they played it thirty years ago.

By this logic Fingertip Grip might evolve into something different in the future. We do not know. We do know however that right now Fingertip Grip has real advantages over Palm Grip and Claw Grip.

Final words

Call us crazy, but we think that when a mouse grip does not enable you to fully utilize the most intricate tool on your body, your fingers, then it is not a good grip. Fingertip Grip is the only grip that lets you fully take advantage of your fingers.

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to mouse gripping techniques. One of the reasons surely is that eSports still is very young when compared to traditional sports. Though eSports has grown significantly in regards to how much money is in it, it still is nowhere near established sports like golf or tennis. An eSports science center that pours millions of dollars into researching the interplay of mouse shape and mouse grip is not a thing as of 2019. Hence the most common mouse design strategy still is: «Copy the shape of the Microsoft WMO and add buttons and lots of LEDs.»

We believe that instead mice should be designed from the ground up and optimized towards the best gripping technique: Fingertip Grip.

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