This past April as I was fulfilling my twice weekly obligation of GPP by actively surfing the infinite amount of useless cable channels, I happened across a topic that piqued my interest. The science program I viewed centered on hormones and the development of the sexes. A few momentous minutes were devoted to John Manning an evolutionary biologist from the University of Liverpool. He theorizes that finger ratios act as a strong predictor of sporting prowess and various other traits. To demonstrate his theory he spent time with a group of young sprinters in merry old England. Manning predicted that he could pick the probable winner of a race between the Liverpudlian lads solely based on the relationship between the 2nd and 4th digits. We would refer to them as the index and ring fingers. To my astonishment, he was correct and continues to be accurate with a wide variety of athletes.

Upon consuming a small dose of this theory I promptly went to the high school where I instruct and proceeded to unscientifically analyze my students’ hands. To be honest, I never would have embarked on this mission if I had not personally felt good about the length of my own digits. Not saying I am a porn star of finger digits, but my ring finger was prominently longer than my index finger and this is a good thing according to Dr. Manning. Like a W.A.S.P. at a KKK meeting, I was comfortable because I fit the criteria. I could look with disdain upon others who by the hand that nature dealt rendered them part of the digitally challenged finger ratio outcasts.

My students were more than willing to offer their hands for my service. Initially, I checked their hands and the relationship between the ring and index fingers without offering an explanation of why I was doing this. I still had volunteers out the wazoo. I was mainly interested in the star male athletes at our school. Even though I really did not know what I was doing, it was apparent that in a majority of cases, the relationship between the corresponding digits that predicted sporting prowess was present in the best athletes. This study spread like wild fire through the school and I soon had to come clean with my digit dependence. Of course trying to break down the facts so students could comprehend what I was describing ranks about as difficult as shoveling smoke or nailing jello to a tree. After briefly explaining my newly acquired hand fetish, students peered at me with the deer in the headlights look. I tried to simplify the theory by informing the students that this is not set in stone, but rather it is more of a correlation. For instance, I stated that all men who walked on the moon said pecan pie was their favorite. So, you could surmise that there is a relationship between moon walking and pecan pie. A student blurted out, “is that true?” I said that no, as far as I know it was not, but I was just trying to provide an example. Sort of like observing that many good defensive backs in the NFL are bow-legged and a lot of top sprinters are pigeon toed. “This is a bunch of crap Mr. B.” Thank you, and this is going nowhere real fast.

When the cat was finally let out of the bag, my study was hampered by students who manipulated their hands so they looked similar to a centenarian with debilitating arthritis all contorted and misaligned. So much for my careful and controlled pseudo-scientific analysis. I had now entered the realm of NASA, but instead of squabbling over microscopic life embedded in a Mars rock, I was engaged in a duel of authentic vs. perceived digit lengths. Even the slightest contortion could make a champ out of a chump and the players knew it. Soon, other novice digit analyzers were prevalent throughout the school. Teachers walked the rows during exams and pointed out that hey based on what Mr. B said in the lounge Jimmy’s really a girl! This, of course, is exactly what I needed to happen. I envisioned irate parents phoning me to describe how their precious little one was demeaned at school and now they are depressed and listening to old records they found in the attic backwards hoping to find subliminal messages that will give them cause to despair even more. Just when it looked like it could not get any worse, a young lady lectured me for labeling people. “I think it’s just wrong. It’s like labeling or something and it leads to that self-fulfilling prophecy thing.” I replied that at least she appeared to retain something from her sociology class. ‘Whatever, I don’t want to be part of your stupid study!” I responded that it was OK because I was looking for males in the first place. “You’re a sexist, fathead pig.” Others rationalized that this doesn’t mean they cannot be good at sports or lifting. What about hard work and diligence? I agreed that this is all true. I never would have predicted the amount of interest and passion that this topic created. I was contemplating doing a study focusing on the big toe and the toe next to it, but this is now out of the question.

Here’s the lowdown on John Manning’s study. I will try in the sophic words of Jim Wendler of Elite Fitness Systems to recon this. That is, I’m gonna get in and get out as quick as possible. The basic blueprint of human life is that of a female. Testosterone acts upon the fetus as early as the eighth week of pregnancy. Genes that control the development of the fingers are the same genes that affect the testes and ovaries. Strange, but true according to Manning. Finger length may be fixed at the 14th week of pregnancy. Prenatally or in the womb, a number of tissues which make up the 4th digit (ring finger) are sensitive to testosterone. Since the ring finger is linked to testosterone men tend to have longer ring fingers as compared to their index finger which is said to be linked to estrogen. Conversely, women generally have longer index fingers than ring fingers or they are relatively equal in length. Manning proposes that evidence exists that shows a link between digit length and high prenatal testosterone or estrogen. To calculate finger ratios Manning divides the length of the index finger by that of the ring finger. A low 2D:4D ratio indicates a high prenatal testosterone and a high 2D:4D ratio is indicative of high prenatal estrogen. If the index finger is shorter compared to the ring finger, then testosterone was high and if a male has a long index finger compared to the ring finger estrogen was present prenatally in greater concentrations.

You may be bewildered by all of this and might be asking how this relates to lifting or sports. The ratio of the digits is linked to traits such as assertiveness, status, and male physical aggression. Also, the ratio is related to running speed and visual-spatial perception which testosterone enhances by affecting the right side of the brain. All these traits are likely to be associated with fitness and sporting prowess. Manning also thinks that higher prenatal doses of testosterone equate to larger heart and lungs which could arguably be beneficial to athletes. I know many will scoff at the whole premise of predicting athleticism and even strength potential based on finger lengths, however, Manning’s book is loaded with numerous studies that seem to give some credence to his theory. I picked the brain of my wife’s fertility doctor concerning this topic and let’s just say there was a lot of dialogue in his smirk. The book by Manning, Digit Ratio: A Pointer To Fertility, Behavior, and Health I must confess does not read nearly as easy as Dan Brown or Grisham, but it was less predictable and will certainly never be made into a cheesy major motion picture.

I decided to contact Dr. Manning through e-mail and inquire about whether he had any studies done specifically with weightlifters. I offered my crew as guinea pigs. He immediately replied and was rather anxious to actually view the photocopied hands of the lifters from my small basement gym. Approximately one week later I received the results of his study. I was somewhat shocked by the results. One of my lifters was ranked at the top as far as lifting potential using his right hand and digits and this same lifter was at the bottom with his left hand. Manning too was perplexed. He said that the most surprising aspect of the information he gathered was the discrepancy between the right and left hand ratios. He had never seen this before while working with England’s elite soccer players and track athletes. Normally, if you know the ratio of one hand it is easy to predict the ratio of the other. This was impossible in my lifters. He had found a group that had high T-ratios in one hand and low in the other. Apparently, lifters are unique from this aspect. There is much more work to be done and Dr. Manning has requested more hands to study. He did conclude that men with low ratios in their right hand relative to their left are very sensitive to testosterone and may be stronger than average. I am reluctant to share the findings with my lifters because I am wary of what impact it may have on the younger guys. They keep asking and I keep stalling. I do not want to embed in some youngster’s mind that they do not have the same potential as the guy he is spotting and working out with. This may actually be a self-fulfilling prophecy as the saucy female student exclaimed in class. Then again, this may be as the good fertility doctor implicitly stated without articulation. Bullshit!