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    More pain after switching to Colemak?

    • Started by tpet
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    • Registered: 16-Dec-2021
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    I'm a lifelong QWERTY user on the cheapest of cheap run-of-the-mill keyboards. I have RSI and I'm on the hunt for a new typing setup. I'm over 100 wpm on QWERTY, including punctuation and numbers, if that means anything. I have never used any other layout.

    After way too much research comparing ISTR, MTGAP, Beakl 15, and so on, I finally decided that Colemak DHm made the most sense to learn first for a variety of reasons, so I started the lessons on colemak.academy a few days ago.

    I program in Python and R using QWERTY all day and I have for years (and have managed the pain for the last 15 years through stretches and resting). However, after starting to practice Colemak just 10-20 minutes a day, I saw a definite increase in pain and tension in my wrists, forearms, and hands.

    I'm curious: has anyone else noticed *more* pain after switching to Colemak? I'm still using the same cheap $9 keyboard as I was using before, and I've only been practicing the layout a few minutes a day. The pain increase started immediately after the lessons and increases every time I practice.

    My less harebrained theory is that there is some tension in learning the new approach because I don't have the muscle memory yet, but I was wondering if anyone else has experienced this.

    My more harebrained theory: I played classical piano for many years. I'm accustomed to letting my wrists float above the board and my fingers gently curve down. When I type on QWERTY, I often find my entire hand moving rather than individual fingers reaching. If the most common keys are moved to the home row, then it all becomes finger action instead of a more whole-hand movement... so maybe that's more strain on smaller muscles, or something?

    Has anyone thought about this before, or am I completely off my rocker? I'm only trying to understand why I would see a pain increase after starting a new layout. I'm interested in the most ergonomic layout possible, and I don't care if punctuation, numbers, or letters need to be moved. I figured I can reprogram any shortcuts with ZXCV that I need. I saw Halmak, Workman, etc., but many of them were too young to have their kinks worked out, so Colemak DHm seemed like the best idea, but if anyone has other thoughts, I'm all ears. I hope to buy a split column-staggered board at some point, but I need to research and save my funds for now while I investigate layouts. It didn't make sense to spend $300 on a keyboard and keep using QWERTY.

    Last edited by tpet (16-Dec-2021 02:08:30)
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    • From: Viken, Norway
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    Take care when learning a new layout! That holds true no matter what layout it is.

    On a side note, grats on making a sensible choice in a confusing sea of lesser layouts.

    See the Ergo page of my BigBag for more info, near the top of the page.

    ( Θώθ)  ~(  See "DreymaR's Big Bag Of Keyboard Tricks"  )
      https://dreymar.colemak.org

    Last edited by DreymaR (16-Dec-2021 09:41:39)

    *** Learn Colemak in 2–5 steps with Tarmak! ***
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    tpet said:

    My less harebrained theory is that there is some tension in learning the new approach because I don't have the muscle memory yet, but I was wondering if anyone else has experienced this.

    Not only is that not harebrained, I think that is likely the primary reason. I experienced some transitional pain too. You have to tell yourself to take it easy and don't push yourself too hard. Once you've made the decision to switch, it's tempting to want to do it as quickly as possible, but doing so will put extra strain on your hands and fingers as they won't have the muscle memory yet for the new set of movement patterns.

    The piano thing might be a factor too, but that's outside my experience.

    Using Colemak-DH with Seniply.

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    I remember my fingers aching during the early days of transitioning from qwerty to colemak. I think thats quite normal. Good news is that it eventually passes.

    I'm currently experimenting with an atreus, its not split, but it is ergo column staggered and mechanical. Fair bit cheaper than other similar offerings so not a bad way to 'test the water' as it were.

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    I experienced very high levels of fatigue after my second day of using Colemak for actual work. I fortunately don't get pain from typing, but they would shake if I held them out in the typing position.

    That was the day that I had a huge boost of speed to the point where I could reasonably compose emails and chat messages without needing to revert to QWERTY, so I was naturally getting more mileage, but I compounded that by also doing more typing test/training than ever before, because I was so motivated by my performance jump.

    The big problem, other than the sheer volume of typing, was that my mental accuracy was still far too low to safely drive my typing as fast as I was trying to push. This meant that, even when I didn't technically make an error, I was only saved by my fingers making a sudden correction at the last second. In terms of hand fatigue, I think this was actually worse than if I had simply made the errors but maintained natural finger motions (i.e. confidently failed).

    The next day, I made an effort to slow down sufficiently that my fingers moved smoothly and decisively. This allowed them to physically recover nicely. I'm also hopeful that it helps build more accurate muscle memory. I can certainly say that the 'B' key feels so much closer now that I'm not juking down towards its old QWERTY location every time.

    Last edited by ikcelaks (16-Dec-2021 16:36:43)
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    Thank you, everyone, for the helpful validation. I'm very glad to know I'm not the only one. I'll keep being gentle and slow about it.

    DreymaR, thank you for the bag of tricks link. I spent a good amount of time looking through it. It's a lot of information at once, but it's nice to have so much in one place.

    Now, if only I could stop my hyper-optimization-prone brain from spending hours researching Halmak, Beakl 15, ISTR, RSTHD, and the endless rabbit hole of personalized customization. I continually find Colemak DHm at or near the top of rankings people make, but I question whether it's an optimal choice for my individual ergonomics (I'm specifically interested in minimizing pinkie usage, lateral motion, and same-finger bigrams; additionally, I haven't settled the alternation vs. rolls debate in my head).

    I'm a PhD student in statistics, so I have enough knowledge of machine learning algorithms to be intrigued by it all as well as understanding how the outcome will ultimately vary by the parameters and training data you feed it.

    My research of physical keyboards has led me to conclude that I want a split column-staggered board, but I don't know if I want to go flat (e.g. Moonlander) or concave (e.g. Dactyl-Manuform). Again, there are so many parameters that can vary by individual. Ultimately the goal in all of this is to reduce pain.

    All this and I haven't even begun on QMK layers, although they sound awesome. I think I get overwhelmed by the number of available options, whether in layout, layers, or physical boards.

    Last edited by tpet (16-Dec-2021 16:01:28)
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    You shouldn't try to minimize pinky usage, that's a common beginner mistake. Pinkies shouldn't have same-finger bigrams or lots of row jumping but they need to work a little for their living to make a really good layout. QWERTY users often have notoriously useless right hand pinkies due to underuse, but this is remedied with a little training. Don't fall into the BEAKL trap and make a substandard layout just because you have untrained pinkies! Colemak has decent pinky usage and low pinky travel, as it should.

    Layouts like Halmak (and Workman and Norman and...) will try to draw you in with a lot of bragging. Most of them aren't all that much, really. Halmak isn't considered that good anymore. ISRT, sure, that's a good layout but it has little support and its maker NotGate/Whorf seems to have moved on to other ideas. Apsu is making good layouts these days, and Apt looks promising... but it isn't out of beta-testing yet and keeps changing. The cutting edge of layout design is very much a bleeding edge, with lots of promising ideas and extremely uncertain benefits. Some ideas there are interesting, such as a guardedness against redirects/pinballing (rolls that change direction) which wasn't really considered a decade ago ttbomk.

    Since you confess to being prone to rabbit-holing (and bike shedding?) I hesitate to point you in the direction of good alt layout resources. I really can recommend Colemak(-DH) with all my heart! And with it it's easy to go further, adding tools like Extend and Compose (using the EPKL program for Windows) to become very powerful. Instead of fussing over layout choices, research such tools as described in the BigBag and other places. They'll provide a lot more utility than over-optimizing your letter positions beyond Colemak will – I can guarantee you that!

    EPKL will also help you write fancy symbols and Greek letters and boilerplate text and whatnot, through dead key and Compose and Extend layers.

    Last edited by DreymaR (16-Dec-2021 17:24:10)

    *** Learn Colemak in 2–5 steps with Tarmak! ***
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    DreymaR, you just helped calm my over-optimizing brain in several ways at once:

    - Avoiding pinky use is different than avoiding pinky bigrams and row-jumping. Very excellent point.
    - Thinking of "training" pinkies is something my piano teachers talked about, so of course it's relevant here. I like that thought.
    - You're right that a basic layer or two would probably make a much bigger difference than ISRT vs. DHm vs. Apt vs. etc. Better to spend time on low-hanging fruit with layers than diminishing returns with layout. Great point, especially considering I'm coding a lot (two pinkies for _ and +, e.g.).

    Thank you, everyone, for your help. I'm less than a week into this journey and I'm glad I found you lot early on. DHm it is. I'll move on to layers via the Big Bag and put the layout to rest.

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    My personal opinion on pinky usage is that they are perfectly fine to use for tapping on the home row or directly below the home row, passable for tapping directly to the side or one down and to the side, and awful for anything above the home row. The real problem for the pinkies is chording <Shift>. The proper solution to overworked pinkies is moving <Shift> to a thumb.

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    I like the idea of moving shift to a thumb, and I agree that hitting shift/ctrl with a pinky and hitting another key with a different finger.

    This discussion raises a related question. I don't know how forums are supposed to work, but maybe it's worth starting a new topic for. If that's bad forum etiquette, I apologize. I just thought it was enough of a topic shift that it was worth bringing in new eyes. https://forum.colemak.com/topic/2858-ar … ic/#p24559

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    The atreus certainly doesn't put too much strain on the pinkies as each hand is only five keys wide, so its physically impossible to stretch the pinkies to reach a key, stretch a pinkie and it just falls off the end of the keyboard!

    Forces you to use your thumbs for all the modifiers/layer keys.

    No emacs pinkie with this bit of kit..

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    My solution to the problem of Shift key chording is to make it sticky. That helps too. And it's possible to do even without hardware solutions with more thumb-accessible keys.

    A proper ergo board (split col-stag or manuform) with thumb clusters is, of course, the best solution.

    On Windows, I use the EPKL program to provide sticky mods with a time-out.

    Last edited by DreymaR (20-Dec-2021 10:22:02)

    *** Learn Colemak in 2–5 steps with Tarmak! ***
    *** Check out my Big Bag of Keyboard Tricks for Win/Linux/TMK... ***

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