There’s a reason why grip strength is so important: you require it for almost every activity.
Let’s put the weights to one side for a moment. When you pick up a box, when you move a chair, when you’re vacuuming, frying an egg or even driving, you’re calling upon your grip strength. Cricket, golf, tennis, rugby – they all require good grip, too. Yep, and before you ask, badminton does as well, if that’s your thing.
It’s also – and don’t tell everyone or they’ll all be at it – one of the quickest ways to bigger lifts, faster muscle and serious training gains. Think about it. Your bicep curls, your hanging leg raises, your farmer’s walks: how often has it been your grip that’s let you down? How many times have you been chest pressing, only for your wrists to ache? They give up or ‘pinch’ because they’re unable to cope with the loads you’re putting on them, which means you have you stop your reps or, worst-case scenario, run the risk of injury.
In fact, weak grip strength has been proven to be a predictor of shoulder health. A 2016 study, published in the sports science journal Shoulder & Elbow, concluded that there’s a strong correlation between grip strength and lateral rotator strength.
Research has also shown a positive correlation between grip strength and overall health.
In 2015, the international Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological (Puree) study followed the health of 140,000 adults over four years. The results showed a significant relationship between a decrease in grip strength and an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Using a dynamometer device – something you squeeze really hard to asses strength – the researchers concluded that: “Each 11-pound decrease in grip strength over the course of the study was linked to a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from heart disease, a 9 per cent higher risk of stroke and a 7 per cent higher risk of heart attack.”
This isn’t an isolated study. There’s a body of research that strengthens the relationship between grip strength and health. Another paper released in 2015, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, concluded that those with a lower grip strength were more likely to be diabetic or record a higher blood pressure.
What Muscles Make Up the Grip?
Well, first of all, it’s important to note that grip strength isn’t just about your hand strength. Grip strength involves everything from the muscle near the elbow all the way down to your fingertips.
Did you know: 35 of the muscles involved in moving the fingers lie in your forearm and hand
During grip work, the majority of muscles used originate between the elbow and the upper portions of the forearm bones (ulna and radius) – scientifically known as the flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor digitorum profondus and the flexor policus longus – and down into the thumb or fingers (phalanges).
Types of Grip Strength
When it comes down to the things we hold in our hands, there are four main defined forms of gripping, which require different techniques and muscles. These are:
Crushing: The act of closing fingers against resistance. Similar to clamping (wrapping fingers around something and squeezing it towards the palm) and crimping (directing force with the fingers toward the callous line).
Pinching: The act of grasping something with the thumbs in opposition to the fingers. This can be performed both static (no movement) or dynamic (movement).
Supporting: The act of lifting something with fingers taking the majority of the load.
Extension: The act of opening the fingers and thumb.
How Do I Test for Grip Strength?
You’ll need a handgrip dynamometer, which will measure the maximum isometric strength of the hand and forearm muscles. To get an accurate reading, you should perform three squeezes on both hands.
Some gyms may have these instruments – most physiotherapists and general practitioners would have – but you can purchase them relatively cheaply too.
To get a thorough (and truer) reflection of grip strength you can also use – in addition, not instead of a handgrip dynamometer – a pinch strength test, which measures the maximum isometric strength of the hand and forearm muscles when performing a pinching action. Based on numerous tests across a different age ranges, fitness levels and athletic ability, topendsports.com have produced a guide to expected scores for adults in both kg and lbs.
These are the average scores of each hand. Remember, this is not a measure of general strength:
Excellent: >141lbs (>64kg)
Very good: 123-141lbs (56-64kg)
Above average: 114-122lbs (52-55kg)
Average: 105-113lbs (48-51kg)
Below average: 96-104lbs (44-47kg)
Poor: 88-95lbs (40-43kg)
Very poor: <88lbs (<40kg)
5 Best Exercises to Improve Grip Strength
Thankfully, grip strength is something you can work on almost instantly and will see improvements quickly.
“You can develop great forearms and a monster grip in no time by focusing on compound movements requiring maximal grip recruitment such as deadlifts and a variety of dumbbell exercises,” says fitness adviser Scott Mendelson.
Below, we have broken down the best exercises to improve your grip strength, from moves you can do in the gym to basic movements you can do using just your bodyweight. We’ve also included a couple of top tips and easy wins to help speed up the process.
The simplest way to stress your forearms and improve your grip strength is lifting heavy. And there’s nothing better, or more effective, than deadlifts. Quite simply, lift heavy things off the floor – safely, may we add – and put them back down again. Deadlifts work so well because of the variety of hand grips you can use.
Top tip: Mix it up to keep your body guessing. On some days, go heavy on low reps. On others, lighten the load and go for longer. This will help improve both your explosive power and strength, but also your cardio and muscular endurance.
2. Zottman Curl
According to adventurer, author and elite endurance athlete, Ross Edgley, the Zottman curl is key to developing forearm strength. “The rotation in the Zottman curl will train both the muscles of the biceps and of the forearms.
3. Farmer’s Walks
The great thing about this exercise is that you can use any piece of equipment or object. The aim is to walk for as long as you can while carrying the weight. When you start to tire, put the weight down, shake it off, and start again. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
4. EZ reverse curl
Hold a bar in both hand and simply curl up and down. “As time progresses, increase the difficulty by letting the weight roll to the end of your fingers, moving away from your palm at the bottom of the curl,” advises Mendelson.
Best Bodyweight Exercises to Improve Grip Strength
Pulling your body up to a parallel bar requires serious strength and solid grip. Next time you’ve completed a set of pull-ups, take a look at your forearms – they’ll be pumped.
Top Tip: Once you’ve mastered this bodyweight staple, make it harder and significantly more grip effective by using either pull-up grips or simply throw a couple of towels over the bar.
2. Dead Hang
Dead hangs are a great way to build grip strength. As the name suggests, all you have to do is hang from an overhead bar with your arms outstretched and your body in the hollow position. New to the hand? Begin by gripping the bar 20 to 30 seconds at a time.
3. Press-Ups (fingers only)
Granted, this one is a bit advanced, but once mastered is a sure-fire way to improve strength in your fingers, wrists and forearms. Get into a press-up position with your hands placed shoulder-width apart. Raise onto your fingertips. Lower your body until your chest is an inch from the ground then explosively drive back up.
4. Reverse Press-Up
By reversing your grip, which may feel a little odd at first, places more emphasis on your wrists and forearms. Don’t worry, though. Your chest will still get a hammering. It’s a win-win.
Quick Wins to Build Forearm Strength
- Invest in a set of grips. Many manufacturers now make silicone grips that wrap around the dumbbell or barbell. A wider bar means you’ll have to grip harder , increasing the tension in your forearms – you can get them, here.
- Towels. Don’t want to fork out on grips? Towels work just as well. Just make sure they are tightly wrapped.
- Round your wrists: if your workout today consists of dumbbells, try rotating your wrists during the move to challenge both the musculature and coordination. “For example, during the descent of a 45-degree incline seater curl, have your palms facing the floor and return the dumbbells to the top with a traditional grip,” adds Mendleson.
Best Stretches for Grip Strength
Many people suffer from tight wrists because of desk work, muscular imbalances and a lack of dexterity in their muscles. Stretching can help muscles become more pliable and strengthen them. Try these:
1. Fingers back, palms on the desk: Stretch by leaning back and forth on your bodyweight and gently side to side. Go for 15 seconds.
2. Fingers back, palms off the desk: Lifting your palms up places the emphasis on your fingers more. Go for 15 seconds.
3. Clenched fists: While seated, place your hands on your things with palms up. Close your fists and, with your forearms touching your legs, raise your fists off of your body bending at the wrist. Hold for 10 seconds.
4. Tennis ball squeeze: Grab a tennis ball or a squash ball and squeeze tightly for 15 seconds at a time.
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