Hauling five bags of groceries requires not just killer arms but also a strong grip. Not sure you’ve got the grip strength? You might be shortchanging your workouts in addition to your pantry stash. Your ability to lug weights without palm or wrist pain plays a big role in ensuring your sweat sessions are effective enough to get your muscles to pop.
When you’re lifting heavy (think: enough weight to slow you down during the last two or three reps of a set), “having good grip strength will help you focus on proper form and mechanics, which means you’ll be able to push yourself to necessary fatigue levels,” says Kat Ellis, CSCS, coach at The Fort in New York City.
Studies back this up: Research in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that hand grip strength is a good predictor of muscular strength and endurance.
Beyond your fitness, grip strength is actually associated with your risk for cardiovascular disease—and even death. Convinced to read on yet? Below, what grip strength actually is, the different types, and the best exercises to strengthen it at home—and at the gym.
What is grip strength, exactly?
Simply put, grip strength is a measure of how much force or power you can create with your forearm and hand muscles.
Having a strong grip is a good indicator of upper-body and overall strength because you need to be able to hold onto weights in order to increase muscle strength. Weak hand and wrist muscles are super common, though, according to Liana Tobin, CSCS, a personal trainer educator for the National Strength and Conditioning Association. “When you’re doing a workout with challenging weights, grip strength is often the first thing to fail,” she says. “That’s because it involves smaller muscles that tire quickly, and they’re typically trained less frequently.” All the more reason to spend time strength training your hands and forearms if you aren’t already.
Let’s take pullups for example. “Say you have really strong lats and a strong core that enable you to theoretically pull up with ease,” says Mike Simone, CPT, founder of humanfitproject. “If your grip is weak, you’re not going to be able to do as many reps, if you can even do one, because your grip will fail before those other muscles do.” The same is true with a deadlift, he says, which is such a great lower-body strengthener, it’s a shame not to get the max benefits from it. “You could be deadlifting a lot more weight but if you have a weak grip, you aren’t able to actually bring your working back muscles to failure.”
Benefits of having a strong grip
Toning those micro muscles is beneficial outside the gym too. Here are five benefits of have a strong grip, according to Ellis.
Types Of Grip Strength
When it comes to your grip, there are actually three unique types of strength. Here, Simone breaks them down:
Crush: Curling your fingers to your palm is your crush strength. Think: crumbling a ball of paper in your hands or shaking someone’s hand.
Pinch: This one is kinda self-explanatory—it’s the strength between your fingers and your thumb, like if you’re pinching yourself.
Support: Your ability to hold onto something for a long period of time, like hanging on a pullup bar or carrying groceries, is all about support.
Signs Your Hand Muscles Could Use Strengthening
Answering yes to any/all of the above is a solid indicator that you could stand to improve your grip strength. The good news: Getting a better handle on the situation isn’t hard.
Grip strength guidelines for beginners: When working with weights to improve your grip strength, start light and increase the load slowly. You don’t want to overdo it and wind up doing more harm than good. “It’s an easily injured area, so go for tension but stop if you feel any pain,” Tobin says.
How To Improve Grip Strength At Home
You don’t need dumbbells to work your grip strength. Just grab onto these household items to build a stronger handshake in no time.
Squish a stress ball (a tennis ball works too) with your entire hand for 5 to 10 pulses. Repeat using just thumb and pointer finger. Progress through each finger. Switch hands and repeat sequence.
Grasp an unopened wine bottle or the handle of a cast-iron pan, keeping upper arm by side and elbow bent 90 degrees. Rotate bottle or pan toward your midline, bring it back to center, then rotate in the opposite direction. Do two or three sets of 20 to 30 reps. Switch hands and repeat.
Using two books of the same size (preferably coffee-table books or textbooks), grip one in each hand, arms at sides. Squeeze with fingers for 30 seconds, then relax for 30 seconds. Do three to five sets.
The Best Grip Strength Exercises To Do At The Gym
How to: Holding a heavy kettlebell in one hand, arms down by sides, walk forward in a straight line without letting the weight bang against the side of your leg. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds, then repeat. Do three to five sets.
How to: Hold a weight with left hand, feet shoulder-width apart and right hand clenched in fist. Keeping abs engaged and knees soft, sit hips back to slowly lower weight until it reaches middle of left shin. Back should be parallel to the floor. Pressing through heels and engaging abs, quickly return to start. Squeeze glutes once completely upright. That’s one rep. Do three or four sets of 10 to 12 reps.
How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells at sides. Palms should be facing inward, with back straight and chest upright. Without moving upper arms, bend elbows and curl weights toward shoulders. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to starting position with control. That’s one rep. Do three to four sets of 12 reps.
Other Ways To Work Your Grip
- Plate pinch: Select two weight plates of the same size and grasp one in each hand between thumb and fingers, arms by sides. Squeeze plates as hard as possible and hold for one minute. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds. Do two or three sets.
- Assisted band pullup: Loop resistance band around bar and place loose end under one foot. Stack other foot on top. Passively hang from bar, then en-gage core, lats, and glutes to perform a full pullup. Slowly lower back down with control. Do three sets of 10.
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