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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, How to Improve Grip Strength (and Live Longer as a Result)

How to Improve Grip Strength (and Live Longer as a Result)

Reading Time: 5 minutes 37 seconds


DATE: 2021-08-24

One reason that people hire personal trainers is to improve overall strength. Generally, this involves creating a program focused on their arms, legs, back, and core. Incorporating grip strength training is important too. Why? Because grip strength has been linked to living a longer life.

What Is Grip Strength?

What are we talking about when we say ‘grip strength'? This terminology refers to the amount of strength or power within the hand and wrist. Because the forearm is also involved in a grip motion, strength in these muscles is considered as well.

There are a few different types of grip strength:

  • Pinch grip. Any type of pinching motion falls into the pinch grip category. This involves creating some type of force between the thumb and fingers. So, one example of a pinch grip is grabbing a weight plate. This type of grip can also be dynamic, such as when pinching a clamp when placing it on a barbell to hold a weight in place.

  • Support grip. When you wrap your fingers around a barbell or dumbbell, you are using a support grip. Your fingers and thumbs must touch for this to be a true support grip. If they don't, it is called an open hand support grip or a thick grip.

  • Crush grip. If you use a hand exerciser that requires you to squeeze it, then you are familiar with this type of crush gripper. This grip involves any movement in which you must clamp or squeeze your hands.

In some cases, grip strength may be weakened due to age. Harvard Health reports that for men specifically, this strength naturally begins to decline at 55 years old. Certain health conditions can also impact lower arm muscle strength. Arthritis and tendonitis are two.

Grip Strength and Longevity: A Research-Based Connection

Several studies have connected poor grip strength with increased mortality rates. One was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. This piece of research followed people aged 65 and up for more than 24 years. Those with a weak grip had a higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Researchers also noted a connection between weakened grip strength and cancer in men.

Another study reported that the association between grip strength and mortality appears to be stronger in women. Thus, researchers concluded that it is important for them to develop a stronger grip "to reduce the risk of dying early."

Additional Benefits of Grip Training

As if increased longevity isn't reason enough, there are other advantages of building one's handgrip. One is related to mental health. A 2015 study links lower hand strength with increased depression. A 2017 study reported that people with a strong grip also tend to have a higher quality of life.

Engaging in regular grip training can make everyday life a bit easier. If you've ever wrestled with a pickle jar and lost, then you already know how important hand strength can be to these types of activities.

Having good hand grip strength is also helpful with other everyday activities. You don't struggle as much lifting your grocery bags or picking items up off the floor. It even supports a firmer handshake.

Strength training the hand, wrist, and forearm muscles also offers benefits in the gym. Exercises that use each of these muscles don't feel as difficult. The pull-up, chin-up, row, and deadlift are a few that rely on good grip strength.

Having a strong grip can also improve your muscular endurance. You're able to get through more reps and sets before your muscle fatigues. This makes it easier to progress with your strength training routine.

Ways to Test Handgrip Strength

How do you know how strong your grip is, giving you an idea of how much you could benefit from this type of training? A few options exist.

The first is to use a hand grip dynamometer. This is a device that you squeeze for a few seconds with as much force as you can. It will then give you a number you can use to identify your grip strength. Some gyms and fitness facilities have a dynamometer on hand. You can also purchase one of your own off sites like Amazon. They usually run somewhere around $30.

If you have a pull-up bar at home, you can test your handgrip with it. Place a bathroom scale under the bar, grab onto the bar, and weigh yourself. Then, without pulling yourself up, squeeze the bar as hard as you can, noting the new weight on the scale (you may need someone to record this new weight for you). Subtract the second weight from the first and it will give you your grip strength.

Once you have your grip strength, you can compare it to others in your age range. According to data collected by one study, handgrip averages are as follows:

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How to Improve Grip Strength

Some grip strength exercises work by building muscle in the wrist or hand. Others focus on increasing forearm strength. Here are a few strategies to use when creating a grip training program:

  • Incorporate a hand grip strengthener. This hand gripper is a device in which you squeeze against a spring's tension. It helps build a crushing grip. After a few repetitions, you'll feel a burning in your forearm and the muscles in the hand will start to tire.

  • Have clients pinch two weight plates. To work the muscles used in a pinch grip, place two weight plates together and have your client walk with them. Gradually increase the amount of weight used as well as the distance walked.

  • Use a weight to do wrist curls. A wrist curl helps build muscle in the forearm. Make this exercise even more challenging by doing it while holding a dumbbell or weight plate.

  • Squeeze the barbell or dumbbell when lifting. A super simple way to improve grip strength is to simply squeeze the barbell or dumbbell as hard as you can during other exercises. This helps you get even more out of movements like a deadlift or bench press.

  • Bypass lifting straps. One of the benefits of using lifting straps is that they help you lift heavier weights. However, they also keep you from developing a strong grip. So, either bypass them completely or use them sparingly.

  • Play around with different grips. In real life, we use a variety of different grips. Therefore, your client's workout should mimic this with multiple types of grip training. For instance, you can buy fat grips to make the barbell or dumbbell handle wider.

  • Turn another exercise into a grip exercise. If you normally have clients do hammer curls with a dumbbell, modify this exercise by wrapping a towel through a kettlebell handle and have them lift it by gripping the towel. (Be sure to use a towel strong enough to withstand the weight used.)

  • Build strength endurance by hanging from a bar. If your client wants to improve their grip endurance, have them hold a pull-up bar and dangle as long as they can. You can also change the type of grip for this exercise, changing between an overhand grip and an underhand grip. Each one will stress different muscles. Another option is to use a mixed grip, or one hand in the overhand position and the other in an underhand position.

Want to learn more ways to improve muscle strength? The ISSA offers Strength and Conditioning Coach certification. This course provides the information needed to create safe and effective strength training programs, along with speed, agility, and power for better athletic performance overall.

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