This is the year to be strong; to build strength and commit to future proofing your body. Now when we think of strength training we usually think dumbbells, squats, lunges, bicep curls and maybe some press ups. These are all essential exercises in our programs and 100% should not be ignored but have you ever considered the importance of grip strength and what that really means?
Firstly what is Grip Strength? Grip strength is how firmly and securely you hold onto things and in turn how heavy these things can then be. Your grip strength relates to the muscular strength in the forearms, wrist and hands – did you know that when you close your fist and grab something you are recruiting more than 35 muscles?! Improving grip strength is just as important as strengthening the bigger muscle groups.
Why is grip strength important?
Working to improve strength in any muscles of your body will have far reaching health benefits. It has been shown that people who complete 60 minutes of strength training per week do tend to live longer and have reduced bone fractures, insulin resistance and cognitive decline. You can read more about strength training benefits in my previous blog here.
BUT research has shown that grip strength specifically is an important indicator of longevity and a direct correlation with overall health and muscular strength. This is partly due to the fact that it is the driver of many well known exercises such as deadlifts, pull ups, biceps curls etc – just think, if your grip strength isn’t strong enough, how can you increase the weight? How can your technique be correct? If you don’t work to improve your grip strength your fitness will decrease in other areas and allow injury to creep in.
Developing your grip strength is also a form of functional training which as you know I am a huge advocate of – you can read more about that here. This means that it translates into tasks we do everyday in our lives – think opening a jar, carrying the food shopping, mowing and vacuuming. As we age we lose muscle mass and strength and one of the first areas we notice this is in grip strength – SO by building strength in our grip we can help ensure these everyday movements stay strong as we get older.
So, how do you go about strengthening your grip?
There are lots of exercises you can do both in the gym and at home to work on your grip strength. As with all strength training the key is starting gently and building up the weight gradually as your strength improves, and of course consistency!
There are 3 major types of grip strength you can improve:
- Crush – how strong your grip is using your fingers and the palm of your hand
- Support – how long you can hold onto something or hang from something
- Pinch – how firmly you can pinch something between your fingers and thumb
Some great examples of at home, everyday movements that can work your grip strength are:
- Carrying the groceries – it might sound simple but they are often heavy bags of uneven weight which will test your grip and core strength as you stabilise yourself when you carry them. Also if you’re anything like me you’ll want to carry as many bags as possible to minimise the trips to and from the car!
- Hand washing / wringing out clothes – the very action of wringing a towel really does challenge the strength in the wrists and forearm muscle engagement – try it!
- Tennis ball squeezes – whilst you’re sitting at your desk why not grab a tennis ball and squeeze it really hard for 5 seconds, then release and repeat alternating the hand.
Specific weights based exercises to try include:
- Kettlebell swings – I love this exercise for engaging these muscles and building endurance – time under tension. But correct form is vital!
- Deadlift – these are one of the best functional exercises you can do. The movement mimics picking something up off the floor which we all do multiple times per day. You can build strength in the grip by increasing the weight over time and really test yourself with a single leg deadlift.
- Zottman curl – anyone who has done a Tuesday arms class will know I love this exercise. It is brilliant for strengthening the biceps and triceps including forearm and grip. With a dumbbell in each hand and your palms facing forward, pull up into a bicep curl and then rotate your wrist 180 degrees so your palms are facing outward again. Slowly lower the dumbbells with control, with your elbows tucked in.
- Plate pinch -pick up the heaviest weights you have available to walk with – holding between finger and thumb, or alternatively at home a book
In addition to these you can be mindful of grip engagement every time you lift something. It doesn’t matter what the movement is but be mindful of how you’re holding the item or weight and aim for a tight, firm but not tense grip – think strong stable wrists. You can test your grip strength with a handgrip dynamometer which is available at most physios or gyms – alternatively for a simple test (not quite as accurate!) you can gauge the size of the weights you are holding and how long you can hold them for to indicate your strength and endurance.
If you follow a structured training plan, as with all strength training, provided you are consistent then you will really start to see and feel the benefits.
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