Grip strength contributes significantly to your ability to lift weights and perform numerous everyday tasks, but science says grip strength is also correlated to your overall health and longevity as you age.
A 2018 UK study found that muscle weakness (defined in this case by a grip-strength test) was associated with a higher risk of heart disease, respiratory disease and death among men and women. So, your grip is more important than just the ability to open pickle jars.
GRIP STRENGTH IN THE GYM
“There are approximately 35 muscles located within the forearm and hand that are directly involved with grip strength,” says Mecayla Froerer, the director of training at iFit, an interactive fitness platform that offers workouts for treadmills, bikes, ellipticals and other equipment. She says engaging those grip muscles boosts your performance in the gym, allowing you to perform heavier, longer and more efficient lifts. On the flip side, lack of grip strength can negatively impact your ability to push the limits within a workout.
Consider upright rows. Although this exercise primarily targets the traps, rhomboids and deltoids, Froerer says grip strength is essential for holding the weight through the move. “If your hands begin to fatigue and the grip starts to feel awkward, you may end your set early regardless of your back muscles’ capability to keep going.”
Improving your grip strength may also decrease the chance of injury and enhance the recovery process. “Strengthening the muscles and connective tissue surrounding the joints will increase stabilization of the joint, says Froerer. “The more stable the joint is, the less chance of potential injury.”
GRIP STRENGTH FOR DAILY LIFE
Nearly everything you do throughout the day involves grip strength and dexterity in some capacity. Carrying groceries, opening jars, buttoning a shirt, lacing up your shoes, and even shaking someone’s hand. “Integrating grip strength-specific exercises in the gym can help enhance one’s ability to perform functional daily movement, improve fine motor skills, increase endurance, and can even aid in the aging process,” states Froerer.
She mentions strong muscles and connective tissues within the forearm and hand helps keep your joints stable and healthy in all facets of life. Grip strength is also an independent predictor of bone mass, which is important for overall health in and out of the gym.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR GRIP STRENGTH
Those old-school grip strengtheners with two handles joined by a stiff coil may work, but they’re not the only game in town. Some of your favorite lifts are already great for grip strength, while you may want to add others to your regimen. Froerer suggests these six moves to improve your grip.
Deadlifts are a good way to practice a variety of different grip variations, says Froerer. You can try the double overhand grip, mixed grip (where one palm faces out and one faces in) or the hook grip, in which you hook your thumbs under the bar and then wrap your fingers over your thumbs.
2. FARMERS WALK
Grab a couple of dumbbells, kettlebells or weight plates, and go for a short stroll. This tests your grip as you attempt to walk without dropping the weight.
3. REVERSE CURLS
Hold an EZ-bar, straight bar or dumbbells with your palms facing down. “Focus on the top half of the curl, with the arms beginning at a 90-degree angle and ending up in front of your shoulders,” suggests Froerer.
Pullups work your grip in addition to your back, shoulders, lats and traps. If pullups are too difficult, simply hanging from the bar helps you increase grip strength and endurance. If you want to add variation to the pullup, Froerer suggests looping a towel over the bar and grabbing each end with a neutral grip to pull yourself upward.
5. ZOTTMAN CURLS
With dumbbells in hand, face your palms inward toward the sides of the body in a neutral position. On the way up, rotate your palms upward. Pause at the top of the curl, then rotate your palms out and down before lowering back to the starting position.
6. PLATE PINCH
Hold a weight plate to the side of your body for as long as you can. “This exercise is specifically targeting the fingertips and is a great way to boost sport-specific performance,” says Froerer.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.