Grip Strength: What It Is & How It Works
Strength, stamina, and endurance are the goals of any athlete. Bodybuilding, weight lifting, rock climbing, baseball, hockey, obstacle course racing, and wrestling all depend on some level of grip strength for competition. Grip strength is also beneficial in daily tasks such as carrying grocery bags, walking the dog, or opening a door. According to a 2011 report, grip strength is a powerful predictor of overall muscle strength.
In this article, we will look at what grip strength is, what its benefits are in sports and daily life, how to measure one's grip strength, and some exercises to improve it.
What is Grip Strength?
Grip strength is a measure of how much force you can pull, push, suspend, or hold things with your hands against resistance. It is an excellent tool to assess the strength of the upper body as well as overall strength. A study has shown that grip strength during the younger ages predicts the risk of heart disease in older age.
Types of Grip Strength
You can grip objects in several different positions. These variations often go unnoticed until you get injured or are trying to improve a lift or technique. There are three different types of grip strength.
1. Crushing Grip
This is also known as a handshake grip. It is the ability to squeeze objects between your fingers and palms. You use crushing grip while shaking a hand, holding a heavy dumbbell, swinging a bat, or climbing a rope. Try these two exercises to improve your crushing grip.
Tools Required: A Spring-Loaded Grip Trainer
How to Perform: While grabbing the grip trainer in your hand (both hands or one hand at a time), squeeze the trainer as hard as you can. Try closing your fist as much as possible and hold the squeeze for three to five seconds and then slowly release the grip. Repeat for three sets of 15 reps with 2 minutes rest between each set.
Tools Required: A towel and some water (can be done without water)
How to Perform: Soak a towel until it is thoroughly wet. Hold the towel ends horizontally in front of you. Start twisting the two ends of the towel in the opposite direction to wring water from the towel. Keep twisting until you can't twist it anymore. Now twist the towel in another direction. Repeat this for three sets of three reps each. You can watch this video demonstrating the towel wring exercise.
2. The Pinch Grip
Pinch grip is the ability to hold or lift objects against resistance using your thumb and fingers only (no palm). The object should not touch your palms. It is considered a weaker form of grip strength. You use the pinch grip while opening jar lids, throwing objects, rock climbing, and carrying sandbags. Try out these two pinch grip exercises.
Tools Required: One 10-pound or 20-pound weight plate
How to perform: Place the weight plate on the ground standing upright on its side. Bend down and hold the plate using a pinch grip between your fingers and thumbs only. The plate shouldn't touch the palm of your hand. Straighten up and lift the plate using the pinch grip, up to your chest, and then slowly place it back on the ground. Do three sets of ten reps, each with two minutes of rest between sets. Be sure to watch this video if you're not sure how to properly perform a plate pinch.
Pinch Grip Exchange
Tools Required: One 10 or 15-pound weight plate
How to Perform: As described in the pinch plate exercise, hold the weight plate in your right hand using a pinch grip and lift it to chest-level. Bring your left hand in front of your chest and transfer the weight plate from right hand to left hand. Now, slowly place it back on the ground. This is one rep. Do three sets of ten reps each with two minutes rest between sets.
3. The Support Grip
Support strength is the ability to hold and carry an object or to hang from an object for a long time. A good carrying grip requires a great deal of muscle endurance. You use the support grip while carrying grocery bags, water buckets, and doing pull-ups. Try these two great exercises to improve your support grip.
Tools Required: Two 30 to 50-pound dumbbells or two buckets of sand
How to Perform: With arms down by your sides, hold the dumbbells or buckets in your hands with palms facing each other. Keep your back straight and walk three to four yards ahead, then walk back to the starting point. This makes one round. Do five rounds with 30 seconds rest between each round. You can watch this video to see how a farmer's walk is done.
Tools Required: A sturdy pull-up bar
How to Perform: Grab a pull-up bar using both hands with palms forward, facing the bar. Keep your arms straight and hang there for as long as you can. Experts can bend their wrists at 90° and hang for three to four minutes.
How to Measure Grip Strength
You can easily measure your grip strength using a handheld dynamometer. A dynamometer is a device used to calculate the maximum force applied by muscles on the device. You hold the dynamometer in your hand and squeeze it as forcefully as you can. Repeat the process three times for each hand. The display of the device shows the average grip strength in lbs.
As reported in this 2011 study on the Australian population, the normal grip strength values range from 89 to 103 lbs for men and 50 to 63 lbs for women (values vary depending on age). For men, a grip strength value of more than 100 lbs is considered a strong grip.
Grip Strength Anatomy
Your fingers, thumb, wrist joints, and forearm muscles all play a crucial role in providing a firm grip. There are more than 35 muscles both within the hand and coming from the forearm to hands, which make your hands move, and many of these are also involved in gripping action.
There are two sets of muscles in your forearm that make your fingers move in different directions. The flexor group closes the fingers providing enough strength to hold a firm grip. The extensor group opens the finger to a flat hand. It also keeps the wrist joint stable during a closed grip.
There are four main joints in the hand: interphalangeal joints (interconnecting the phalanges of a finger), metacarpophalangeal joints (connecting fingers with the palm), intermetacarpal joints (interconnecting the bones of the palm), and carpometacarpal joints (connecting the palm with wrist joint). The integrity of all four of these joints is essential for a firm grip.
Tendon Vs. Muscular Grip Strength
Tendons are cords of connective tissue that connect muscles to the bones. A strong muscle is useless without a strong tendon. Firm grip strength, besides strong muscle, also depends on strong tendons. Tendons can be strengthened through use and exercise. They are also more prone to injury and recover slower than muscles.
To improve your grip strength, you should consider performing resistance band and other exercises to increase the tendon strength, boost your grip strength, and avoid any tendon injury.
Benefits of Grip Strength
Grip strength can improve your overall body strength and endurance. It gives you a firm handshake, better grasp of the bar in weightlifting, strength to go higher on rock climbing, and also prevents injuries during exercise and workouts. Here are five main benefits of firm grip strength.
There is a saying: “Take care of your grip, and the rest will follow.” Have you ever wanted to do more deadlift reps, but your hands give out? It may be your grip, not your strength failing you.
A strong grip improves your capacity to lift heavier weights in the gym and for a longer period of time. It is especially true for pull-ups, rows, rope climbs, and deadlifts. It also increases your hand endurance, enabling you to do more reputation for each set. Ultimately, it results in enhanced workout gains.
As forearm muscles play a crucial role in grip strength, grip strength training also increases the size and strength of your forearm muscles. It will create a balanced look of your arms and forearms (because most athletes focus on triceps and biceps only).
No one wants to be interviewing for a job and offer a dead-fish handshake. A firm handshake portrays confidence and competence. It works to help others feel connected and take you seriously.
Without a strong grip, tennis players can develop tennis elbow, weight lifters can injury their legs and feet if the weight is dropped, and even daily routine activities can result in hand and elbow discomfort along with more severe injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. A study reported that a strong hand grip is associated with better shoulder stability and less shoulder injuries. The same study also reported that athletes with weak hand grip encountered more rotator cuff injuries.
Or earlier cited study shows a direct correlation between grip strength and overall body strength. Another study suggests that decreased grip strength results in increased risk of heart attack and stroke. An additional study concludes that increased grip strength also predicts the overall mortality rate due to cause-specific injuries.
Trosclair, et al. Hand-Grip Strength as a Predictor of Muscular Strength and Endurance, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2011 - Volume 25 - Issue - p S99.
Massy-Westropp, et al. Hand Grip Strength: age and gender stratified normative data in a population-based study. BMC Res Notes 4, 127 (2011).
Darryl P Leong, et al. Prognostic value of grip strength: findings from the Prospective Urban
Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, The Lancet, Volume 386, Issue 9990,2015, P266-273.
Sasaki H, et al. Grip strength predicts cause-specific mortality in middle-aged and elderly persons. Am J Med. 2007, 120(4), p337-3