A strong grip doesn’t just make you a hero at carrying multiple shopping bags. Science actually shows a clear link between grip strength and better health. Discover the science behind these findings and the best exercises to improve your grip strength at home and in the gym
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Grip strength and health – the science
A quick Google will reveal plenty of studies supporting the same claim: the grip strength improves health and longevity. Here's three we found interesting:
1. One study recruited 6,000 healthy men and measured their mid-life grip strength with the aim of determining whether this had any relationship to functional limitations and the development of disabilities in later life.
The results were fascinating. They found “risk of functional limitations and disability 25 years later increased as baseline hand grip strength declined”, concluding that “hand grip strength was highly predictive of functional limitations and disability 25 years later.”
2. Another study published the British Medical Journal analysed the link between grip strength and the onset of chronic disease. Studying more than half a million people between the ages of 40 and 69 initially concluded:
“After accounting for age and a wide range of other factors, such as diet, sedentary time and socioeconomic status, the researchers found that muscle weakness [grip strength], was associated with higher overall risk of death and higher risk for specific illnesses.”
Hang tough – it’ll do you the world of good
The cause / effect must come into consideration here, however. The researchers of the study did note that the weakest grip strengths came from those with lower socioeconomic status – those more likely to smoke and develop obesity.
3. Finally, a 2016 systematic review published in Geriatrics Gerontology reviewed 34 articles on this topic and concluded that “handgrip strength has a predictive validity for decline in cognition, mobility, functional status and mortality in older community-dwelling populations.”
So, while there will always be other factors at play, it seems a clear like exists between grip strength and health in later years.
Knowing that, what are the best methods of developing grip strength?
How to improve grip strength
Whether you’re out and about or at home you can work on grip strength. Here’s a few suggestions to get your started:
- Climbing. Probably the best activity to improve grip strength, climbing is also a full body workout taxing your flexibility, lower limb strength, coordination and core strength not forgetting your mental fortitude.
Climbing is probably the best exercise to improve grip strength
- Racket sports. Although we’re taught to keep a loose grip on the tennis / squash / badminton racket, the mere action of playing racket sports will boost grip strength.
- Shopping bag strongman walk. We’ve all been there, unloading the weekly shop from the boot of the car in a downpour. Desperate to minimise the number of trips from the car to the house, we load five bags into each hand and like a competitor on World’s Strongest Man stride for the front door. This is excellent grip strength training – do more of it.
- Elastic band openers – place an elastic band (or six) around the ends of your fingers. Open and close your hand using the bands as resistance.
- Hang from a door frame. Making sure it can take your weight (beforehand), hang with just your fingertips on the door frame. It’s tough and you’ll only manage a few seconds first time but stick with it.
- Use dough. Whether it’s playdough or bread-dough, get playing with it. The finger strength needed to move both around will work wonders for your grip.
- Grip curl. We all owned a set of these small hand curl machines as a teenager! They’re super for grip and forearm strength and easy to do at the desk.
How to improve grip strength in the gym
If you enjoy training in the gym, there’s a myriad ways to improve grip strength. In fact, nearly every weight training exercise requires some form of grip strength. Whether you’re performing a deadlift, lunge, dumbbell curl, pull up, bench press, tricep dip or all manner of kettlebell throws, each will need a degree of grip strength to perform.
The deadlift is a great exercise for boosting grip strength
If you’re looking for more specific grip strength exercises, you could always have a go at these:
- Dumbbell head grab – hold the ‘head’ of a dumbbell between the tips of your fingers. Over time, increase the weight which you can hold
- Farmers walk – a bit like the shopping bag strongman walk, hold a dumbbell or kettlebell by your side with straight arms and walk up around until your grip gives in
- Plate pinch – using the weighted plates which you load onto bars for squats and deadlifts, hold them between your fingers and increase the weight or length of time as you progress
- Dead hang – hang from a pull up bar for as long as possible. Don’t worry if it’s only 10-seconds to begin.
Grip strength conclusion
Bearing in mind that, as one of the studies above states, “good muscle strength in midlife may protect people from old age disability by providing a greater safety margin above the threshold of disability”, why wouldn’t you work on improving your grip?
Training your grip strength is easy to do and likely leads to long-term health benefits. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.
Like after any hard training session, recovery is key. The DOMS you may experience in your hands and forearms can be striking in the early days of grip strength training, but Premium Protein will help you on your way with 20g protein per serving