Are you the first one to reach for the weightlifting straps at the gym? You may want to leave them in your locker and grab a thick handled kettlebell instead. Hand strength is surprisingly important for your overall health.
If you like the challenge of heavy deadlifts and weighted chins, you’ve long since become acquainted with the limits of your gripping strength. If you use those straps too often, you may be missing out on more than you realize.
How can I gauge my grip strength?
The most precise way to measure grip strength is the dynamometer. The test subject, seated, arm against the side, and lower arm perpendicular to the upper arm, squeezes the dynamometer handles with maximal force. Crushing strength can then be compared with age-adjusted norms for male and female subjects.
Why is grip strength important?
Gripping strength makes a decisive difference in weight training and sports performance. Olympic lifters, power lifters, and bodybuilders need extremely high grip strength levels to control heavy barbells and dumbbells. Hockey players need a powerful grip to wield their sticks with lightning speed. Whether you are an athlete or not, gripping strength is necessary for other reasons.
Gripping strength is positively correlated with longevity, true physiological age, and overall health. Several studies have shown that poor grip strength relative to age-adjusted norms is indicative of increased mortality from all causes, including heart disease and cancer (in men). Even after data are adjusted for fat-free mass and body composition, greater grip strength confers a separate, measurable advantage. All data point to the inevitable conclusion that building lean body mass, along with a powerful grip and forearms, pays big dividends!
You’ve convinced me! Now tell me how to build my grip.
You have to challenge your grip very often. For a while, give up the straps except on limit deadlifts. Remember, you want to overload all your muscles, and if your forearms are the weak link you are doing the rest of your body a disservice by giving up straps entirely. There are also specific exercises that will help you:
- High-rep heavy kettlebell swings; make sure your bell has a 1.5” diameter handle.
- Towel chin-ups; add weights for an extra level of challenge.
- Farmer’s walk with heavy kettlebells or dumbbells with oversized grips (2.25”+).
- Deadlifts and barbell rows with oversized grips.
- Heavy sandbag snatches for 20 reps (they’re great for overall conditioning, too).
- L-sit rope climbs
- Heavy plate pinches for timed duration
Begin with short circuits of about 5 minutes 2-3 times per week at the end of workouts, and gradually increase resistance, number of exercises, a duration for holds, and reps for rope climbs and towel chin-ups. Work your way up to 4-5 forearm and grip strength circuits each week. In addition, a number of commercial grippers are available to increase crushing power.
Since you may not have heavy kettlebells, consider investing in oversized grips you can add to conventional barbells and dumbbells. Oversized grips 2.25” or more in diameter positively affect all upper body muscles.
If you need more convincing, recent studies show that the loss of muscle mass with age is not inevitable, but you must keep lifting weights and exerting yourself to improve body composition and grip strength. Don’t ever give up, and never say it’s too hard. In short, get a grip!