What if I told you that by improving your grip strength you could improve your financial outlook and your health? Seriously.
It’s often said that an employer has made up their mind about a prospective employee within the first couple minutes of meeting them. The handshake, more than physical appearance, appears to influence the interview. According to a 2008 University of Iowa study, a strong, firm handshake signifies confidence and strength, whereas a weak, or “dead-fish” handshake conveys weakness and uncertainty.
Grip strength has also been associated with stroke and dementia risk, as well as long life. Good grip strength could reflect overall muscular strength, and cardiovascular health. That’s not to say that a strong grip makes you invincible, but according to many studies, there is a correlation between grip strength and overall health. Using data from the Framingham Offspring Study, researchers found that a strong grip was associated with a 42 percent lower risk for stroke or transient ischemic attack in those 65 and older.
Understanding Grip Strength
There are three types of grip strength: crush strength (used when shaking hands), pinch strength (used when using your key to open a lock), and support grip (used when holding a briefcase for a long time).
Athletes, blue collar, white collar, and elderly alike benefit from grip strength in their own lives.
Think of a softball player using both crush and support grip as she swings her bat, the electrician using pinch grip as he twist ties small wires, a CEO using crush grip as he shakes hands after making a deal, and a retiree using support grip as she carries groceries into the house.
Improving Grip Strength
When it comes to grip strength, I like to take a different approach from your everyday clamp squeezes and forearm exercises. I use compound exercises, or multi-joint exercises, and add a new grip element to it because functionally, we never rely solely on grip. Grip is predominantly used in conjunction with another movement, such as lift and carry or grip and swing. Compound exercises are far more effective at increasing overall strength than isolation exercises. Here are some of my favorites:
Farmer carries are quite possibly the simplest exercise to perform. To perform this exercise hold a weight in each hand and walk. What you use as a weight doesn’t matter, so long as weight is difficult enough. To make the exercise harder you can increase the weight, the length of time holding the weight, or the size of grip. Holding the end of a dumbbell is a great way to increase size of the grip. Want to make it even harder? Add another exercise, like a lunge, to the farmer carry.
Kettle Bell Press
Kettle bells have quickly become some of my favorite workout toys because using them requires you to use stabilizing muscles in a way that dumbbells and barbells do not. To perform the kettle bell press, grab the kettle bells and hold them at your shoulders with the ball pointing up. Press the weight up, like you would a shoulder press, while still keeping the ball over your hands. You will immediately realize that you have to grip the kettle bell a lot tighter than you would a dumbbell or any other weight.
Towel Grip Pulls
Towel pull-ups are another one of my favorites, especially for those who can easily perform multiple sets of pull-ups. Towels can add another dimension to your workout by forcing your hands and forearms to work overtime just to support your weight. To perform these hang a towel over a pull-up bar and while holding each end of the towel pull yourself up until your chin reaches the bar. The good thing about this exercise is that anybody can do it by adjusting the difficulty. Variations include modified supine pull-ups, and even seated towel pull down.
Battle ropes, like the others, work multiple joints simultaneously but require plenty of grip activation. Ropes work very similar to using towels, however the length and thickness of the ropes allow you to do much more. Battle rope slams work the entire body from the legs, through your core, arms and hands. One machine that I use often is our MARPO machine. Using this machine I can have my clients mimic climbing a rope. The positioning can be changed so that you can go from vertical pulls to diagonal pulls to horizontal. The amount of resistance can be changed and regardless of what kind of pull you do, you will work your grip.
Whether you want to dead lift a personal best in the gym, crush the ball with a killer backhand on the tennis court or make that great first impression, grip strength is important. Your grip strengthening options are endless and the exercises listed here are just a small sample of some very effective exercises.
- Stewart, Greg L., Susan L. Dustin, Murray R. Barrick, and Todd C. Darnold. “Exploring the Handshake in Employment Interviews.” Journal of Applied Psychology 93.5 (2008): 1139-146.
- Camargo EC, Beiser A, Tan ZS, et al. Walking speed, handgrip strength and risk of dementia and stroke: the Framingham offspring study. American Academy of Neurology 64th annual meeting, New Orleans, LA; 2012.
William Blaber is a Performance Coach at the Tidewater Physical Therapy Performance Center in Newport News. He specializes in working with athletes, adults and workers recovering from an injury.