Whether it’s opening a jar, carrying, squeezing, or hanging, grip strength is proving to be one of our most important abilities as humans.
Grip Strength Benefits
Grip strength has been heavily studied and associated with many other muscular actions. In fact, grip strength correlates with so many health outcomes, it has actually been called a biomarker of health.
This metric has been shown to be an indicator or predictor of:
upper limb function
bone mineral density
multimorbidity (2 or more chronic conditions)
overall quality of life
With a strong grip, you will also have less risk of developing arthritis in the hands or fingers as well as reduced risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. So, if you work with your hands a lot, having a strong grip is a must for you.
There are more recent studies showing the more grip strength older adults have, the longer they will live. If you think about it this makes total sense! The stronger your grip, the stronger you are overall.
Fitness enthusiast? Having a stronger grip means you’ll be able to lift heavier weights in the gym, too.
Having a strong grip means you will be able to do those physical daily tasks much more easily. Carrying groceries, yard work, walking the dog, putting dishes away, cleaning the house, and many other physical activities involve grip. A body in motion stays in motion, so the stronger you are the better you will be able to move pain free! It’s a beautiful circle.
Signs you have poor grip strength
Your hands and/or forearms cramp up a lot.
You have trouble carrying things – such as groceries, your laundry basket, boxes, etc.
You can’t hold on to dumbbells or kettlebells for a long period of time when you are working out.
Your forearms fatigue if you are holding something for a longer period of time such as walking your dog, shoveling snow, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, or typing on computer.
How to Improve Grip Strength
Now that you understand some of the benefits, how do you train to improve?
Here are our top tips on how to build grip strength.
Grip Strength Exercises
1 – Hang
This is probably the most effective way to build up your grip/hand strength. Bonus – it will improve your shoulder mobility at the same time. Our shoulders are meant to move and we should all be able to reach our arms over our heads.
Think about the load you’re putting in your hands and forearms to hold yourself on the bar you’re hanging from – that’s your entire body weight being placed in the hands, forearms, and shoulders!
Work your way up to hanging from a bar for a minute straight. Once you can do that without straining, we recommend upping the intensity and trying single arm hangs. From there, you can work in some movements at the scapula such as scapula pull ups and single arm scapula pull ups.
Yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable on the hands at first and yes you are going to get calluses. Suck it up and get over it! Train that mental toughness.
Side note for those of you dialing in your pull up training – being able to hang and performing solid scapula pull up reps is the first step in achieving your first pull up or getting stronger at perfect reps.
2 – Carries
Grab something heavy and walk with it.
Think about it, how much do we do this in our daily lives? You carry groceries to the car, you carry your laundry around the house, you are walking your dog. We love programming in all different types of carry variations into our training and our clients’ training programs.
Types of Carries for Grip Strength
Trap Bar Carry
3 – Direct Training
You can definitely benefit from doing some direct grip work in your training.
Think of these movements more as accessory work for your grip rather than the main course. After you do your hanging/carrying, you can incorporate some movements that directly target wrist flexion and extension as well as overall hand and forearm strength.
Direct Training for Grip Strength
Wrist Push Ups
Reverse Grip Barbell Curls
Utilizing Fat Grips – Fat grips are a tool that make the width of where you’re holding a dumbbell or barbell thicker. This is not a specific exercise, but you can buy these fat grips and put them on your bar or dumbbells for an added grip strength challenge incorporated into the movement you are already planning on doing (i.e., barbell bicep curls, etc.)
4 – Resistance Training (In General)
Just gripping/holding a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, and other gym tools will greatly improve your grip strength.
Deadlift without straps and you will see your grip strength improve massively. Deadlifts are probably the lift you are training with the most load on the bar so gripping that provides a massive grip strength return on investment!
This also goes for movements like rows and other compound movements in your program.
For example, let’s say you’re performing a loaded split squat and holding dumbbells at your sides. If you’re pushing your leg muscles, you are likely challenging the grip even more by just having to hold the heavier weights by your sides to complete the set.
Pull ups and chin ups are also a massive grip strength builder! Just like with hanging, you are supporting your entire body weight with your grip and back strength.
Most bodyweight upper body movements will automatically work your grip strength as well. Take a push up for example. The start position is a high plank position where you are stacking the shoulders over the wrists. Your forearms are doing a lot of work to hold your body up and it only increases as you perform full reps.
5 – Daily Life/Activities
Have you ever shook someone’s hand who works with their hands all day (i.e., construction worker, plumber, roofer, electrician, etc.)? You probably noticed their super strong grip and handshake. That’s because they are consistently using their forearms to do their work which could last a full 8 hours almost every day. Talk about a solid stimulus to your grip.
Now, if you don’t have one of these types of jobs that doesn’t mean you can’t add in some activities in your own life that will strengthen the grip. Just doing some simple yard work and chores around the house will require you to carry things and thus, train your grip.
You can add in some fun ways to challenge your grip strength like making it your goal to carry all of the grocery bags in from the car in one trip. But, don’t be that guy who drops all of the bags ruining all your food just to show off.
Improving Grip Strength
Improving your grip strength over time can lead to some serious health benefits.
Try these methods and see if your grip (and overall strength and health) improves over time.
Want to improve your hanging skills? Our Bodyweight Advanced program teaches you to rep out pull ups while also getting a full bodyweight workout 4x per week. Check our our 12 week program here.
Bohannon, Richard W. “Grip Strength: An Indispensable Biomarker For Older Adults.” Clinical interventions in aging vol. 14 1681-1691. 1 Oct. 2019, doi:10.2147/CIA.S194543