When it comes to strength training, most people are often focused on nailing the correct technique and getting it done. This is not a bad thing, as that is what the regimen calls for. But most people neglect to build a firm grip, a foundation for most strength training exercises. You may not know that you need a strong grip to help you with most of these exercises, such as deadlifts. Additional benefits may include a firm handshake and increased strength to do common tasks such as opening tight jars. With this in mind, how do you build grip strength? Today we will look at the different ways to improve grip strength and the associated benefits.
Why Improve Grip Strength?
When most people think of building grip strength, they perhaps imagine increasing their grip mass until they get bulky Popeye hands. But that is not the case, so relax. When you start exercising to build grip strength, you only improve strength, not mass.
Over the last few years grip strength has been used as a biomarker of an individual’s current health status. Most research supports a cross-sectional association between grip strength and other muscle actions of healthy individuals and adults with pathology (5).
Research has shown that improving grip strength can be used as a biomarker or health indicator of the following aspects:
Grip strength is one of the best indicators of your overall body strength. However, this may not apply to every individual. You can only validate this by measuring your grip and leg strength for more accurate results (10).
When most people think of mobility, they immediately think of moving around, focusing more on the lower body muscles. But interestingly, grip strength can also be used as a biomarker for mobility. It magnifies mobility, especially among individuals with physical limitations (10).
Individuals who work on improving their grip strength have a decreased risk of thinking problems as they age (10). Additionally, they score better on tests of processing speed, working memory, and verbal ability (10).
Bone Mineral Density
Poor grip strength has been correlated with low bone mineral density. Bone mineral density is a biomarker indicating how strong your bones are. Individuals with a low bone mineral density have an increased risk of bone-related conditions like osteoporosis, hip fractures, and fragility fractures (10). Osteoporosis makes your bones thinner, while fragility fractures occur from a fall of standing height or less (10).
Better Heart Health
Improved grip strength has been associated with various health outcomes and an improved prediction of various respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. In addition, most evidence suggests that grip strength can be used as a biomarker for heart health (11).
According to WebMD, a study of 140, 000 individuals showed that decreased grip strength was linked to declining heart health (10). For every 11-pound decrease in grip strength, the researchers discovered (10):
- A 7% increase in the risk of having a heart attack
- A 9% increase in the risk of having a stroke
- A 16% increase in deaths from any cause
- A 17% increase in death from heart disease
Additionally, a 2018 study determined a strong relationship between grip strength and cardiovascular mortality. The researchers determined grip strength to be a more powerful predictor of cardiovascular mortality (1). The findings associated grip strength with all-cause mortality, stroke, and myocardial infarction (1).
How To Measure Grip Strength
Before you start improving your grip strength, it would be best to measure your current grip strength reading. Typically, grip strength is measured using an instrument called a dynamometer. When measuring your grip strength using a dynamometer, you are required to follow these steps:
- Hold your arm with your elbow bent and positioned at a 90-degree angle.
- Squeeze the dynamometer as hard as you can.
- Do not jerk but apply grip force in a smooth and controlled motion.
- Repeat twice over three times.
- Your grip strength will be the average of the three readings.
How To Improve Grip Strength For Deadlift
The deadlift is one of the essential weight lifting exercises for increased strength in your upper and lower back, hips, hamstrings, and glutes. However, it demands a firm grip. That said, strengthening your grip will make this form of weight lifting more manageable.
One of the most recommended ways of improving your grip strength for the deadlift is performing barbell shrugs. The shrug exercise helps you work on your grip as it further works your deltoid muscles (9). The difficulty of this exercise is that it makes your muscles experience fatigue rapidly (9).
Improved grip strength comes by increasing the duration you hold onto the barbell when doing these shrugs.
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How To Do Barbell Shrugs
Again, barbell shrugs seem easy to perform, but they are demanding. In addition, due to the increased muscle fatigue that comes with the exercise, you may end up disrupting your form, meaning you risk injuring yourself and not working on your grip strength. Here are the correct steps to guide on how to do barbell shrugs (9):
- Start standing and hold the bar in an overhand grip with your hands just outside your thighs. Keep your back straight and brace your core.
- Slowly lift your shoulders towards the ceiling and hold at the top of the movement for one or two seconds.
- Slowly lower to the starting position. Remember to keep your shoulders back and elbows straight throughout the exercise.
How To Do Behind-The-Back Barbell Shrug
Some individuals who aim at further challenging themselves often opt to perform the behind-the-back barbell shrug. As the name implies, you perform the shrugs behind your back. It would be best to consult your trainer before adding this exercise to your routine due to its associated injury risk. However, if they give you the green light to perform it, here are the steps to follow:
- Stand upright and hold the bar using both hands behind your back. This barbell shrug variation further targets the middle traps as it focuses slightly more on this area, in addition to your upper traps.
- Hold in this stance for a few seconds before releasing. Again, remember to engage your abdominal muscles to work your core further and keep your back straight. Similarly, avoid stressing your shoulders or upper back as it may result in pain and aches.
How To Improve Grip Strength For Push-Ups
Push-ups are a staple in most exercise programs, thanks to their many benefits. For example, they help you burn calories for weight loss and protect your lower back and shoulders from injuries. Similarly, they improve your athletic performance, endurance, flexibility, balance and posture (6).
But to reap these benefits you must maintain the proper push-up form, which demands grip strength. Evidence suggests that you can use finger push-ups to improve your grip strength (2). According to The Guardian, finger push-ups can help improve finger and wrist strength (2).
How To Perform Finger Pushups
Remember that you only increase finger, wrist, and grip strength for push-ups when you maintain the correct finger push-ups form. Do them this way (2):
- Start in a full plank position with your arms fully stretched, palms flat and underneath your shoulders, feet together or slightly apart, while resting on the balls of your feet.
- Spread your fingers, bend your elbows, and then press your hands firmly together while touching the pads of your fingertips with the palm. Remember to keep your back straight and weight evenly distributed throughout your body.
- Use the tension between the fingertips to arch the fingers out so that only the pads touch.
- Hold the tension as you open.
- Perform 15 to 20 reps daily. After a week, you can expect to open jars quickly, thanks to your firmer grip.
How To Improve Grip Strength For Climbing
Having a strong grip helps you in many ways, besides helping you lift heavier weights. Additionally, it helps you easily do compound movements and increases your endurance when performing outdoor activities like rock climbing.
Some of the best methods of increasing grip strength for rock climbing include:
Using Grip Tools Like A Grip Strengthener
This is one of the easiest methods to increase your grip strength. In addition, it makes daily activities more straightforward, such as holding onto things without dropping them or opening door knobs (8). So, when training with a grip strengthener (8):
- Hold onto a softball in one of your palms and squeeze it as hard as possible.
- Hold for a few seconds before releasing.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times before switching hands. You can do this exercise twice or thrice a week while resting for 48 hours between the sessions. It would be best to avoid this exercise if your thumb joint is damaged.
Yes, you heard it right. You also improve your grip strength for rock climbing by climbing. It is the fastest way to increase your grip strength for this activity.
You can talk to your trainer and enroll in one climbing course to perform it at least once a week. Besides improving your grip strength, this activity will also work your core, shoulders, and back.
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How To Improve Your Grip Strength: Recommended Exercises
Evidence also suggests performing a few grip strengthening exercises for increased grip strength. Some of these exercises include (11):
The dead hang exercise is loved for its benefits in toning different muscle groups. It targets and strengthens your upper back, core, forearms, shoulders, hand and wrist flexors. Unfortunately, people confuse between dead hangs and pull-ups despite the two being entirely different.
One of their differences lies in their movement pattern. A dead hand is an isometric exercise that bounds you in a passive hang. Conversely, a pull-up requires your shoulder and elbow joints to hinge as you lift your body through a range of motion (3).
For more insight take a look at their movement pattern or how to perform the dead hang exercise (3):
- Grab a pull-up bar with a full overhand grip. Make sure the grip is at a shoulder-width distance or slightly wider. Note; you can stand on a firm flat bench or a plyometric box if you cannot grab the pull-up bar.
- Step off of the bench or plyometric box and let your legs hang. As you do this, try to keep your legs and arms long but slightly bent at your elbows. Similarly, remember to tuck your pelvis, bring your ribcage down, and keep your spine and pelvis in a neutral position.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and clench your glutes during the hang. Slowly rotate your shoulders outward to work your lats. Make sure your shoulder blades are upwardly rotated away from your spine and that your chin remains tucked throughout the exercise. This marks the starting point of all your reps.
- Maintain a strong grip and tension throughout your body to prevent swinging that disrupts your form. Hold in this stance for your instructed or desired length of time. Stop when you experience pain, discomfort, or extreme fatigue.
Reverse Bicep Curls
The other exercise you can do to improve your grip strength is the reverse bicep curl exercise. It uses a different grip style than the typical bicep curl exercise, effectively building grip strength.
Additionally, evidence shows it improves grip strength and performance by activating the brachioradialis muscle in your forearm. As a result, it boosts the performance of upper body exercises such as the pull-up, bench presses, and deadlifts (7).
This bicep curl variation can also be used to build muscle if performed correctly. The correct steps to follow when performing a reverse bicep curl are as follows (7):
- Grab a barbell, pair of comfortable dumbbells, or an EZ-curl bar with an overhand grip. Stand with your feet at a hip-width distance and maintain a slight knee bend. Position your hands slightly wider than your hips and shoulders over your hips. Again, maintain a tall posture and a neutral head and neck. Remember to keep your chin tucked throughout the movement.
- Distribute your body weight evenly, and then grip the floor with your feet to increase stability. Keep your arms long but with a slight bend at your elbows. Similarly, maintain a comfortable grip and a neutral wrist position.
- Slowly rotate your shoulders outward to engage your lats and upper back muscles further. Similarly, brace your core and pre-tension your shoulders and hips. This stance marks the starting position.
- While maintaining your upper arms in a still position, squeeze your biceps and begin to bend your elbows. Bend them to touch your upper arms. The EZ-curl bar should finish close to your shoulders but without contacting your shoulders. Squeeze your biceps and pause at the top of the movement for a few seconds.
- While keeping your upper arms still, slowly straighten your elbows to return to the starting stance. Come to a complete stop at the bottom of the movement and then perform another repetition.
Farmer’s Walk Exercise
The farmer’s walk is a full-body workout where you hold free weights at your sides while walking. It helps improve grip strength as you must correctly hold weights throughout the movement. To perform it (4):
- Stand between two dumbbells with their handles aligned with the middle of your feet. Be sure to stand upright with feet at a shoulder-width distance and back straight.
- Bend your knees slightly, tuck your chin, and position your shoulders directly over your hips with your head and neck in a neutral position.
- With a slight bend in your elbows, breathe deeply and lower to grab the dumbbells with a neutral grip and palms facing inward.
- Push yourself to a stand by straightening your hips, knees, and ankles.
- Maintain a tight upper back and firm grip, then rotate your shoulders outward to engage your lats. This marks the starting point of all reps.
- Start walking forward in a straight line by taking normal strides. Maintain a straight back and strong grip and use a normal heel-to-toe walking pattern.
- Stop and lower your dumbbells after walking for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Relax and repeat.
Simple Ways On How To Improve Grip Strength At Home
Besides the discussed techniques above, there are simple tips for increasing your grip strength. Interestingly, you may have been doing most if not all of these tips without knowing that they improve grip strength. They include (10):
- Squeezing a stress or tennis ball.
- Shoveling snow instead of using a snow blower.
- Wash your car by hand instead of taking it to the car wash.
- Using a push lawnmower instead of a riding lawn mower to cut grass.
- Carrying groceries to your car instead of pushing them in a cart or driving up and having them loaded.
- Opening your garage door manually instead of using an electric garage door opener.
- Raking leaves instead of blowing them.
The Bottom Line
Improving your grip strength is paramount, even if you are not a ninja warrior. It is paramount because it is a biomarker for mobility, overall strength, bone mineral density, and heart health.
Most guides on how to improve grip strength recommend doing grip strengthening exercises like finger push-ups, dead hangs, farmer’s walk exercises and reverse bicep curls. However, it would be best to talk to a professional for better guidance before changing your workout plan.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Associations of grip strength with cardiovascular, respiratory, and cancer outcomes and all cause mortality: prospective cohort study of half a million UK Biobank participants (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Caring for hands (2005, theguardian.com)
- Dead Hang Exercise Guide: How to Master Dead Hangs (2022, masterclass.com)
- Farmer’s Walk Guide: How to Master the Farmer’s Walk Exercise (2022, masterclass.com)
- Grip Strength: An Indispensable Biomarker For Older Adults (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health Benefits of Push-Ups (2021, webmd.com)
- Reverse Curl Exercise Guide: How to Master Reverse Curls (2022, masterclass.com)
- Slideshow: 10 Ways to Exercise Hands and Fingers (2020, webmd.com)
- Strength Training: Building Shoulder and Back Muscles (2009, webmd.com)
- What to Know About Grip Strength and How to Measure It (2021, webmd.com)
- Why grip strength is important even if you’re not a ‘Ninja Warrior’ (2016, washingtonpost.com)