Fitness & Health

Get a Grip!

The title of this article could have a variety of meanings within the context of this blog. I could be suggesting that we all get a grip when it comes to the current political climate. Or I could be reviewing Aerosmith’s eleventh studio album (which is a great album by the way), or perhaps referencing buying the latest and greatest grip for the AR-15. Or maybe something about the nuances of gripping a handgun. Nope. This blog isn’t all about guns and I’m not about to get into recent politics. I will however share a link to Aerosmith’s album in case you want to check it out.

I’m talking about grip strength. I’m talking about to hold, clutch, clasp and squeeze. I’m talking about those guys and girls competing in the North American Grip Sports Championship. Yeah, it’s a real thing. It was news to me too. I’m talking about David Horne setting a Two handed pinch grip world record!

 

Grip strength is often under appreciated, under trained and under-discussed. Our hands are our primary interface with the environment. So many of our daily tasks can be made easier with a strong grip. Grip 2There are 35 muscles that control the movement of the hands, 18 in the forearm and another 17 in the hand itself. Movement science has come a long way and we no longer think of the body in terms of discreet joints and muscles. What goes on in one joint or muscle has an impact on joints and muscles above and below. Long story short, strong hand and forearm muscles are an important part of maintaining good function of the elbow and shoulder and even beyond. It’s amazing how dramatically improving someones grip strength can help improve a seemingly unrelated movement. I often advise those guys in the gym working on their bench press that if they want to improve their lift they should be working on their grip. 

Masonic GripsInterestingly the phrase “get a grip” is speculated to have origins in Freemasonry. Whether related to joining the organization and gaining a greater understanding or too the many handshakes that represent the hierarchy of the organization who knows. Freemason or not, the handshake is seen by many as a window into someones soul. A measure of their character, their vitality, even their intellect. This isn’t just speculation. This has been a studied phenomenon and is the case for both men and women. Interestingly, in one study it was observed that women with strong handshakes stood out even among men with equally firm handshakes. These women broke from the normal perception of women having a weak handshake and ultimately left a more lasting and positive impact.

Grip strength has even been shown to be a good predictor of heart health and overall mortality. The Harvard Medical School, citing a very large study called the PURE study found that:

“Each 11-pound decrease in grip strength over the course of the study was linked to a 16% higher risk of dying from any cause, a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, a 9% higher risk of stroke, and a 7% higher risk of heart attack.

The connections between grip strength and death or cardiovascular disease remained strong even after the researchers adjusted for other things that can contribute to heart disease or death, such as age, smoking, exercise, and other factors.”

These are some pretty compelling numbers and I suspect that it’s not grip strength in of itself but rather that grip strength is an attribute of a healthy and active individual.

Grip Training 3So how do we strengthen our grip? Well by gripping things that’s how. Preferably heavy things. Because just like any other group of muscles, we need to challenge them with a stimulus that their not accustomed to.  There is a multitude of exercises that can help strengthen your grip but a couple of my favorites are the deadlift and farmer’s carry. The deadlift like the one Arnold is doing above is simply one of the greatest exercises for making the entire body stronger. Hand grip is often the weak link and is why this exercise is so good for developing a stronger grip. Seek out a qualified coach or trainer if you decide you want to start hoisting some really heavy weight and don’t use wrist straps! Grip Training 2Like the deadlift, the farmer’s carry is an excellent choice of exercises for improving our grip. And you don’t need any fancy equipment to do it. Pick something up and take a walk. If you don’t have a couple of pigs handy like the guy on the right then a couple of dumbbells or a bag of groceries will do the trick. Take a walk around the gym, your house or even around the block (if you’re holding pigs).

Grip Training 1.jpgAnother neat trick to make any strength training exercise more challenging for your grip is to wrap a towel around the handle of whatever your using to effectively make it thicker. It’s amazing the effect this can have on challenging the grip and strengthening the muscles of the hand and forearm. These exercises are just a few of the choices we have for improving our grip strength. Their are many more, some just as basic of those shown above, and others that may incorporate more specialized equipment like the wrist roller, bands or hand grippers.

It’s clear grip strength is an important aspect of a healthy and functional body. We are only as strong as our grip allows us to be. Don’t let your grip be the weak link.  Lastly, well developed muscles of the forearm give the appearance of a powerful body and a  firm handshake sends a message of confidence and competence. So I’ll say it again. Get a grip!

Categories: Fitness & Health

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