With so much emphasis on key weight lifting exercises like the barbell squat and deadlift, the grip doesn't always get its due. So often, it is the one limiting factor in students' pull-ups and deadlifts. So while chasing progress in either, I won't argue. Truth is, by training their grip they may well be doing wonders for their long-term health.
Getting a grip and maintaining it through a lifetime can be a good indication of health in so many areas, including:
Biological age: an individual’s age in years (chronological age) can be quite different from his or her biological age. Although there’s no exact definition for biological age, it generally indicates whether the body is functioning better or worse than its chronological age. Avan Aihie Sayer and Thomas Kirkwood of the University of Southampton and Newcastle University suggest that “grip strength might act as a biomarker of aging across the life course."
Shoulder function: weakness in grip can be a sign of leaks in strength further up the chain, notably in the rotator cuff. Proper training further down can prevent the myriad of compensatory patterns in the shoulder complex that places stress on smaller muscles of the rotator cuff.
Cardiovascular disease: as part of the international Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study, researchers measured grip strength in nearly 140,000 adults in 17 countries and followed their health for an average of four years. For each 11-pound decrease in grip strength over the course of the study, there was a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, a 9% higher risk of stroke, and a 7% higher risk of heart attack.
Late-age disability: researchers suggest midlife grip strength is a good indicator of quality of life in aging patients and may serve as a good predictor of risk of late-age disability. The risk of self-care disability in one study was more than 2 times greater in those with a greater grip strength.
My favorite ways to train for improved grip?
Farmer's Carry: this one is glaringly obvious. You pick up a heavy kettlebell or handweight and take it for a walk. It's as simple as that. Of course, you want to walk without leaning, swinging, or rotation, so you get a sweet little core and back workout along the way.
Sandbag Carry: take a bulky weighted bag for a walk, but without holding the handles. Grip the canvas or whatever thick fabric you have over those sand capsules and try to rip the bag as you take it for a walk. Again, you are trying not to arch your back along the way, so you'll get some nice abdominal and back strengthening in, too.
Dead Hangs: grab onto a rung of the ole monkey bars and hang tight. Play with your grip by squeezing high at the knuckles. Try again with a grip that is lower at the fingers. Whatever the grip or hand position, hang on until your grip fatigues.
Pull-ups: now, obviously, you'll need to have gotten the hang of the dead hang before you can master the pull-up. Using a suspension trainer, heavy duty resistance bands, or machines to remove some of your bodyweight from the equation can make these more accessible. Whatever the assistance you may or may not need, be sure to switch up the grip. Grab on with an under hand grip, over hand grip, and with palms facing in.
Bottoms-up: turn that kettlebell upside down, starting with a light weight and feel how the muscles in your hands, wrists, and forearms come alive to keep that puppy in position. Once you can do this standing still, take it for a walk. Next, you can start to hit the bottoms-up position in your clean and kettlebell snatch. The possibilities are endless.
Steel Maces and Clubs: as nice as a knurled barbell or handweight can be to work with, there is a lot to be gained from working with unwieldy weights of varying size, dimension, texture. My favorites are the steel mace and club. The offset weights take you on the super highway to super powered grip strength.
As luck would have it, we work ALL of these into our training and fitness classes. Not a member? Not a problem. Check us out absolutely free!
Disclaimer: Fit Club is not a medical doctor and the information contained herein should not be taken as medical advice. These are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any health problem. Recommendations by Fit Club are not intended to replace the advice of a physician or health professional. Please consult your physician or a health professional before beginning any diet or exercise program.