How to Improve Grip Strength

How to Improve Grip Strength

You probably don’t think much about grip strength every day.

It seems like not much of a big deal when you compare it to general muscle strength ... but actually, grip strength is way more important than you may think!

In fact, improving your grip strength could actually take your workouts to the next level.

So let’s look at what grip strength is, why it matters, and how to improve it both at home and at the gym.

What Is Grip Strength?

So what is grip strength anyway?

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Grip strength is a measurement of how much force you can create with your forearm and hand muscles. Think about squeezing a tennis ball ... that's grip strength.

The stronger your grip ... the more weight you can hold. Just think about how often we use our grip ... Opening jars, carrying bags, working out, etc.

It's something we all take for granted. If you were to lose your grip strength for 1 day, you'd realize pretty quickly how hard your life would be without it.

Why Is Grip Strength So Important?

Now, of course having a strong grip in your day to day life can make a big difference ... but why else is it important?

Well, while you may not be holding on the edge of a cliff for your life ... having a strong grip is super important.

A strong grip is associated with:

• A lower risk of all cause mortality, heart attacks, and strokes
• A lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes
• A lower risk of cardiovascular disease
• An ability to lift heavier weights

I know what you might be thinking ... How is a strong grip an indicator for less risk of all those health issues?

I was surprised at first too ... but there are a lot of studies that prove these associations. It could mean that your grip directly plays a role in these issues ... but likely not.

I think it’s more likely that a weak grip is actually the indicator that something is wrong.

That doesn’t mean that your grip doesn’t matter though. It is still a sign that you’re healthy and have the potential to live a long and active life. That’s pretty great if you ask me!

The other benefit that really stands out is your grip strength affects your ability to lift heavier weights ... and that includes in your legs.

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But how? Well, I’ll be giving away one of the exercises I recommend later, but that’s okay.

Imagine going for your personal record for a deadlift without any help from aids like lifting straps. Your legs might have the ability to stand up with 500 pounds, but if your hands can only hold 200 pounds, then guess what?

You’re only going to lift 200 pounds!

Your grip strength is a limiting variable because it is one of the first things to give out in many exercises.

So if you improve your grip strength, you just might be able to deadlift the 500 pounds. At the very least, you’ll be able to do more than 200 pounds.

Having a strong grip also allows you to focus more on the technique of the exercises in your workout. You won’t need to think about being able to hold onto the weight.

Instead, you can really focus on making sure you're doing the exercise correctly.

So to sum this up … having a strong grip is something you should strive for. Not only so you can lift heavier weights, but also so you can live a healthier life.

How Do You Test Grip Strength?

If you want to know exactly how strong your grip is ... you'd need a handgrip dynamometer. This tool measures the maximum isometric strength of your grip. That means how hard you can squeeze and hold the squeeze.

Basically, this tool reads the amount of force your hands and forearms can generate.

Some gyms or doctor’s offices have them, but they’re also a decently cheap tool if you want one.

But let's say you squeeze the dynamometer and get a reading … how do you know if it’s a good one?

Here’s a basic breakdown of the averages based on age for your dominant hand in pounds up to age 69:

Grip Strength Averages

Basically, if you’re squeezing above the value given for your age on the chart, you’re doing pretty decent.

But even if you’re already hitting the average ... improving your grip strength can only help you. This is especially true when it comes to your workouts.

If you can’t test your exact grip strength, you can still get a pretty good idea. Think about whether you find yourself struggling to hold onto something heavy.

Hauling groceries, lifting weights, and rock climbing are all places you might notice your grip strength failing you. It happens to me sometimes as well, so don’t feel bad if it does for you too.

Let's talk about some great exercises you can do to help boost your grip strength! I'll give you 5 good ones you can do from the comfort of your home, and 5 you can do in the gym...

How to Improve Your Grip Strength at Home

If your grip strength isn’t what you want, the good news is that you can improve it with some hand exercises.

Here are 5 grip strength training exercises you can do at home...

1. Heavy Walk

Walking is already a great thing for your health ... But did you know you can combine your walk with a grip strength exercise.

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To do this exercise, grab a heavy household item that won't be easy to hold for a long time in each hand. Now, walk around the house until you can't hold your grip any longer.

You may even find a house project you can contribute to by doing this ... why not kill 2 birds with one stone, right?

To give you some ideas ... the item could be a duffle bag, heavy bucket of paint, groceries, or anything else.

Just make sure to let your hands and forearms rest for a couple minutes after you drop the item. Then, repeat this for 2 more sets.

2. Stress Ball Squeeze

Stress balls are almost free, right?

People are always giving them out.

Well, go ahead and grab one of those you have lying around your house to help strengthen your grip. It could even be a tennis ball if you don't have a stress ball.

Grip the ball with your whole hand and squeeze it 5-10 times as hard as you can. Think of each squeeze as if it's 1 rep.

Then, focus in on each finger by gripping the ball with your finger of choice and your thumb, and do 5–10 more pulses for each finger.

Work all of your fingers, and do 2 sets.

3. Book Pinch

Grab two of your coffee table books (or textbooks or two books of basically the same size).

Grip one book in each hand and put your arms down by your sides.

Squeeze your fingers tight around both books and hold for about 30 seconds. As soon as the 30 seconds is up, or once they get really tired, you can release your grip.

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That’s one set.

Do about 3–5 sets of pinching your books.

4. Rubber Band Extension

Rubber bands are another household staple. Grab one of those extra rubber bands lying around and put it to good use!

Stick your fingers in the rubber band and expand your hand as wide as you can.

That’s one rep. Do about 10-20 reps for 3 sets.

If one rubber band is super easy to expand your hand in, grab another rubber band and double up. You can keep adding rubber bands to make it more and more difficult too.

Now, this doesn't directly train your grip strength. After all, it's the oppostire of gripping with your hand. The important thing is, you're training your forearm muslce in both directions: flexion and extension.

This will help with the overall development of your forearms, and in turn, grip.

5. Wrist Rotation

Don’t forget your wrist when working on your grip strength! This will be especially important for preventing injuries as you attempt to grip heavier weights.

Pick your favorite cast-iron, or heavy, pan and grip the handle.

Keep your upper arm by your side and bend your elbow 90 degrees.

With your pan outstretched, rotate your wrist to one side, back to the middle, and then to the other side.

Do about 20 repetitions for 2-3 sets. You will feel the burn on these!

How to Improve Your Grip Strength at the Gym

If you want to improve your grip strength at the gym, there are plenty of ways to do it! You can actually train your grip with almost any piece of equipment if you know what you’re doing.

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Prepare for your hands to get tired!

Here are 5 exercises that can help you improve your grip strength at the gym...

1. Hammer Curl

This is a great exercise that allows you to pull a decent amount of weight, and it makes your arms look bigger too!

Start by picking up a set of dumbbells and hold them at your sides. Your palms should be facing in toward your body.

Keep your upper arms still and elbows pinched to your sides throughout the movement. Next, squeeze the dumbbells hard and contract your biceps to pull the weight upward.

Squeeze the muscles in your arms for a second at the top, and then slowly return down to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.

Do 3 or 4 sets of 6-12 quality reps.

2. Deadlift

The deadlift might be the very reason you want to improve your grip strength in the first place! However, it’s also a great way to improve your grip strength in itself.

Begin by placing a loaded barbell on the floor in front of you. Walk up to the bar until your shins are touching. With your feet shoulder-width apart, reach down to grab the bar.

Your grip should also be at roughly shoulder-width apart. Next, lightly pull the bar to bring your body lower into a squat position.

By now, your thighs should be parallel with the ground, back straight, and head and neck neutral. Pull you shoulders down and back and puff out your chest slightly.

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From here, brace your core and drive through your feet to stand ... on the way up, squeezing your quads, glutes, and back muscles.

Just makes sure to keep the barbell as close to the body as you can throughout the entire movement. Once you reach the top, squeeze your glutes, then carefully lower the weight to the floor.

Repeat this for reps and do 5 sets of 5 quality reps.

3. Farmer’s Walk

This is one of my absolute favorite exercises to do for grip strength! On top of that, it's pretty easy to do.

To start, all you have to do is grab a heavy dumbbell in both your hands. Keep the dumbbells at your side as you walk around for a set period of time or until you can't hold them any longer.

Be careful not to drop the weight on your feet ... I can't imagine how painful that would be! It can help to have a safe place to set them down as your grip begins to give out.

Do 3-5 sets and you'll really be feeling this one.

4. Dead Hang or Flexed Arm Hang

You don’t need a weight to strengthen your grip ... You can use your body weight!

Plus, if that's not enough ... you can always add weight with a weighted vest too if it gets too easy.

For this exercise, that's exactly what we'll do! Start by finding a bar to hang from at the gym.

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Grip the bar with a tight squeeze and let yourself hang there for as long as you can. That's it! It's super hard to mess this one up.

If you want to add another level of difficulty, make it a flexed arm hang. The only difference is you’ll do a pull up until your chin is over the bar, and you’ll hold that position as long as you can.

That way you’re also working your arms and back as well.

Whichever one you choose, do 3 sets for as long as you can hold it.

5. Shrugs

This is another great exercise that will enhance your grip strength, but it will also build up your traps. These are the muscles that sit directly on top of your collar bone on either side of your neck.

To do this exercise, you'll need a heavy set of dumbbells. Pick them up and squeeze them tightly while holding them at your sides.

Pull your shoulders back, and keep your neck neutral throughout. All you have to do is pull your shoulders up as high as you can, and squeeze your traps hard at the top.

As you release, control your shoulders down to a normal resting position. Slow and controlled is the name of the game!

Repeat this for reps and do about 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps.

The Bottom Line

Grip strength matters! Luckily, these exercises can help you improve your grip strength in no time.

That just means you can lift longer and heavier! But also, you'll notice the difference in your day to day activities too.

I know increasing your grip strength isn’t the only reason you’re working out though. If it was, then why would you worry about needing grip strength for any other lifts, right?

If you have any fitness goals ... whether you’re shooting for building muscle or losing body fat, your workouts matter. Your diet matters. Your recovery matters.

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[1] Lee J, Lee MG. Associations of Handgrip Strength with Prevalence of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Diabetes Mellitus in Older Adults. J Obes Metab Syndr. 2019 Dec;28(4):271-277. doi: 10.7570/jomes.2019.28.4.271. Epub 2019 Dec 30. PMID: 31909370; PMCID: PMC6939704.

[2] Bohannon RW. Grip Strength: An Indispensable Biomarker For Older Adults. Clin Interv Aging. 2019 Oct 1;14:1681-1691. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S194543. PMID: 31631989; PMCID: PMC6778477.

[3] Shim J, Yoo HJ. Effects of Handgrip Strength on 10-Year Cardiovascular Risk among the Korean Middle-Aged Population: The Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2014. Healthcare (Basel). 2020 Nov 4;8(4):458. doi: 10.3390/healthcare8040458. PMID: 33158168; PMCID: PMC7712900.

How to Improve Grip Strength