Why your grip strength is important and how to improve it

A sturdy grip certainly helps when playing sports or doing housework, but it’s also many times associated with a longer, healthier life. This is partly because people with strong hands tend to be more physically active, which is linked to longevity.

But hand or grip strength is also important for everyday tasks that become more difficult as you get older, whether you’re opening a jar or catching yourself to avoid a fall. Even so, it’s not something many people go to the gym or think about much.

Katy Bowman, a kinesiologist and host of the Move Your DNA podcast, says hands are important body parts that fall under our fitness radar.

Adding to the problem, people’s hands in general are getting weaker, possibly because of the way we use smartphones and touch screens, said Dr. Erin Nance, a hand surgeon in New York City said. Fighting this, she adds, involves exercising not only the small muscles in our hands, but also those that run along our forearms, as well as the muscles in our upper arms, shoulders and core.

As Ms. Bowman said: They work together as a functional unit.

To assess your current hand strength, she suggests first holding a heavy object, such as a cast iron skillet, and rotating it as if pouring out its contents. Then see if you can support your weight with your hands and wrists in a pushup position. If either of these is difficult to maintain for a few seconds, you may benefit from practicing your grip.

Here are some exercises recommended by experts to strengthen your hands; they can be incorporated into your existing workout routine or done separately.

Experts say that exercises that strengthen your grip while working other muscles are most effective because they simulate the movements of everyday life. For example, farmer’s carry, in which you hold a heavy object in each hand while walking, works the grip as well as the core, arms, shoulders and back.

Start with 10-pound kettlebells or dumbbells, or choose a weight heavy enough to make you want to walk faster, says Rachel Lovitt, a personal trainer in Redmond, Wash.

Pete McCall, director of education for EOS Fitness gyms, also recommends hanging from the starting position when doing pull-ups. It requires grip strength to control the body’s weight and is good for the shoulders, upper back and core, Mr. McCall said. Beginners should start with a 10-second hang time and try to gradually increase it to a minute.

Bear walking, which involves walking along the ground on all fours, is another way to strengthen your grip, says Jarlo Ilano, a physical therapist and co-founder of the online exercise program, GMB Fitness. your muscles along with other muscles.

You’re pushing against the ground using your hands, fingers and wrists to propel your entire body forward, Mr. Ilano said. He recommends four rounds of two-minute bear walks, separated by two minutes of rest.

The simplest way to strengthen your hands is to modify the exercises you already do. Mr. McCall suggests replacing the handle of the rowing machine with a towel or a rope. “You have to hold on tighter, so all the muscles in your hand are forced to work a lot harder,” he says.

Mr. Ilano suggests removing weight lifting gloves for easier grip when using machines like lat pulldowns. You may need to reduce the weight but it will help improve your grip.

Free weight exercises using dumbbells, dumbbells or kettlebells are another opportunity to sneak in an arm workout by intentionally increasing your grip strength. When I do bicep curls, I squeeze that dumbbell to work my forearms as well as my biceps,” Ms. Lovitt said.

Experts say most people don’t need grip-specific exercises unless they’re recovering from an injury or training for a sport like golf or tennis. They recommend limiting these activities to once a week unless otherwise recommended by a physical therapist.

Kristin Valdes, an occupational therapist at Touro College in Nevada, suggests squeezing a tennis ball for 5 seconds at a time, 10 times in a row, and repeating this for three sets. Isometric exercises like these, in which muscles contract but don’t move, are safer for people with arthritis and other joint problems, she says.

Another simple exercise that helps exercise your wrists and forearms is towel wringing. Take a hand towel, soak it, and wring it until there’s no water left, says Travis Haywood, head trainer at F45 Training gym in Pompano Beach, Fla.

Repeat three to five times, switching direction halfway through. Or, if you can use dumbbells, he suggests wrist curls: In a sitting position, hold light dumbbells (no more than 3 pounds to start) and rest your forearms on your thighs. Raise your wrists up and then lower them with your palms facing the ceiling.

Connie Chang is a freelance writer about science and parenting in Silicon Valley.

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