Why a strong grip is important, and how to strengthen those muscles

Close-up on a hand holding a handle in a public transport

Having good wrist and hand strength is a marker for overall muscle strength. In athletes, it’s important to have a strong grip to improve athletic performance and to help prevent injuries, but it’s just as important in healthy adults.

Low grip strength can predict an increased risk of functional limitations and disability as we get older.

A stronger grip could improve your quality of life. For example, a study found that grip strength among people without diabetes or high blood pressure was significantly higher than those diagnosed with either or both diseases. The study’s authors suggest that the differences in grip strength could reflect differences in muscle quality. As we age, lipid fats can accumulate in skeletal muscle fibers, which contributes to poor muscle quality and can lead to metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance. Muscle mass also declines as we age, and this can be a risk factor for hypertension as well as diabetes.

But even if your grip is weak now, it can be strengthened.

What causes weak grip strength?

Sometimes, decreased grip strength (usually on one side) can be caused by the nerves in your neck and shoulder getting “pinched” or having abnormal pressure on them. This can be determined by asking a few questions: Do you have any pain in your neck and/or upper extremities? Numbness or tingling? Do you find yourself accidentally dropping light objects (five pounds or less) frequently? Was there any injury or accident that happened?

Nerve entrapment issues, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, can lead to weakened grip strength. When the nerve has an abnormal amount of pressure on it, it can produce pain, numbness and even muscle weakness affecting your grip strength. Tendon issues in your elbow and forearm can result in grip weakness as well. Golfer’s or tennis elbow are two tendon injuries typically caused by overuse or underuse. The pain produced from these injuries can contribute to eventual grip weakness.

Not using your grip may also cause it to weaken. If you don’t work out and/or your daily activities don’t require a lot of heavy gripping or carrying, your grip may weaken from overall disuse.

In any of these cases, you may need to see your physician and a physical therapist for treatment to decrease pressure on those nerves, restore proper nerve conduction and/or increase muscle strength.

How can you strengthen your grip?

The best way to improve grip strength is to pick up heavy things. Regardless of our age or activity level, we have to lift and carry things. Children, purses and even laundry baskets all require a lift and can put strain on the body. By practicing different types of carries with weights at home, you’ll not only improve your grip strength, but your entire body as well.

Types of carries:

  • Farmer’s Carry
  • Rack Carry
  • Bottom-up Carry
  • Overhead Carry

Practice these carries by walking around with weights until your grip strength is close to giving out or your posture starts to break down. Rest in-between and repeat. If you’re someone who’s very active and enjoys the gym, perform these weighted carries at the end of a strength program or as a filler between sets. If you don’t visit the gym regularly, no problem. All you need to perform the carries are weights and an open space to walk.

If you struggle holding onto light objects (five pounds or less), weighted wrist curls and wrist extensions with a light dumbbell may be beneficial. Start light by using one-pound weights. If you don’t have weights at home, any canned food or water bottle will work. Progress by adding one pound every two weeks.

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