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How Important is Grip Strength?

Grip strength: often seen as simply a test in geriatric populations or only sport specific to climbers and Crossfitters. But grip strength extends well beyond these two populations and encompasses much more than just how strong your hands are.

In regards to grip strength’s correlation with longevity, a 2017 Austrian study found that, “a useful proxy to determine physical fitness and physical well-being, especially among elderly people, is the measurement of hand grip strength, which is increasingly used as an indicator of overall muscle strength and function. A high grip strength is strongly associated with preserved mobility, higher activities of daily living, and decreased disability” (Musalek 2017).

For our Made 2 Move Crossfitters and climbers, muscle endurance and strength through the hands, fingers, and forearms is obviously crucial. When trying to go from the rings to deadlifts, our Crossfitters need to be able to keep moving without their forearms and hands burning out. For our Made 2 Move climbers, they know all too well the importance of grip strength for their sport, as they feel the burn when trying to hold onto that pinch or reach for the next crimp.

But maintaining and improving grip strength is not just sport specific to climbers and crossfitters, and it is not just a test for elderly populations; it can benefit everyone! Today we’ll delve into the nitty gritty of all things grip strength.

What does grip strength tell us?

Grip strength is exactly what it sounds like: how strong can you squeeze something? It is usually assessed in a clinical setting and is measured by a device called a dynamometer. Don’t worry, there is no need to get on Amazon and order a dynamometer to measure your grip strength. Regularly incorporating strength training and some of the specific grip strength exercises outlined below will be sufficient.

Directly, grip strength tells us how hard you can squeeze something. This is great, but what does it mean? The importance lies in the indirect measures that high grip strength is correlated with: overal strength and endurance. It makes sense: if your fingers and hands are strong, it is highly likely that the other muscles in your body are strong as well.

Why is grip strength important?

Grip strength, in and of itself, is important for many activities of daily living like carrying the groceries, scrubbing your hair, doing yard work, and holding onto your dog’s leash when they see a squirrel.

But like we mentioned above, grip strength’s primary importance is found in the ways it is correlated with other measures of health like overall muscle strength and endurance. Often times, people with higher grip strength have higher overall muscular strength and endurance which likely contributes to the positive associations we see between grip strength and health. What are some of these positive health measures?

Grip strength has been studied extensively and found to be positively associated with:

  • Improved sport performance

  • Increased shoulder stability

    • Shoulder injuries are one of the #1 injuries we see patients for here at Made 2 Move. Having a higher grip strength is associated with increased shoulder strength and stability which makes sense: it’s a chain from our fingers to our shoulders; if the distal end is strong, the rest of the chain will follow.

  • Increased health-related related quality of life

  • Decreased all cause mortality

  • Increased overall muscular strength and endurance

  • Recovery Metric

    • While more research is needed, the literature points to grip strength as being an effective measure for assessing recovery from exercise. (i.e. if you’re grip strength is really low, it could mean you are not fully recovered/ready to train again).

  • Heart health

    • “A study of 140,000 people showed that decreased grip strength was associated with measures of heart health. For each 11-pound decrease in grip strength, there was:

  • A 16% increase in deaths from any cause

  • A 17% increase in death from heart disease

  • A 9% increase in the risk of having a stroke

  • A 7% increase in the risk of having a heart attack(WebMD 2021).

Exercises to improve grip strength

Below are some of Made 2 Move’s favorite exercises for improving grip strength and increasing overall muscle strength and endurance through the fingers, hands, and forearms.

  • Dead hang from pull up bar

  • Farmer’s carries

  • Pull ups

    • Need a challenge? Try towel pull ups! (Note: this is an advanced exercise).

  • Push ups on fingers

    • Make sure to build up strength before moving to this exercise, as it is incredibly challenging!

  • Plate pinches

  • Any movement or activity with thick bars or dumbbells: isolated holds, curls, hangs, carries, etc.

  • Deadlifts (one of our favorite Made 2 Move exercises!)

    • While thought of mainly for it’s role in working the hamstrings and back, deadlifts also substantially challenge your grip strength. Yes, your legs and back are the primary movers in the deadlift, but a large amount of grip strength is required to hold that bar while your legs and back bring you to standing. BarBend notes on this: “You can only lift as heavy as you can hold.”

Interested in learning more about grip strength? Want to work with a Made 2 Move Physical Therapist to assess the level of your grip strength and increase overall muscle strength? Reach out to today. We can’t wait to see you!


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