Fill in the blank in this quote: "We found that _______ had a stronger association with all cause and cardiovascular disease mortality than do systolic blood pressure or total physical activity..."
If you hadn't read the title of this post, would you have guessed the answer to be "grip strength"?
The importance of grip strength is supported by studies. Its relationship to all-cause mortality is interesting but shouldn't be the prime motivation. That is, we don't build grip strength to live longer, we built it to live better. (You may have seen that concept before on this site, like here or here.)
In older people, loss of grip strength is common and can lead to lifestyle changes such as:
- using plastic cups and plates (because they're lighter)
- using tools (or an aide) to put on socks or the dreaded compression stockings
- needing help to pull up a zipper
- using devices (or an aide) to assist with opening cans and jars
There are many other potential effects. For example, you might lose the ability to drive due to poor grip on the steering wheel or being unable to open the car door. You might be unable to lift even moderately heavy items or pull wet laundry out of the washer. And so on.
But grip strength doesn't only affect older people. Just as being stronger makes life easier for everyone, having better grip strength does the same. Unscrewing things like lids or screws (with a screwdriver) are made easier (or possible) with better grip strength. Lifting things, pulling things...your grip is used constantly throughout the day. Try paying attention to how you use your own grip for the next few hours.
Household activities such as gardening, shoveling snow, taking out the garbage...all these test your grip strength. As do many recreational activities such as skiing, kayaking, bowling, grappling, rock climbing, and many more.
So how do we improve our grip strength? If you've been following StrongFast Fitness, you're already doing it: lift weights! Most pulling exercises will work your grip: rows, for example. (A rowing machine works, too.)
One of the best grip strengtheners is the pull-up and its variations. In fact, one common test of grip strength for fit people is to time how long you can hang from a bar. (60 seconds or more is excellent. You can also try hanging by one hand!)
Some hip hinge exercises are also great for your grip, in particular deadlifts and trap-bar deadlifts. These are usually the heaviest lifts you can perform so they really test the grip.
Most kettlebell exercises are great grip strengtheners. Not only are you holding a weight, you're "throwing" it (swings, snatches, etc.).
You can get special grip-strengthening devices, usually spring-loaded. Or you can squeeze a ball. But you don't really need these things if you're lifting weights.
Aerobic exercises like walking, running, swimming, and cycling are excellent for your fitness but they don't build a stronger grip. As mentioned previously, a rowing machine does work your grip.
Grip strength is associated with longer life and better health. But it also just helps you get stuff done easier. Make sure it's a part of your regular training. It's easy...just lift weights!
Be seeing you.