According to a recent study published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, grip strength is “inversely associated with DNA methylation age acceleration”…which is science for better grip strength means healthier aging and living longer.
It’s true — for years now, grip strength has demonstrated prognostic value for longevity. It’s related to cardiovascular health, bone mineral density, mobility, overall strength and even cognitive function. Seniors with stronger grips routinely score better on “tests of working memory, processing speed, and verbal ability.”
When we think about grip strength (if at all), we tend to invoke those dollar-store crush trainers and stress balls, or Alex Honnold’s mitts. But grip strength is more than novelty strength training or an asset for climbers; it’s an important biomarker that’s worth your time and attention.
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After all, as we age (and do so in this age of “functional fitness”) what’s more functional than being able to walk home with your groceries? Or properly clutch a rake or shovel? Or lift up your grandchild? Grip strength pays dividends in so many aspects of life, allowing you to feel included or fend for yourself. It keeps certain activities alive in your life, which, in the long run, will help keep you alive.
If you want to get an official read on your grip strength, you could ask your gym, health club or PT facility if they have a dynamometer handy (they’re also available online). It’ll spit out a number somewhere between 60 and 100, denoting the pounds of force that particular hand is capable of exerting.
You don’t really need to gamify grip strength though. You’re better served practicing a few basic tests that engage with the three most common grips: Crush, pinch and support:
- Crush: Using your fingers and your palm. You can improve on this grip by squeezing a tennis ball at your desk 100 times a day, in either hand. You’ll see improvement over time. To level up, consider getting a heavy-duty crush gripper, or incorporating techniques into your strength training regimen that activate your crush grip strength. (Here’s an example of a guy wrapping a towel around a kettlebell to do prison curls. Check out how hard his hands are working.)
- Pinch: Using your fingers without the palm. So here, you’re “pinching” objects between your fingers and your thumb, which is dynamite for overall grip strength, forearm development and learning to rely less on the palm. You might make a habit of grabbing things in your daily life between your fingers and thumb (cups, pans, plants, whatever), but these grips are best practiced in the gym, with light plates. We like grabbing 10-pound dumbbells for pinch grip shoulder presses.
- Support: Using the entire unit to hang from/hang onto something for an extended period of time. You’ve probably read about the benefits of daily dead hangs. Or you’ve attempted farmer’s carries in the gym (or practiced them in normal life, walking around with bags of mulch or jugs of milk, what have you). That’s where support grip strength reigns — an uncomfortable, isometric hold, where having a reliable set of hands can really make all the difference.
Notice that the path to great grip strength is an interplay between the weight room and the home. Any work in one will beget the other, catalyzing a delightful chicken-or-the-egg that will probably end up tacking some years onto your life. You can make a difference starting today, just by balancing your mug between your fingers and your thumb.