hhow good is your grip? It’s not just a convincing handshake or your ability to unscrew the jam lid that’s at stake, if yours is weak. A good grip is integral to so many sports, says Gareth Cole, Head of Performance at Coach London. Every time you have to hold onto an object, apply force to an object, pull yourself towards something, or pull something towards yourself, you’re recruiting the muscles in your forearm and hand that make it easier to grip. A poor grip can also be the weakest link when lifting heavy weights.
Outside of the gym, hand strength has been shown to have a strong relationship with our overall well-being. A weak grip has been linked to poor cognitive function, osteoporosis, obesity, risk of falling, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. A 2015 study, which monitored nearly 140,000 seniors for four years, found that a fragile grip was related to a higher incidence of heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular disease and even death. In fact, it predicted the risk of premature death more effectively than blood pressure, another important health indicator.
Grip strength serves as a biomarker for overall health because of its relationship to so many other health-related variables, including bone mineral density, nutritional status, cognitive impairment, sleep problems and quality of life, she says Richard Bohannon, a physical therapist who has studied grip strength. It has been referred to as a vitality meter.
Of course, a limp fish from a catch doesn’t lead directly to a shady ticker or cognitive decline. But a weak grip suggests poor musculoskeletal function throughout the body, which is a sign that the person is likely sedentary and not getting enough physical activity—the fourth risk factor for mortality, according to the World Health Organization.
The relationship between weak grip strength and poor cognition or cardiovascular health is likely to be because the former indicates a low level of physical activity, which impacts the latter, says Professor Andre Rodacki, from the Department of Physical Education, Federal University of Paran, Brazil.
Like most aspects of physical capacity, grip strength decreases as we age. But even the younger ones shouldn’t be complacent. A 2021 study found that six out of 10 Brazilian teens had poor hand grip strength, and more screen time was associated with lower grip scores among teens. If your grip strength is already lacking in your youth, Bohannon says, you’re more likely to run into problems later in life.
So, does your inability to hold on to dogs bring when he sees a squirrel doom spell? It could act as a canary in the coal mine, prompting you to test other aspects of your physical ability, says Cole. But you would need a full body test battery to give a true picture.
Rodacki agrees. Hand grip strength is too limited to a small number of muscles to represent a general physical state, he says. It is especially problematic with older adults because force production by upper and lower body muscles are affected differently by the aging process. The reduction in muscle strength is significantly greater for the muscles of the lower limbs.
Grip strength is assessed using a dynamometer, a device you hold in the palm of your hand and squeeze as hard as you can with your fingers. (You can get one for around 30, though models used in medical settings are more expensive and more accurate.) As you squeeze, the dial shows the amount of force you’re exerting (measured in kilograms), just like when you step on a scale. Your grip strength is recorded as the maximum strength achieved in a single squeeze.
What is considered normal? There are different scores related to age, gender and ethnicity, but one study defined cut-off scores of less than 25.5 kg for men and 18 kg for women. Anything below these numbers suggested the presence of sarcopenia, age-related loss of muscle mass, strength and performance. (The average scores in a 2021 study were 35.2 kg in men and 26.2 kg in women.)
Don’t have a dynamometer? Don’t worry: Some researchers question the importance of measuring your maximum grip strength, or in other words, the maximum force you can exert. Our research suggests that a single maximum contraction may not be the most useful measure to represent grip and upper extremity strength, says Chueh-Ho Lin, associate professor of gerontology and long-term care at Taipei Medical University.
Most daily activities require an appropriate and precise grip strength for an extended period, rather than a brief contraction. For example, to drink from a cup or soda bottle, you don’t need to squeeze it with full force, you just need enough force to hold it.
Other research involving Chueh-Ho Lin found that continuous grip strength decreased more, and was less consistent, than peak grip strength scores among older adults, a finding that tests would not reveal. of the dynamometer.
Cole agrees: In everyday life, many of the gripping actions we do are based on resistance: carrying groceries, twisting a screwdriver, holding a tennis racket for two hours.
So what should we do to improve grip? I’d recommend repeatedly squeezing an object to 80 percent or more of your maximum capacity, releasing each contraction with control, Lin says. Cole suggests holding a 10kg weight plate in each hand for one minute or squeezing a wet towel, holding the squeeze position for about 30 seconds. Don’t be surprised if you find differences between your right and left hand, your dominant hand is typically 10% stronger, she says.
You don’t necessarily have to isolate your grip strength to improve it. Gym exercises with barbells and dumbbells, such as dead lifts, farmers bring [where you hold a dumbbell in each hand, with arms straight and by your sides as you walk or stand still] and bicep curls will all challenge your grip, as will bodyweight exercises like dead hangs and pull-ups, says Cole.
If your grip is weak, strengthening it will have direct benefits: It could improve your tennis serve, boost your weight training game, or just help you get to pickling onions. But it could also serve as the helpful boost you need to control your overall physical ability.
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