By Linnea Zielinski
Few things during training are as frustrating as your grip strength giving out before the rest of your body does. Whether you're rock climbing or weightlifting, if you're constantly being limited by your grip, it's time to start thinking about improving it.
But grip strength has more value than just helping you hit a deadlift PR. “Grip strength has been regarded as a 'biomarker of aging,'" explains Physical Therapist and Strength Coach Leada Malek, DPT, CSCS, SCS. It's needed for daily function for one, but a strong grip is an indication of overall health and fitness.
So how can you determine your grip strength, and what can you do to improve it? Here's what you need to know.
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To measure grip strength, physical therapists use a specialized tool called a hand-held dynamometer. A patient squeezes three times, and a clinician takes the average of the three numbers to find their grip strength, Malek explains.
But there's a way you can test your grip strength at home as long as you have an analog bathroom scale. Hold your bathroom scale in both hands with your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Test one hand, then the other. Try three times like at the clinic and average your results. Just make sure that the next time you test your grip strength, you hold the scale the same way for consistency.
You may not need to set aside time to do grip strength exercises (though it doesn't hurt to). Since grip strength is an everyday function, the movements you do daily may help improve it. “Holding things of different sizes can help," says Malek. If you're working out, try using different grips with weight, including open and closed.
Focusing specifically on strengthening the muscles in your lower arm and throughout your upper body will also help, says Malek.
But if your grip strength is in dire need of strengthening, “grip exercises are a surefire way to get this going," according to Malek.
While you're working on your grip strength with the exercises below, there are some tools you can use to assist it during your lifts. Straps, gloves, and chalk can all help ensure you don't fail a lift because of your grip. You can also try performing the deadlift with mixed or switch grip, meaning the back of one hand and the palm of the other are facing out.
Grab a bathroom hand towel and hold one end in each hand. Twist the towel in opposite directions as if you're wringing water out of it — reverse directions and repeat. Continue back and forth several times.
You don't need weights to work your grip strength when you can work with your body weight. Consider investing in a hangboard to work different grips and strengthen your grip overall by slowly increasing the amount of time you can hang.
There is special equipment for this exercise, but you don't necessarily need to purchase anything. If your gym has spiral metal clips that require you to squeeze to put them on the barbell, use those. You need something that has resistance against your grip when you squeeze it for this exercise to be effective.
If you're already able to do push-ups with good form, performing them on your fingertips instead of your palms can help strengthen supporting tendons and muscles in your lower arm. If this is too hard, you can complete them from your knees instead of your toes or try lowering yourself on your fingertips and pushing back up with your palms.