The strength of your grip is something that you seldom think about in day to day life, yet when you need this type of muscular development in your hand, you usually need it urgently. Grip strength comes into play in many different situations, ranging from carrying heavy objects or keeping control of a large animal on a farm, to giving a good massage or having an easier time with sports like mountain-climbing, to clinging action-hero like to a cliff-side branch while your faithful sidekick rides off in search of rope (though this last is not recommended if it can be avoided in any way).
Though most people who think of increasing their grip strength focus on squeezing exercises such as crushing a hard rubber ball in their fists, and though squeezing plays an important role in developing a powerful grip, there is actually much more to building your hands’ clenching force than this. A whole set of muscles is involved in the “squeeze”, including those which work in the opposite direction, and all of these must be developed if you want to maximize your hand strength.
Three muscle groups need to be targeted by your grip strength exercise program:
- The muscles involved in squeezing – these muscles are those which contract to pull your fingers inwards, and are those you immediately think of when you hear the word “grip”.
- The muscles in your forearm and wrist – no muscles operate in isolation, and your hand’s gripping muscles are no exception. Squeeze a nearby object and you will feel tensing and straining in your wrist and forearm as well.
- The muscles involved in opening the hand – these muscles contract to pull your fingers straight and eventually upward. They are usually very underdeveloped in most people, but there is a simple way to correct this.
Exercising for Squeezing Power Using a Grip Strength Tester
This obviously forms the core of all hand grip exercise programs, and is better accomplished with several different exercises. The first of these involves using a metal “grip strength tester”, which is a pair of metal handles connected by a looped spring steel rod. Squeeze this as much as possible and go up to the next strength (expressed in pounds) when necessary. Eschew cheap, weak plastic versions.
These “grip testers” cost around twenty dollars apiece, but you will be getting plenty of use out of each one, so don’t worry about future expenses. A 100-pound grip will be very challenging when you first begin your hand grip exercise program, and it will be a long time until you work up to the next level.
Grip strength testers are much superior to the rubber ball method because they offer graduated resistance, rather than a single, essentially unmeasured resistance, and because you can clearly see how much pressure you are applying. Discerning how much a rubber ball clutched in your hand is being compacted by your squeeze, especially compared to last week or last month, is impossible. With a grip strength tester, you can easily measure the distance between the handles to get an objective “reading” on how hard your squeezing, however.
Pinch Grip Exercises
The next exercise builds your “pinch grip”, which is the squeezing power of your hand with your fingers straight, rather than curling. Get two heavy metal plates, at least 6 or 7 pounds each, pinch them together with your fingers on one side and your thumb on the other, and hold them off the ground like this as long as you can. The round weight plates used for barbells are well-adapted for this. Be sure to exercise both hands equally in this way.
This exercise is very important, though often neglected, so you should do a number of repetitions with each exercise session. Be sure to put the plates down when you feel you cannot support them much longer – you should not drop them because this can result in serious, possibly crippling injuries if you drop the plates on your foot, or if they bounce up off the floor and hit your shins after being dropped.
The next article will look at more pinch grip techniques, plus the sand bucket and extensor muscle exercises.