What’s it useful for? Everything.
What can it reliably predict? More than you think.
How can we build it? With simplicity and consistency.
What grip strength exercises should you use? Start with hanging. The benefits to grip strength and shoulder health are HUGE.
Factoids about handgrip strength (HGS):
- HGS is a “noninvasive measure of physical health that is negatively correlated with disability, morbidity, and mortality rates in adults”
- Surprisingly, “HGS is highly heritable and is indicative of blood testosterone levels and levels of fat-free body mass.”
- In this study, results showed that “HGS was correlated with shoulder-to-hip ratio (SHR), aggressive behavior, age at first sexual intercourse, and promiscuity in males.”
- “HGS appears to be an honest signal for genetic quality in males.”
- “HGS also varies as a function of developmental factors including nutrition, exercise, and health.” Thus, quality of genetic expression is something we can improve through training, lifestyle, quality sleep, and nutrition.
The question then becomes, if we increase grip strength can we increase the quality of our genetic expression, or is it merely a reflection of our raw genetic material? Well, correlation doesn’t imply causation, and this is a bit of a chicken and egg question, but there’s no doubt that increasing overall levels of fitness and specifically training grip could certainly have some unique and far-reaching benefits.
Think about it. From an evolutionary perspective, grip strength, precision, and fine motor control often meant the difference between life and death. Our ability to MAKE, and USE tools and our ability to haul, fight, climb, and navigate the environment are all dependent on our grip. Our brains devote more resources to mapping the hands than any other part of the body (see: cortical sensory homunculus)
That being said, there are a few different types of grip strength that are useful. Crush, pinch, and support. And to truly develop a wellrounded grip, you’ll need to strengthen the thumb, individual fingers, as well as train the extensors of the hand for structural balance. You can get pretty deep with this stuff, but I recommend keeping it simple and only using the Minimum Effective Dose (MED). How little can you do while still building brutally strong grip?
Charles Poliquin believes in training grip strength every day, as long as you vary the type of training.
I think hanging and brachiation is by far the biggest bang for your buck to build grip strength and shoulder health.
Start with 3×30 seconds of hanging and work up to 3×60 seconds of hanging every day. I don’t have a bar in my house so I just throw a towel over a door jam and hang there.
REMEMBER: Just because something is simple (but not easy) doesn’t mean it won’t be VERY effective. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Complexity is often ineffective for many reasons.
Here are some of my favorite tools, resources and techniques for developing grip strength:
- Captains of Crush Hand Gripper
- Hanging (single or double arm. Does AMAZING things for the shoulder as well…more on that in a later post)
- Rope climbing
- Fat Gripz: thick bar implements are expensive. For $37 you can turn any bar into a thick grip implement. I’m a huge fan of these.