How strong is your hand grip? If you’re over the age of 50, there’s a good chance your grip strength is weaker than it was in your 20s and 30s. That’s because hand grip strength declines with age. You might think the elderly have problems opening jars due to arthritis, but it might be that their hand grip strength isn’t what it used to be.
Hand grip strength says more about you than you think. In fact, research shows that it is a marker of health. In fact, how strong your grip says something about your metabolic health and your risk of developing cardiovascular disease or a stroke. It makes you wonder why doctors don’t measure hand grip strength when they measure other markers of health such as your blood pressure and blood sugar!
Hand Grip Strength and Health
How do we know handgrip strength is a good marker of health? A large study of 4,544 American and 6,030 Chinese people aged 50 and older looked at the relationship between handgrip strength and markers of metabolic and cardiovascular health. As part of the study, they tested a variety of markers of metabolic health, including blood glucose, glycated hemoglobin, insulin levels, triglycerides, and more.
When the researchers controlled for age, since grip strength weakens with age, they still found a strong correlation between handgrip strength, metabolic health, and cardiovascular risk. For every 0.05 reduction in handgrip strength, normalized for age, the risk of diabetes rose by 49% in Chinese subjects and was elevated by 17% in Americans. The risk of developing hypertension and lipid abnormalities also rose as hand grip strength decreased. What’s more, handgrip strength was linked with the future odds of disability.
This isn’t the only research to show a correlation between handgrip strength and the risk of future health problems. Another study found that every 11-pound reduction in hand grip strength was linked with a 17% increased risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and a 9% higher risk of stroke. In fact, grip strength is associated with higher all-cause mortality and is a better predictor of death from cardiovascular disease than systolic blood pressure!
How Do You Measure Hand Grip?
If you lift weights, your hand grip strength is probably greater than someone who is sedentary, but it would still be useful to know how strong your grip is. A strong hand grip is important for weight training too. Having a weak grip can limit the amount of weight you can lift, and this indirectly can limit your strength and hypertrophy gains. With a weak hand grip, it’s almost impossible to do a set of pull-ups!
How do you measure hand grip strength? If you visit a physical therapist, they have a handy machine that measures grip strength called a dynamometer. Some fitness centers and health clubs also have them. If you have a fitness center nearby, they might let you come in and test your grip strength even if you aren’t a member. You can even purchase an inexpensive dynamometer online. Once you have it, you would position your arm according to the instruction and squeeze the dynamometer with as much force as you can muster for at least 5 seconds and then record the values. It’s more accurate to get three readings in a row and average them out. The average score for a woman is 57. If you’re above that, congratulations!
What if you don’t have a dynamometer or have access to one? You can also get an idea of how strong your grip is by doing the straight arm hang test. To do this simple assessment, hang from a pull-up bar with your palms facing you and your feet off the ground while someone times you. Avoid swaying. Hang on as long as you can and record the time. Try it on a few separate occasions to get an average value. Keep in mind that some conditions that affect the hands, like carpal tunnel syndrome, can alter the results. You should e able to hang for a minimum of 30 seconds.
How to Improve Your Hand Grip Strength
Now we know there are two reasons to work on your hand grip. For one, it can limit your training if you have a weak grip. More importantly, a weak hand grip is correlated with poor health outcomes and early mortality. We don’t know for sure whether improving handgrip strength can lower health risks yet, but it’s certainly better to have a strong grip than a weak one.
How can you make your grip stronger? For one, add the straight arm hang to your routine and practice hanging from the bar until near fatigue limits you. Hanging with straight arms from a bar also helps stretch and decompress your spine and may help with posture. There’s another alternative for enhancing grip strength. Gripping a thicker barbell when you train can boost your hand grip strength. You might not want to buy a new set of barbells, but you can also buy clip attachments that you place on any barbell to make it thicker.
Also, you can purchase a variety of gadgets that you squeeze to improve your hand grip and strengthen the muscles in your hands. Even squeezing a firm rubber ball offers some benefits, and it’s a great stress reliever. The advantage of this is that you can do it anywhere, even at the office.
The Bottom Line
Hand grip strength is a marker of future health risks. You don’t need a dynamometer to measure your hand grip strength. You can do it with a simple test like the straight bar hang. You can also use the straight bar hang to help improve the strength of your grip. Doing so will help you maximize your training. Don’t let your grip strength limit you!
· Science Daily. “Weak grip a strong predictor of metabolic disease and disability in adults”
· The Lancet. VOLUME 386, ISSUE 9990, P266-273, JULY 18, 2015.
· Stack.com. “STACK Challenge: Straight-Arm Hang Endurance”
· WikiHow. “How to Test Your Grip Strength”