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grip strength: man gripping kettlebell

Is Lousy Grip Strength Holding Back Your Gains?

Grip strength might not get much spotlight, but without it, you wouldn’t be able to deadlift a heavy bar, nail pullups, rock farmer carries, or generally crush it in the weight room. In fact, insufficient grip strength can ultimately hold back your progress on those bigger, more glamorous movements. Heed this argument for why working on your grip is worth some of your precious gym time, plus how to take yours to the next level to unlock greater fitness gains.

  • ABOUT OUR EXPERT: Andrew White, C.P.T., is a certified personal trainer and the co-founder of Garage Gym Pro.

Why Grip Strength Matters for GymGoers

The strength of your grip comes from a group of muscles located in the hands, wrists, and forearms. And though strong-looking forearms might factor into your desired physique, grip strength exercises often don’t get the time of day—especially compared to moves that work your biggest muscle groups or have vanity appeal (like bicep curls). After all, we’re willing to bet your gym buddies are more likely to show off their strong backs than their strong wrists…

“Many workout routines focus on larger muscle groups and neglect the finer aspects like grip strength,” shares personal trainer Andrew White, C.P.T., co-founder of Garage Gym Pro. “It’s not always seen as being as glamorous or as immediately impactful as working on more visible muscles.” 

Read More: Sorry, Biceps, But Triceps Have You Beat

Often, people also just don’t know it’s all that important. “There’s a lack of awareness about the role grip strength plays in overall fitness and how it supports other exercises,” White notes. Combine that with the increasing availability of gym equipment that doesn’t require any grip at all (like the leg curl and calf extension machines), and you’ve got a workout routine that’s seriously lacking in this important area.

Grip strength is especially worth spending time on if your fitness goals involve lifting heavy weights. Think about it: Unless you can physically grip and hold heavier weights for a duration of time while performing moves like bicep curls and deadlifts, you’ll have a hard time increasing your weights and volume. In fact, White sees grip strength as foundational for heavy lifting. “Strong grip strength is crucial for lifting heavier weights,” he says. “It ensures a secure and stable hold, which is essential for exercises like deadlifts, rows, and pull-ups.” Without ample grip strength, you may fail to progress in your most exciting moves. 

Finally, the strength of your grip can also help support other fitness goals. “A strong grip can enhance your performance in other areas of fitness, such as climbing, martial arts, and sports that require holding equipment,” White says. 

Read More: 3 Common Habits That Undermine Muscle Building

Other Benefits of Having a Strong Grip

Good grip strength can also enhance overall functional strength, making daily tasks easier and reducing the risk of hand and wrist injuries, notes White. That feels relevant in an age when loads of people spend the bulk of their days on computers. Your grip supports you in all sorts of everyday movements, from holding grocery bags and vacuuming to opening impossibly tight jars and cooking.

Interestingly, a strong grip may even be a key to living longer. According to research published in the British Medical Journal, it’s an important indicator of longevity. In fact, research studies often use grip strength as a proxy for gauging overall muscle strength

Exercises for Better Grip Strength

If you’re interested in working on your grip, there are a number of specific exercises White recommends incorporating into your routine. A few of the best:

  • Dead hangs
  • Deadlifts
  • Farmer carries
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Pullups
  • Hand grippers
  • Wrist curls and reverse wrist curls
  • Zottman curls

As a general rule of thumb, about 10 to 15 percent of your overall routine should be focused on grip strength, according to White. “This can be incorporated through specific grip exercises or integrated into other exercises,” he says. (Think wrist curls versus deadlifts.) Try to work these exercises in two or three times per week to allow for adequate recovery and strength building.

Within your workout, slate heavy grip exercises like deadlifts first when you’re at your freshest. Then, finish off with wrist curls and other isolated grip exercises before you close up shop.

There are also plenty of ways you can work on your grip outside of the gym, too. A few of White’s recommendations:

  • When realistic, carry groceries by hand instead of chucking them into a cart.
  • Mix up your recreation routine with climbing or bouldering, which are fun and excellent for your grip.
  • Use manual tools instead of power tools for tasks like gardening or DIY projects.
  • Squeeze stress balls or therapeutic putty. Regularly using these tools can not only help you relax but also build strength.

The Bottom Line

Though ample grip strength is clearly important for your performance in the gym, it’s also a must for moving through daily life with ease. “As we age, maintaining grip strength can be vital for preserving independence and reducing the risk of falls and injuries,” shares White.

The next time you think you can skimp on grip strength at the gym, give it the time of day it deserves. By making it more of a priority, you’ll start to see some serious gains both inside and outside of the gym (and without increasing your gym time by more than a few measly minutes per session).

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