It’s easy to see why grip strength is so important: you require it for almost every activity.

Let’s put the weights to one side for a moment. When you pick up a box, when you move a chair, when you’re vacuuming, frying an egg or even driving, you’re calling upon your grip strength. Cricket, golf, tennis, rugby – they all require good grip, too. And yes, we know what you’re thinking, badminton does as well, if that’s your thing.

It’s also one of the best hacks for bigger lifts, faster muscle and serious training gains. Think about it, your bicep curls, your pull-ups, your farmer’s walks. How often has it been your grip that’s let you down? How many times have you been deadlifting, all going well, only for the barbell to slip out of your grip? It’s easy to see how improved grip strength can quickly translate to improvements across the board.

Weak grip strength has also been shown to be a good predictor of shoulder health. A 2016 study, published in the sports science journal Shoulder & Elbow, concluded that there’s a strong correlation between grip strength and lateral rotator strength.

But there’s another benefit to improving your grip strength story that may be – dare we say – more important than pressing, pulling and your power lifting PBs.

Research has demonstrated a positive correlation between grip strength and overall health. In 2015, an international study followed the health of 140,000 adults over four years. The results showed a significant relationship between a decrease in grip strength and an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease. Using a dynamometer – a device you squeeze as hard as possible to asses strength – the researchers concluded: “Each 11-pound decrease in grip strength over the course of the study was linked to a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, a 9% higher risk of stroke and a 7% higher risk of heart attack.”

grip tools

Don’t take this as your cue to spend your time in the gym performing nothing but wrist curls. Building strength and muscle across your entire body is as close as we’re going to get to the fountain of youth at this stage. But the evidence linking improvements in grip strength with decreases in all-cause mortality (aka your likelihood of dying, of anything, anytime soon) is compelling, nonetheless.

This isn’t an isolated study, either. There’s a body of research that strengthens the relationship between grip strength and health. Another paper released in 2015, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that those with a lower grip strength were more likely to be diabetic or record a higher blood pressure.

Your grip, then, really could be one ‘weak link’ that is worth fixing. Luckily for you, we can show you exactly how. But first, an anatomy lesson.

What Muscles Make Up the Grip?

First of all it’s important to note that grip strength isn’t just about your hand strength. Grip strength involves everything from the muscle near the elbow all the way down to your fingertips.

Did you know: 35 of the muscles involved in moving the fingers lie in your forearm and hand?

anatomy of wrist and forearm muscles

During grip work, the majority of muscles used originate between the elbow and the upper portions of the forearm bones (ulna and radius) – scientifically known as the flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor digitorum profondus and the flexor policus longus – and down into the thumb or fingers (phalanges).

Types of Grip Strength

When it comes down to the things we hold in our hands, there are four main defined forms of gripping, which require different techniques and muscles. These are:

Crushing: The act of closing fingers against resistance. Similar to clamping (wrapping fingers around something and squeezing it towards the palm) and crimping (directing force with the fingers toward the callous line).

Pinching: The act of grasping something with the thumbs in opposition to the fingers. This can be performed both static (no movement) or dynamic (movement).

Supporting: The act of lifting something with fingers taking the majority of the load.

Extension: The act of opening the fingers and thumb.

close up of man holding weight in gym

athima tongloom

How Do I Test Grip Strength?

To do this accurately you’ll need a handgrip dynamometer, which will measure the maximum isometric strength of the hand and forearm muscles. To get an accurate reading, you should perform three squeezes on both hands.

hand grip strength test

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Some gyms may have these instruments – most physiotherapists and general practitioners would have – but you can purchase them relatively cheaply too.

To get a thorough (and truer) reflection of grip strength you can also use – in addition, not instead of a handgrip dynamometer – a pinch strength test, which measures the maximum isometric strength of the hand and forearm muscles when performing a pinching action. Based on numerous tests across a different age ranges, fitness levels and athletic ability, topendsports.com have produced a guide to expected scores for adults in both kg and lbs.

These are the average scores of each hand. Remember, this is not a measure of general strength:

Excellent: >141lbs (>64kg)

Very good: 123-141lbs (56-64kg)

Above average: 114-122lbs (52-55kg)

Average: 105-113lbs (48-51kg)

Below average: 96-104lbs (44-47kg)

Poor: 88-95lbs (40-43kg)

Very poor: <88lbs (<40kg)

If you’re looking for a more low-tech solution to measure your grip strength and gauge improvements, simply grab the heaviest dumbbell you can lift in the gym and, while supporting your body by gripping a handrail or squat rack with the opposite hand, time how long you’re able to hold the dumbbell at waist height before your grip gives out. Rest for 1-2 minutes before repeating on the opposite side. Again, this is not an accurate indicator of general strength, but a simple way to both test (and simultaneously improve) the strength endurance of the muscles involved in gripping.


What Are The Benefits of Improved Grip Strength?

Besides the aforementioned ‘getting stronger at almost everything’, and literally living longer, improving your grip strength has many other positive benefits (but you should really be sold by this point).

  1. Reduction in risk of carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosis.
  2. Better fine motor skills. Stronger hands make everything a little less tricky.
  3. Improved resistance to arthritis.
  4. Reduced risk of tendinitis.
  5. Muscle mass gains through strength improvements.
  6. Those strength improvements we just mentioned.
  7. Decreased risk of injury in the gym.
  8. Fewer trips to and from the car after shopping trips.

Do You Need to Improve Your Grip Strength?

It’s a fair question. There’s already more than enough to focus on in the gym, and if a massive deadlift and a pair of forearms that would make Popeye blush aren’t on your goals radar, then you may be wondering if it’s worth committing any extra effort to the cause. Before you brush it off too casually, ask yourself if you’ve ever experienced any of the following. If so, it may be a sign to rethink your strategy.

  1. You constantly drop your weights in the gym, but feel like the working muscles could have done more.
  2. Your hands and forearms begin to ache and fatigue if you’re typing for too long.
  3. You feel pain in your wrists, forearm or elbows when lifting in the gym.
  4. You find you constantly have to readjust your grip when carrying items or walking the dog.
  5. You find your hands cramping up when performing everyday tasks.
  6. You have trouble carrying the shopping bags in without putting them down for a break.

7 Best Exercises to Improve Grip Strength

Thankfully, grip strength is something you can work on almost instantly and will see improvements quickly.

‘You can develop great forearms and a monster grip in no time by focusing on compound movements requiring maximal grip recruitment such as deadlifts and a variety of dumbbell exercises,’ says fitness adviser Scott Mendelson.

Below, we’ve broken down the best exercises to improve your grip strength, from moves you can do in the gym to basic movements you can do using just your bodyweight. We’ve also included a couple of top tips and easy wins to help speed up the process.

1. Deadlift

deadlifts

The simplest way to stress your forearms and improve your grip strength is lifting heavy. And there’s nothing better, or more effective, than deadlifts. Quite simply, lift heavy things off the floor – safely, may we add – and put them back down again. Deadlifts work so well because of the variety of hand grips you can use.

Top tip: Mix it up to maximise your gains. On some days, go heavy on low reps. On others, lighten the load and go for longer. This will help improve both your explosive power and strength, but also your cardio and muscular endurance.

2. Farmer’s Walks

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Zero in on the heaviest object you can lift from the ground using your hands. The aim is to walk for as long as you can while carrying the weights. When you start to tire, put the weight down, shake it off, and start again. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.

3. Plate Pinch

grip strength exercise

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Use the thickest, heaviest plates you have available and take them for a walk, or opt for a hold.

4. Meadows Rows

landmine exercises

Using the thick part of the barbell that’s not actually designed to be lifted is the ultimate hack for more grip strength. Add to that the fact it rotates, and you’ve got the perfect forearm building tool.

5. Kettlebell Swings

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High rep kettlebell swings challenge your grip to some serious ‘time under tension’. Not to mention the fact that a kettlebell handle is usually considerably thicker than a barbell or dumbbell, without the accompanying grip salving ‘knurling’ which makes those tools easier to hold onto. Kettlebells all round then.

6. Zottman Curl

best exercises to build bigger biceps zottman curl  

According to adventurer, author and elite endurance athlete, Ross Edgley, the Zottman curl is key to developing forearm strength. “The rotation in the Zottman curl will train both the muscles of the biceps and of the forearms.”

7. Reverse Grip Barbell Curl

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Hold a bar in both hands, palms facing down and simply curl up and down. “As time progresses, increase the difficulty by letting the weight roll to the end of your fingers, moving away from your palm at the bottom of the curl,” advises Mendelson.


Best Bodyweight Exercises to Improve Grip Strength

man performing pull ups

Pulling your body up to a parallel bar requires serious strength and a solid grip. Next time you’ve completed a set of pull-ups, take a look at your forearms – they’ll be pumped.

Top Tip: Once you’ve mastered this bodyweight staple, make it harder and significantly more effective for building grip strength by using either fat grips or simply throwing a couple of towels over the bar to add to the challenge.

dead hang

2. Dead Hang

Dead hangs are a great way to build grip strength. As the name suggests, all you have to do is hang from an overhead bar with your arms outstretched and your body in the hollow position. New to the hand? Begin by gripping the bar 20 to 30 seconds at a time. Old pro? Make the movement more challenging by adding weight.

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3. Press-Ups (fingers only)

Granted, this one is a bit advanced, but once mastered is a sure-fire way to improve strength in your fingers, wrists and forearms. Get into a press-up position with your hands placed shoulder-width apart. Raise onto your fingertips. Lower your body until your chest is an inch from the ground then explosively drive back up.

4. Reverse Press-Up

By reversing your grip, which may feel a little odd at first, you’ll create a huge stretch through your forearms. Granted, this won’t directly improve strength, but the increased flexibility will allow you apply your burgeoning pinching powers to a greater range of tasks. After all, you can only be strong in positions you can get into.


Quick Wins to Build Forearm Strength

  • Invest in a set of grips. Many manufacturers now make silicone grips that wrap around the dumbbell or barbell. A wider bar means you’ll have to grip harder , increasing the tension in your forearms – you can get them, here!
  • Towels. Don’t want to fork out on grips? Towels work just as well. Just make sure they are tightly wrapped.
  • Round your wrists: If your workout today consists of dumbbells, try rotating your wrists during the move to challenge both the musculature and coordination.
  • Switch your cable grips in the gym to the ‘rope’ equivalent.
  • Wrap a rope or towel around kettlebells and grip the ends to perform reps.
  • Perform ‘towel grip’ pull-ups and rows.
towel grip pull up

How To Train Grip Strength at Home

If you don’t have extra time to commit in the gym but do want to start reaping the benefits of improved grip strength, try out some of these ‘at home’ forearm training ideas.

1/ Rice gripping

    Fill a bowl with rice. Put one or both hands into the bowl and grab a handful of rice. Squeeze your fists as hard as possible, until the majority of the rice has run through your fingers or out of your hands. Re-grip and repeat. Just wash it afterwards, yeah?

    2/ Book Pinching

    Grab two or more large books, the heavier and more voluminous the better. Think War and Peace or The Odyssey. Hold them, pinched together, at your sides. Squeeze them as hard as possible until your forearms give out, then repeat on the other side. Now that’s book smart.

    3/ Door Hangers

    Open a (sturdy) door in your house and grip it between your fingers and thumb at around waist height. Next, squat down and lean back until your arm is straight and your bodyweight is pulling against your grip. Hold here for as long as possible before switching arms. Bro tip: put a pillow just behind to protect your bum against inevitable grip failure.

    4/ Doorway Towel Rows

    This hack from MH’s own fitness editor Andrew Tracey will have you strengthening your forearms as well as blowing up your back and biceps from the ‘safety’ of your own home, using just a towel and sturdy door. We’ve put ‘safety’ in scare quotes here as a chance to again emphasise on the sturdy door part.


      Best Workouts to Improve Grip Strength

      The following workouts may not be designed specifically to increase your grip strength, but we’ll let your forearm pump be the judge of just effective they are.


      preview for 5 Most Underrated Dumbbell Exercises

      Best Stretches for Grip Strength

      Many people suffer from tight wrists because of desk work, muscular imbalances and a lack of dexterity in their muscles. Stretching can help muscles become more pliable and strengthen them. Try these:

      1. Fingers back, palms on the desk: Stretch by leaning back and forth on your bodyweight and gently side to side. Go for 15 seconds.

      2. Fingers back, palms off the desk: Lifting your palms up places the emphasis on your fingers more. Go for 15 seconds.

      3. Clenched fists: While seated, place your hands on your thighs with palms up. Close your fists and, with your forearms touching your legs, raise your fists off of your body bending at the wrist. Hold for 10 seconds.

      4. Tennis ball squeeze: Grab a tennis ball or a smaller squash ball and squeeze tightly for 15seconds at a time.


      Best Tools For Improving Grip Strength

      Attach these to your barbell, dumbbells or pull-up bar to increase the diameter and up the demands on those forearms and fingers, helping to build your grip strength.

      Power Balls

      Valhalla Fitness Power Balls

      You might get some odd looks in the gym, but hanging a pair of power balls – a tool designed specifically to help climbers improve their grip strength – over your pull-up bar is a cheat code for stronger grip.

      Adjustable Grip Strengthener

      FitBeast Adjustable Grip Strengthener

      Now 11% Off

      Does exactly what it says on the tin. Adjustable to keep challenging your grip strength as those forearms grow.

      The original forearm building tool. Available in multiple levels of resistance, some of which only a few men on the planet have ever been able to close. How’s that for a challenge?

      Door Frame Pull Up Bar

      JX Fitness Door Frame Pull Up Bar

      Now 12% Off

      Really want to improve your grip strength? Then make getting in extra strength building reps at easier. Hang a pull-up bar in a door in your house and simply perform 3 reps every time you walk past it. Stick it on the right door and you’ll look like Popeye in a week.

      Headshot of Robert Hicks

      Robert Hicks is the Executive Editor at Men’s Health UK. A Sport Science graduate and author of three fitness books published by Bloomsbury, Robert has written numerous articles on health, fitness and nutrition and created several documentaries, most notably Britain’s Steroid Epidemic and The Faces of Attempted Suicide. Robert has been working at Men’s Health UK for seven years.   
       

      Headshot of Andrew Tracey

      With almost 18 years in the health and fitness space as a personal trainer, nutritionist, breath coach and writer, Andrew has spent nearly half of his life exploring how to help people improve their bodies and minds.    

      As our fitness editor he prides himself on keeping Men’s Health at the forefront of reliable, relatable and credible fitness information, whether that’s through writing and testing thousands of workouts each year, taking deep dives into the science behind muscle building and fat loss or exploring the psychology of performance and recovery.   

      Whilst constantly updating his knowledge base with seminars and courses, Andrew is a lover of the practical as much as the theory and regularly puts his training to the test tackling everything from Crossfit and strongman competitions, to ultra marathons, to multiple 24 hour workout stints and (extremely unofficial) world record attempts.   

       You can find Andrew on Instagram at @theandrew.tracey, or simply hold up a sign for ‘free pizza’ and wait for him to appear.

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