Press-Republican

May 15, 2012

Grasping the concept of hand strength

TED SANTANIELLO, Fit Bits
Press-Republican

---- — While the grip may not always be the first thing on your mind when exercising, it can be the key to making many things easier in the home or when playing a sport.

Whether it is in the gym or in everyday life, our hand grip is often called upon to get the job done. Without a strong grasp, it would be very difficult to work our upper body.

Many clients have come to me complaining that their grip has gotten weaker over the years, and they find they have a hard time opening jars and bottles. There are many different ways to help make these tasks easier.

On the other side of things, those participating in baseball, tennis, basketball and even wrestling should really pay attention to how strong their grip is. In all these sports, a good grip can give you an advantage over your opponent and more control over the outcome of the game itself.

When I was younger, I used to do indoor rock climbing just for fun. I realized my grip was not sufficient at all for the sport. Over time, though, it became stronger, and I could hold on longer.

Before this time, I also would strength train using dumbbells and barbells. Though I thought this would be enough to develop a good grip in climbing, I was completely amazed at how inadequately my hand grip stood up to the grips in the wall I was climbing.

This is where I learned that barbells and dumbbells aren't necessarily the best ways to improve your grip. They do to some extent, but to really improve the grip, you need to do non-traditional exercises that require gripping objects that aren't easy to hold on to.

One way to do this for advanced users is to switch your typical bar grip to something like a rope or towel. An example of this can be doing towel pullups. These are done by simply draping two towels over the pullup bar and griping them instead of the bar while pulling up. You would be holding on to the two towels like they were ropes. This technique is very effective but can be difficult to do if you are not conditioned to a pullup yet.

To change this up, try just wrapping the towels around the bar a few times to make the bar thicker. Now put your hands over the towel and the bar and do your pullups again. The thicker the bar, the harder it is to hold on to, not to mention that the towel may move when gripping it.

If pullups are not in your regular routine, there are many other alternatives. Medicine-ball training has always been a favorite of mine because using a medicine ball works so many parts of your body if done correctly, including your grip.

A typical medicine ball is completely round and requires grip strength to hold on to. Some have handles on them, but if you really want to work grip strength, don't use the handles and spread your fingers out around the ball. Any exercises you do with the medicine ball will be more than enough for the muscles of the wrist and hand.

If you really want to go outside the box, you can also try a bucket of rice. This is a great way to increase all of the muscles surrounding the forearm. Fill a five-gallon bucket two-thirds full with uncooked rice. To exercise your grip, stick your hand into the rice and swish your hand around under the surface. Open and close your hand and rotate your wrists at the same time. You should notice the muscles working fairly intensely to keep your hand moving in the viscous material.

More traditional methods include using a dumbbell or barbell to do wrist curls. While sitting on a chair or bench, lean forward and place the back of your forearms flat on your thighs so that your palms are up and your hands hang off beyond your knee. With a weight in hand, curl your wrist up and back down. Do a set of 20 and then turn your forearm over so your palms point down. Do the same thing again.

These two exercises work the flexor and extensor muscles of your forearm, resulting in better wrist strength.

While grip strength may not seem as important as conditioning the rest of your body, it can determine how much you ultimately lift. Although many weight lifters and body builders use straps to hold on to the bar, the straps tend to take away from the natural lifting ability of your body.

It is my experience that if your grip can't hold on to a weight load, it is because your body is not ready to lift it as safely. A failing grip may be your body's natural way of telling you that it can't handle the load yet, and it needs more time to adapt.

When it comes to doing everyday activities that challenge the grip, doing some of the simpler exercises mentioned previously can pay off tremendously.

Ted Santaniello, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer and the fitness manager at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.