Grip Strength: Get Your Crush On

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by LARRY PASTOR

When it comes to strength, most people call to mind an image of a big deadlift, a big squat, or a big Olympic lift as an example. What most athletes forget is that before you can even lift the weight, you have to grip it first. If you truly want to become stronger — whether lifting your own bodyweight in gymnastics movements or moving an external weight — it all starts with the grip. Let’s learn more about grip strength and how to develop it.

Why Develop Grip Strength?

Tabata Tidbit: According to some some medical studies, weak grip strength may be associated with higher mortality rates (!).
Training grip strength does not just train your grip; rather, you are training your entire body. This training has a beneficial effect on other parts of your fitness such as endurance and stamina. Just listen to these experts.

According to The Art of Manliness, a stronger grip will improve your fitness several ways:

Stronger Grip = Bigger Lifts: When you have a strong grip, you are able to lift heavier weights in the gym. Especially in pulling movements such as deadlifts, rows, pull-ups, and chin-ups, a solid grip that you can call upon will help you increase your training results by increasing strength.

Stronger Grip = Better Endurance: When your hands and lower arms are strong, you can also perform more repetitions than someone whose weak hands are a liability.

Stronger Grip = Better Injury Resiliency: Muscles and connective tissues that are strengthened are more injury-resistant, and if injury does end up taking place, stronger tissue can usually recover faster so that you are back on top of your game.

In their daily blog, CrossFit Hillsboro also emphasizes the importance of a firm grip — too often the “weakest link” in an athlete’s set of skills. One of their favorite sources, Eric Cressey, explains:

A firm grip does so much more than connect you to the bar; it turns on more proximal muscles and gets the nervous system going, as we have loads of mechanoceptors in our hands (disproportionately more than other areas on the body). As an example, physical therapist Gray Cook often cites a phenomenon called “irradiation,” where the brain signals the rotator cuff to fire as protection to the shoulder when it’s faced with a significant load in the hand, as with a deadlift. Just grabbing onto something get more muscles involved in the process.

As if that was not already convincing, he simplifies it even further:

A strong grip is the key to transferring power from the lower body, core, torso, and limbs…

Improve your grip strength by learning to grip with your hands instead of your fingers.
In an article for the LA Times, Richard Bohannon, a professor of physical therapy at the University of Connecticut, notes, “Grip strength reflects your overall muscle status and a general sense of how much muscle mass you have.”

Think of a Grip as a Cube

Ironmind defines grip strength as a 3-dimensional cube with 8 possible combinations of prime mover, hand position, and intensity.

Prime Mover

  • Crushing – Your 4 fingers are the prime movers. An example is shaking hands.
  • Pinching – Your thumb provides the power. An example is pinch-gripping plates.

Hand Position

  • Crushing, closed hand: Finishing off a gripper
  • Crushing, open hand: Lifting a thick bar
  • Pinching, closed hand: Pinch gripping a thin plate
  • Pinching, open hand : Pinch gripping a thick plate or several plates.

Intensity

Along with these four different kinds of hand positions, there are also two different kinds of intensity that may be applied for each:

  • 1-Rep max effort, similar to 1RM weighted pullup or deadlift
  • Endurance, such as when a rock climber is ascending, during a series of holds or throughout a farmer’s walk.
Did you know? Sarcopenia is the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength associated with aging – often reflected in a loss of grip strength.
Obviously, to be successful in the “constantly varied” world of CrossFit, an athlete has to be adept at all of the above grip variations. The wrist/forearms and extensors also play a supporting role in grip strength by stabilizing the hand and providing power and muscle balance.

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