Most people are familiar with the major muscle groups of the limbs. You can probably point to your biceps, triceps, quads, hamstrings and calves with no problem. Ok smarty-pants, it’s quiz time! Quick, name ONE muscle in the forearm…..
If you managed to get Extensor carpi radialis longus or Flexor digitorum profundus, well done! I tip my hat to you! If not, don’t feel too bad. There are actually 20 muscles in the forearm and most of them have crazy, latin-derived, multi-word names. Much like their names, these muscles tend to be forgotten in most training programs. The forearm muscles are incredibly important, contributing to a variety of functions including elbow, forearm, wrist and finger movement. Arguably, the most important and functional duty of these forearm muscles is grip.
Grip is used in almost everything. If an activity requires your arms, there’s a good chance it requires some type of gripping. While our grip strength is not often a limiting factor in our daily lives, it definitely can be. Have your dinner plans have ever been stymied by a stubborn jar? Do you find yourself making 15 trips from the car to the house to move all your groceries? You may need to work on your grip strength! In the athletic world, sports such as rock climbing and gymnastics place huge demands on grip strength. For athletes and non-athletes alike, strength training can be limited by a weak grip. If your grip is fatiguing before the targeted muscle group, you won’t be getting the full benefits out of your exercise.
As we age, grip strength is also a good predictor of overall health. Elderly people with a stronger grip are less likely to have nutritional deficits, loss of muscle mass, and display better overall function and medical health. Now, I’m not saying that just training your grip will make you live longer but it can definitely make your life easier. Let’s take a look at some easy ways to improve your grip strength!
There are two variations of whole-hand grips used for strength related tasks. The most common is the crush grip, where your fingers and thumb curl to wrap around an object. Picture the grip you would use to crush an empty can. The second is a pinch grip. This is usually used on a larger object that the fingers aren’t able to curl around so the fingers and thumb are kept straight and pinch the object between them.
1. Crush Grip
2. Pinch Grip
Luckily, training grip strength is pretty easy. All you have to do is hold heavy things! Here are a few simple exercises to specifically target grip strength:
Grab a heavy dumbbell, kettlebell, or even barbell (if you want a real challenge) in each hand and go for walk. It’s as easy as that! Take short, slow steps and be mindful of maintaining a strong upright posture while you walk. Focus on squeezing the weight as hard as you possibly can! A good starting point will be a weight that you can only hold for 20 meters or about 30 seconds and progressing from there.
Thick Grip Exercises
Any exercise can be adapted into a grip strength exercise by increasing the diameter of the weight/handle that is being held. There are commercial products made specifically for this purpose that fit nicely onto most barbells and dumbbells. For the more financially savvy amongst you, a cheap piece of foam or hand towel can be wrapped around a weight to effectively increase the diameter and challenge your grip. This is an easy way to turn exercises like bicep curls and rows - that traditionally use less weight - into effective grip strength builders.
While the other two examples tend to focus more on crush strength, the best way to increase pinch strength is by “pinching” things. Weight plates are the easiest to use in a gym setting. Bumper plates (the colourful ones) are great because they’re thicker than traditional iron plates and therefore more challenging. If you only have iron plates, taking 2 or 3 smaller plates (2.5, 5 or 10 kg) and pinching them all together can get a good forearm burn going! If you don’t have a gym membership - be creative! Here at Stoke we like to use our surfboards! To make pinches more challenging without increasing the weight, add some movement. This can be as simple as walking around or twisting your arms back and forth.
If a bone-crushing handshake, Popeye arms, or having a strong, functional grip seem appealing to you, take hold of your training (get it?!) and give these gripping exercises a try!
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