Aug 1, 2016
Getting a Grip
David Stern

Grip strength is an integral part of any athlete’s ability to perform. It has also been shown to be an indicator of overall health and physical strength. Recently, Danielle-Douglass Gabriel of the Washington Post discussed ways in which grip strength can be improved.

A strong grip plays an important role in the success of certain athletes, such as football linemen, gymnasts, and wrestlers. “Having general health in your hands is important,” says Ethan Reeve, assistant athletic director of sports performance at Wake Forest University. “Extension is just as important as flexion in the fingers, so you need to build the muscle on the top side of your hand and those on the other side.”

Reeve explains that when looking to build grip strength, balancing the muscles used to open and close the hands should always be taken into account. If the muscles used to close your hands are overworked, then you might develop tendonitis. A good way to strengthen both sides of your hand muscles is to shove your hand into a bowl of rice or sand and extend and flex your fingers.

In order to improve grip strength, it is important to first understand the three different types of grip: crush, pinch, and support. Each plays an integral part in the overall sturdiness of your grasp.

The crush grip is the strength between your fingers and your palm, which is used when shaking hands or crumbling up a piece of paper. The pinch grip is the strength between your fingers and thumb, and this is used to hold a pencil or grab a piece of paper. When holding onto something for an extended period of time, such as the handle of bag, you are using what is called support grip.

Scott Caulfield, head strength and conditioning coach at the National Strength and Conditioning Association, recommends a number of exercises that can improve overall grip strength, such as a standard deadlift. “Doing exercises like a deadlift will work your grip because it’s a total-body exercise, and your grip tends to give out first,” Caulfield says. “You can also train your fingers by letting a dumbbell roll down your hand and catching it at the tip of your fingers.”

Other exercises that improve the three aspects of grip strength include the following:

Gripper squeeze (crush grip): Grab a hand gripper and flex your fingers into your palms. Squeeze in and out for 20 seconds, and then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this pattern for three sets. This can also be accomplished with a stress ball.

Plate squeeze (pinch grip): Take two weighted plates, the ones you would add to a barbell, and hold them together in one hand. Make sure your thumb is on one side and your fingers are on the other. If two plates are too heavy, try just holding one plate for as long as you can.

Dead hang (support grip): Hang from a pull-up bar for as long as you can with your arms completely straight. It can help to test out different positions to really work your hands. For example, try keeping one hand clasped over the bar while the other hand grabs from under the bar.

David Stern is an Assistant Editor at High School Athlete Performance.

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