When you weight train, you probably focus mostly on larger muscle groups. That’s because working larger muscle groups burns more calories and boosts your metabolism more. The larger muscles are also just more obvious and machines cater to them in gyms. One thing (especially women) may be neglecting is grip strength work.
Grip involves everything from the musculature near the elbow down to the fingertips. This is because many of the forearm and hand flexor muscles actually originate above the elbow and anytime a muscle crosses a joint, it will in some way influence it.
Some interesting facts: some research shows that grip strength is a predictor of overall mortality in middle-aged and older adults. Since grip strength is an indirect reflective of muscle mass and functional status, a decrease in hand grip strength is predictive of an increased risk for future disability. It’s also correlated with nutritional status. With reduced calorie intake, you lose muscle mass and grip strength decreases. Research shows that declines in hand grip strength are linked with protein loss and loss of muscle mass (apec-s.com). This is why thick bars were developed in the fitness world. To do all the same movements just with a very thick bar that is harder to grab.
There are 35 muscles involved in movement of the forearm and hand, with many of these involved in gripping activities. During gripping activities, “the muscles of the flexor mechanism in the hand and forearm create grip strength while the extensors of the forearm stabilize the wrist. Itt can be concluded that the anatomy of the hand is more geared toward flexion than extension (bodybuilding.com).
Some exercises to perform to increase grip strength:
1- Wrist roller (piece of equipment with two handles and a small weight hanging on a rope/string that you roll up and down)
2- Reverse wrist curls (with a weighted bar or empty bar-prone position)
3- Wrist curls (with a weighted bar or empty bar-supine position)
4- Bar hang (hanging from a pull-up bar for as long as you can with overhand grip)
5- KB hold/farmer carry (holding a KB or bar in each hand with shoulders back and chest out)
Most kinds of weightlifting involving a barbell, indirectly works grip strength as well. Don’t use straps to help you hold onto a bar, only lift as much as your hands can hold.
If you need one more reason to work on your grip strength it is this. For your own safety. If you are ever attacked by someone, they will use their hands to do most of the work to restrain you, hit you, squeeze, etc. The stronger your grip strength is, the better you are to protect yourself from their grip, as well as cause damage of your own with your own strength.
When your grip strength improves, less neural drive is needed for the forearm and hand muscles to perform other exercises. That is why many people report breaking training plateaus in a host of lifts, ranging from dead lifts to curls, after doing a grip specialization routine. The Art of Manliness article sums up the benefits of a stronger grip in a helpful way:
Stronger Grip = Stronger Handshake
Stronger Grip = Bigger Lifts
Stronger Grip = Better Injury Resiliency
Stronger Grip = Better Later Life Quality.