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4 Exercises To Build A Strong Grip & Extend Your Lifespan
Weak grip is linked to a 23% increase in mortality and a subpar quality of life. Here's how to strengthen it.
Grip in 7 Bullets
You’re only as strong as your grip…
Why Does Grip Strength Matter?
Grip strength is a great proxy for overall body strength and muscle mass which are crucial to lifespan and quality of life.
Reduced grip strength is associated with a 23% increase in mortality. After age 50, the LOWEST rate of decline in total lean mass is 1-2% per year. Between ages 20 to 80, this is a loss in lean mass of 35-40%.
Since everything we do is mediated through our hands, grip is an extremely functional form of strength. If your grip is weak, everything downstream of it will be too.
How Can I Train Grip?
Farmer’s Walks. Aim for 1-minute farmer’s walks with 75-85% of your body weight. You can perform this as a superset with most other exercises.
Dead Hangs. Shoot for 2-4 sets of reps between 10-180 seconds.
Pull-ups and Finger Pull-ups. In addition to regular pull-ups and chin-ups, perform pull-ups with 2, 3, or 4 fingers from each hand.
Deadlifts. Don’t use weightlifting straps and prioritize form before going heavy.
Strength Determines the Quality & Length of Your Life
Consider two separate variables that often get rolled into one: muscle size and muscle strength. Although muscle size is generally an indication of muscle strength, they don’t always align. Neither are they of equal importance. To increase your lifespan and maintain a high quality of life into old age, strength matters more than muscle size.
The universal condition we’ll all face in our later years is sarcopenia, which is defined in magnitude by three criteria.
Low muscle strength is indicative of probable sarcopenia (1).
Low muscle quantity or quality confirms the diagnosis (1+2).
If ailed with low physical performance too, this signals more severe sarcopenia (1+2+3).
On top of the physical impairments and limitations of decreased strength, our metabolic function declines with each muscle cell we lose. Muscle mass plays a huge role in our metabolism, or how we convert, burn, and store energy.
Loss of muscle causes less glucose disposal and more insulin resistance1 and increases the likelihood of developing diabetes. Underlying metabolic diseases such as insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes can lead to the development of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases. Everything is connected.
Sarcopenia is an inevitable aspect of aging, but the rate at which it’s experienced is up to you. Grow strong and build muscle now – no matter your age, it’s never too late. Your 80-year-old self will thank you for it.
Layne Norton explains the importance of muscle mass for metabolic health.
Why Does Grip Strength Matter?
Grip is strongly correlated to overall body strength. Since everything we do is controlled through our hands, a weak grip is often indicative of a lack of total body strength. If your grip is weak, everything downstream of it is probably weak too.
Grip is an extremely functional form of strength. A strong grip allows you to open jars, give a firm handshake, grab onto something to prevent yourself from falling, and perform many other daily living activities.
Grip is often the limiting factor. Because our hands are the tools through which we do everything, a weak grip will hold you back. You can have the back and biceps of Arnold in ‘70 but if your grip is weak, you won’t be able to carry groceries inside, lift up your grandchild, or continue to function independently into old age.
Grip is extremely important for lifespan. Reduced grip strength was associated with a 23% increase in mortality in studies.
The Four Types of Grip Strength
Support grip is how long you can hold onto something when the fingers are bearing most of the load. This is an extremely important grip for daily life since just about everything we carry, move, or lift engages a support grip.
Train support grip: Dead hangs, pull-ups, farmer’s walks, deadlifts, and rows.
Crush grip is your strength when closing your fingers and palm, such as if you clenched your hand as tightly as possible. A strong crush grip allows you to open jars and give a firm handshake. If you’re a martial artist, powerful crushing strength will pay dividends in grappling.
Train crush grip: Use a thicker bar (Fat Gripz) or handheld gripping device (Captains of Crush).
Pinch grip is engaged when your thumb is facing the fingers. This grip can be performed statically (no movement) or dynamically (movement, such as walking). Pinching is rarely used in daily life but could be handy in unexpected situations.
Train pinch grip: Static or dynamic plate pinching — hold a barbell plate(s) between your fingers and thumb.
Extension grip is the opening (outward motion) of the fingers and thumb. This grip is rarely used in daily life.
Training for Grip Strength
How: Stand straight, feet shoulder-width, and squat down to grab a weight (dumbbell or kettlebell) in each hand. Stand up, pack your shoulders back and down into their sockets (“anti-shrug”), and walk forward with your head up for a set duration or distance. Keep your core engaged.
Protocol: Aim for 1-minute farmer’s walks with 75-85% of your body weight. To maximize your time, perform this as a superset with an exercise that won’t be compromised – don’t pair this with a deadlift, row, or pull-up.
How: Grab a pull-up bar at shoulder width or slightly wider with a full overhand grip (palms facing away from you). Keep your arms straight and hang.
Protocol: Perform 2-4 sets with reps lasting between 10-180 seconds, depending on your starting strength.
Dr. Peter Attia holds his patients of age 40 to a standard of 2 minutes for males and 1.5 minutes for females. Those younger than 40 are expected to be able to hang for a longer duration while those older for less. Use this benchmark to gauge your hanging strength.
How: Perform pull-ups with only 2, 3, or 4 fingers from each hand on the bar (as opposed to wrapping each hand entirely around the bar). Each finger you take away adds a level of difficulty and nudges you closer to grip mastery.
Protocol: Add finger pull-ups to your routine in addition to regular pull-ups and chin-ups. Perform 3-5 sets at 85-95% of your max for optimal strength gains (ex. if your max for 3-finger pull-ups is 10, perform 8-9 pull-ups per set).
How: Deadlifts, performed without the use of weightlifting straps, are a raw demonstration of total body strength. No matter how strong the rest of you is, you won’t be able to pick up the bar if your grip is lagging. Do not use weightlifting straps – they make your strength fragile and strip you of the full benefits of the exercise.
Protocol: There are plenty of strength training programs to base your routine on: 5x5, Wendler 5/3/1, Ogus 7/5/3, The Texas Method, and many more.
Dumbell, barbell, and kettlebell rows build a strong back and powerful grip to go with it.
TIP: When you’re close to failure on the final few reps of a set, white knuckle the bar. Squeeze it as tight as you possibly can for the final few reps. You’ll have more in the tank than expected.
When in doubt, pick up heavy objects and carry them.
Insulin Resistance (IR): When cells become less responsive to insulin. This causes your pancreas to produce even more insulin in order to lower your blood sugar which can lead to abnormally high levels of insulin in your blood (hyperinsulinemia). IR often precedes Type 2 Diabetes (T2D).