The importance of grip strength goes beyond just being able to hang on to something or open a jar. Grip strength at some point needs to take priority in ones training in order to break through plateaus and avoid injuries. After all, grip strength is a strong indicator of overall health.
Grip strength as an overall health assessment
There is a large amount of research out there indicating grip strength as a strong assessment tool. In a notable study researchers measured grip strength in over 150,000 adults in 17 countries and followed their health for an average of 4 years. The findings published showed that each 11 lb decrease in grip strength was linked to: 16% higher risk of dying from any cause, 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, 9% higher risk of stroke, and 7% higher risk of heart attack. While many other studies have showed similar findings, the PURE study is the largest of its kind to confirm the importance of grip strength to overall health.1
With any study there is the risk of confusing correlation and causation. However, this study adjusted for other factors, such as age, smoking and exercise, and their relationship to grip strength. The findings still pointed to an increased risk of death or cardiovascular disease. It was also shown that grip strength was a better predictor of death or cardiovascular disease than blood pressure.
Grip strength can be an indicator of fatigue or readiness. If your grip strength is weaker than normal, it can mean that fatigue has built up. This can be due to poor recovery, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, stress etc.
Grip is a very strong neural driver. The harder you squeeze your hand the higher the neural drive. So in terms of training, squeezing as hard as you can will fire up the nervous system and recruit more motor units. This in turn provides stronger contractions and can help you squeeze out more reps or use more weight.
Grip training needs to be a priority in training at some point, especially for athletes or even just your casual golfer. Golfer’s elbow and tennis elbow are examples of overuse injuries. The overuse leads to imbalances between the muscles of the forearms causing pain. We need to correct these imbalances in order to resolve and prevent these issues. Elbow issues can also be a result of the biceps and triceps being trained often and grip being neglected. There needs to be a balance between the muscles of the forearm and upper arm in order to avoid an uneven pull on the elbow joint.
So, be sure to try and start putting some focus into your grip strength. You are only as strong as your weakest link, and for many that is grip. Increasing grip strength will help you break through plateaus and increase your potential for overall strength. As studies show, grip strength is a good indicator of current overall health and heart disease risk. Does this mean strengthening grip alone will reduce the risk of heart disease? Maybe not in that direct sense. However, training and getting stronger in general will lower risk of death in many fashions … so get training and get stronger!
1. Leong, Darryl P., Koon K. Teo, Sumathy Rangarajan, Patricio Lopez-Jaramillo, Alvaro Avezum, Andres Orlandini, Pamela Seron et al. “Prognostic value of grip strength: findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study.” The Lancet 386, no. 9990 (2015): 266-273.