A firm handshake doesn’t just give make a good impression – it can also indicate how healthy your heart is and how long you might live.
A four-year study of more than 140,000 adults in 17 countries found that every 11lb (5kg) decrease in grip strength over the course of the research was linked to a 16% higher likelihood of death from any cause, a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, and a 9% and 7% higher risk of stroke and heart attack, respectively.
The research, published in The Lancet, added that grip strength was a better predictor of cardiovascular disease than blood pressure, and noted a strong correlation between grip strength and cardiovascular disease even when results were adjusted for other factors that can contribute to heart disease, such as age, smoking and lack of exercise.
“My favourite grip-strengthening move is a thumbless overhand preacher curl,” says Dan Yeomans, two-time Welsh physique champion. “Load an EZ-bar with a weight you can perform 15 standard preacher biceps curls with, but hold it with a thumbless overhand grip. Raise the bar, squeezing your fingers hard. Hold the top position for two seconds, then take three seconds to lower it back to the start. Do three sets of 12 reps.”
Rope climbs are a phenomenal way to challenge your grip while also building a strong upper body, but you can also make minor tweaks to regular gym moves. “Swap half your pulling exercises in the gym with rope variations,” says functional fitness expert Andrew Tracey (wayofthenomad.co.uk). Use the rope attachment instead of the metal handle for rowing moves – and even pull-ups. “As well as a bigger range of motion, you’ll get an added grip challenge and the harder you grip, the more muscles you engage in your forearms, biceps and deltoids.”
Try to get out of the gym too. “A weekly climbing or bouldering session will develop your finger strength and make workouts more fun and varied,” says Tracey.
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The Best Kit to Build Grip Strength
Looking for gym kit that’ll help you strengthen your grip? One thing you don’t want is wrist straps, which are designed to let your grip off the hook. “If you must use them, save them for the final, heaviest deadlift set or your grip will limit your potential for strength gains,” says Tracey. He recommends these three grip-enhancing bits of kit for one session a week to activate your forearms and crush the life out of your workout.
How: Slip them on dumbbells for curls and presses.
Why: “These transform standard dumbbells into fat ones, doubling the amount of work your forearms have to do to hold on,” says Tracey. “You’ll have to reduce the weight at first, but you’ll be able to lift way more in the long run.”
How: Attach them to an overhead bar for chin-ups and pull-ups.
Why: “These spherical grips test your finger strength – another common weak link – and give you similar benefits to bouldering. Use them for the first couple of sets before your fingers tire,” says Tracey.
Why: “These force you to squeeze them shut around a dumbbell or barbell handle, so they’re more versatile,” says Tracey. “Use them for hammer curls and you’ll add a wedge of muscle to your biceps.”