Millennials Are Weak: Reverse the Trend with Better Grip Strength
Updated: Jul 23
Have you ever shaken a fish's hand? Besides the smell, I can imagine what it feels like: slippery, soft, and fragile. A limp handshake projects weakness and may be an indication of poor health. Today young adults have the grip strength of fish, according to new research from the Journal of Hand Therapy. Men younger than 35 have significantly weaker hand grips than their counterparts in 1985. The same is true of women ages 20-29. In our current technologically driven world, we are becoming soft. People have reduced or outright eliminated a multitude of movements that were quite common in the recent past. As a consequence, we are getting fatter and weaker. The ability to grab, hold, twist and squeeze is essential for carrying out daily functions. Alarmingly, there is a well-established link between declining grip strength and future loss of mobility. Conversely, a strong grip has been correlated with better health, vitality, and lower mortality rates.
Not enough can be said about the importance of grip strength as you age. It’s one of the strongest physical associations with longer life... In part, this association reflects the fact that grip strength serves as a great proxy for overall body strength and muscle mass, as gripping involves not only the muscles of the hand but also those of the arms and shoulder. (In fact, grip strength is commonly used as a metric for defining sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss.) - Dr. Peter Attia
Handgrip strength works as a stand-in for measuring general body strength and muscle mass. A person's handshake reveals a biopsychosocial story about her. It delivers tacit communication that initiates a conversation in almost any social or professional environment. This form of introduction can make or break the tone of a relationship. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, everyone should pay particularly close attention to the type of handshake they put forth. People are making judgments and basing their initial opinions of you on this small, yet formidable gesture.
The force generated by the hand is generated from the dozens of skeletal muscles in the wrist, forearm, shoulder and hand. The hand is an intricately complex structure whose muscles have evolved to permit an unequaled array of movements. More than 40 individual muscles in the hand, forearm and shoulder work together to achieve many movements. These muscles provide the hands with unsurpassed flexibility, extremely precise fine motor control, and bone-crushing grip strength. About a quarter of the motor cortex in the human brain (the part of the brain which controls all movement in the body) is devoted to the muscles of the hands. Our hands are a big part of what separates us from other animals because we use them in a great number of ways: to gesticulate, emote, manipulate tools, create, type words like these, and of course, lift heavy things. Our hands are instrumental in many activities of daily life.
There are 3 main types of grip strength:
The Crush Grip: is the grip between your fingers and your palm—the one you use for shaking hands and crumpling beer cans in order to look super cool.
The Pinch Grip: is the grip between your fingers and your thumb. This can be further subcategorized into individual fingers + thumb grip. Holding a pencil (something Millennials do less of).
The Support Grip: the ability to maintain a hold on something for a while—think pull-ups or a long walk home while holding grocery bags.
Muscle strength in the hands and forearms is a bellwether for our future health. Weak hands signal potential pathologies and future complications. Some causes of weakened grip are age-related and others are more insidious. It can indicate arthritis, neuropathy, tendonitis, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, malnutrition, cognitive impairment, depression, and even heart problems. On the other hand (pun intended), lack of fitness can be easily remedied. The best way to improve grip strength is to pick up heavy things daily. There are lots of specific exercises to strengthen the fine and gross motor patterns of the hand. Here are some examples:
Hanging: Find a bar, like a pullup bar or a solid tree branch, and grip tightly and hand for as long as possible. Work your way up to 2 or 3 minutes. It is an amazing exercise for your hands, forearms and shoulders.
Make a Fist: - Curl up your hand and squeeze as hard as you can for 5 seconds and release and spread your finger wide. Repeat 5 to 10 times. You can also squeeze one of those stress balls.
Farmer’s walks: Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells and walk around! Or just stand there holding the weight for as long as you can. Be careful not to drop the weights on your foot!
Towel Pull-ups: This is an advanced exercise. Wrap a pair of gym towels over a horizontal bar or branch and squeeze them tightly as you pull your body up.
Rubber Band Extensions: Find a tight rubber band (I like using the blue ones that hold the broccoli together) and wrap it around the ends of your fingers and open your hand wide. Repeat 20 times.
Dictionary Pinching: Grab one or two heavy books and pinch the ends with your fingers. Hold the books at your sides as long as you can. If this is too easy try it with 25-45 lbs plates.
Hand Gripper: Buy a hand gripper and work up to a few sets of 50 or 100. Also hold it closed for 30-60 seconds.
Barbell Finger Curls: Hold a barbell with an overhand grip in front of you with straight arms. Let the barbell roll onto your fingertips while keeping arms straight and then make a fist and contract the forearms to grip the bar up again into a closed grip.
There are hundreds of other exercises for the hands, fingers, and forearms. Find a few that you like and do them regularly. It goes without saying; in addition to hand strengthening, it's vitally important to commit to a regular full-body exercise program.
The hand is one of the most complex and elegant examples of natural engineering in the human body. The versatility of movements sets us apart from every other creature on the planet. Many undervalue the primal ability of the hand. One of the first instinctual movements a baby performs is to grip. Our hands can play the most beautiful music on the piano, help us climb the steepest cliffs in the world, and literally open doors to all sorts of new experiences.