According to research, grip strength might be an indicator of longevity. A 2018 study found that there is “clear evidence that shows low grip strength is associated with a range of poorer health outcomes,” and authors told Reuters that “grip strength showed a stronger association with cardiovascular disease than blood pressure and physical activity.” According to Phaeleau Cunneen, CPT, this is likely attributed to the fact that people with high grip strength lead a “generally more active lifestyle,” but there’s still value in integrating grip-strengthening hand exercises into your routine.
For those of us working from home, our hands have likely started to suffer due to less-than-ideal work setups. “A poor home ergonomic set up can contribute to repetitive stress injuries, muscle imbalances, and pain,” says Cunneen, which could explain why your fingers are suddenly cramping after a long day of typing on your laptop. This is where hand exercises come in.
“Any exercises that increase grip strength, like strength training, will help engage, activate and improve your hand muscles,” says Cunneen. That’s important because you want your hand muscles to function optimally so that you can perform day-to-day movements. “When you grip heavy objects essentially you are training the muscles in your hands,” adds Katie Kollath, ACE, CPT and co-founder of Barpath Fitness. “If your grip strength becomes weak, you are setting yourself up for risk of injury and worst-case scenario arthritis in the hands and wrists down the line.”
If you’re already lifting weights as a part of your regular routine, there’s good news: That process, in itself, helps to strengthen your hands because it requires you to hold onto a few extra pounds (think: swinging a kettlebell or curling a dumbbell). And in fact, even doing bodyweight exercises, like planks, can aid in making your grip stronger. “Just holding external loads—including your body weight—will improve your grip strength and will carry over to most exercises you do in your programming,” says Kollath.
If you still find your hands feeling weak or like your muscles are cramping, try putting them through one of the targeted hand exercises below.
9 Hand exercises for strength and mobility
1. Finger opposition
To build strength and mobility in your hands, touch your thumb to the tip of each of the four other fingers on the same hand, moving from your pointer to your pinkie and back again.
2. Hand circuit
If you want to increase the range of motion in your hands, put them through a small strength-training circuit. Start with your palm flat, then curl all five of your fingers down at the knuckle. Next, extend your fingers out at a 90-degree angle from your palm, and finally squeeze them into a fist (the harder you squeeze, the better it is for your grip strength). Repeat the process in reverse, then start again from the beginning of the circuit.
3. Rubberband stretch
Think of this as a resistance band workout for your hands. Place a rubber band around the backs of your fingers, and open your palm as far as you can to try to stretch it out. The added resistance that the band provides will help to strengthen your phalanges.
4. Ball squeeze
You know that stress ball you received at the company holiday party last year that’s been sitting in your top drawer ever since? Well, it’s finally going to come in handy. Place it in the palm of your hand, squeeze as hard as you can, and hold for a few seconds before releasing.
5. Tented planks and push-ups
To strengthen your hands during your regular workout routine, you’ll just need to make one tiny tweak to the moves you’re likely already doing. Instead of placing your hands flat on the floor during high planks and push-ups, place your fingers in a “tented” position so that there’s a small space between your palms and the ground. This will require your fingers to do the brunt of the work and will build strength in them in the process.
6. Seated lateral wrist extension
This weighted move will work your hands, wrists, and forearms. Grab a five- to 10-pound dumbbell and hold it vertically in one hand. Seated in a chair, place your forearm on top of one thigh with your wrist and hand out slightly past your knee. Move your wrist up and down slightly, gripping the weight as you move, and try to cycle through three sets of 20 reps on each side.
7. Seated dumbbell wrist curl
This move is similar to the lateral wrist extension but challenges your hands in a different way. Staying seated with the same five- to 10-pound weight in your hand, place the back of your forearm against your thigh with your wrist three to four inches over your knee. Flex and extend your wrist to “curl” the weight (the motion is similar to your usual bicep and tricep curls), and be sure to work through the full range of motion.
8. Seated dumbbell reverse wrist curl
Flip your seated dumbbell wrist curl in reverse for this forearm, wrist, and hand strengthener. Place the inside of your forearm on top of your thigh with your wrist three-to-four inches over your knee. Use your wrist to curl the weight up and down (ideally for three sets of 20 reps), which will help you prevent future injury in the areas you’re working.
9. Seated dumbbell finger curl
From the same starting position as the seated dumbbell reverse wrist curl, hold a weight in your hand with your palm facing up toward the sky. Allow the weight to roll down to the tips of your fingers (but stop it before it rolls off of your hands and onto the floor), then grab it with the tips of your fingers and curl it back up to start.
Another spot you’re probably not giving the love it needs? Your feet. Follow along with this stretch sequence, below.
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