This Simple Tool Offers One of the Easiest Ways To Improve Your Grip Strength, According to a Physical Therapist

Photo: Getty Images/Willie B. Thomas
From the time we get up until the time we go to bed, we probably use our hands more than any other body part to help us perform daily activities. Yet, when you hear about the importance of building muscle strength, the hands get very little—if any—attention. But grip strength (along with leg strength, if you're someone who walks) is the most functional strength we have and needs to be maintained, says Isabel Gracia, DPT, a physical therapist at Vista Physical Therapy in Texas.

“We use our hands and arms for nearly everything—brushing our hair, putting in a ponytail, opening doors or jars. That’s why it’s important for our grip strength to be as strong as possible,” Dr. Gracia says. “We often don’t think about our hands as muscles because we don’t need to tell them to bend or grip, but we use them for important fine-motor movements in day-to-day life.”

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Dr. Gracia says most of us only realize how important grip strength is when something affects it, like an injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, or trigger finger, a condition where tendons become inflamed, making it difficult to bend or straighten your digits. (As someone who suffered from trigger thumb and couldn’t open a door, write, or pick up anything for a month, I can attest this is true!)

Having a strong grip also helps lessen the chance of injury, arthritis, and other painful conditions—not only in the hands and wrists, but in the elbow, arms, and shoulders. “I see patient after patient who has a hand, wrist, or elbow injury but can’t move their shoulder,” says Dr. Gracia. “The biomechanical complex of the hands, wrists, elbows, arms, and shoulders are like going up and down a chain. Other muscles will compensate for what you’ve lost if there’s a breakdown.”

Try this simple tool to strengthen your grip

Grip strength is something we can all work on, but it becomes especially important as we age and become more prone to muscle atrophy, says Dr. Gracia. She says one of the best and easiest ways to improve grip strength is by wearing weighted gloves. Her favorite: Powerhandz Powerfit Fingerless Weighted Exercise Gloves ($44.99), with reinforced gel padding on the palm to protect against calluses and blisters.

Dr. Gracia recommends wearing the gloves when weightlifting, cross training, walking, or during other types of exercise to add resistance and strengthen the hand muscles. “One of the best ways to improve grip strength is by doing exercises that bear weight on the hands and wrist like high plank,” she says, noting that adding weighted gloves will improve the results.

Slipping the gloves on while performing daily activities is another way to improve your grip. “Wearing them while you do anything around the house will be the most functional way to integrate weight training of the wrists and hands into your day by adding resistance to things you were already doing without the gloves,” Dr. Gracia says.

If you’re prone to hand and wrist problems, Dr. Gracia says you can take things up a notch and wear the gloves while practicing the three types of functional grips:

Key grip

Pinch your thumb and top of your index finger and turn your wrist left or right like you’re opening a lock.

Pinch grip

Pinch two fingers together in a small motion like you’re picking something up.

Cylindrical grip

Grip your hands like you’re holding a water bottle. You can also add the “hook” variation, bending your fingers the same way you would as if you’re pulling up your pants.

What it's actually like wearing weighted gloves

I’ve been wearing the Powerfit gloves during weight training, and they’ve really made me more aware of my grip—and that it can use some improvement. I also slipped on a pair for a recent Pilates session and could really feel the increased resistance in my hands and wrists (the hundreds seemed more like the thousands.)

As someone who’s had trigger thumb and occasional bouts of carpal tunnel syndrome, I’m hoping that being conscious of my grip strength will help me avoid these painful conditions in the future—and doing something as simple as wearing weighted gloves to do so gets two (strong) thumbs up in my book.

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