Having good grip strength is vital for health & performance

Our hands are almost the perfect gripping machine; otherwise, that would make bicep curls difficult.

Our long opposable thumbs, which allow us to grip and separate ourselves from the apes, are a throwback to our great ancestors that used to swing from the trees. Believe it or not, your grip strength is a gift you are born with.

In a series of experiments in the late 19th century by Louis Robinson, an English surgeon tested 60 infants by hanging them from a suspended walking stick. With only two exceptions, the infants could hang on, sustaining their grip on the stick for at least ten seconds, and many could do it for almost a minute. (1)

Our papillary ridges (your fingerprints) are those more rigid, thicker parts of the skin that allow us to grip and hold weight in your hands. Similar to the grip on the bottom of your shoes. Grip strength in the gym is needed for many exercises and can limit performance. Your activities of daily living require a certain level of grip strength.

Hello, pickle jars.  

Here I’ll get into the health benefits of grip strength and a few exercises you can incorporate into your current workout so you can open all the pickle jars.  

Grip Strength and Mortality

The Lancet published a study in 2015 covering the health outcomes of nearly 140,000 people across 17 countries who were tracked over four years via various measures—including grip strength. (2)

Grip strength was not only “inversely associated with all-cause mortality”—every 5-kilogram (kg) decrement in grip strength was associated with a 17 percent risk increase.

Improves Your Quality Of Life

You’ve all seen it in the movies; the hero hangs off the edge of a mountain or building. The only thing between the hero and certain death is grip strength. Eventually, the hero does a pull-up, or someone else grabs hold of their hand to save them. It’s not like that in our day-to-day lives, but your ability to grip stuff, sometimes for long periods, is essential to your quality of life, like changing a tire on the side of a highway. 

A reduced grip strength is associated with an eightfold risk of developing muscular disability among older adults. Substandard grip strength has been related to adverse weight gain among women and mortality among men. (3)

Reduces Heart Disease Risk

Reduced grip strength has been associated with increased heart attacks and strokes. Grip strength is a stronger predictor of all-cause cardiovascular mortality, more than systolic blood pressure. (4)

This doesn’t mean because you have one foot in the grave, but it does mean there’s a link between the two because many other factors are at play regarding heart disease.

3 Exercises For Better Grip Strength

The three exercises below train the fingers, thumb, wrists, and forearm that combine for a firm grip. The hand and forearm flexor muscles generate grip strength while the forearm extensor muscles stabilize your wrist. Both work together to give you a better grip and crushing handshake.

Ready to get stronger? Then let’s go.

3 Way Chin Up Hold

Note: This exercise is just as good if you cannot do a chin-up.

A 3-way chin holds strengthens your grip in three different positions but helps you improve your chin-up performance. The isometric holds in each position test your forearm and grip strength, giving you increased time under tension for potential Popeye forearms.  

How to do it:

Either use a box to elevate yourself or jump up and grab the bar to get the top position of the chin-up. Hold for ten or more seconds, lower to just above the 90-degree elbow position, and hold for ten or more seconds. Then lower to an elbow slightly flexed position and hold until grip failure.

Programming suggestion: Do this once a week as part of your warm-up and aim to increase the time a little each week.   

Plate Pinches

Your fingers are strong enough for some people to climb mountains or hang from the edge of them in the movies while supporting their entire weight with a few fingertips. While many grip exercises use a crush grip (think crushing a soda can), the plate pinch trains the pinch grip, strengthening the fingers and thumbs. The plate pinch has a huge carryover to opening the pickle jar.

 How to do it:

There are two ways to do this. Use a 25- or 45-pound bumper plate (depending on your strength level) and hold for time. Or two or more 10-pound plates, smooth side out, and hold for time. Hold until your fingers give out, and to make things more interesting, you can go for a walk.

Programming suggestion: Do this once or twice weekly, one side at a time, until failure. Pairing this with a pressing exercise works well because it doesn’t demand much grip strength, and you get more work in less time.

Bottoms Up Kettlebell Carry

Holding a KB bottoms-up is a simple but challenging way to improve your grip strength and give you great-looking forearms. You are flipping the kettlebell bottoms up so the heavy portion sits above the handle, which recruits additional muscle fibers to control the unstable load. Bottom-Up carry will improve your grip and forearm strength while strengthening your shoulders. Don’t trust me? Try it and see.  

How to do it:

While standing with good posture, hold a kettlebell in one hand. Curl the KB to the front of your shoulder to chin height with your elbow level with your shoulder. Make sure the horn is in the meat of your hand with the wrist in neutral. Grip tight and walk slowly for the specified distance. Lower the weight, switch hands, reset, and repeat. 

Programming suggestion: This exercise is part grip strength and part core exercise. Performing as part of your warm-up once or twice weekly for 20-40 yards per side works well.  

Wrapping Up

Good grip strength is excellent for vanity and performance and may keep you alive longer and improve your quality of life. Because who wants to live without pickles on a hamburger? Not me. 


  1. Darwinism in the Nursery Southland Times (1892)
  2. Leong DP, et al. Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) Study investigators. Prognostic value of grip strength: findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. Lancet. 2015 Jul 18;386(9990):266-73. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)62000-6. Epub 2015 May 13. PMID: 25982160.
  3. Perna FM, et al. Muscular Grip Strength Estimates of the U.S. Population from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011-2012. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Mar;30(3):867-74. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001104. PMID: 26196662; PMCID: PMC7197498.
  4. Leong DP, et al. Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) Study investigators. Prognostic value of grip strength: findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. Lancet. 2015 Jul 18;386(9990):266-73. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(14)62000-6. Epub 2015 May 13. PMID: 25982160.

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