No matter how jacked you get for the beach every summer, your grip strength is often the limiting factor in what you can actually do with your muscles, from stubborn pickle jars to scaling sheer rock faces like Alex Honnold.
“Think of it this way: If you can’t hold it, you can’t move it,” says Denzel Allen, a trainer in the San Francisco area. “Grip is necessary to perform daily tasks like carrying groceries, your suitcase, taking lids off of containers, simple things that we usually take for granted.”
In other words, grip strength is a fundamental building block of fitness. Science have even shown that it’s somehow linked to average life span: University of Michigan researchers found that people with lower levels of grip strength were more likely to die early. And unfortunately, research all shows that we are weaker than we used to be. According to a sample of 237 healthy individuals ages 20 to 34, grip strength across all men surveyed was weaker than measurements established in 1985.
The good news? There are ways you can improve your grip strength even when you’re stuck quarantined at home, with both standard gym equipment and a few purpose-built gadgets to get you strong fingers. Here, the experts weigh in with their top five items to help you get a grip.
1. The Bulgarian Bag
“This is going to be very different from any other tool in the gym, and certainly not something you’d typically have at home,” says Michael Autore, kettlebell expert and coach at high-level physical therapy practice Motiv New York. “Typically made of leather, this will quickly humble your grip strength when you use it to do things like spins overhead. I’ve worked with guys a lot stronger than me, in other aspects, that struggle to hold on to this.” Like a thin, hard-to-carry medicine ball, swings, spins, and squats will have your forearms screaming almost instantly.
2. Captains of Crush Grippers
We’re all spending a bit more time on the couch than usual lately, and the best thing about a tool like this is that you can use it mid-Netflix marathon without putting much thought into it. Grippers are available in eleven levels of resistance from a Herculean 365 pounds to a very approachable 60—neophytes should start by doing three sets of 7 to 10 reps with the 100-pound set, two to three times each week.
3. Training Eggs
Like stress balls that happen to give you world-conquering fingers, these are the perfect thing to keep at your desk or coffee table for mindless strength training. Available in 20, 30, and 40 pounds of resistance, squeezing the eggs will activate the tiny muscles in your hands that are otherwise hard to work.
4. A Pull Up Bar
“Simply hanging increases your grip strength because you’re forced to support your entire body weight,” says Mike Aidala, a strength and wellness coach in Denver. “When you’re hanging with your own bodyweight you strengthen your hands, forearms, arms, shoulders, back, and chest. It sounds so simple, but hanging belongs in the hall of fame for productive and beneficial exercises. You can do it with one or two hands, various grips, various shoulder engagement, for time…you name it.”
“You need to activate the muscles we use for our grip to have a stronger grip—here’s no point in having racing tires on a race car if the engine doesn’t create enough power to race in the first place,” says Gabe Snow, a movement coach based in New York. “So, a simple set of dumbbells can do wonders to train the forearms and lats.” Start with sets of palms-up and palms-down wrist curls.