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Come on, get a grip!

My good friend Mike suggested that I have a Set for Life stand at his Alvaston Summer Fete last Saturday. This was an opportunity to chat with people about anything related to health and fitness, but I was wondering how to generate enough interest to compete with Splat the Rat and the 'guess the weight of the cake' contest!

Part of our Health & Fitness MOT is measuring grip strength using a dedicated dynamometer. I decided to use it for a Top Gear style leaderboard contest, with entry fees going to charity. The children thought that my display of popular drinks and bags of white stuff were the prizes, not realising they were there to show parents the shocking amounts of sugar per serving!

The grip dynamometer displays force in kilograms from squeezing the handle as hard as possible for approximately three seconds. I standardised the technique by asking everyone to hold their arm straight down by their side. There are many tables and formulas used to calculate normal ranges, and a simplified version for adults is shown below.

There’s nothing like a friendly competition to draw a crowd, and three of the four categories were keenly contested. I was very impressed that one lady in her 70’s produced an excellent score, and held second place for most of the afternoon.

A hearty handshake

When things quietened down, it gave me chance to answer questions about why grip strength is important.

The BBC posted a story about a recent trial of over 140,000 people, where the results suggested that testing grip strength may be better than using blood pressure to assess cardiovascular health.

It seems that the stronger your grip (excluding an injury or recovering from something like carpal tunnel surgery) the less likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke.

The reasons why are not yet fully understood, but it could be related to arterial elasticity. Stiffer arteries in the heart may well be mirrored by stiffer arteries all over the body. This would manifest itself in weaker overall strength – with the grip being a practical way of checking.

This is not to say that building your strength is the only thing you should do to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, a whole host of lifestyle factors should be taken into account, particularly managing stress and dietary intake!

A gripping conclusion

Roughly 75 people took part in the Grip Strength Challenge, and the photo below shows the top results per category.

I had to admire the confidence of one lad who boasted that he had “super martial arts power” and might break the dynamometer! To his credit, he ended up coming second, with Mike’s son Josh the clear winner (who actually started resistance training with me several weeks ago, to boost his swimming performance!)

Open big jars like a pro

Having a good grip is useful in everyday life, so how do you get one? Grip is an integral part to any exercise that involves a pulling movement, such as a horizontal row, chin-up, bicep curl or deadlift. The strength of the muscles and tendons in the forearms and fingers correlate with gripping power, and usually scale alongside the development of much larger muscles, such as those in the upper back.

If you would like to specialise, they are many designs of grip training devices out there. This inexpensive version sold on Amazon has variable resistance, which you could use to perform multiple repetitions while doing something else, such as watching the TV.

Unless a much lower than average grip score is recorded (or a specific request is made) grip strength is not prioritised for our initial Personal Training sessions, as it will naturally increase over the course of a programme.

To find out where your grip stands, book in for your Health & Fitness MOT today, which is packed full of many important markers not covered by standard clinical tests.

PS. I left my competitive grip attempt until last, thinking I might pip Mark to the overall title, despite having wrists like a sparrow's ankles. I hit my personal best, but he still won using his “weaker side” after spending the morning tiring his right arm by hammering nails at work!

Next time...

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