Strengthening and Protecting Your Upper Body
Why the upper body?
If you’re anything like us here at Clash PT- you’re always looking for the most effective ways to improve your health and longevity. We spend a lot of time talking about the foot and ankle and the importance of a foot to core connection with functional mobility. Now it is time to take it up the chain and address the hand to core connection and its importance in functional mobility, but also longevity. Yes, grip strength has been linked to living longer and aging slower!
Our hands are one of the most important tools that we have. They help us move things, create things, and destroy things. Useful both in functional real-word scenarios and in the gym or extracurricular setting. Honestly, we wouldn’t be getting far without them. Yet, for whatever reason, many people don’t place an emphasis on training the strength in their hands or their grip.
You do get some grip training in your day to day, as well as during regular upper body workouts because your hands are relied on in almost every exercise and during multiple activities. However, there are a number of benefits to increasing grip specific training in your daily routine.
Why a strong grip is actually more essential than you think
Grip strength has the potential to serve as a vital sign for middle age and older adults. It is a marker that can predict muscle status and physical performance. There are also studies suggesting that neurological function and brain health can be measured through grip strength, which can provide insight into a person’s longevity and health. But before we go any further let’s talk a closer look at some basic statistics when it comes to shoulder pathology and pain.
Rotator cuff disorders, adhesive capsulitis, and glenohumeral OA are all common causes of persistent shoulder pain, accounting for about 10%, 6%, and 2% to 5%, respectively, of all shoulder pain. We don’t want you to be a part of this statistic. If you’ve been following us right along- you also know these diagnoses are just a small piece to the overall pain puzzle.
If you are looking to improve your shoulder health, avoid injury and not be a part of the aforementioned statistics then we strongly advise you keep reading.
Going as far back as 2010- there are many studies that show a direct relationship between hand grip strength and rotator cuff function. What does this mean? It means training your grip can indirectly train your rotator cuff muscles. Stronger muscles and increased bone density means decreased injury risk and increased resiliency. If you’re a woman reading this you know how important maintaining healthy bone density is as we continue to age to decrease risks of osteoporosis.
While it might seem a little odd at first, we were being serious when we said earlier that grip strength has been linked to living longer and aging slower! A 2018 study has suggested that weaker grips correlate with higher chances of respiratory disease, heart disease, and cancer. Furthermore, the results of this were adjusted for sedentary time, socioeconomic status, and diet.
Not only was a higher risk of disease noted, but also a higher risk of death. Therefore, it is safe to say there is a direct correlation between grip strength and longevity. This was not the only study found. Multiple studies have shown a direct correlation between grip strength and longevity, grip strength and aging, as well as grip strength and mental health!
While we know you can’t stop aging (as much as we wish we could) we can definitely slow it down. With proper physical activity, good protein intake, an overall nutrient dense diet, and good sleep hygiene- it is possible to have a significantly lower biological age than chronological age. If you’re not sold on the grip strength concept yet, just keep reading to see what a grip focused training plan does.
Irradiation for the win
Before we get into some exercises to perform. Let’s take a step back and talk about the neuromuscular functional connection which happens in the body when we make a fist or grip something of substantial weight. This process is called irradiation. Irradiation is when the muscles in one part of the body can be “recruited” by the actions of other body parts through neuromuscular pathways. So, by gripping something you are able to recruit all of the upper extremities and the core, allowing for better strength and stability.
Grip strength exercises
An easy way to work on grip strength is to purchase a set of hand grippers and leave them around your home, your office, and/or even your car. Then you have no excuse. It is easy to implement this tool in those environments. You can train by doing 3 sets of 10 reps with a 5 sec hold at the end, you can do 2-3 sets of 5 reps for 10 second holds, or you can do 2-3 holds until failure. The variations are endless. A really simple, inexpensive tool that can go a long way.
If you’re in the gym already and you’re doing pull ups, deadlifts, overhead pressing, or barbell pressing you are targeting grip strength through a compound lift. If you have hit a plateau in one of these lifts- we strongly recommend upping your game on the grip strength and you just may see your next PR.
Without changing the lift you can increase the grip workout by grabbing a fat bar or you can throw some fat grips on the bar. If these two options aren’t available, then you can always implement different loaded carry variations. Our favorites are farmer’s carry, suitcase carry, waiter’s carry, and overhead carry. We prefer to use kettlebells as well during these carry variations to increase the stability demands on the arm.
Bar hangs are also simple to implement in the gym or at home if you want to purchase a bar to throw in the doorway. We like to implement 3-4 rounds of holding to near failure each time.
Now time to get a grip
In order to appropriately train the muscles in the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulder, and shoulder blade - one must be very intentional. You need to get a grip on training your grip. So next time you are in the gym pumping some iron or out golfing, playing tennis, baseball or whatever hobby it is- see how your grip feels. Then ask yourself- can I make it better? If the answer is yes, then that is where we are here to help!
Contact Clash PTHS today for an assessment on your upper body and grip strength. We can help you customize your own strength and conditioning program or just a unique set of exercises to improve your grip strength so you can live a long, healthy life.