Grip strength in weight lifting is often overlooked by the average gym member. The reality is that in order to take your strength training to the next level, you’ll need a strong grip. Whether you’re gripping a barbell, dumbbells or a piece of exercise equipment with handlebars, you don’t want your hands to slip which could cause injury.
For the average resistance program, the thought of improving your grip is not a go-to lift or set of exercises that you’ll regularly do. If you’re an athlete, and your sport requires you to grab something, you could be at a disadvantage.
On the other hand, if you don’t compete in sports or athletics, should you even consider improving your grip strength as part of your daily training plan? Should you follow the masses and use weight lifting gloves or chalk to improve your grip?
With over 10 years of experience as a personal trainer, I can attest that every one of our clients (athletes and non-athletes) have benefited from our hand and grip strengthening exercises that we incorporate into our strength training programs.
In this article, I’m going to outline the importance of training your hands and the potential risks involved if you opt-in to wear gloves or use chalk as you exercise. In addition, I’ll cover a recent study by PURE, the anatomy of the grip, and the risks involved wearing general strength training equipment (weight lifting gloves, chalk and lifting straps).
Published Studies on Grip Strength and Health
Between January, 2003, and December 2009, the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) conducted a study called, the “Prognostic value of grip strength” where they followed the health of 142,861 adults in 17 countries over a four year period. This study set out to see if there was a correlation of decreased grip strength and cardiovascular disease.
The study used a dynamometer device to evaluate the participants’ grip strength. “Each 11-pound decrease in grip strength over the course of the study was linked to a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, a 9% higher risk of stroke, and a 7% higher risk of heart attack” (Lewine, 2015).
The findings were that grip strength was inversely associated with all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, non-cardiovascular mortality, and stroke. There was no significant association between grip strength and incident diabetes. However, the risk of cancer and grip strength were positively associated.
A similar article about grip strength as a marker for both diabetes and hypertension was published in 2015 by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Of course, this study found similar results as the one mentioned above. Participants with a lower grip strength were higher risk to diabetic or high blood pressure health problems.
Lastly, an estimated 103 million Americans have high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. And, after reviewing these studies, there is sufficient evidence that increasing your grip strength can prevent health issues like high blood pressure, and many more.
After reading these recognized and trust worthy publications, it’s safe to say that people of all ages (athletes or non-athletes) can benefit from strength training. These studies all suggest if you devote a couple days per week at the gym and incorporate grip strength in your workouts, you will in turn help increase your cardiovascular health.
The Anatomy of the Grip
So you have a weak grip, what are the causes and how do we get it stronger? Let’s take a look at the anatomy of the grip. This is universal, so it will help everyone understand.
At its very core, the function of the grip is made up of the following body parts:
If you ever want to pick something up, such as a barbell, trash bag, or a golf club, there are over thirty (30) muscles, tendons and connective tissue that have to work together to make that happen. It may sound like a simple task, but in reality, there are a lot of moving parts. It really makes you appreciate the coordinated effort associated with picking something up. For this reason, we should all pay more attention to those muscles and have a plan to strengthen them. That’s when our grip strength increases.
By now, we should all know that grip strength is vitally important to your health and weight lifting performance. So, should we wear weight lifting gloves? How about chalk? And, finally, should we use lifting straps to increase weight training results?
Gloves, Chalk and Straps, OH MY!
There has been a lot of controversy out there about wearing gloves, using chalk or using lifting straps to enhance the grip when strength training. First, let’s take a look at why people use weightlifting gloves and chalk. Second, we’ll tackle why it’s a short term fix, rather than a long term solution. And lastly, let’s see if straps are better than chalk and gloves.
Weight Lifting Gloves
The use of weight lifting gloves has been around for a very long time. Many lifters wear them, but not everyone understands why they may be only helping them short-term. As we built our reputation as the best gym equipment reviews and vs (comparisons) resource (and gym rats in general), we've been studying weight lifting gloves and if they help strengthen our grip. Here's our thoughts, with the help of some forward thinkers:
According to Brad Potts, who is the Director of Sports Performance at Lafayette College, “gloves can act as a performance enhancer.” People who use weight lifting gloves rely on the gloves and neglect where the real issue is – grip strength. So, instead of doing hand strengthening exercises, some people opt-in to wear gloves and it’s very misleading.
Do Gloves Improve Your Grip When Strength Training?
For some people, weight lifting gloves do improve their grip when weight lifting. However, they do not improve your grip strength. That is the key answer to this question, that, in my opinion, no one has answered. My advice as a personal trainer is to improve your grip strength, not find an enhancer that will do it for you.
Should You Wear Gloves For Weight Training?
At FTS, we do not allow our clients to use weight lifting gloves for several reasons mentioned above. Our focus is solely on strengthening the hand, forearm, wrist and arm muscles that we outlined in the anatomy of the grip section. Doing this consistently in a strength training program will help increase your grip strength and you won’t need gloves.
Gym Chalk and Weight Training
Here’s the deal, big-time powerlifters have been using gym chalk for decades. Sometimes it can be necessary when deadlifting, power cleaning or performing any type of Olympic power lift. But, for the vast majority of us not deadlifting 415 lbs, or power cleaning 300 lbs, chalk should be avoided.
Should You Use Gym Chalk When Lifting Weights?
Aside from the obvious reason of gym chalk being potentially hazardous to your health, it is very similar to using gloves. In my professional opinion, you should not use gym chalk when weightlifting. Instead, incorporate grip-specific strength exercises to increase performance in the weight room and improve your overall health as mentioned above in the published studies section.
What’s all the hype about lifting straps? Why do lifters use them? And, are they better than gloves or chalk?
Many lifters use lifting straps, or sometimes referred to as “wrist straps,” to apply extra support for the wrist. The reason why lifters use straps is because they help improve your grip by taking the stress off of your wrist. You can also use the extra strap material to wrap around the barbell or dumbbell when performing a heavy lift.
Our expert advice is to work incorporate wrist-specific training exercises to improve the muscles around the wrist. This helps strengthen the wrist and your overall grip. With that being said, our team of strength and conditioning coaches believe that straps are better than weight lifting gloves and chalk. However, you should still look into the root of the problem at its core and work the muscles around that area.
We are constantly educating our readers, clients and strength coaches about the importance of grip strength and how it relates to better health and improved weight lifting performance. After reading the studies shown above and the science-backed evidence, we should all plan a grip training session during our workouts. Our recommendation is 3 times per week, or, every time you weight train.
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