While on a trip to Costa Rica where I was co-leading a yoga retreat, I was sitting on the beach when a coconut came flying down through the air and landed nearby… then I heard a loud “crack” and another flew down.

I looked up to see that one of our hosts was 30 feet above wrapped around a tall palm tree. He had scaled up the trunk with his machete, and was hacking off coconuts and tossing them down for us to eat. I was in awe.

A few minutes later a friend and I attempted to scale up the side of the same palm tree and found it to be a most comedic, and embarrassing display. However, I wouldn’t say it was lack of chest, back or core strength that stopped us from making it to the coconuts, a big issue was likely a lack of grip strength.

You see, as a yoga teacher I do plenty of pushing and pressing with my hands, but very little gripping and pulling. This palm tree showed me a major blind spot in my own strength conditioning!

Friends help friends try to scale palm trees…

What’s Wrong With a Weak Grip?

If you spend your days tapping your fingers across keyboards, sliding a mouse over a mouse pad and swiping away on your smartphone, it’s possible that you are seriously lacking in grip strength. 

Your weak hands and forearms may not have huge consequences for simple daily indoor activities, but it becomes a pretty big deal when you want to step outside and venture into the natural world.

Once you step out into nature, the power of your hands becomes supremely important.

You might find yourself dragging a canoe into the water, clutching the oars and paddling your way across a lake… then also need to paddle back to the safety of shore with the wind working against you. Plus you’ll need to pull that heavy canoe back up onto the embankment so it doesn’t float away.

You may need to gather and stack logs in your arms, wrapping your fingers around them so they don’t fall, then prop those logs up, take hold of an axe and precisely split that wood for a fire.

You might need to claw your fingertips around the edge of a rock to pull yourself up to get to the next peak… or just be able to climb up the side of your roof to rescue your escaped kitty cat.

When you’re braving it out in nature, grip strength isn’t a luxury: it’s a necessity for survival. It’s also a necessity for the sheer enjoyment of outdoor activities that take you beyond your tame indoor world and let you go back out to play in your own animal nature.

Strong Hands Mean Strong Everything

But the benefits of strong hands and forearms don’t stop here. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning reports that grip strength is “a predictor of both absolute muscular strength and endurance.”

At a recent Stick Mobility training, I was deeply inspired by founder Dennis Dunphy’s commitment to grip strength. Dunphy cited how that the biggest drivers when it comes to your overall physical power are your abdominal, gluteal, and yes, grip strength. 

Grip strength does help with holding and pulling. But it is also a big player in irradiation, which is how your body borrows more strength from neighboring muscles.

Check it out. Sherrington’s law of irradiation states: A muscle working hard recruits the neighboring muscles, and if they are already part of the action, it amplifies their strength. The neural impulses emitted by the contracting muscle reach other muscles and ‘turn them on’ as an electric current starts a motor.

You better have some grip strength for this!

Plus, for many people, the grip is the weakest link and their hands get exhausted first–which renders the rest of their strength useless! Think about it, if you can’t HOLD that object, what does it matter if you have the back/core/shoulder strength to lift or pull it?

The strength of your grip may very well be the X-factor in you taking your performance, power and outdoor adventures to the next level. As such, here are three potent ways to power up your palms!

1. Wake Up Your Palms with Therapy Balls

If you’ve mostly been doing light indoors activities with your hands, it’s likely the musculature of your palms is pretty sleepy. Get started building power my massaging these muscles at the base of the thumb called the the thenar eminence on Roll Model® Method therapy balls. (This includes muscles such as the abductor pollicis brevis, flexor pollicis brevis, opponens pollicis, etc.)

Push, smush, twist and wring out the Roll Model® Method therapy ball (either original or Plus size) to wake up the mechanoreceptors in your hands so they are ready to fire when you want to grip and grab!

Rolling out the palm of the hand with a Roll Model® Method therapy ball

2. Learn the Power of Pulling

Grip strength comes into play particularly when you need to pull. Add exercises to your workouts that involve gripping and pulling such as pull-ups.

As shown below, don’t just hold your hands in one position. Practice forearm pronation, supination and any other ways you can think of gripping to optimize the strength of your finger and thumb muscles and forearm flexors such as flexor digitorum profundus, flexor carpi radialis, palmaris longus and flexor carpi ulnaris.

Pull ups demand a strong grip

Be sure to flip your grip to optimize strength in the hands and wrists

3. Go Out and Play With a Variety of Objects!

Variety is the spice of… strength. So fire your gardener, cancel the house-painters, plan to chop down your own Christmas tree and become the captain of your own ship. Instead of relegating these manual tasks to others, do them yourself!

Simply by engaging in a wide variety of tasks with your hands you will improve grip strength and forearm and hand mobility in innumerable ways.

That’s right—work your way to healthy hands. As you gain strength, you’ll also save cash you used to shell out to others. Can you imagine? You might’ve been paying others to get the grip strength you wanted and needed all along? No more. You can raise your own missenmast now!

Use your grippers to grip all kinds of interesting objects…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liked this article? Read Training for a Big Move: Back Stability, Grip Strength and Beyond

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Kila Divina

I couldn’t agree more with how important grip strength is! I’ve found lately mine is nowhere near how solid it was when I was sailing the pacific: hoisting sails, pulling lines in, climbing the mast, collecting firewood when on the islands, handling a machete safely, getting those coconuts… Now that those aren’t a part of my daily routine, incorporating more grip strengthening will absolutely be added to my practice. I may need to invest in a pull up bar! Thank you!

Jill

My training with kettlebells has definitely shown me how much my grip strength could improve! After multiple sets of swings, cleans, high pulls and snatches… the first part of my body to fatigue is always my hands! I am going to try out some of the tune up ball work to wake up my hands before my next kettlebell session. Thanks for the post!

Diane

I started using kettlebells a lot in my training, too, in the last few months. It has really improved my grip strength. For the first while, however, I didn’t know what was wrong. After a few minutes of Farmer’s Carry the bells would just begin to slowly slide down my hands and I’d have to stop before they fell. Yet my arms were not tired. Then realized it was my hands! Continued practice with various weights and pulling ropes and battle ropes, throwing medicine balls etc. have all helped. What I want to try now is the therapy balls. They… Read more »

Rudie

So helpful! I have been actively working on my pull-up focused mainly on my upper arms, and core forgetting that my grip strength is part of this movement!

Mike

Very relatable article! I’ve def been in situations where I knew I could lift heavy weights, but my grip just wouldn’t let me, making my strength in other muscles useless. Really liked your suggestion with the balls. I haven’t tried them against a lower elevated surface like its shown in the picture. Def gonna give that a try.

Margaret Rose

Wow! Never considered grip strength as one of the drivers of overall power. Absolutely going to mix it up (different objects) and get to gripping.

Alyssa

I like the idea of using roller balls on my hands, especially as my fingers are feeling tight from being relaxed while playing e. bass.

Sandy Ellis

Thanks! I take grip strength for granted but I coach fitness to people with Parkinson’s and grip strength is a huge problem. We have several “tools” we use to assist in gaining strength but you have added some additional ideas for all of us to apply to our workouts!

Pamela Ferner

This was fun to read and just so tuned in with my current lifestyle choice. I’d add the importance of grip strength for pulling the rope attached to your container of food up a tree to keep protect it from the bears. Throwing the rope up that high in the first place is another challenge!

Stephanie

Yes! I love the “get out there and play with a variety of objects” call to action! The varied surfaces that the natural world offers us many different variations of grip strength when climbing outdoors. Although I use my therapy balls in the office to alleviate discomfort from being on the computer all day, I haven’t thought to bring them outside and use them on my hands – only legs and back so far. Definitely including my pairs in my climbing pack this weekend.