5 Exercises to Strengthen Your Grip (and Why It Matters)

Por Elizabeth Millard, instructora certificada A.C.E., profesora de yoga titulada RYT-200 |

Your grip may be more important than you think. In fact, it can point to how well you're aging. Here's how - plus easy exercises to build grip strength.

Exercises to build grip strength for seniors

Unless you have a stubborn pickle jar or you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, you may not think about your grip strength. But research suggests a hearty handgrip may be one of the prime markers of your future independence.

Grip strength is currently the most widely used way to identify overall muscular strength for older adults. Thats because it’s one of the easiest ways for doctors to quickly check how strong the rest of your body is, reports the Cleveland Clinic. Studies highlight the positive and negative associations between the strength of your handgrip and how well you function as you age.

The authors of one 2019 study, for example, went so far as to call grip strength an "indispensable" biomarker of aging. That puts it right up there with things like bone density scans for helping doctors identify the fall risk and other personal health risks of older adults.

The Importance of Grip Strength as You Age

Why would your grip matter that much? It's because a strong grip requires a certain level of muscular force. It's partially a measure of hand and forearm strength, but it also gives doctors a clue about muscle mass throughout the body.

Some research even suggests that those with a better grip may live longer. Researchers of the Long Life Study (an offshoot of the Women's Health Initiative) followed a group of more than 5,000 older women for about five years. They wanted to find out how changes in their weight (did they gain or lose pounds) and other factors, including grip strength, impacted the women's physical capabilities as they got older - and their mortality.

The results were pretty clear: The stronger the grip, the lower the all-cause mortality risk.  That good grip helped women score higher on the National Institute on Aging’s balance, gait, and strength assessment tool called the Short Physical Performance Battery. And the association was independent of any positive or negative weight changes. (The findings were published in 2022 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.)

Although all types of strength training may have an effect on your grip since you’ll have more muscle mass overall, focusing on hand and arm strength can be especially beneficial, so it’s good to include some of those moves into your weekly workout mix.

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How to Do the Exercises to Build Grip Strength

Be sure to get your doctor’s OK before beginning a new exercise program, especially if you have any chronic conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis. With moves where you’re using your hands and wrists, it’s particularly important to make sure you get the green light if you have arthritis in your hands or other conditions affecting your hands.

The five grip-strength exercises below are meant to be done without dumbbells. That makes them gentle enough to do every day.

What you need:

Space to move
Comfortable clothing
Sturdy chair for support
Water to sip, as needed

Exercise #1: Wrist Curls (Flexion and Extension)

How to do it:

  • Sit up straight in a chair and position your wrists off the edge of your knees, palms up.
  • Flex your wrist up, using only the wrist and not any other part of your arm.
  • Pause, and return to starting position.
  • Do three sets of 10 reps.
  • Rest for 30 seconds, then perform the movement in reverse, as follows:
  • For reverse wrist curls, face your palm down.
  • Flex the wrists upward again for three sets of 10 reps.

Recommended FREE SilverSneakers On-Demand Class: Exercises for Carpal Tunnel

Exercise #2: Wrist Circles

How to do it:

  • Sit up straight in a chair and extend your arms in front of you at chest height.
  • Make a loose fist and circle your wrists toward each other and then away from each other.
  • Continue for 20 to 30 seconds.

Recommended reading: 5 Better Ways to Get Stronger, According to Physical Therapists

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Exercise #3: Soft Open and Close Fist

How to do it:

  • Sit up straight in a chair and extend your arms in front of you at chest height.
  • Make a loose fist, then “open” your hands, spreading your fingers as wide apart as you can, then “close” your hands.
  • Continue for 20 to 30 seconds.

Exercise #4: Hammer Curl Pulses

How to do it:

  • Siéntese o párese erguido con el pecho levantado y los hombros hacia atrás y hacia abajo.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides and palms facing in.
  • Keeping your torso stationary and your elbows tucked close to your sides, bend your elbows (not your wrists) to curl the weights up to 90°.
  • Working with a very small movement, “pulse” the weights up and down for 20 to 30 seconds.

Exercise #5: Biceps Curl Combination (Pulse to Slow Release)

How to do it:

  • Siéntese o párese erguido con el pecho levantado y los hombros hacia atrás y hacia abajo.
  • Sostenga una pesa en cada mano con los brazos a los lados y las palmas hacia adelante.
  • Manteniendo el torso inmóvil y los codos pegados a los costados, flexione los codos (no las muñecas) para llevar las pesas hasta los hombros.
  • Pause, then “pulse” the weights slowly to and away from your shoulders for a count of three.
  • Slowly lower your arms with control.
  • Repeat the two-part biceps curl for 20 to 30 seconds.

Recommended video: 4 Ways to Do a Biceps Curl

See our sources:
Grip strength as an indispensable biomarker for older adults: Clinical Interventions in Aging
Impact of grip strength, weight change on mortality rates of older women:  Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
Short Physical Performance Battery assessment: National Institute on Aging

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