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Want to get a grip? Try these hand strength-boosting exercises

Are you having a hard time opening up your jar of pickles because the lid is on just a little too tight?

“It’s my grip! I didn’t have a good hold on the jar. It’s too slippery. I’m strong enough but my hands keep giving out.”

Rowing, pullups and dead lifts all require a strong grip. How frustrating to have the strength in one part of your body, only to have an exercise grounded by grip strength.

I’m not talking about building forearms that would make Popeye jealous. I’m referring to functional hand strength. Pulling and holding weight less than or equal to your own body weight should not be outside the realm of the average person.

If you’re not held back by arthritis or chronic inflammation, then some hand strength exercises will definitely improve your strength. For those who do grapple with arthritis, pay attention to your own limits. By now you know what you can and can’t do to cause a bout of inflammation. Various hand stretches and massaging might be the trick to decreasing the intensity of pain.

My personal gym rule in training is that your grip should be strong enough to pull and/or hold your own body weight. Things like traditional pullups and body weight rows on the Smith machine should not be a problem (see my Dec. 12, 2011, column online for Smith machine exercises).

If grip is a problem for you, today’s exercises will give you a little more hand strength. Each exercise requires a vicelike hold on the weights. Explaining how to grip the weights sounds remedial but you will learn to rely on the form when it comes to lifting.

When gripping a bar, start by pushing the web of the hand into the bar and wrapping each finger around it. To lock your hand in place, wrap the thumb over the index finger. See the video online for more details.

Sometimes, hands just get sweaty. Try using gloves or lifting chalk. They even make a lifting chalk in liquid form. This way you don’t leave white handprints on everything from the weights to the lockers to the gym door.

If you’re lifting more than your body weight, some handy gym grip accessories may be helpful. Dead lifters and rowers like wrist straps. They wrap around the wrist and the bar to take some of the load off the hands. Wrist straps come in many shapes and styles. I went through a few styles before I settled on mine. I asked friends what styles they preferred and why.

Today’s exercises are for strengthening the hands and ultimately your grip. During exercise, your hands don’t typically contract and relax like the rest of the muscles you’re working. They hold and stabilize while everything else does the heavy work. To condition the hands, we need to work them the same way they perform. Kettlebell curls and the hang drill are some of my favorites for making the hands strong.

Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. He can be reached at 702trainer@gmail.com. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.

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