The scientific literature is awash in correlations between a person’s health status and various biomarkers, personal characteristics, and measurements. As we hoard more and more data and develop increasingly sophisticated autonomous tools to analyze it, we’ll stumble across new connections between seemingly disparate variables. Some will be spurious, where the correlations are real but the variables don’t affect each other. Others will be useful, where the correlations indicate real causality, or at least a real relationship.
One of my favorite health markers—one that is both modifiable and a good barometer for the conditions it appears to predict—is grip strength.
The Benefits of Grip Strength
In middle-aged and elderly people, grip strength consistently predicts mortality risk from all causes, doing an even better job than blood pressure. In older disabled women, grip strength predicts all-cause mortality, even when controlling for disease status, inflammatory load, depression, nutritional status, and inactivity.
Poor grip strength is also an independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes across all ethnicities, and it can predict the presence of osteoarthritis in the knee. Among Korean adults, those with lower grip strength have a greater risk of clinical depression.
Even when hand grip strength fails to predict a disease, it still predicts the quality of life in people with the disease. The relative rate of grip strength reduction in healthy people is a good marker for the progression of general aging. Faster decline, faster aging. Slower (or no) decline, slower aging. Stronger people—as indicated by their grip strength—are simply better at navigating the physical world and maintaining independence on into old age.
Health and longevity aside, there are other real benefits to a stronger grip.
You command more respect. I don’t care how bad it sounds, because I agree. Historically, a person’s personal worth and legitimacy was judged by the quality of their handshake. Right or wrong, that’s how we’re wired. If you think you feel differently, let me know how you feel the next time you shake hands and the other person has a limp, moist hand. Who are you more likely to respect? To hire? To deem more capable? To befriend? To approach romantically? I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying it’s simply how it is. We can’t avoid our guttural reaction to a strong—or weak—handshake. To me, that suggests we have a built-in sensitivity to grip for a very good reason.
So, how does one build grip?
10 Exercises To Build Grip Strength
Most people will get a strong-enough grip as long as they’re lifting heavy things on a consistent-enough basis.
Deadlifts are proven grip builders. Wide grip deadlifts are also good and stress your grip across slightly different angles.
2. Pullups and 3. Chinups
Both require a good grip on the bar.
Any exercise where your grip supports either your weight or an external weight (like a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell) is going to improve your grip strength. But there are other, more targeted movements you can try to really turn your hand into a vise. Such as:
4. Bar Hangs
This is pretty simple. Just hang from a bar (or branch, or traffic light fixture) with both hands. It’s probably the purest expression of grip strength. As it happens, it’s also a great stretch for your lats, chest, shoulders, and thoracic spine.
Aim to hit one minute. Progress to one-hand hangs if two-handers get too easy. You can use a lower bar and keep one foot on the ground for support as you transition toward a full one-handed hang.
5. Sledgehammer Work
Grab the heaviest sledgehammer you can handle and use it in a variety of ways.
If you had to pick just one sledgehammer movement to target your grip, do the bottoms up. Hold the hammer hanging down pointing toward the ground in your hand, swing it up and catch it with the head of the hammer pointing upward, and hold it there. Handle parallel to your torso, wrist straight, don’t let it fall. The lower you grip the handle, the harder your forearms (and grip) will have to work.
6. Fingertip Pushups
Most people who try fingertip pushups do them one way. They do them with straight fingers, with the palm dipping toward the ground. Like this. Those are great, but there’s another technique as well: the claw. For the claw, make a claw with your hand, like this, as if you’re trying to grab the ground. In fact, do try to grab the ground. This keeps your fingers more active, builds more strength and resilience, and prevents you from resting on your connective tissue.
These are hard for most people. They’re quite hard on the connective tissue, which often goes underutilized in the hands and forearms. Don’t just leap into full fingertip pushups—unless you know you’re able. Start on your knees, gradually pushing your knees further back to add resistance. Once they’re all the way back and you’re comfortable, then progress to full pushups.
7. Active Hands Pushups
These are similar to claw pushups, only with the palm down on the floor. Flat palm, active “claw” fingers. They are easier than fingertip pushups.
8. Farmer’s Walks
The average person these days is not carrying water pails and hay bales and feed bags back and forth across uneven ground like they did when over 30% of the population lived on farms, but the average person can quickly graduate past average by doing farmer’s walks a couple times each week. What is a farmer’s walk?
Grab two heavy weights, stand up, and walk around. They can be dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, or trap bars. You can walk up hill, down hill, or around in circles. You can throw in some shrugs, or bookend your walks with deadlifts or swings. The point is to use your grip to carry something heavy in both hands.
9. Pinch Grips
Grasp and hold weight plates between your thumb and each finger.
10. Hammer Curls
Next time you do some curls, throw in a few sets of hammer curls. These are identical to normal bicep curls, except you hold the weights in a hammer grip, with palms facing toward each other—like how you hold and swing a hammer. Make sure to keep those wrists as straight as possible.
The thing about grip is it’s hard to work your grip without getting stronger, healthier, and faster all over. Deadlifting builds grip strength, and it also builds back, hip, glute, and torso strength. Fingertip pushups make your hands and forearms strong, but they also work your chest, triceps, abs, and shoulders. That’s why I suspect grip strength is such a good barometer for overall health, wellness, and longevity. Almost every meaningful piece of physical activity requires that you use your hands to manipulate significant amounts of weight and undergo significant amounts of stress.
For that reason, the best way to train your grip is with normal movements. Heavy deadlifts and farmer’s walks are probably more effective than spending half an hour pinch gripping with every possible thumb/finger permutation, because they offer more full-body benefits. But if you have a few extra minutes throughout your workout, throw in some of the dedicated grip training.
Your grip can handle it. The grip muscles in the hands and forearm are mostly slow-twitch fiber dominant, meaning they’re designed to go for long periods of exertion. They’re also gross movers, meaning you use them all the time for all sorts of tasks, and have been doing so for decades. To make them adapt, you need to stress the heck out of them with high weight. Train grip with high reps, heavy weights, and long durations. This is why deadlifts and farmer’s walks are so good for your grip—they force you to maintain that grip on a heavy bar or dumbbell for the entire duration of the set with little to no rest.
Oh, and pick up some Fat Gripz. These attach to dumbbells and barbells and increase the diameter of the bar, giving you less leverage when grabbing and forcing you to adapt to the new grip conditions by getting stronger.
Now, will all this grip training actually protect you from aging, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and early all-cause mortality? Maybe, maybe not.
But it—and the muscle and fitness you gain doing all these exercises—certainly doesn’t hurt.
How’s your grip? How’s your handshake? How long can you hang from a bar without letting go?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care, be well, and go pick up and hold some heavy stuff.
Sasaki H, Kasagi F, Yamada M, Fujita S. Grip strength predicts cause-specific mortality in middle-aged and elderly persons. Am J Med. 2007;120(4):337-42.
Leong DP, Teo KK, Rangarajan S, et al. Prognostic value of grip strength: findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. Lancet. 2015;386(9990):266-73.
Rantanen T, Volpato S, Ferrucci L, Heikkinen E, Fried LP, Guralnik JM. Handgrip strength and cause-specific and total mortality in older disabled women: exploring the mechanism. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2003;51(5):636-41.
Van der kooi AL, Snijder MB, Peters RJ, Van valkengoed IG. The Association of Handgrip Strength and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Six Ethnic Groups: An Analysis of the HELIUS Study. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(9):e0137739.
Wen L, Shin MH, Kang JH, et al. Association between grip strength and hand and knee radiographic osteoarthritis in Korean adults: Data from the Dong-gu study. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(11):e0185343.
Lee MR, Jung SM, Bang H, Kim HS, Kim YB. The association between muscular strength and depression in Korean adults: a cross-sectional analysis of the sixth Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES VI) 2014. BMC Public Health. 2018;18(1):1123.
Lee SH, Kim SJ, Han Y, Ryu YJ, Lee JH, Chang JH. Hand grip strength and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in Korea: an analysis in KNHANES VI. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2017;12:2313-2321.
Iconaru EI, Ciucurel MM, Georgescu L, Ciucurel C. Hand grip strength as a physical biomarker of aging from the perspective of a Fibonacci mathematical modeling. BMC Geriatr. 2018;18(1):296.
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One of the first things people do when they start working out is focus on their abs—crunches, sit-ups, leg lifts, bicycles, and the like. I mean, who doesn’t want a six-pack? Entire fitness schools have sprung up around the idea of targeting your abs with direct work. Take Pilates. In its purest iterations, it’s considered a “total body” philosophy, but the way most classes seem to go you end up spending all your time doing a bunch of complicated crunches and other targeted ab work (and grimacing every time you cough for the next week).
Let me make a radical proposal here. All this ab work isn’t necessary.
Don’t get me wrong. The “abs” are extremely important. Not only do they round out the physique and look great, but abdominal strength also provides stability, supports good posture, and improves movement. Strong abdominals allow and enhance the full expression of a person’s athleticism. Running, jumping, lifting, throwing (balls, spears, or punches), and basically any movement all require—and are improved by—strong abs (i.e. a strong “core”).
When you think about training the abs, consider what the abdominals’ purpose is: to provide a stable foundation for the rest of your body as it moves. They can move, but it’s not their primary function. As such, the way most people train abs is completely superfluous and ignores that essential function—maintaining stability and resisting movement. When you think about it that way, crunches and sit-ups don’t make a whole lot of sense.
What Kinds of Ab Work Make Sense?
- Deadlifts make sense because your hips are designed to hinge to allow you to pick up objects.
- Squats make sense because your knees are meant to flex and extend under load.
- Pull-ups make sense because your lats and biceps are designed to pull your body’s weight upward.
But crunches? Abs are best at holding steady and supporting all the other tissues and limbs as they move through space. Using your abs to move heavy weight a few inches is just weird. It “works,” but is it ideal? No.
If you insist on direct ab work, focus on movements where the abs don’t actually move all that much.
- Instead of crunches (abs moving), do bicycle crunches (abs stationary, legs moving).
- Instead of sit-ups (abs moving), do hanging leg raises (abs stationary, legs moving).
In both cases, you’ll be blasting the hell out of your abdominals, but you won’t be flexing and extending your spine.
Okay, with all that out of the way…
What Do I Do For Ab Work?
I don’t do much direct ab work. You won’t find me doing crunches or bicycles. Instead, I’m using my abs all the time.
- When I’m doing pushups, I’m tightening my abs. A strong, stable, cohesive abdominal complex makes my pushups better and stronger. Do a pushup without tight abs, and your hips will dip toward the ground. You’ll be sloppy and weak.
- When I’m doing deadlifts, I’m tightening my abs. My abs are resisting the pull of the heavy bar. They’re preventing my spine from rounding and hurting itself.
- When I’m doing pull-ups, I’m using my abs to maintain a cohesive frame. Try it. Instead of kicking your legs or flopping them around to propel yourself upward, keep them straight and tight. Tighten your abs. Think of your entire body, from top to bottom, as a single piece. Pull that piece up past the bar. Feeling it in the core, are you?
- When I’m standup paddling, I’m using my obliques, my “outer abs.” They support the paddling motion. They’re my base of support. Go paddle for an hour as a beginner, then see how your sides feel the next day.
- When I’m doing band pull-aparts (a great shoulder pre/rehab movement, by the way), I’m tightening my abs.
Heck, when I’m driving my car or carrying my groceries or walking the dogs, I’m tightening my abs.
It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. The abs figure prominently.
There’s probably one exercise I do specifically for my abs, and that’s the plank. But again, the planks work the abs by resisting movement, by keeping your body straight and solid against the pull of gravity. They aren’t moving.
I made a short video on how I work my abdominals without a specific abs routine. Take a look.
Finally, the single most important thing you can do for your abs in terms of looks, of course, is to become a better fat-burner. Hidden underneath even the most sedentary, flabby exterior is a rippling six pack. Simply possessing basic human anatomy means you have visible abdominals somewhere under there. Get lean enough and you’ll see them.
Thanks for stopping in today. Questions, thoughts? I’d love to hear them.
The post Why an “Ab Routine” Isn’t Necessary (and What I Do Instead) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Both CrossFit and bodybuilding involve lifting weights and putting them back down, repeatedly, several times each week. Both are forms of exercise. The similarities stop there. The real meat lies in the differences.
What’s different about CrossFit and bodybuilding? What can we learn from those differences? What can they learn from each other?
First of all, defining CrossFit by real world examples is difficult; there are tons. There’s so-called “homepage CrossFit,” where you go to CrossFit.com and do the Workout of the Day (WOD) as prescribed. That’s become less and less popular as more CF boxes open up and employ their own programming. These days, those doing main page CF are mostly individuals following along at home or at regular gyms.
It’s better to look at the overarching intent of the CrossFit philosophy.
CrossFit is all about function. Rather than emphasizing aesthetics, it focuses on increasing work capacity. It’s trying to make people better at producing a given amount of work in less time than before. If you can go from doing 10 pullups in two minutes to doing 20 pullups in two minutes, you’ve just increased your work capacity. CrossFit wants its athletes to not only lift heavy things, but lift heavy things repeatedly with less rest.
It also wants to increase your work capacity across “broad modal domains.” What does that mean? Rather than increase only pullup work capacity, it wants you to improve your work capacity across every mode of movement humans engage in: running, rowing, jumping, squatting, deadlifting, throwing, climbing, carrying, pushing, pressing, clean-and-jerking. CrossFitters are training for “the sport of fitness”—for overall adaptive fitness.
And actually, what most people imagine when they think of CrossFit isn’t too far off from the reality:
- High-intensity full-body movements performed for time.
- “As many reps as possible” (AMRAP) workouts.
- Olympic lifts for reps.
- Endless pullups and ring dips.
- Rowing, sprinting, climbing.
- Varied modes of movement.
Bodybuilding is all about form. At its highest levels, bodybuilders are trying to cultivate aesthetic perfection in the human physique. In other words, bodybuilding is about getting jacked. Bodybuilding is primarily concerned with looks, big muscles, low body fat. It aims to realize the potential of every single muscle in the human body to grow while maintaining balance and cohesion. No big quads and small glutes, or big biceps and small triceps. Bodybuilders want everything to grow not for extra functionality, but because they look better that way.
People use all sorts of different methods to bodybuild. What makes bodybuilding bodybuilding isn’t so much the methods—although there are definite trends. There are keto bodybuilders doing medium rep sets and basic “balanced diet” bodybuilders doing high rep sets. It’s the intent.
Bodybuilders want to look strong and impressive. They’re judged based on how they look, not what they can lift. CrossFitters want to be strong and impressive. They’re judged based on what they can do.
Benefits Of Each
What can bodybuilders expect to get from bodybuilding?
- Better body composition—more lean mass, less body fat
- Strength—big muscles usually increase strength, though not necessarily functional strength
- Better insulin sensitivity—bigger muscles mean bigger glycogen sinks, and strength training increases insulin sensitivity
- Increased bone density and all the wonderful adaptive benefits of lifting heavy things
What can CrossFitters expect to get out of CrossFit?
- Improvements in both strength, anaerobic, and aerobic capacity
- Better functional movement patterns
- Better insulin sensitivity
- Increased bone density
- Better cardio vascular health
Pervasive Myths About Both
“Bodybuilders are dumb meatheads.”
For one thing, successful bodybuilding requires planning, careful attention to technique, and a strong mind-body awareness and presence of mind to “feel” the muscle working. Research confirms that rather than use “extreme, non-evidence-based regimens,” bodybuilders use “evidence-based” nutrition strategies to achieve their desired physiques. Brain and brawn are the opposite of mutually exclusive. In addition, strength training (and exercise in general) supports brain health and triggers brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes neuronal growth and protects against neurodegenerative disease. The idea of the “dumb bodybuilder” is total nonsense. Every piece of evidence we have contradicts it.
“Bodybuilders never do compound exercises.”
The notion that bodybuilders are only using machines and doing isolation exercises is simply wrong. Arnold started with squats. Ronnie Coleman squatted and deadlifted. Tom Platz definitely squatted. A bodybuilder might do a lot of curls, but never in the squat rack.
“CrossFitters get injured all the time.”
Contrary to popular belief, CrossFit has never been shown to be more dangerous than other types of training. Recent studies show that CrossFitters experience no more shoulder injuries than other athletes, for example. If anything, CrossFitters get fewer injuries than athletes on other programs. Of course, any time you push yourself hard enough to elicit a training adaptation, you risk injury. It comes with the territory.
“The CrossFit Games are representative of how CFers train every day.”
The Games are a big event, a competition, a way to test the mettle and competence of the best of the best. Three days of almost non-stop lifting, running, pulling, throwing, flipping, climbing, and pushing is an aberration; it’d be like an endurance athlete training by doing Ironman Triathlons three times a week.
What Can CrossFitters and Bodybuilders Learn From Each Other?
CrossFitters can learn:
The importance of discipline. To be a successful bodybuilder, you can’t “just eat whatever” and “train here and there.” You don’t just bang out a quick 20-minute session. You’re in the gym for 1-2 hours, spending half your time on the triceps. You’re meal planning a week in advance. It requires dedication and extreme discipline to really influence body composition to the degree body builders do, develop a balanced physique, and maintain low-enough body fat that you can see all your hard work. There’s a constant dance between eating enough to gain muscle and keeping body fat low. The cut and bulk. That isn’t easy.
The importance of quality of movement. Since a big concern is work performed across time, CrossFitters will often look for short cuts to improve performance without building the appropriate foundation. A good example of this is launching into kipping pullups (which use explosive momentum and demand a lot of shoulder mobility and strength) before you can do more than one strict pull up on your own.
The benefits of isolation exercises. Many folks in the online fitness/health community—not just CrossFitters—neglect the benefits of isolation exercises, often gleefully. “Those are for the beach,” they’ll say, or “pullups are enough, no need for curls.” Yet, sometimes isolation exercises can actually translate to real life capability by strengthening a weak link. If you’re doing nothing but pullups and rows without any direct bicep work, consider doing some. Another example is the pistol squat; it’s not hard because of inadequate quad or hamstring strength, but because the hip flexors and ankles are weak and lack mobility. An isolated focus on those relatively “minor” muscles can make a huge difference.
Bodybuilders can learn:
The benefits of overall fitness rather than just weight training. Looking big and strong is great. No arguments there. But it’s fun to be able to move through time and space with fluidity and grace—and explosiveness. There’s no reason to avoid improving your cardiovascular and anaerobic fitness, or put those big muscles to work. If anything, doing so will improve your physique and make your bodybuilding more effective.
The importance of compound barbell movements. While I know the big names pay their dues with squats, deadlifts, and other compound lifts, many of the beginners stumbling around the globo-gym neglect the big lifts in favor of exclusively doing isolation exercises.
The two approaches and philosophies are about as different as you can get… and yet, the differences are far from irreconcilable.
Every human wants to look good, to appear strong and competent and aesthetic.
Every human wants to be strong and competent, with the ability to impose his or her will on the world.
Every CrossFitter has a little bodybuilder in them (or else there wouldn’t be so many CF Instagrams accounts full of black and white photos of chalked up hands attached to glistening bodies in the midst of cleans and thrusters and muscle-ups). Every bodybuilder has a little CrossFitter in them (because when they get down to it, every bodybuilder gets intrinsic joy from lifting some heavy ass weight).
I say it’s time they reconciled. What about you?
Any CrossFitters or bodybuilders out there who want to give their thoughts and suggestions on bridging the divide?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!
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