Grip strength can be the key to healing/preventing neck and shoulder pain. It is also a significant predictor of cardiovascular mortality…who knew?
I am a believer in the leading joint hypothesis. In short, our brain devotes more neurons to the end of our limbs, hands and feet, than it does to say the middle of our limbs, knees and elbows. The hypothesis suggests that when learning a movement, pay attention to the distal elements of the limbs and the rest will take care of itself.
I have used this model to great success when rehabbing my clients. For all of my neck and shoulder patients I will inevitably make sure that they have exercises that work on their grip strength. The idea being….the stronger your grip, the more power you can generate in your forearm, the less power you have to generate at the shoulder/neck area. Works the other way around as well. The stronger your grip, the more force you can absorb in your forearm, the less force you will have to deal with at your shoulder and neck.
A couple quick notes before we delve into some grip strength moves…….
-Careful you do not anger your elbow! Even if you are jacked, swol, huge, progress slowly.
-The weight and the time under tension are equally important, so don’t go for a one rep max with these.
-Don’t do all of these as 1 workout! Just add one or two in 2 x week. Go slow.
-Pick something up and walk with it.
-Play with how much weight you can use. If you can only manage a 20 second walk, lower the weight. If you are walking around for 1+ minutes, perhaps find something heavier.
-You don’t have to walk, you can just stand there.
-I like to use kettle bells. You can use dumbbells, bricks, whatever.
-Technically speaking a Farmer’s carry has you using something in both hands at the same time, but you can only use one hand at a time if you prefer.
Bottom’s Up Carry
-Same as the Farmer’s carry, different position of the weight.
-This position is a bit tougher on the grip and shoulder….you’ve been warned.
-Only use one hand at a time as the weight can get a little wobbly in this position and you don’t want to have to deal with two falling weights at the same time.
-If you use a dumbbell, grip it by its end and point it up.
-Grab a pull-up bar and hang.
-I alternate between a full hang, and keeping tension in my shoulders (keeping my shoulders down away from my ears).
-Look closely, I am on my tip toes and my shoulders are out over my finger tips.
-Start in a regular push-up position. Rock forward such that your body weight is biased on the balls of your hand (base of your fingers).
-Balance your lower body on your tip toes.
-Don’t stay there too long….alternate rocking back and fourth from the standard push up position to rocking forward. (I use a 5 second on 5 second off rhythm).
Grip strength is a predictor of all cause mortality in the middle aged and elderly. The stronger the grip, the longer you live. I am not making that up!
Researchers can only speculate as to why, but it is probably pretty obvious. More active people tend to do things that will give them a stronger grip relative to the less active among us. After all, gripping the handlebar on a bike while you ride is going to improve your grip strength and cardiovascular health more than gripping the TV remote. So no great insight there.
But an increased grip strength is also going to drive the intensity, skill development, and endurance around most athletic endeavors. This will make you workouts longer, more efficient, and perhaps keep you going well into old age.