Grip Strength Exercises PTs Recommend to Improve Daily Function and Health

Discover the best grip strength exercises to enhance daily activities and boost overall health with expert tips from physical therapists.

Published Date: Jun 24, 2024
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You probably don’t think too much about your grip strength — until you find yourself struggling to open up a jar of mayo. Grip strength refers to how much force is generated by the muscles of your hand, fingers, and forearm, and it’s an essential tool for everyday life. “It’s important for doing functional daily activities such as carrying, lifting, reaching, and grabbing,” says Vanessa Matos, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. But it also can be a snapshot of your overall health. “Physical therapists are often interested in grip strength because it gives us information beyond just how well you can open a jar of peanut butter,” she explains. “It provides important clues about your bone, heart, and even brain health.”

Read on to learn more about how to improve grip strength and get grip strength exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Vanessa Matos, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Matos is a Hinge Health physical therapist with a special interest in treating orthopedic injuries in athletes and patient education.
Maureen Lu, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Lu is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist with over 17 years of clinical experience.

Best Grip Strength Exercises

“Grip strength exercises help with everyday actions like grabbing, pressing, crushing, rotating, and pinching,” explains Dr. Matos. The better your grip strength, the easier it will be for you to hold, pull, lift, or carry an object, especially if it’s heavy. The following grip strength exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists are a great place to start and can help with everything from squeezing a bottle of ketchup to doing pull ups.

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“This exercise strengthens the muscles of your fingers, hands, and forearms to improve your grip strength,” explains Dr. Matos.

How to do it: 

  • Lightly hold a hard object, like a water bottle, with your forearm supported on a table. 

  • Your thumb should be on one side of the object and your fingers on the other side. 

  • Squeeze the object, then slowly relax.

This puts your wrists into wrist flexion and extension and involves forearm movements as well. “It’s a great way to strengthen not just your finger and hand muscles, but all your arm and wrist muscles,” says Dr. Matos. As you develop more grip strength, you can increase the time that you hold the towel in a squeeze.

How to do it:

  • Start by holding a rolled up towel with your hands about a foot apart and your palms facing the floor. 

  • Twist the towel by moving your right palm down and toward your left side as your left palm twists slightly up and away from your body. 

  • Untwist the towel to return to the starting position, then repeat by twisting the towel in the opposite direction.

“This move mostly works the muscles of the thumb, fingers, and forearm,” explains Dr. Matos. “This will come in handy for daily activities that involve object manipulation, like picking up coins or keys.”

How to do it:

  • Start with your fingers gently bent in toward your palm, and your thumb hovering above the side of your pointer finger. 

  • Push the pad of your thumb down on the side of your pointer finger. 

  • Lift and relax your thumb back to the starting position.

This exercise strengthens both your wrist and forearm muscles. “When you grip the band, it also strengthens the muscles of your hands and fingers,” says Dr. Matos.

How to do it:

  • Sit in a chair and place the end of a resistance band securely under the bottom of your right foot.  

  • Wrap the other end of the band around your right hand and rest your forearm on your thigh, palm facing the floor. 

  • Keeping your forearm on your thigh, slowly lift your hand up toward the ceiling, extending your wrist. 

  • Relax back to the starting position, switch sides, and repeat.

When you grip onto the resistance band during this exercise, you use grip strength as well as the muscles of your hands, wrists, forearms, and shoulders.

How to do it:

  • Secure a resistance band by opening a door, wrapping the band around the handle, and then closing the door. Gently tug on the band to make sure the door doesn’t open toward you. 

  • Take a few steps back from the door with the ends of the band in each hand, so your arms are raised to chest height and the bands have some tension. 

  • Stretch the band by pulling your hands to the side of your ribcage, then relax your arms back to the starting position.

“This works on an open hand grip,” explains Dr. Matos. “It’s a good way to provide stability for your upper body while balancing.”

How to do it:

  • Start in a plank position with your hands flat on the ground, your arms straight, and your hands underneath your shoulders. Your hips should be raised to about the same height as your shoulders. 

  • Lift one hand and touch your opposite shoulder, keeping your other arm straight and your chest squared to the floor. 

  • Hold briefly, then relax your hand back to the floor and repeat on the other side.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Benefits of Grip Strength Exercises

Grip strength benefits go beyond simply being able to open a stubborn pickle jar. “It’s a biomarker for your overall health, which means the strength you hold in your hands, wrists, and forearms is an indication of how healthy you are,” explains Dr. Matos. Here are a few other benefits of grip strength exercises:

  • They help you build muscle. A strong grip is a good indication that you have muscle strength throughout your body, says Dr. Matos. One study found a relationship between grip strength and walking up stairs. Those with more grip strength had less trouble walking up stairs. 

  • They reduce the risk of falling. A 2021 study published in the Journal of Frailty, Sarcopenia and Falls found that older women with better hand grip strength were at less risk of having a fall. “Grip weakness can be an indication of weakness throughout your body, which may indicate poor balance and an increased risk of experiencing a fall,” says Dr. Matos.

  • They build up your immune system. Some research suggests that a strong grip is linked to a stronger immune system. As a result, you’re less likely to get sick.

  • They can improve cognitive and mental health. A 2022 study published in BMC Medicine found that increased grip strength is associated with better cognitive function and less depression and anxiety. “Your grip strength affects your ability to live independently and do everyday activities such as carrying groceries, opening jars, and turning door knobs,” points out Dr. Matos. “That independence affects your overall mental health. The more things you can do on your own, the more confident and satisfied you’ll feel.”

  • They increase bone density. A study published in the journal Rheumatology found that people with a weak grip had lower bone density, especially in their neck and spine, than those with a stronger grip. “This is because the better your grip is, the stronger your muscles are, which is important for bone health,” says Dr. Matos.

  • They reduce risk of heart disease. A study published in the Lancet found that poor hand grip strength was linked to a higher risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Want to test your grip strength? You can easily do this in a physical therapist’s office. They’ll use a device called a dynamometer. Your physical therapist can go over the results with you and let you know if you have high, average, or low grip strength for your age and sex.

PT Tip: Stay Active

While the above grip strength exercises are a good way to strengthen your grip, “the best way to improve grip strength is to be as active and involved in life as possible,” says Dr. Matos. “Whether it’s playing racquet sports, carrying groceries, opening jars, or gardening, all these daily activities add up and help you improve grip strength.”

How Hinge Health Can Help You

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The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you. 

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

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This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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