When you are looking for ways to improve your cycling, you are probably thinking about stronger legs, lungs and heart but not a stronger grip. However, it’s a well-established truth within the cycling community that having a weak grip can have a deleterious effect on your cycling. And, apparently, it can also have an effect on how long you live.
By “weak grip” I am not referring to how much force you can generate with your hands and forearms, though this is also important, but how much ‘stamina’ they have; that is, how long they are able to function at the top level before they begin to tire. If you have a weak grip, it can slow you down when cycling because when your hands and forearms get tired, it will take a greater effort to hold on to the handlebars and squeeze the brakes. As a result, you may ride more slowly and more cautiously and, worst case, have an accident because your braking was too slow or ineffective. This is especially important for gravel racing, endurance mountain biking or big rides with long, demanding descents.
The various types of grips can be put into three categories: crush grip, support grip and pinch grip. The crush grip is used when you squeeze something between your fingers and palm, like a rubber ball, for example, or when tightly grasping the handlebar. The support grip is when you hold or carry things in a grip, such as when carrying a suitcase, or when you hang from things, like a chinning bar. Finally, the pinch grip is when you grasp something between your thumb and fingers, like a book or a clothespin.
Here are some exercises you can perform to improve your grip strength. The best way is to lift heavy things, such as yourself. That’s why just hanging from a chinning bar is a great way to strengthen your grip. You don’t even have to do any chin-ups; just hanging there, without touching the floor, works wonders. And it can also help you relieve pressure on your back if you’ve been sitting or standing for a long time. Do five hangs a day with rest periods of one to two minutes in between.
You can do a similar exercise with dumbbells. Hold one in each hand with your arms hanging by your side. Resist the temptation to lift them; just hold them as if you were carrying pails of fresh milk (hence the name of this exercise: the farmer’s carry). Hold for a minute or a minute and a half and do five reps. How much should the dumbbells weigh? Ideally, the two should be equal to half of your body weight.
The final exercise is called the pinch twist. You will need a heavy object that you can still lift with your fingertips, such as a copy of War and Peace, a thick cookbook or any similar object. Place it on the floor, take it in a pinch grip and lift it off the floor while standing up. Hold the object straight out in front of you and then alternately rotate your wrist so that the palm of your hand faces up and then down ten times and switch hands. Repeat the entire exercise five times.
Improving your grip strength is important not only for your cycling but it can also improve life span. A recent study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society looked at 5,000 women and followed them for five years to gauge the effects of a number of factors (weight loss and gain, smoking and, yes, grip strength) on their mortality rates.
Astonishingly, they determined that having better grip strength and achieving higher scores on short physical performance battery (SPPB) tests were associated with lower mortality rates. So, if you want to cycle better and live longer, just get a grip!